Learning how to “better” manage brain fog

For me, there are many crummy things about chronic illness, but the second worst of them all — after fatigue — is brain fog, i.e. the much harder challenge of keeping a clear thought.

Time was before my illness that my brain would whir to life and I could quickly motor off anything I needed to.  Ask me the strategy to something, and I’d leap up on the whiteboard and starting jotting ideas down.  But now, keeping clear thoughts is difficult. Answering any question that requires me to go into the memory bank is a challenge, and anything with some uncertainty or complexity is a challenge unless I have time to process.  Spelling?  I used to be great, because I would literally picture the word in my head and recite what I saw, but now I don’t see the word and am kind of stabbing in the dark.

Needless to say, this has made my job as an analytical sales person in a cutthroat industry hell.  But I think I’ve developed a list over the past few years that has helped. I’m not 100%, or even 90%, but I’m getting better and I’v adapted.

Checklist in OneNote.  OneNote is good because it’s free and I can access it from my computer, iPad or iPhone.  What I do is make a checklist of each item at the office I have to get down, then I break it down to how much time to spend on it.  For example: Answer emails – respond during morning coffee.  Send out follow up reports from yesterday – 30 minutes.  Send out status check note to 500 customers – 20 customers a day…  I’ve noticed this is important – I’ll lose paper lists, or I start moving things around until it gets messy (I can cut and paste); also, I can keep a template that I copy and paste into a new Tab every day so every day I am starting with a fresh checklist.  Plus, my razor sharp memory no where I was on a task has evaporated, so now I can search in OneNote to find out what I’ve done on something.

Stick with the Checklist.  It is tempting that if I come to complexity in my checklist to pass it off until later.  For example, if “Respond to email” includes an email that involves research, my temptation is to push it aside until later the day.  But I’ve learned I need to take a short break, grab another cup of coffee, return and take the steps needed to complete that email.  If I push it off, I start to get overwhelmed and fight the urge to shut down.  So even it means taking a pause while I gather my energy, I do nothing else until complete that next task.

One Thing At A Time.  My days of answering email while on a conference call, or making a phone call while waiting for my computer to re-boot, are over.  So I have to focus on one thing at a time.

Take Breaks.  The days of crazy 12 hour days are over.  I have to take several breaks during the day to make sure I maintain the energy needed to keep brain fog at bay.

Accept the Inevitable.  I will never be as crisp, sharp and productive as I once was.  I can’t compare myself to the old me, which thankfully was 200% of most people (honestly).  Instead, I have to focus on doing the best I can with what I have now.  I this were a five-card poker me, the old me had six cards to choose from, the new me has 4 cards to work with (versus everyone else’s 5).  I can’t worry that I used to have 6 or that some have 5, I just have to do the best I can with 4 and realize that I won’t win as much as I used to. That takes some pressure off.

Lots and lots of coffee.  There is no way of getting around the fact that coffee is the new normal for me at the workplace.  If there are side effects so be it, but I have to have the energy needed to keep my job and pay my bills.  On the days where I need an extra burst of energy, I take a caffeine pill and pray for a “good” day.

My two cents.  Since life gave me lemons, I’m doing the best i can to make a decent lemonade.  (I’ve had to relearn how to do my to do list – I used to do it mostly by memory and prioritization, but that’s not possible anymore, and too long of a checklist is overwhelming 🙂 ).

 

 

Learning how to “better” manage brain fog

Confessions of an “always late” person

I am always late. Usually 10 minutes, almost to the minute.  When something is very very important and a special event (e.g. Interview) I am on time, but otherwise I am late.  I think one of the reasons why is because I am results focused.  That is, when I sit down to do something, I hate leaving it just to move on to an appointment.  For example, if I am composing an email and it is 10:50 and I need to leave for an 11 o’clock meeting, I hate leaving that chore for later, since inevitably more emails pop up and I’m worried about losing my focus and train of thought. So usually I finish the email, then I am late to the meeting and people complain (usually as a passive aggressive tease or behind my back later 🙂 ).  But no one mentions when I am late how I also tend to be a *lot* more productive than 99% of the people.

I don’t like being in a society where we judge literally by the minute versus completing a task.  But it is the way of the world.  So the world will just have to wait for me sometimes :). And I’ll just have to tolerate the criticism.  After all, lets’s be honest, I am 48 and I’ve been like this my whole life – if I haven’t changed by now I’m not going to.

On a side note, I am rarely sick or call in sick or miss things – but I am late to them.    

Confessions of an “always late” person

I am an Uncle!

My sister had twins over the weekend, which means I am an uncle.  I am very excited about this.  The good news is we saw them the day they were born and they are beautiful (of course 🙂 ).  The bad news is that my sister hasn’t wanted guests the past couple of days, which means we haven’t seen the babies since delivery…  As someone who suffers from post-illness chronic fatigue, I’ve had to put a lot of thought into how I can be involved – I just don’t have the energy to make meals, run errands, etc.  But I do love babies and kids, so have decided that I will be available to watch the kids as needed, which is less stressful for me than cooking, cleaning and running errands.  Right now, she doesn’t want guests, but I know from experience that after the excitement (and nurses) dies down, people watching the kids is a god send :)…  My family — starting with my grandma — is strange about guests.  They just don’t like having them. My mom can’t relax when she has guests, and is a wreck before guests and exhausted after them, and I know that my grandma was the same way (I remember her complaining about my aunts and other guests when they’d stay with her).  I too didn’t look having roommates or guests in my early adult years, but with my very-social wife’s influence plus having a cabin where guests like to stay was able/forced to learn to relax and take guests in stride.  Also, there was a wonderful wonderful wonderful Dear Abbey letter where a woman wrote that she lived in a remote area with 4 kids and 2 dogs so loved having adult guests, and they were welcome to stay and make themselves comfortable but they would just have to deal with the mess and the dogs etc.  I love that letter – it reminded me that what is important is not having a perfect house, it is the people, and if having a slightly dusty house is what is required to relax around guests, so be it.  I am glad I’ve learned to accept (and embrace) having overnight guests.  I used to want to spoil them with good meals and a perfect house, but now have just learned to spoil them with my interest in them and embracing them 🙂

I am an Uncle!

Update on the one step at a time approach to an overwhelming day – it works…

This morning I awakened feeling overwhelmed about my day.  On top of my illness-induced chronic fatigue, I was worn out from a busy two weeks and had a full day of responsibilities.  But I my work day is nearly done and I not only survived but it was a reasonably successful day:

  • Made and drank my coffee.  Fought the urge to feel overwhelmed by blogging about it and reminding myself – step-by-step.
  • Pulled myself from my chair,
  • SKipped my morning ritual of making coffee for my wife, apologizing to her (she understood 🙂 ).
  • Packed my laptop bag.
  • Fed the dog – the part I hate most about the morning. Now I was feeling slightly productive.
  • Took my walk.  Skipped the gym, instead just walked two miles.  
  • At end of my walk, walked to grocery store, bought lunch items plus my breakfast fruit.
  • After grocery store, walked to bank, got cash for cleaner.
  • Plugged in grill. 
  • Made my fruit breakfast.  Ate as I made my lunch.
  • Made my lunch.
  • Sorted laundry from cleaner before I stepped into the shower. 
  • Showered, brushed teeth in shower. Skipped my morning sit-ups/crunches.
  • Dressed – skipped the shirt I wanted to wear, since it had be ironed, and put on a wrinkle-free dress shirt.
  • Picked up dog poop in back yard (yuck).
  • Took bus to work.  
  • Arrived at work, prepped for first meeting.
  • Went to first meeting.
  • Went back to office.  Prepped for second meeting.
  • Second meeting.
  • Made a list of follow up items from the week that needed to be covered.
  • Tackled them one at a time.
  • NEar the ened of the work day.  Prepping presentation for Monday.
  • Tonight, I’ll have a coffee to make it through our five hour social engagement, will have 2 cocktails instead of my usual one to loosen up.  Will make less of an attempt to carry the conversation, will simply stand and smile and engage anyone who approaches me.
  • Tomorrow – a full day of rest!!

In short, I survived!  What did this was my therapy. Before my illness, adrenaline and relentless energy carried me through days like this, but followoing my illness when the energy was gone I’d look at these days and think, “Why did I get sick?  Life is so overwhelming now.”  It was my therapist who taught me to look at one thing at a time, take it a step at a time, don’t look at the big picture.

Life is good sometimes 🙂 

Update on the one step at a time approach to an overwhelming day – it works…

It is sooo important to remind myself to take a breath and slow down in the wake of lung disease combined with ADHD tendencies

I have always been prone to ADHD, even before that became a thing in the 90s.  I remember when Oprah first talked about ADHD on a program in the early 90s, when I was in my 20s,  and several family friends called my wife and I – “I just saw Rob on the TV show.”  The inability to sit still, the occassional impulse control, the quick feeling of restlessness in a current activity – those tendencies created an interesting childhood and even more interesting report cards (As one year and Ds the next, then As, then Ds, etc.). 

In my late 20s and through my 30s I learned to control it, and to focus on a thing at a time.  Suddenly, I could read contracts end to end, would read one book at a time (instead of 5 or 10), would finish something I started.  Then lung disease hit…

The lung disease was stabilized, but some fibro and other issues linger, and a key component of those issues is brain fog.  I have good days and bad days, but the brain fog has restored my ADHD tendencies, and I often tend to rush to the next thing before finishing the first thing. This is especially dangerous in my profession, sales, where following up on a meeting is so important versus rushing on to the next sales call before following up.  Follow up builds trust.  

So my tendency right now is to cold call a new prospect rather than follow up with a previous one.  ALthough a balance of this is good, not at the expense of good follow up.  So I’ve had to learn these past few years to remind myself – constantly — to slow down, follow up and follow through.  Before I pick up the phone, I look at my list – who should I follow up with first?  Who do I owe things to?  It cuts a little bit into my productivity, but it helps, and honestly an 80% me is more productive than 99% of sales people.

 It will probably be an ongoing battle, but luckily I am becoming disciplined enough to remind myself early and often.

It is sooo important to remind myself to take a breath and slow down in the wake of lung disease combined with ADHD tendencies