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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Migraine Brain

I've been fighting an ongoing battle with Migraine brain (I've actually been working on this post for about a week, but forgot to get it posted... how ironic!), which is often called "brain fog" (brain fog can be a symptom of several other chronic illnesses, including Fibromyalgia and sleep disorders). Symptoms of brain fog often include:
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or processing
  • Searching for thoughts and/or words
I'm actually doing significantly better with these changes... of course, it's taken me over 3 years to get to the point I'm at now. There are times that I see glimpses of the old witty, intelligent me. Other times, though, I can't even follow a simple conversation or read a short article. This brain fog can present itself during any or all of the phases of a Migraine attack.

Brain fog can be incredibly frustrating, discouraging, and disheartening. Especially when we were once very good at doing these tasks before our chronic illness, we can feel inadequate or even like we are a failure. It's so exhausting to have to try so hard to concentrate on something. This can be yet another aspect of chronic illness that others have difficulty understanding because we may sometimes struggle with things that come easily for them.

Thankfully, there are some tips and tricks that we can use to help make life with brain fog a bit more manageable.
Plan Ahead:  This means something completely different to me, in the context of chronic illness. I used to plan ahead for everything. I had lists, and always planned out my day, week, month, year... life. I used to always be busy, but was the queen of procrastinating on writing papers and such (in college)...
  • Now, though, I can't know how well I'm going to feel or when I'll be able to actually complete tasks on my lists. I still keep those lists (so I don't forget... and because I feel a sense of accomplishment, when I can cross something off of a list), but they're ongoing lists. If some things need done by a specific date, I have that written down; and I try to prioritize things, so I know what to tackle when I do feel up to it. But, the lists I have now are much less restrictive because of the uncertainty of chronic pain.
  • I try to start things long before I feel like I need to, so that I can (hopefully) get it completed and not have that last-minute panic. For example, I started wrapping Christmas gifts early to mid-November... I got a lot of it finished. Then a migraine hit that lasted for several weeks, leaving me unable to do anything productive. Luckily, I wasn't too far behind - because I'd started so far ahead of time.
  • Starting ahead of time also allows for having to re-do tasks, which I have to do much more frequently now. For example, writing a blog post typically has to be done in small chunks of time, so it's a lot choppier than I like. I proofread and edit a lot, but even that has to be done in chunks. So, there's often a bumpiness that I dislike in my writing... but, I'm having to work with what I can do.
Use Resources / Tools:  I always have my phone with me; which means that I always have my calendar, a calculator, contact with others, among other things. I can write reminder notes to myself - including alarms for taking my daily medication (that I keep in a medication box), and ideas / things that come up in my head. I can help track how I'm feeling and such for the day, so that it's easier for me to enter into my health calendar.
  • One of the most powerful resources we have is our computers. Especially if you're trying to read on your computer or tablet, take advantage of different options available to make it easier on you (including: changing the font size and/or color, adjusting the screen brightness).
Ask for Help:  I have trouble with this one! I'm getting better at it, but I still hate needing to ask for help. There are a lot of times that I can't figure out even the most simple things, I can't follow the most basic and simple conversation, I just can't make sense of anything at all. It's humbling, but also very embarrassing. I used to be so good at these things, and now I can't always do them because I have trouble concentrating and/or processing.
  • Hopefully, your family and friends will understand that you have these processing difficulties, and not make you feel bad about the moments you deal with. It helps tremendously, knowing that your family and friends will help you work through the brain fog, without making you feel inadequate or embarrassed.
Have a Sense of Humor:  First, accept that you can't always concentrate and process as you once did. Then, work toward having a sense of humor about these situations. Being able to giggle about such situations as needing to re-read the same sentence so many times before understanding it can help to decrease the stress you feel about having brain fog.