Tag Archives: brain fog

The Importance of Basking in the Glory of Small Victories

Recently* a friend told me something surprising.

She said that I was impressive.

It took me some time to soak this peculiar idea up. I am far too used to thinking of myself as the opposite, and so the idea that I might be considered ‘impressive’ was altogether too strange to be believed. I mean, yes, the website header does include a cartoon picture of me riding a Tyrannosaurus Rex which cuts a pretty impressive figure, but spoiler alert, that never actually happened. That’s just artistic license.

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The cold, hard reality is that I’m 25 years old and I’m useless at most useful things, such as social interaction, basic time management, showing initiative, caring even slightly about money and physically doing things. I don’t even have a job or any prospect of getting one until my CFS improves.

If you’re thinking that I’m being hard on myself and want to assure me that without CFS I would be a dinosaur-riding force to be reckoned with, then thank you, really, that’s very sweet. But you’re embarrassingly wrong. My maximum pre-CFS coping level just about covers going to the supermarket. That is to say, sometimes. Certainly if it isn’t peak shopping hour. Actually even then still maybe not, because when push comes to shove I can drink my tea without milk, and let’s be honest, the toilet paper situation is never really desperate until you’ve also run out of tissues.

Being impressive is a nice idea though, and it grew on me. Around this time I also realised I hadn’t made a blog post in a while, so I made a list my achievements of the past few months and have taken the time to publicly gloat over them. Opportunities to rub victories into defeated opponents’ faces are thin on the ground when your general moral policy is not to be a jerk (disclaimer: general moral policy does not apply when playing Mario Kart). As such, I think it’s important to make the most of defeating non-person things like brain-fog or the knit-1-below stitch.

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That’s right. A whole jumper. A whole jumper that looks acceptable and doesn’t have unplanned holes. It’s my first knitted jumper. Before this jumper, I had only ever knitted scarves, blankets and headbands. I started it last winter and finished it in summer, but I didn’t think my victory could be properly relished without wearing it, at least for a day.

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A popular way for movies and novels to illustrate a significant change in a person’s life is to show that person in two similar events before and after the change. It seems like a fun and effective trick, and I simply can’t resist giving it a try.

For me, the beginning of 2015 was something like…

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… which may seem bad, but it’s actually really good because the beginning of 2014 was more like …

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… as it occurred just over 24 hours after I had major surgery to remove a begin but ridiculously enormous ovarian cyst (seriously, it was 20cms across and weighed 1.5kg).

So I’m counting that as a general life improvement to feel good about.

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For some reason I tend to not count university as an achievement. I’m not really sure why.

I say things like: “I’m useless. I haven’t done anything in the last few years.”

And my friends give me funny looks and say: “Didn’t you get two degrees? I’m sure I remember you whinging about assignments, pulling all-nighters and babbling about the Dewey decimal system while sobbing uncontrollably. If you need reminding I can produce photographic evidence of you tossing a mortarboard in the air with apparent glee.”

So this time I will count it.

In November I completed my final semester of my library and information management graduate diploma. After becoming unwell, I had to study part-time and externally. It was still hard. The effort I had to put into coursework gave me near-constant brain fog and made me crash all the time. I was accustomed to getting good grades, and it was soul-crushing to understand what was involved in an assignment but have my brain and health fail me so utterly that I still could not meet all the requirements. I drifted in a never-ending sea of confusion, vice-like headaches and exhaustion.

My grades dropped.

But I passed.

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I posted last year that due to ridiculous levels of brain fog brought on by university I found myself incapable of reading Moby Dick. At the time I had to accept my limitations and stick with re-reading Harry Potter instead.

But know I have finished university and I have more freedom in what I read. I don’t have to throw every last ounce of energy at textbooks and essays. Now I can once again direct my energy toward dense, wordy books.

So I went straight back to Moby Dick and totally crushed it.

… in the mature, intelligent, literary sense of ‘totally crushed it.’

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If you have some victories to bask in the glory of, please do so in the comment section! It will make you feel warm and glowy, and who doesn’t like feeling warm and glowy?

* When I started writing this ‘recently’ was a valid word choice, but at the time of posting ‘a couple of months ago’ would be more accurate. I kept getting distracted and not finishing this post, primarily because it doesn’t have very many good jokes and I find jokes motivating.

 

Scarves for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare

Call me invalid. I have had chronic fatigue syndrome for a little over six months now, so lately I haven’t been able to do a whole lot.

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Initially it wasn’t so bad. That is to say, it always sucked, but at first it was a fresh situation and it was easy to be optimistic. Less so now. Apologies about this. I’ve been trying not to sulk, but it’s becoming difficult.

The real problem is the brain fog. I’ve never been a very active person, so it hasn’t been too hard to limit physical exertion. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still been frustrating, inconvenient, limiting and an all round pain, but I’ve found I can do it and still have a life that makes me happy.

I’m having a lot more trouble limiting cognitive exertion. The big part of this is that the university semester has just started up again, and although I only have one subject for my post-grad librarianship course, it’s a course on readers’ advisory, which means a lot of reading. Like, a lot. And reading is cognitive exertion. And cognitive exertion leads to brain fog. And brain fog is utterly debilitating.

You know when you read a sentence and you understand every single word in that sentence individually but together it makes no sense, and you’re left wondering if the sentence actually is nonsense or if it’s just you missing something? Brain fog is like that, but with everything in the entire world and you know it’s you. When I have brain fog, I can’t put things together meaningfully. Things I’ve never thought of as cognitive activities have suddenly become challenging, or just downright impossible. These are things like remembering things, following a recipe and cleaning the detergent compartment of the washing machine.

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This issue has been lurking for a while, but it has been manageable. I found that re-reading easy things is relatively gentle on my mind when I turned to Harry Potter after brain fog forced me to abandon Moby Dick. But now that I have to read academic writing and chew through a mountain of fiction for uni, I get brain fog most days.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of knitting and feeling guilty. The guilt is because I feel like I should do as many useful things as possible, because I can’t do many things and my partner has to pick up the slack. Expending energy on knitting means I’m less useful than my maximum useful output.

But I’m knitting anyway, for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that I like it, it doesn’t tire me out that much, and it neither brings on nor is impeded by brain fog.

The second reason is that my knits are potential bribes for people I know in the real world to come and visit me. So people who are nice enough to come and talk to me might just get a beanie out of it.

It was probably a mistake to put that information online. I have no illusions about my knitting ability, and the promise of free knits would be more of an incentive to stay away. In fact, I’ve never even knitted a beanie. I probably can’t. Scarves and headbands are more my level.

The final reason I found in the pages of Harry Potter. And it is the most important, I think.

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It means I’m free, even if it’s just a little bit. I produce something. I have something to show for the time I spend knitting. I might have to study from home, I might have to abandon hopes of getting job any time soon, I might struggle to read or write, I might lose my train of thought and forget simple words, I might not be able to walk more than a few hundred meters on a good day, but, damn it, I can still knit just as much and just as well as if I was healthy.

And ok, Dobby the house-elf being freed by clothes and then wearing a crazy collection of knits as a symbol of his freedom is not exactly like knitting to rebel against the confines of illness, but whatever. It helps me.

Initially, this is how I wanted to end this post:

Tenuous connection or not, tomorrow I am going to put on all my scarves, yell “Dobby has no masters!”, dive back into Moby Dick and get my white whale.

I was excited about that ending. Writing it made me feel like I could do anything, and I was determined that I would. But that’s not how this post ends, because of reality.

Moby Dick would be hard through brain fog anyway, but I can’t even try chipping away at it while I have so much uni reading to prioritise. Maybe at the end of the semester I can try it again, but not now.

Also, that ending was to have a picture of me, mummified in scarves, on a ship chasing a white whale though a storm. I tried to draw it and couldn’t. It was the shape of the ship and making it work with all the background shapes like waves and clouds and the whale. My mind was all foggy and I couldn’t draw.

This was, to date, the most upsetting thing that chronic fatigue has done to me. My failure to clean the washing machine detergent compartment was defeating and degrading, but my ability to clean a washing machine detergent compartment has never been important to me as a person the way my ability to express myself through words and pictures has.

So I couldn’t end like that, with a “screw it, I’ll do it all anyway!”, because I can’t. I can’t. I can knit scarves, but I can’t chase whales. I need to accept the things I can’t do and find victories in the things I can.

I can’t guide that ship through the fog in my head.

But I drew something else.

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I’ll end with this.