Mental Health Monday: Pea Soup

Knotmagick is still on hiatus, and posts will be sporadic until probably mid-September at least. But if you miss the blog, why not check out some older MHMon posts?

Autumn in Ohio tends to involve a lot of pea-soup like fog, especially in the early morning. Growing up, we had more school delays for fog than any other weather. 

Living with brain fog can be just as challenging as navigating an unlit road on a frosty, foggy morning in deer season. You never know what will come up out of that cloud mass–a school bus, a car accident, someone’s dog, and old man crossing the road to check the mail. 

“Brain fog” is a colloquial name for a group of symptoms that can be caused by a variety of conditions. The symptoms include difficulty concentrating or remembering information, confusion, difficulty processing and understanding information, a decrease in visual/spatial processing which can lead to a reduced ability to navigate spaces, and a loss or decrease in executive function, which is the ability to plan or prioritize tasks and events. 

It can be caused by a lot of different conditions, including (but not limited to) anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, anemia, MS, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions, POTS, hormone changes, sleep apnea and insomnia. 

So what does all of that mean? 

Well, in my case it means that about 70% of my waking hours I feel like I took a high dose of Nyquil. I can’t seem to wake up. My reaction time is reduced. People will ask me questions at work and I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about; I need context every time they speak to me because I can’t connect the dots on my own. I’ll make appointments or plans and if I don’t write them down I’ll completely forget. At least once a day I walk into a room and will forget what I went there for, or open a browser tab only to forget what I was going to Google or what website I needed to check. I’ll put down a craft project and have to stare at it for a minute to figure out where I left off.

This is not to be confused with what I call “squirrel brain,” however. Squirrel brain is when I’m overcaffinated, bored, or just plain procrastinating. It’s when I’m easily distracted, whereas brain fog means I’m physically incapable of concentrating because the wiring in my brain is malfunctioning. I can fight to overcome squirrel brain. I can’t really do anything about brain fog, except maybe take a nap.

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Even something as “simple” as packing up for our move has been difficult, and not just because my physical energy has been reduced so drastically. I literally can’t think of what needs to be done next. I can see books on the shelves and pictures on the walls and all sorts of things that need to be cleaned, but my brain cannot put them in the right order or figure out how to do each task. I’ve turned to Ash and told her to give me an order because I am incapable of figuring out what the next step is on my own. 

All of this means it is difficult to write or edit. I had grand plans that 2019 would be The Year of Revisions; I would revise or edit at least three books and write at least one more, and then I would have a backlog build up of books I could pitch or publish in 2020. 

But here it is, the middle of August. I have 30,000 words on one novel, and about 7,000 on another. I have revised a short story.

And that is all I’ve managed to accomplish in the past seven and a half months because my brain cannot sustain the level of activity it did even a year and a half ago. I feel like a laptop with a defective stick of RAM. Except the slot is also toast, so I can’t just replace it and get my processing power back. 

So how does a person with brain fog–constant, continual brain fog–cope? 

First of all, I write everything down. Everything. I keep a bullet journal and have planner pages so I can see all my appointments and to dos. If someone tells me about an upcoming event, I add it to a list of such events. I make an effort to review these lists and calendar pages at least once a day so I can stay on top of everything. 

Second, I’m working to create routines. Routines make it easier for me to think, help prevent distractions, and help me ensure that everything on my to do list gets done. So far these routines are not second nature yet, but I’m trying. 

Third, I ask for help. I’m still working with my doctor to determine if I’m on the right course of treatment and what changes can be made. Right now the biggest priority is trying to up my energy level so I can physically function. Hopefully, that will also help with reducing the brain fog.

Fourth, I limit my caffeine. It seems kind of counter productive. But if I spend all day drinking tea and coffee, trying to battle my fatigue, then I end up not sleeping at night, which makes it worse the next day. So I’m allowed one 10-oz cup of tea or coffee in the morning, and that’s it. If I’m absolutely desperate in the afternoon and taking a nap isn’t possible, then I can have a 4oz cup of tea, but only if it’s before 3pm. That’s the absolute latest I can have it without it impacting my sleep. 

And last, I try not to be too hard on myself. That way lies madness–trust me. All I can do is concentrate on a short list of things each day. I have to rest more. I have to take more breaks. 

It is an uphill struggle and I’m still fighting it. Most days it feels like a losing battle. 

Have you dealt with this? How do you handle it?

Like what you see? Check out the Evie Cappelli series on Amazon, a YA urban fantasy series about mental health, magical knitwear, and ghosts!


1 thought on “Mental Health Monday: Pea Soup”

  1. Moving in itself is quite a challenge even if a moving company does almost all of the work, Some of what you say is a mirror image of me. I go through spells of one or the other. What has been helping me is Julia Cameron’s morning pages and exercise. Morning pages, protein drink, exercise. I started with an exercise bike that I have access to use. Only about a month ago I changed to a road bike I now ride on trails in the woods. Then I do just plain old exercises and exercises with dumb bells (quite fitting for me). Then time for work. I quit coffee for green tea in the morning and white tea in the afternoon (or sometimes Oolong tea) both are very low in caffeine. If I get off routine my day falls apart. I cut out all refined and most other sugars.
    Also 5 minutes of calm meditation at 8, 10, noon, 2, and 4 as often as possible. Just some ideas, they may not be for everyone.

    I hope your summer turns out fine and you move into autumn successfully and make the move as easily as possible.


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