Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Scotch Mist Is Coming....Please Accept This Shortbread!

(Apologies for the appalling Garth Marenghi's Darkplace reference. It's 8am, that's my excuse.)

The above image is from Chronic Illness Cat, a submissions-based Tumblr blog offering a humorous take on being chronically ill - in all shapes and sizes. I thought I'd write a post today about the dreaded "Fibro Fog".

Fibro fog, or brain fog, is an umbrella term for the cognitive difficulties caused by the condition. These include lapses in memory and concentration, mixing up often simple words and general confusion. Brain fog has been the subject of extensive study and the prevailing theory of the moment seems to be that, from the results of functional MRI scans of the brain, the part of the brain dealing with emotion never switches off in chronic pain patients - it is constantly active and attempting to process everything in the surrounding environment. This is thought to effectively "wear out" neurons in the affected areas and generally affect the balance of the brain as a whole. (Arthritis Today)

The above somewhat tongue in cheek example is actually pretty accurate for me. I do have blips such as that - picking up a perfectly run-of-the-mill object and for a few seconds being unsure what I'm supposed to do with it, or even why I picked it up in the first place. I'll be honest, these instances amuse rather than frighten me. It's as if the brain inside my very dark haired head is taking the opportunity for a "blonde moment" while it has the chance.

The scarier instances for me are when I can't remember how I arrived somewhere. The best example I can give is from a day at work, when roughly three hours after arriving in the office I spent ten minutes panicking because I couldn't remember for the life of me how I got to work - whether I'd brought the car or taken the bus. It turns out I'd caught the bus and that was why I couldn't find my car keys or the yellow token for the multi-storey, but for those ten minutes the entire hour and a half from leaving my front door to arriving in the office reception was completely missing from my memory. It's one of the reasons I now don't like travelling in the car by myself, in case it ever happened whilst travelling and I forgot where I was or where I was going. It hasn't happened yet, but the very real possibility is quite a frightening one.

So how do I deal with this? Probably not that well all told, but I'm still learning. I try to take deep breaths and count to ten, and remind myself that the memory will come back (it always has done in the past, though I'm not sure if this matches others experiences) in its own time. It would be nice if it didn't disappear at random, but I just have to wait for it to reappear.  The best thing I find is to try not to panic - this only serves to heighten the disorientation, and as we all know anxiety isn't all that great for future pain levels. Momentary lapses in concentration and discipline result in days of recovery later.

My specialist recommends working the brain and memory as much as possible to combat this, or at least to hopefully slow down any deterioration. I'm a quiz fanatic so like to do general knowledge quizzes (any instance of breaking double figures on University Challenge is legitimate cause for celebration in my book). The main thing she recommended however was word puzzles - wordsearches and crosswords, or games like Scrabble. Anything that puts your mind and recall to work will do.

On this note, I once spent three hours teaching myself the entirety of Skyrim's "Dragonborn" theme - in the dragon language. I'm still wishing I had a good excuse for it, but it did keep me occupied and I remember probably 90 percent of it now without looking at the lyrics - not bad eh? Useless, granted, but still not bad.

I promise this is not just an excuse to further my nerdy love of gaming (well, it mostly isn't?) but I often find that particularly immersive computer games are a help in this light - they require concentration at a given level for however long you play. Roleplaying fantasy games such as titles from the Forgotten Realms and Elder Scrolls series are particularly good examples - also, taking your frustration out on a roving band of orcs has never made anyone feel worse.

I admit it, that gives me a sound excuse to play more Skyrim and stop blogging. As such I ask your forgiveness and for a little indulgence.


  1. Ah, Forgotten Realms and Elder Scrolls- screw you world, I'm off over here to take out my frustration on those damnable goblins and those pesky daedra...

    In a similar vein, I find the high fantasy LARP I'm part of a fantastic distraction- it helps that most of the players are either broken or chilled out enough to accept that brokenness happens and isn't all in our heads, and that I can still get a fair amount of roleplay even though I'm now a non-combatant. F*** it, I'm off to be a magical Ogre Healer who people appreciate for a weekend, that'll be better than this DLA malarky.

    Fibro fog is a surprisingly big hurdle, and it's actually a major part of why I'm having to finally drop out of uni. I used to be able to spend a week memorising 200 digits of pi for a bet, and now I walk into exams and am lucky if I get the equation symbols right let alone in the right order (I've been trying and failing for various medical reasons to do an undergrad Physics Masters since '08). I've certainly noticed that I stumble over my words more, I forget that I've poured a cup of tea until it's tepid and horrible, I've mixed up appointment times and now rely on a diary to help keep everything in the right sucks. But all you can do is adjust where you can and try to get people to understand that it's you being thick it's just a part of your life now.

    That said, it's still an utter pain and so frustrating to forget the day of the week or what I was doing. Kinda like a real life Sims character, but with more medication and craziness. Yay for having friends who mostly "get it" and a fiancé who after the better part of five years is still putting up with me ^^'

    1. Sorry Lauren I've only just seen this comment - lovely to find another RPG fan :D

      I'm really sorry to hear about you having to drop out of university :( I hope it's a field you might eventually be able to go back to xx

  2. I am glad that you have found a way to cope with your brain fog, on many occasions i have to tell my partner (A Fibro sufferer) - "yes we have seen this film before and I did watch it with you" but most distressing are the times when she has gone out on her own and had a memory wipe, not knowing where she is or how she got there is terribly disturbing for her. her symptoms are a lot like T.E.A.(Transient epileptic amnesia) where whole hours of her life are gone, unfortunately in her case they have not returned at a later date, mixing up tenses is another one she slips with and like Lauren says cold cups of Tea.

    1. I'm sorry to hear about your partner's troubles :( although it's great that she has someone understanding on her side in you! Cold cups of tea are a bane of mine too! x