how to manage brain fog and fibromyalgia. what brain fog is, how it manifests and how we can fight it

How to Manage Brain Fog and Fibromyalgia

There’s a pernicious symptom of living with Fibromyalgia that can fall into the background of the twin peaks of pain and fatigue. Something that affects our everyday lives and we may not even realise it is a thing.

how to manage brain fog and fibromyalgia. what brain fog is, how it manifests and how we can fight it

Brain fog, fibro fog, or cognitive dysfunction (a very unattractive term, but there it is.)

It can strike during any conversation, any task, any time.

I can’t do confrontations because the stress causes me to forget how to stand up for myself. All the words or well-articulated statements I’d have written down become buried in fog when I try to access them in the moment. Even subjects I’m well researched on become minefields when reaching through my memory for the information. Which is part of why I write everything down.

There’s been a thousand conversations where I’m reaching for simple words that blew away a moment before I want them. There have been even more times when I say one thing when I mean another.  Sometimes I know I’ve done it, but often I don’t. Occasionally I’ll realise later.

As someone who loves words and writing it’s more than a little upsetting.

Brain fog was thought to be another thing that is all in our heads, however, “a 2015 study in Arthritis Care and Research found that fibro fog is a real issue. In a study of 60 individuals – 30 with fibromyalgia and 30 without fibromyalgia – researchers found various impairments of attention and memory in fibromyalgia patients when compared with healthy controls. What remains unclear is what is causing the cognitive challenges.” Reference: Fibro Fog: Sleep, brain dysfunction likely culprits for cognitive difficulties associated with fibromyalgia on Arthritis Foundation accessed here

It is thought as many as 50% of Fibromyalgia patients struggle with it, perhaps more.

Brain fog has been theorized to be caused by poor sleep, the nervous system being off-kilter, stress and anxiety, and pain severity. Though, they really don’t know the cause yet.

Here’s the ways fibro fog can manifest:

  • Clumsiness/loss of spatial awareness
  • Losing words
  • Mixing up words
  • Forgetting things
  • Confusion (I’ve never experienced this but see how it could occur)
  • Overwhelm (too many competing sensory inputs)
  • Becoming easily distracted

Here’s some things that help minimise fibro fog:

  • Get the best sleep you can get (something I have found and is supported by the literature – sleep really is king to managing Fibromyalgia symptoms)
  • Pace activity and rest
  • Manage pain
  • Give yourself time and understanding

These are not small things for us to do. I spend a lot of time working on good sleep and managing pain. However it’s far better to what it was when I was at my worst. I go through all of these things in my course You vs Fibromyalgia and help you make plans to manage pain, sleep and pacing, so do come and join us now (the early bird offer disappears on 18th August 2018) if you would like help in these areas.

Here’s some ways to combat fibro fog and the effects:

  • Lists, write it all down – even before I was diagnosed or had any idea of why life was so much harder for me, I planned religiously and had lists upon lists.
  • Routines, automatic pilot can be useful
  • Explain it to those around you often – I often tell my family that there is nothing more dear to me than a person who mercifully adds the right word in their own head for or me or gives it to me gently.
  • Check your medicines are not the culprits – sometimes our medicines cause as many issues as they solve, it’s good to be aware of what their side effects are so we can mitigate them.

Brain fog is just one of those things that come with chronic sleep deprivation, pain and fatigue, but there are many things we can do to compensate for it.


You vs Fibromyalgia, my research and your plans.

This is an excerpt from my eCourse You vs Fibromyalgia: Helping you Fight Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Insomnia – do come along and join us to if you want to learn to fight.

 

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“Normal,” Relatively Speaking

I thought I was relatively “normal,” physically speaking. Just with some extra pain and fatigue.

But as I have come back into the workforce (physically) after Nu and two years of contracting, I have realised that it’s not so.IMG_20150927_145928

I can’t sit still. My neck begs to be stretched so regularly but I fight it in order not to stand out in meetings. I have to stand for some periods of time. I have to stretch. I get up often.

At a physical job it’s not as easy to take breaks at odd times because you just need to. You can eat at random times, you just look like you are always eating.

You can’t lie down with your heat pack as you need.

On frosty mornings I need gloves to cover sore, cold fingers.

Sometimes, when I am very sore and tired I am Emotional. With a capital E! I have been so tired that I just want to cry and crawl under my desk more than a few mornings recently.

After work I am wiped. I need to sit with my heat pack before I can keep going. A 20 minute walk, dinner and getting Nu to bed is all I am capable of. No ” school night” outings!

Despite all this. And more. I do it. Despite a bad back and neck, intermittently aching knees and fingers, tight, over reactive muscles, extreme exhaustion, fluctuating emotions, high energy needs, dizziness and nausea – I DO IT.

I spend a couple of hours with Nu, an hour travel time, six hours at work and several more hours with Nu each day. Except Wednesday and the weekends when I get to take work out of the picture.

People with fibromyalgia work so much harder than others to live “normally” (and we are expected to live “normally”, forever competing in an endurance race we just can’t win) and I’m so damn proud of myself for what I accomplish.

Whatever your normal looks like right now, you should be proud of what you accomplish. One foot in front of the other.

Managing Brain Fog at Work

Starting a new job is both a time of increased fatigue and an opportunity to begin good habits for managing yourself.

In my first few weeks of a new job that bears more responsibility and has required a lot of fast learning, the fatigue levels have increased.

I have been experiencing some of the old brain fog side effects such as loosing words (they’re right there but you just can’t reach them -so frustrating and really obvious!), muddling things up and just plain forgetting things.

Luckily there are a few ways to work with this:

  1. Plan. I make sure I have a master list of the key projects, a date schedule for key tasks/deadlines and a daily to-do list. I work off this through the day and spend 10 minutes before I leave writing the next day’s to-do list.
  2. Prioritise. I have had a few pressing projects that I didn’t feel I could prioritise yet in hindsight I see one that could have waited a little longer!
  3. Rest. This is a hard one with the baby, my morning is rushed and there isn’t much time for an afternoon rest. The weeks that my husband is on nightshift I try to take advantage and have him pick up baby so I can rush home and actually lie down with the heatpack. The weeks he is working until 6pm I just have to try to grab snippets of time to sit down.
  4. Sleep. Sleep is a problem for most people with Fibromyalgia, and it is a big struggle for me. If I’m lucky, I can spend about 9.5 hours in bed and achieve 8-8.5 hours of sleep. I have been making a point of getting to bed by 9.30 as often as I can to maximise sleep opportunity. I have found a relaxation technique where I imagine warmth and relaxation creeping slowly throughout my body starting at my toes, I rarely get to my head, and I find it really useful when I’m starting to get frustrated by my awakeness or discomfort.
  5. Exercise. It can slip when you’re  exhausted, learning a new routine and it’s cold. My knee problem hasn’t helped. However, even a 15 minute walk is counted as success at the moment. Keep it managable and positive (build yourself up for what you do, don’t beat yourself up for what you don’t.)

Do you have any other suggestions?

Tiny Mission Gluten-Free Conclusion

“It may be what I am including, rather than what I am excluding that is making the difference.”

I suggested this in my first post about my Tiny Mission turned huge mission and it resonated with a few people.

I have finally completed my two month experiment being gluten-free. (And the first sentence is a spoiler!)

It’s been an exciting journey. Lots of good things have come from it.

I have been battling candida for several months, culminating in prescription antifungals (three weeks into the experiment) and a recommendation for taking probiotics permanently. Just before this, a rather bad flare up manifested itself, lasting for two weeks.

After 60 days gluten-free, the only difference I noticed was a slight reduction in the brain fog, the filmy cloud that hangs over my brain.

At day 40, I was experiencing less bloating, I am not sure whether it was the food, the antifungals or both.

I lost 2 kilograms and put 700 grams back on in the first three weeks. I ended up 1.5 kilograms lighter than when I began – this is my pre baby weight! Yay!

At day 50, after four days of an upset, bloated tummy with immense hunger, I decided to listen to my body when it demanded gluten. I had a little wheat flour over two items, two days apart.

After day 60 I gently began reintroducing most glutenous grains. I am still too scared to try oats again after an intense reaction at week two.

I have had no negative reaction to gluten so far.

I am going to focus now on what I am eating. I will nourish myself in the best way possible and I believe that includes a diet high in vegetables,  fruit,  whole grains, meat and dairy alternatives (for the most part).

Gluten-free goodies

Gluten-free goodies

It was a good experiment, unfortunately gluten wasn’t my magic bullet, but it did help me to examine my eating habits and encourage me to be wary of too much of anything.

How I Manage My (Digital) Thoughts

With a touch of the brain fog, a bad neck and a busy baby, I have to manage my post ideas digitally (and immediately).

These two apps have been a lifesaver:

The WordPress app.

My Evernote app. I have a free account and, in addition to saving post ideas in there, I also keep heaps of recipes and articles in various notebooks (for subjects such as pregnancy and fibromyalgia).

Sometimes the notes I take for blog posts remain sentences for weeks or months, other times whole blog posts pour out of me. But they’re all captured in Evernote – and accessible on my laptop for when I get super motivated and transfer a few posts at a time to the blog.

The apps aren’t great for formatting, so when I want to link and use other formatting options, I use the laptop.

But the apps have been so useful because my neck far prefers using the phone than the laptop as I can sit or lie down, do it in few minute spots and have my neck resting while I use it. Just in case this could be of use to you, I have a list of the digital tools I utilise:

For work:

  • Dropbox – free online document storage, accessible across laptop and phone
  • Google calendar – this is also accessible across platforms and I have access my client’s calendar too
  • Gmail
  • Insightly customer relationship database – this is my preferred database for my client’s needs and it’s free at the level of data we use

For life:

  • Evernote app
  • WordPress app
  • Facebook app
  • GoodReads app
  • Pocket – I share all articles of interest in there so that I can read them when I have time
  • Photo Grid app – for editing the thousands of photos I take of my boy

Are there any other good ones, particularly for manging writing ideas?