Cognitive dysfunction is a symptom in fibromyalgia; the others being body-wide pain (primary), dysfunctional sleep, and significant fatigue (sometimes linked with dysfunctional sleep). Fibrofog is a term we use to describe short-term memory loss, trouble finding common words, transposing letters and numbers, losing our train of thought mid-sentence, or forgetting familiar names. It often finds us juggling our thoughts and words.
My brain envisions words as though they are each printed on different balls, and I know if I catch them, I can string them together to complete my thought. This should be easy, but sometimes I juggle them as though they are hot potatoes. There it is, I almost have it, but when my brain gets close, the word is knocked further away. I know everyone experiences this on occasion, but those of us who live with fibrofog know the differences. It’s not about simply losing a thought or word; it’s about completely losing a concept. That missing word or words make it difficult to connect the dots of our thoughts. Our cognitive difficulties are often accompanied by exhaustion (physical and cellular) and other contributing factors, such as hypometabolism, hypothyroidism, disordered sleep cycles, and pain. Cognitive disturbances are a distinguishing factor in diagnosing fibromyalgia.
But, we can’t become mired down in feelings of defeat. We can instead learn to accept our cognitive challenges and work on identifying and managing contributing factors and find ways to reduce the stress that accompanies it. Following are things we can do to help our oversensitive brain stay on track.
1) Avoid a catastrophizing dialogue. It’s not our fault, nor our brain’s. We should treat ourselves with tender loving care. If someone says we forgot something, it could be true. When we own it, we can learn to laugh instead of argue, it improves our mood, our mental cloudiness, and the mood of those around us.
*Take notes on the weird and wacky things you do and share it with others. A sense of humor is a good way to get through any day.
2) Get rest and don’t overexert. Dysfunctional or not, 8 hours of sleep is still better than 2 hours. Stick to a bedtime routine that your brain can rely on. Our brain needs to rest so it can restore function, provide healing, improve immunity, and perk up our mood.
- Sleep in a dark, comfortable, room. Properly align and support your body during sleep. If your sleep partner, human or furry, snores, wear earplugs or consider alternative sleep arrangements.
3) Monitor and manage peripheral input. Noisy or physically congested areas create an over-stimulating environment that leads to distraction, confusion, and disorientation, particularly if you know you have a loss of proprioception, knowing where your body is in the surrounding space.
4) A calendar is your friend. Use it and keep it in a place where other family members can help you stay on track. Being organized allows us to focus.
5) Plan. Plans help us avoid stressful situations.
*I get lost easily, even to places I have been numerous times. I have learned to use my GPS—and—print out a map.
6) Manage time. Mismanagement of time can cloud our judgment because we become anxious when we don’t know what to expect. Breaking up our time into manageable segments keeps anxiety at bay. Avoiding the temptation to procrastinate helps us stay on track. Anxiety, stress, and running around like a chicken with its head cut off are the last things we need when cognitively challenged.
7) Manage our mood. When our mood is light and accepting, it counteracts distraction and negativity and improves our overall well-being.
*Listen to soothing music; find joy in looking at favorite pictures, or write about a positive experience in your journal. Spend time on focused breathing, meditation, or other things that make you feel calm.
8) Clear out the cerebral file cabinet. Don’t dwell on things you can’t change, like the past. Banish feelings of guilt or worry.
~ Corrie Ten Boom
9) Consider the effect of medications on cognition and sleep.
*Yes, medications used to treat fibromyalgia or other symptoms could be a factor.
10) Omega 3, along with aerobic activity, and cognitive stimulation may help. One study indicates these things together decline changes in gray matter in certain parts of the brain. So doing things known to improve brain function contributes to our cognitive health.
There is no cure, and I understand the difficulty of describing fibrofog to others. For us, it’s accompanied by fatigue, uncertainty, disruption in our daily living, and difficulty following simple instructions. But having tips for managing things that contribute to brainfog is helpful.
Deep breathes, treat yourself with loving care, and understand that our brain is trying to function despite many challenges imposed by fibromyalgia—so should we.
Other Helpful Resources:
Celeste Cooper / Author, Health Pro, Advocate
Think adversity?-See opportunity!
Celeste Cooper, R.N., is a freelance writer focusing on chronic pain and fibromyalgia. She is lead author of Integrative therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series. She enjoys her family, writing and advocating, photography, and nature. Connect with Celeste through her website CelesteCooper.com, Twitter @FibroCFSWarrior, or follow her Facebook page.