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Feeling Dumb in a Brain Fog

The past two weeks have been filled with major brain fog. I try to write and the words just won’t come together. It’s not that I can only turn out mediocre drafts. It’s more like I’m looking at a puzzle and can’t even determine which pieces might fit together, never mind trying to figure out where they fit in the larger picture. I write words, move them around, delete and rewrite, but nothing makes sense.

That’s when I’m trying to write something from my own mind. Even more difficult is synthesizing information from other sources. I read the words and think I understand them, but can form no cohesive thoughts on them. I start sentences and am at a complete loss on how to finish them.

The pain of a severe migraine is horrible, the nausea can be gut-wrenching, the fatigue is a drag… those are all physical symptoms that, while miserable, are separate from my sense of self. My intelligence and ability to write, however, are critical elements of my personality. When I’m shrouded in a dense brain fog, I don’t feel ill, I feel dumb. And that’s something I don’t think I’ll ever learn to cope with.

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Kerrie’s Latest Post on Migraine.com: The Many Symptoms of Migraine

Migraine is far more than “just a headache.” Skin sensitivity, difficulty finding words, inability to concentrate, constipation, stuffy nose, and dizziness are but a few of the many symptoms of migraine. Check out my full article on Migraine.com, Migraine is More Than a Headache: The Many Symptoms of Migraine.

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Cognitive Impairment & Other Strange Migraine Symptoms

Pain is an obvious symptom of migraine, but there’s so much more to migraine than the headache. Even the well-known symptoms like nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and sometimes aura barely scratch the surface.

Right now I’m in the early stages of a migraine. Although I can feel the pain coming on, more frustrating is that I’m having trouble thinking, concentrating and finding words. I’m fatigued and thirsty. The black circles under my eyes have returned. Eating might make me feel better, but I’m nauseated, have no appetite and the smell of food turns my stomach.

My current symptoms are part of the many different migraine symptoms. I now know what to expect, but I was terrified when I first noticed all these strange feelings I had before and during a migraine. Cognitive impairment was by far the scariest (and it still frustrates me to no end).

My mind is so fuzzy that I can’t make sense of the rest of the post. I’ll return to the topic next week. In the meantime, here are some relevant links that I intend to use as support.

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Exercise Your Mind

Exercising tops the list of many people’s new year’s resolutions. Usually the goal is to make your body work (or look or feel) better, but your mind needs exercise too. While it takes the same amount of discipline to get yourself to exercise your mind as it does your body, mental exercise doesn’t require getting sweaty and is usually fun. (Some people will tell you that physical exercise is fun, but no one who says that is trustworthy.)

Even more reason to put your mind to work is that headaches can affect your thinking. Trouble thinking and finding words are little-known migraine symptoms, but any severe pain can have the same effect. Being able to rationalize my foggy headedness doesn’t make me feel any smarter and I imagine it doesn’t help you either.

I’ve found Big Brain Academy and Brain Age, which are Nintendo DS games, to be a great way to challenge my mind, but special gadgets aren’t required. Nor are your options limited to crossword puzzles or sudoku — although puzzle books can be excellent. How to Exercise an Open Mind on wikiHow has a wide range of recommendations, some better than others. Or you can jump straight to the fun (and often free) stuff on MSN Games and Yahoo Games.

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Finding My Mind

My older sister, M, took a modeling class when she was 12 or 13, which commenced with a fashion show. On the way to the final event, my sister realized that she left her belt at home. Exasperated, our mom said, “M, where’s your head?” “On the floor in the closet,” M said, assuming that she was asking about the belt. That phrase is now part of our family lexicon. When one of us feels forgetful or spacey, we say, “My head must be on the floor in the closet.”

And I’m saying this a lot lately. I can’t seem to keep a thought in my head. I’m distracted easily and then can’t remember what I was talking about, the “right” word seems forever elusive, and I just don’t feel as sharp as I used to be.

The inability to think and find words are little-discussed symptoms of migraine. People with episodic migraines are likely to notice this during the peak and hangover (postdrome) stages of an episode. I see this pattern in myself during a “bad headache,” as I refer to my own migraine attacks. But I feel it the rest of the time too.

Is this a symptom of chronic daily headache/transformed migraine? Does the pain just distract my mind from other pursuits? Or is it simply that I’m not using my mind as intensely as I once did (like during grad school)? Maybe the answer is all of the above.

Last week I turned to Hart’s Nintendo DS for a solution. There’s Super Mario Brothers once in a while (I was a champ in middle and high school!), but mostly I play Brain Age and Big Brain Academy, which are designed for mental exercise. Both games have a series of tasks from different types of mental activity. Based on your performance, Brain Age assigns an age to your current mental level (my mind is currently 61) and Big Brain Academy gives you a brain weight and letter grade (I’m a C- student for the first time in my life). The idea is to practice regularly to reduce your score.

Once I was no longer demoralized by my age and grade, I totally got into it. (Is that video game parlance or what? Totally.) I haven’t tested myself in a few days, but have gotten progressively better on the practice exercises.

Already my self-confidence is boosted. I’ll probably never be as smart as a 22-year-old who is ensconced in academic journals and writing 25-page papers regularly, but I should be able to read something other than chick lit.

Knowing that there’s a part of my headaches that I can exert some control over is empowering. Trouble thinking is a symptom of migraine, but I don’t have to dig for my head among the shoes on the closet floor.