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.