When the brainfog hits you bad; a specialist’s perspective

I would expect, that even if you aren’t a part of the niche, tight-knit community of CF-related diabetics like me*, you will have experienced brain fog at some point in your professional career.  Or cognitive dysfunction, to give it its scientific name.

Maybe it was a critical moment, in a big meeting as you pitched the incredible, life-changing, oh-no-you-just-forgot-what-it-is, to a potential client or investor. Perhaps it was in the middle of an interview for a coveted job.

Or a more mundane, everyday kind of situation. When you forgot something mid-sentence on a phonecall, or forgot your password, fingers hovering over the keys as you tried to remember which dead pet name now makes up part of your obscure login.

We’ve all had it, often at the worst moments and it can be phenomenally irritating. It is also perhaps, a leveller, that makes even the most high-powered businessperson simply human for a moment.

According to Google, people search for all kinds of queries related to brain fog. We want to know what causes it, what it feels like, what foods make it worse (gluten, apparently), what kind of doctor can ‘treat’ it (now that is one kind of doctor I’d love to see), how long it lasts and more.

But is there anything good about brain fog? Perhaps so.

I am particularly intrigued by the phenomenon and that is because I experience a certain, specialist type of brain fog.  You might know it as diabetic hypoglycemia, or to give it its common name ‘a hypo’.

A hypo is a little different for everyone with diabetes, but let me tell you how it feels for me: the area around my mouth starts to feel a little numb, my lips tingle. I become very aware that I am trying to remember what it normally feels like in my head. I know something has changed. It goes quiet outside as I concentrate on working out what is happening. I always come to the same conclusion; as if by magic, some little stealth pixie must have stepped into my head and replaced my brain with styrofoam. I start to sweat a little, and then the penny drops. A hypo has hit.

At different times depending on how severe the hypo was, I’ve forgotten what I was saying, or doing, and on one or two occasions I’ve forgotten how to spell my name.

I don’t want to trivialise hypoglycemia as it can lead to life-threatening situations when not controlled. But having developed diabetes aged 21 I can remember life before hypos very clearly. And in pursuit of a silver lining in everything; I can say that the aftermath of a hypo can make me feel more alive.

That sudden absence of everything in my head and the instant switch into survival mode a hypo brings is extraordinary. Life becomes very simple and two dimensional. It gives me such an extreme respect for my brain and my body.

When the hypo is over I feel so grateful to have made it through. That absence of feeling is a reminder of how much is there when my body returns to normal.

In much the same way that brain fog is often just a side-effect of the human body going about its complex, messy, incredible business.

So cheers to that.

 

*A not well known, but common complication of Cystic Fibrosis in adults is CF-related diabetes. This is a bit of hybrid beast that is neither type 1 or 2, but bears more resemblance to type 1 and is usually treated with insulin. 

What’s purpose anyway?

We’ve all read about the girl who has months left to live and is following her bucket list through to completion or the cancer survivor who lives each day as their last. I dont know what its like to truly live day to day, not knowing whether there’s another one, so I won’t pretend I do.
But what if the time limit was 10 or 20 years, not 1 or 2? 10 years is a funny length of time. It’s too long to live as if each day were your last- where your next pay cheque is coming from and what your plans are on Saturday are as much a concern as ever- but it is short enough to want the answers to a lot of questions that you probably wouldn’t be so fussed about if you knew you had 50 years left to figure them out.

Am I doing something important? How do I make the best of what I have? Am I the best I can be? What is my purpose anyway? Will the Star Wars franchise reboot again in another 20 years? All important, difficult questions.

Granted, some of us who are expecting to live for 40 or 50 years will not make it past 10 anyway. The world is always uncertain. But that doesn’t stop us from making assumptions. We work long weeks and have a certain set of priorities because we assume there will be time to re-order those priorities later. There probably is time. I think most people take that chance, it’s the most natural thing to do. I’m not sure I know what ‘live each day like your last’ really means anyway.

I’ve been thinking about ‘our time’ and how we spend it a lot recently. I’ve been wondering what a compromise might look like between thinking you have 10 years left instead of 50.

From the big stuff. Being truthful with yourself about what you really want, and planning bit by bit, (year by year, not decade by decade) how you might make that a reality.

To the smaller things. Not turning down friends for a drink because you’re tired and have somewhere on Netflix to be. And at times, realising that time alone is exactly what you want and not being afraid to have that, either. Not looking away when someone is tireder than you and wants a seat on the train. Smiling at more of the many people who pass you by each day, instead of keeping your head down. Speaking to someone who you think has nothing to offer you, just to learn more about their story. Being brave enough to say what you really mean when it matters.

I don’t know what that 10 year compromise looks like yet – to be honest the idea of it scares me silly – but I’m hoping starting with the smaller stuff is how you find it.

The image is the amazing parcel I got sent from work today while I take time off on antibiotic IVs. It really made a difference to my day, thank you. Xximage

My dirty habit

I have a habit.

I don’t like to talk about it.

Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t kick it.

My daily pick-me-up.

I’m not alone.

A lot of young city dwellers need a bit of extra help

A little lift, to make it through a demanding day.

Once in the morning, and in the evening

Quick and discreet, is what I try to be.

“I’m just nipping to the ladies,” I say.

Once, someone saw me-

A faint line of white above my lip.

I scrubbed it off, quick as I could.

What would they think of me?!

But it’s worth the hassle, a thousand times over.

My little lifesaver.

It’s my antibiotic inhaler.

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No, I’m not making light of recreational drug use, but I’m often reminded of my complete and utter dependence on medicinal drugs and I find the parallels interesting.

Yes, someone really did come into the bathroom just after I’d taken my Colistin antibiotic inhaler and saw a cloud of white powder down my front. That was awkward.

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Antibiotic inhalers are a very simple but landmark development in CF medication. Instead of having to take multiple oral antibiotics continually at very high doses –something the body will not thank you for – it offers the chance to reduce the metabolic load on the liver and kidneys and a much more effective delivery straight to the lungs. Win for me, win for my body. Just a pity they taste like old socks…