Monday, November 15, 2010

A Case of the Not-So-Warm Fuzzies

While reading an article about autumn in the Adirondacks, the photo of a granite water tub/fountain caught my eye. Since the husband of one of my online friends does sculpting, I thought they might enjoy it, too, so I sent her a message to that effect. When she replied that she'd love to see it if I would send the link, I was surprised because I thought I had; but when I checked my original message, there was no link to be found. Fibro-fog strikes again!

What is fibro-fog? People talk about the "warm fuzzies"--things that make us feel good or give us a sense of well-being. Fibro-fog is the "fuzzies" without the "warmth." You realize you have it when you start to say a word and can't quite seem to latch onto it, or you begin to share some item you've read about or seen on the news, and use a different word from the one you had intended. Sometimes I go through a bit of mental acrobatics trying to capture that word--a bit like two people on separate trapeze bars, swinging, but not quite in synch, who keep missing each other when they try to grasp hands. Sometimes a bit of word association helps: Can you hand me's red, made from tomatoes, on the bottom shelf of the fridge door...CATSUP! Hah! Got it!

Almost everyone will occasionally forget a name or draw a blank when trying to remember something. But fibro fog is more than a momentary lapse. It involves temporary, short-term memory impairment (often in conjunction with a pain flare), that can make conversation difficult, stressful, and hard to follow or remember. Someone will tell you they're going to the store--you know what they said, you understood it, but as soon as their mouth stops moving, it's gone. For anything important to remember, it helps to write it down--just remember where you wrote it!

Fibro-fog may also cause you to transpose numbers and letters (even though you're not dyslexic), forget appointments, or temporarily forget how to do even a simple task or spell a common word. Those who experience fibro fog have occasionally found some of their possessions in unexpected places, such as their keys in the fridge and their milk in the cupboard. So, if you're having a "foggy" day, don't try to do more than one thing at a time, and try to focus on what you're doing and where you set things down. Don't tackle things like paying bills or balancing the checkbook until the fog clears.

Fibro fog can take a toll on your self-esteem. When you know in your mind what you want to say, but the message isn't getting from your brain to your mouth, it can be embarrassing, humiliating, and make you feel stupid because you know it's happening, and you can't do anything but ride it out. I used to quip that if I ever developed Alzheimers, no one would know the difference! Now, scientists have discovered that those who have fibromyalgia may have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Fibrofog can also have a negative impact on self-care because you are apt to forget to exercise or take medications consistently that would help alleviate other symptoms, such as pain. Since pain interferes with the brain's ability to process new information (as does lack of sleep, stress, and the decrease in seratonin production), it can become a vicious cycle.

Fortunately, these episodes usually only last a few hours, and disappear when the pain flare ends or when you have been able to get restorative sleep.

To minimize fibro-fog, here are some things that may help:
  • Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night (easier said than done if you suffer from insomnia);
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet that includes "brain food" like fish (especially fish high in omega-3s, such as wild salmon and tuna), blueberries, green tea, and organic dark chocolate or cacao beans; foods high in B-vitamins (especially folic acid, B6 and B12);
  • Keep your brain active with another kind of "brain food"--puzzles (crosswords, Sudoku, brain teasers, riddles, etc.), reading, learning a new language, learning anything new such as knitting, crocheting, painting, wood-working, sculpting, etc.
  • Aerobic exercise, especially walking (a US study found that walking appears to help minimize brain shrinkage as we age, and may offer some protection against, or delay the onset of, dementia and Alzheimers);
  • Minimize stress (exercise can help with this, too, but so can calming meditation, listening to soothing music, watching an aquarium full of fish, or some other relaxing activity--or just deep breathing and closing your eyes for a few minutes);
  • Keep your sense of humor--Laughter can help minimize stress, lower anxiety, oxygenate your blood, and provide an internal massage;
  • Accentuate the positive--find that cloud's silver lining, look for the good, change negative thoughts into positive ones, focus on what you CAN do instead of what you CAN'T do.
  • Don't take yourself too seriously--most problems eventually are solved, situations change, and something can be learned from the most devastating of life's experiences.
We can't control fibro fog (or much of what life throws at us), but we can control how we choose to handle it. We can worry about it, or we can recognize it as part of the challenge of living with Fibromyalgia, and determine to live the best life we can in spite of it.

How do you cope with fibro-fog or other challenges of living with a chronic illness? Post your thoughts, questions, suggestions in the comment section below.

Now, I'm going to go spend some time with MY warm fuzzies--Mindy, Meisha, Micau, and...David!