Thinking Through a Smudge: Part 1

As the summer trudges on, it’s proven to be an extremely tough one for many people with multiple sclerosis. The record-setting heat and humidity across the world have made many people’s symptoms much worse than normal. I am definitely one of those that have been negatively affected by the conditions, as a number of my normally manageable symptoms have greatly worsened. I’ve had a few falls, more pain, lots of blurred vision, and in particular, I’ve experienced some terrible cognitive problems. When it comes to cognitive dysfunction or brain fog, as some like to call it, I think that those who haven’t experienced it have a much greater chance of misunderstanding or even dismissing it.

MS cognitive challenges are different

I’ve mentioned some of my cognitive issues to others and have often gotten a response like “Oh, I forget things too”. Sure, everyone does, but my issues are worse than that. My memory is a huge problem, but that’s only one aspect of my difficulties (and it’s a lot more prevalent and consistent than occasionally forgetting why I walked into a room). I still experience those absent-minded moments that everyone else does, but what I am talking about when I say brain fog or cognitive dysfunction is much different than that.

Nothing is clear

When my cognitive issues worsen, I feel like all of my thoughts are going through a clogged filter. One analogy that I like to make is that thinking when your brain is like this is like seeing through glasses with a smudge on them. If glasses are dirty or smudged, you can still see through them, but not well. That smudge distorts everything, it forces you to try to focus harder to see through it. I feel like I have a smudge on my brain and all my thoughts are trying to get through it. That may not make the most sense, but, I mean, I do have some brain fog even now.

Confusion

I experience some long bouts of confusion. I become confused and can’t figure out where I am at or what I’m doing. When it happens, it happens suddenly, often interrupting tasks. It’s absolutely terrifying to me. I’ve had many moments where I’ve found myself sitting in a room, unsure about where I’m at and what I’m doing. Trying to figure it out is like trying to think through wet concrete. It’s disorientation in which I simply can’t connect the dots of the world around me. I have so many moments when I am confused and sit there trying to put it all together. Sometimes it’s just a blip and I can recover and figure it all out quickly, but other times it feels like it lasts hours.

Misidentification

Sometimes I misidentify people and objects. This has been a massive issue for me. Just last week, I ran into a couple, who I thought were my next-door neighbors (people I see nearly every day). I walked up to them to say hi and discuss a couple of things around the neighborhood. They didn’t have much to say and they looked at me like I was a little odd (I mean, no doubt that’s true for many reasons). I found out later that they were not my neighbors, but an entirely different couple (and while the husbands look alike, the wives don’t look at all alike). I’m sure they figured I was drunk or something, at any rate, it was embarrassing and pretty disheartening to me.

In the same week, my eyes felt dry so I went to my bathroom to use a few drops of contact solution. I looked at the counter, grabbed the bottle, opened it, and poured some into my eyes.  Except that it wasn’t contact solution, it was alcohol-based aftershave and it burned like hell. The bottles were not next to each other and I didn’t blindly reach for them, I looked down and selected what I thought was the right bottle. When I misidentify a person or object, it’s not a careless mistake, I truly believe what/who I am seeing is who I think it is.

I have more examples of how my cognitive issues affect me, however, given the subject matter, I’ve decided to break this article up into two parts.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share! As always, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

Devin

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