A hand holding a still pinwheel toy with a blurred mix of colors spinning in the background.

Spinning Pinwheel: Brief Moments of Clarity

Don’t you just hate it when you’re sitting at your computer trying to browse the internet, check an email, or watch a movie and are instead met with that little spinning pinwheel indicating that something is processing? Or maybe your computer displays a small hourglass? Either way, they both mean the same thing: thinking, thinking, thinking. Two seconds ago, everything was (more or less) running smoothly, but out of nowhere, everything freezes and that stupid pinwheel pops up. Sometimes, it lasts for just a few seconds, but sometimes it lasts for what feels like forever! Maybe your computer is just old and can no longer keep up with modern technological demands, or perhaps something is wrong with it - something internal, something you can’t see - like your computer’s “brain” is experiencing some kind of cognitive crisis.

My brain just freezes

I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of you reading this right now are well aware of how multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause all sorts of cognitive impairments. Poor memory, difficulty processing information, difficulty concentrating, or even struggling to find the right words. I would say that for me, more often than not, I’m experiencing at least one of these cognitive afflictions. The computer that is my brain is almost always displaying that little spinning pinwheel, even if I’m doing something simple like making myself a cup of coffee. I’ve made a million cups before, the steps are super simple, but still, halfway through, my brain just freezes and…pinwheel. Thinking…thinking…thinking.

Maxing our your brain's processing power

Simple tasks become difficult. One plus one feels like AP calculus. Trying to remember the name of a co-worker feels like trying to find and dig out a good movie in the $5 bargain bin at the store. Someone calls you on the phone, and you ask them how they have been and all of a sudden it feels like you’re sitting in a college lecture about international politics in the 1700s. And of course, trying to find the right words to keep up in a conversation about your favorite movie feels like you are in an epic battle with some kind of word ninja! This stuff shouldn’t be so difficult! It shouldn’t be maxing out your brain’s processing power! Your “computer” is not old, something is obviously wrong with it!

When the fog momentarily clears

But every once in awhile, something happens. I don’t know how or why, but for a brief moment, it feels like everything is working as intended up there. The cognitive fog that the vast majority of people living with MS are familiar with momentarily clears, and I can see everything around me, clear as day. It feels kind of odd, though. The feeling of being able to think so clearly is familiar, but at the same time, somewhat foreign. Kind of like when you bump into someone at the store that you haven’t seen or even talked to in years. “Hey…I know you…” For the first time in a long time, I can actually function without being interrupted every 20 seconds by that stupid pinwheel!

A brief moment of relief from the brain fog

Now, when this happens, I typically try to just enjoy my ability to function as a human being. I don’t rush to get as much done as I can or see how much further I can push myself than usual because this is such a unique moment for me, and it honestly just feels good to simply be able to sit and think for a while. To daydream. To use my 5 senses to experience the world around me as I did before I was diagnosed with MS. Before all the “neurological static” consumed my central nervous system making it a struggle to form every little thought that my brain tries to express throughout the day. I can simply sit, take in a deep breath, and slowly exhale while enjoying this brief moment of clarity. This brief moment of relief before the heavy cognitive fog of MS, the spinning pinwheel, inevitably returns.

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