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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • LMcCB
    2 months ago

    You are spot on, Matt. Hang in there for those fleeting moments of clarity!

  • CTLH
    2 months ago

    Matt – omg so so so funny, thanks for the laugh.

  • collena
    2 months ago

    At work we used to call it ‘the spinning wheel of death’. Now I feel like I should have a t-shirt with it on the front…

  • Matt Allen G author
    2 months ago

    Lol OMG, I need that, if I can’t find one, I have to make one because there are so many times throughout the day that I’ll be talking to someone and my brain will just freeze mid-sentence and I wish a little pinwheel would pop up over my head so people could see that something is wrong with “my system” haha but a Tshirt might just do!

  • jumblejuls
    2 months ago

    This made me smile and laugh aloud. It is so on point. See my user name… jumblejuls is because of this exactly.

    Thank you, Matt

    Julie

  • Matt Allen G author
    2 months ago

    Lol glad you laughed although, I’m sorry you can relate enough to see the humor in it.

  • TraciDL
    2 months ago

    Agreed. MS is a giant spinning logo of one sort or another every single day.

  • TraciDL
    2 months ago

    Nailed it.

  • markt
    2 months ago

    Matt
    great article sooo true
    I’m the same but find the clear thinking does not last long. does yours?
    at work I even have notes for coworkers names that I have known for years as they can get lost in the jumbles of my thought
    how about when your doing good thinking and then a sudden distraction or loud noise makes you forget everything you were thinking about and its all just lost ?
    I find I talk a lot less as its better than not remembering all the things that use to come so easy to a conversation.
    thanks
    Mark

  • Matt Allen G author
    2 months ago

    Oh not at all, that’s what I was trying* to depict with the flashes of sunlight between trees while driving. Just like how you only see the sun for quick little flashes, my “moments of clarity” only appear for quick little moments. And yes, some stupid sound like a barking dog or someone dropping something will rip me right out of that short moment of clarity and leave me wondering what I was doing/thinking.

  • markt
    2 months ago

    I laugh at myself all the time as you just have to get that MS is funny (well you know what I’m saying if you have it)
    Im still working (just) but I write a lot of fast emails and say I get a call or any distraction in the middle and I have left for the day return turn on my computer and up pops the email I was in the middle of writing yesterday LOL
    and im like oh right I need to do this
    like I said I have notes all over to keep me doing what I need to
    without that im not sure what I would end up doing
    flashes in the sunlight between the trees is just right on target but I find that im driving at night and get no flashes at all
    that’s most of the time
    but every once and a while I get it back for lets say 5 min or even 10 (rare)
    I think im a science experiment
    when im not going to work
    I plan on and do what I think will help all the time be it another ½ of a modafinil take a very light hit of herbal med and
    I think after not drinking for over 10 years that one margarita or a stout beer helps me to kind of think clear
    but again its not for long

    that’s funny right

  • TraciDL
    2 months ago

    Yes! I’ll be great and then out of nowhere the 3 things happening in the room become a 3 headed monster and it’s all out the window. Spinning…spinning

  • Matt Allen G author
    2 months ago

    That’s what so frustrating I think, it doesn’t take much AT ALL to throw me off track and leave me feeling blanked out with that little pinwheel spinning over my head.

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