11 Tips for Dealing With Major Disruptions to Your Routine

I’ve been very quiet of late. There IS a good reason! Sometimes, despite the best laid plans of mice and men and women, our lives, our carefully planned routines, are disrupted.

A quick recap of the situation prior to the disruption. In 2016 I started part-time employment in a location that was a LONG way away from home. Relocating close to work was one of the lifestyle adjustments I made as discussed in Beat the Boom Bust Cycle.

This year, I had to move. As it turns out, this has been a GREAT change, but all of a sudden I was faced with home hunting, packing, organising the move, the paper warfare relocation involves and all the other bits and pieces that go along with moving. All on top of my normal daily commitments. Clearly, PACING was paramount if I was to come out the other side relatively unscathed!

I knew I just could not do it all without risking an arthritis flare or some other health set back. Writing was put on the back burner: it was one of the things that was, in reality, not a “Must Do” on the “To Do” list. Packing certainly was! Getting utilities connected certainly was!

The benefits? Beautiful leafy block (pictured above), quiet suburban street, cheaper and (best of all) GROUND FLOOR!

I didn’t come through it totally unscathed. Clearly moving is stressful at the best of times plus my rheumatoid arthritis medication is a immune suppressant. PLUS it IS winter! So I caught a virus about two weeks after moving day. I try to avoid catching bugs, but I think the body was ripe for invasion given the aforementioned circumstances! I was out for the count for several days!

Other life events that can be physically challenging include weddings (our own, or a family member), family holidays, community events we may be involved in organising, school fetes; the list is endless.

If it is a wedding and you are mother or father of either of the happy couple, the lead up is full of additional activities and you want to be in the best shape possible on the day.

Here are my tips for keeping our body healthy when we face a complete disruption to our physical routine that has the potential to cause us pain or a condition flare.

  1. Plan, start preparations early. Stop what you are doing if pain starts. Build rest periods into your plan.
  2. Accept help! My daughter and son-in-law helped me pack. A friend helped me unpack at the other end. If you are involved in the organisational stages as well as “on the day” or post-event clean up, make sure you do not say, “Oh, no I can manage”.
  3. Take annual leave if possible. I took a week.
  4. DO NOT be tempted to “help” the removalists on the day (if you are moving, otherwise adapt this tip to suit your situation). You organised help for a reason: whether they are paid experts or volunteers, resist the urge to throw yourself into the physical fray.
  5. Maintain your daily stretching regime. It can be easy to let such things slip when faced with exciting things going on. Your stretches are even more important now to counteract the pressure you are putting on your body.
  6. You may also have prescribed remedial exercises to do – maintain those too, for the same reasons.
  7. Ensure you get adequate sleep.
  8. Pay attention to your posture. With all the bending I was doing, I was diligent about hinging at the hip to ensure I minimised pressure on my spine.
  9. Do something appropriate to support your body during this time. For example, I booked a massage the second day after the move to iron out the niggles.
  10. Eat well, ensure you consume enough protein. Stay hydrated.
  11. If this is a big social event (rather than moving home), I strongly recommend continuing to wear your usual shoes on the day (in my case kyBoot shoes). While you might get away with “pretty” shoes or heels for an hour or so, any longer could well result in pain which could be very unpleasant on the day.

Every person is different, every person’s objectives and capabilities are different. If you are father of one of the bridal couple, your one burning desire for the day may be to walk your child down the aisle and maybe walking is your personal challenge. Plan ahead, practice, seek advice from your allied health providers well in advance. If necessary, consider adaptations: for example, at the recent royal wedding Prince Charles didn’t walk the full length of the aisle with Meghan.

Yes, I did resort to Panadol and a heat pack on my back the actual day of the move, but I have even impressed myself with how well my body coped (apart from the darn virus). The annual leave certainly helped, as I was not under pressure to rush. I could work unpacking for an hour, rest for an hour, do my stretches, get my exercises done; all without feeling as if I needed to hurry or as if I should be somewhere else.

Get back to your normal exercise routine as soon as possible. I took a day off from organising the new place to have that massage and go for a long walk.

My main objective, aside from a successful move, was to ensure I did not undo all the good work I have done to date. I did not want a rheumatoid arthritis flare. I was confident if I made sure I took my physical limitations into account, accepted or asked for help as necessary and took my time, I would be fine. Was my back a little stiff? Yes, a little, but at no time was I in excruciating pain or taking strong pain medication. I didn’t expect to come through it without my back grumbling a little, given the degenerative damage.

I have boxes that need lifting to the top shelf in the wardrobes: they are not hurting anyone sitting on the floor and that is where they are staying until someone better able to do it visits! Yes, it is tempting, but I’m NOT doing that to myself! Stick to your rules! Some of us are all too susceptible to striving to be “normal” and do what we used to be able to do. That is not a good idea! My study looked like this for several days (don’t tell anyone, but it still looks very similar) but it isn’t hurting anyone and I stay in one piece physically.

I ventured, for the first time EVER to Ikea and bought a small dining table and chairs that I assembled all by myself! This is a terrible photo, but I am proud I survived the move well enough to do this! It is an extension table, ideal for apartment living, so was more complicated than a straight table.

While unpacking, I came across this poem. Some days, like moving day itself, stuff just has to be done. But afterwards? Keep this in mind!

“Dust if You Must” ~ Rose Milligan

I painted my nails instead of dusting!

Last thought – amazing the things you find when you unpack stuff.

Here is me in a Melbourne publication in 1998.

Four Simple Tips

Sunglasses

I wear glasses. I also have prescription sunglasses. Eye protection is important and the Cancer Council has eye protection advice.

One problem with prescription sunglasses is situations where the ambient light changes instantly. Such as driving into an undercover car-park (work, supermarket). I go from protecting my eyes from the sun to not being able to see and risking poor Benji’s front guard.

I have found transitions lens are not ideal as they don’t actually go dark enough while driving, due to the windscreen reducing activation.

Very annoying. I found a solution. Sunglasses that go over one’s vision glasses.

Just like this.

No, not as much of a fashion statement as my prescription sunnies, but I can whip them off as the car-park boom gate opens. No fumbling around badly/madly to actually change glasses while also trying to change gears.

Opening Jars

Many people with chronic conditions find they lose grip strength. Grip strength is actually an interesting health metric.

Grip strength is related to and predictive of other health conditions, although the relationship is not stated to be causative [4,8]. Normal hand grip strength is positively related to normal bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, [9] with some researchers suggesting that grip strength be a screening tool for women at risk of osteoporosis [10]. Longitudinal studies suggest that poor grip strength is predictive of increased mortality from cardiovascular disease and from cancer in men, even when factors of muscle mass and body mass index are adjusted for [11,12]. Hand grip strength is negatively associated with physical frailty even when the effects of body mass index (BMI) and arm muscle circumference are removed [13]. Researchers have suggested that the factor related to frailty and disability in later life is the manner in which muscles are used, and this can be measured by hand dynamometry [13].

Source: NCBI

The scientific community, while clearly finding grip strength interesting to investigate, are not around when I need to open a new jar of marmalade. This wonderful little gadget is a life saver.

Can opener

As much as I resisted buying it because doing so made me feel old and decrepit, it is a marvelous little aid in the kitchen. I got it from one of those kitchen shops, I don’t remember which one. I can confirm these work brilliantly and I have yet to find a top that didn’t fit.

Vacuuming

Bending, technically flexion of my lower spine, is not something my back likes. My back reminds me of this in no uncertain terms every time I change the linen on the bed. Vacuuming is something that can result in us looking more like a cashew than correctly hinging at the hip.

I got myself an upright vacuum cleaner.

Upright the top of the handle almost reaches my armpit, maybe 5 cm short of my armpit. I’d measure it, if I had a measuring tape! Suffice to say it is much easier to stay upright when using this style of vacuum cleaner. Mine is a Shark, but I am sure there are other brands around. It also has fantastic suction, good for all the cat hair I invariably have to vacuum up every two days. Best of all, it wasn’t prohibitively expensive.

It has just occurred to me how to solve my linen changing problem – get a bed I can raise up to a height that allows me to stand upright! Not a lot of those around that don’t look like hospital beds though. But it is a thought! Seriously, I am going to focus on hip hinging when I do the bed.

Scalp Health

As I described in EXTRA Slip, Slop, Slap Needed, medications have resulted in skin issues for me. I know others suffer similarly. My situation does not exclude my scalp and I have a prescription lotion to apply. Entirely unrelated, my hairdresser sold me some leave-in spray to provide protection to my hair from the heat of hot rollers and hairdryers. It was suggested I could just use this as conditioner.

Interestingly, now that I no longer use conditioner in the shower, which of course actually gets on the scalp, I am using the prescription lotion far less frequently. Maybe once a month. It seems that in my case, even though I rinsed to the nth degree, conditioner may have been an irritant. Now using a product that only goes on the actual hair, I have seen a marked improvement. This may not be a solution for anyone other than me, but I thought it worth mentioning.

Yes, I know – my reflection is in picture of the bottle. I’m a personal trainer, not a photographer!

What simple tips can you share from your experiences?

You Look So Healthy!

Yesterday a fellow chronic illness patient shared she was in tears. A friend had told her she looked “so healthy”. So why was she crying? Even she was not quite sure, but several of us put our heads together and discussed the situation.

Tell us we look stunning, beautiful, handsome (men are chronic illness patients too), a fashionista even. Please be careful using the word healthy. If you have a friend or family member who has a terminal or chronic condition, perhaps reach out and ask them what compliments are safe. You want to compliment your relative or friend without using a word that can trigger sad feelings. For some it is the word “healthy”, for other patients there may be other words. Perhaps for a man “strong” maybe a trigger. Men – feel free to chime in with suggestions in the comments section!

If I put myself in another’s shoes, a healthy person’s shoes, imagining I know nothing about being sick, I possibly could think, “What would a sick person like to be? Healthy, that is what my sick friend would like to be“. I can see this imaginary healthy me thinking I am giving positive vibes to my sick friend. When I say “you look so healthy” I think I am being complementary. I am hoping to cheer my sick friend up.

However, for many of us sickies (also known as #spoonies), healthy is a bridge too far – yes some of us MAY go into remission or get close to it, but someone saying we look healthy can be a strong reminder we aren’t – and in many cases never will be again. It can hurt.

The word healthy can play tricks on us too. We can feel like you are doubting whether we are actually sick: that can feel as if our illnesses are being invalidated. One thing we need so much is the understanding of our loved ones. If we feel doubt from you, even though you don’t mean it, it hurts emotionally.

You look SO healthy” can make us cry because we want what we can’t have. No matter how hard we work at accepting our situation psychologically, no matter how hard we work physically at strengthening our bodies to manage the pain (if we can – I am lucky, I can, some can’t), most of us DO NOT like being “sick”. We don’t like not having the energy or mobility we used to have. We don’t like the side effects of the medications we take, or the myriad of potions and lotions we may have to apply. We don’t like having to cancel social events because of a condition flare. I could go on.

In a support group I am a member of I often feel a bit of a fraud – many of the members are much, much sicker than I am. To put that in perspective, this is my list:

  • rheumatoid arthritis (but maybe psoriatic arthritis, or both) (autoimmune)
  • hyperactive thyroid, multi-nodular goitre, Graves disease (autoimmune)
  • diverticular disease (most of us have some degree of this, by the way)
  • sliding hernia
  • bulging disc, lumbar spine
  • herniated disc, lumber spine
  • arthropathy and hypertrophy of various facet joints
  • scoliosis lumber spine
  • photosensitive eczema (result of medications)
  • other skin stuff going on (medications again)

That’s after I’d already lost all the “optional extras” (as one professor put it): tonsils, appendix, uterus, gall bladder.

HEALTHY people will read that list and probably have a reaction along the lines of “OMG, how are you still alive?” Easy, actually, but I’ll get to that! I am one of the healthiest sick people you’ll likely meet and I am well aware of that. That is MY list of conditions – yet compared to many other members of the group, I am in fact “healthy”. I do strength training (I can leg press 160 kg), I swim, I am on NO pain medication. Yet I cannot work full-time, changing the bed linen flattens me, I have mysterious losses of energy unexpectedly, I struggle psychologically to accept I am “sick”. So many chronic illness patients have so much more to contend with than I do.

One member of the group, Sam, suffers spontaneous bone fractures. Can you image that? You are just sitting there, doing nothing, and your pelvis fractures. Or the bones in your feet. That patient cannot go and do what I do, it is just not physically possible for her. Does she look healthy in pictures? Sure – she looks stunningly healthy! Is she how she looks? No.

This overseas video is one that visually represents what I am trying to say.

A new hairdo, a manicure and great makeup can make us feel better, just as it can for a healthy person, yet many of us have a nagging thought in the back of our mind of how long can we manage it? For example, I am losing fine motor control in my hands. My manicured nails are one of my “pick-me-up” techniques.

nail polish

Yet it is taking me longer and longer to do them, trying to keep my hands steady. What will I do when I can’t do it any more? Pay to have it done? Maybe not – there are all those hidden, unrecognised costs of being sick, you see. One of the reasons I have a partial plate rather than dental implants is even healthy people have difficulty with manual dexterity as they age. Manual dexterity is important in caring for dental implants. With rheumatoid arthritis I wasn’t going to take the risk.

I’ve mentioned before the time a co-worker told me not to worry about the calories in a mini-muffin, I’d work it off in no time – ummmm – no, I can’t. Yes, I exercise, but I can’t do the level of exercise I LOOK as if I can do!

I asked two members of the support group if they would permit me to use photos of them looking absolutely stunning to illustrate this article. Both declined because the state of their health is not public knowledge – they are concerned about the impact being on a public website such as this may have on their jobs. One in particular is striving for remission and may be able to put all this behind her. I mention this to illustrate how society’s expectations can lead us to hide our conditions, keep it secret. Yet in doing so, we may exert ourselves more than we should and hamper our efforts to get well (or slow/halt disease progression), where that is possible.

Michele Lent Hirsch has written a book about being young, sick and female, “Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine,” which came out late last month.

The following is an extract from an interview with Hirsch:

MW: Right. In the book you talk about a job where your boss told you to “leave your cancer at the door.”

MLH: There couldn’t be really a worse reaction. And a lot of the women I’ve interviewed have talked about how they work, just like I did in that job, harder and longer hours just to compensate for what seems like people treating them like they’re not a worthy employee anymore.

And what’s especially horrible about that is, again, women are already getting paid less, getting treated more poorly at many workplaces across this country.

That kind of behavior is only going to enforce women trying to hold it all in.

Patients working longer hours, as Hirsch describes, to “prove” they can cope, are NOT going to be spending the time required to keep their bodies healthy and their conditions under control. They are going to be exhausting a body likely already energy depleted. Remember how I said I am one of the healthiest sick people? But I don’t work full-time, let alone work extra hours because I put my health first.

To my chronic illness readers, please share other phrases you find distressing in the comments. I especially invite men to share, as I don’t have much experience of being a man.

EDIT: A reader mentioned to me “Oh, but you’re fine now!” is something they describe as “That’s the killer”. I agree. No, we are not fine. Even if we are lucky enough to go into remission, we can never stop monitoring, never stop doing all the things that got us to that point without risking a relapse.

A friend of mine is this weekend taking part in a huge walk for Oxfam. Seven or eight years ago she could barely walk to the end of the street. With the right medical treatment her condition is now under control to the point, like me, she looks perfectly normal and does lots of perfectly normal things – like walk for Oxfam. But no, neither of us are “fine now”. We are forever vigilant and can never stop our self-care.

Challenges of Living Alone with Chronic Conditions

If you have newly discovered you have a chronic illness/condition/disease AND you live alone, there are challenges patients living with family don’t face to the same degree. Some of the items below I have mentioned before, but today I am looking at the specific circumstances of living alone, which can complicate matters. While we may not have children or a partner to care for (in some ways making life a little easier perhaps), the flip side of living alone means no-one to make us a nice cuppa, to help us make the bed (or let us off the hook entirely), or to just snuggle up to for comfort.

Even if we have a nice neighbour to call on for help (as I have done from time to time), we may need to plan our activities very carefully. It is easy to fall back into the boom-bust cycle, both physically (pain) and psychologically (the stress), especially in the early days. We aren’t used to the “new me” at all, we tend to think of it a bit like having the ‘flu, we’ll just get over it. No, sorry, this is here to stay (unless we go into remission, which is possible in some cases). We can learn to manage it, yes. In time and with practice.

Today I’m asking you to carefully consider the physical and practical aspects of managing day-to-day tasks. It WILL get easier as your treatment starts to work and you build up your resilience over time, learn to pace and build up (or build back) your strength, but today we are talking about the beginning, when we are adjusting to living this new life. These are some of the things I wish I’d known in the early days.

Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping can be a challenge. Yes, I could order on-line and have my groceries delivered, but that costs money: if we live alone we don’t usually buy enough to qualify for free delivery! It is OK to carry the bags in from the car one at a time if necessary – or even half a bag at a time. Take the frozen stuff first, in case you need a rest between loads. Once you get stronger this will improve – but don’t try to do what you used to do before, not until your body is ready. If we struggle to carry in all the bags at once, where do we go? Yep, back into that pain boom-bust cycle.

Shop more frequently if possible and necessary.

Showering

I remember standing in the bathroom in tears when my shoulders were playing up badly. I could not dry my back after my shower. It wasn’t just the pain, it was the inhibited range of motion. Also, this was out of the blue, completely unexpected. Situations like that can make fears of the future rise up and cause anxiety, anger and frustration. Living alone means we have no-one to talk to about those fears right there and then, no-one to comfort us in our time of stress. Also, no-one to dry our back. Mindfulness exercises will help. Relax our mind and relax our muscles – often times that is just enough so we can complete the task at hand. That alone makes us feel better.

Bath sheets instead of bath towels are very useful. Being larger, not so much shoulder movement is needed to dry one’s back. While there is a lot of technology out there to assist people, I haven’t found anything yet that helps dry one’s back. I admit I haven’t looked very hard because the problem was not ongoing for me.

The unexpected can happen. Negotiating our ablutions, unexpected events or not, can be a challenge. Putting prescribed skin cream on areas you can’t see, for example, can be a bother to say the least.

Changing the Bed Linen

I’ve mentioned before that changing the bed linen used to wipe me out. But there is no-one else to do it, so it is either manage it somehow or sleep in dirty sheets – not the best option. Break it down over the day. Get the linen off the bed (I find that not too difficult) early, then do the rest spaced out over the day if necessary. Put on the bottom sheet, go away and do something else or rest. An hour later tackle the top sheet. If putting on the new doona cover is too hard to do in one hit, break that down too. It is OK, you are the only one seeing your messy bedroom! You have all day to get the bed back together! If we give in to the “I must do it now” story to do our bed in one hit, where do we go? Yep, back into that pain boom-bust cycle.

Above is Cleo, very comfy in her little fluffy igloo. She feels safe and warm and protected. We need to feel the same, we just don’t need to cause ourselves a flare getting there.

Our Hair

For anyone with long hair, this can be a challenge, especially if our shoulders are involved in our condition, or if standing causes pain (a chair in front of the mirror would solve the standing issue). Blow drying long hair can take twenty minutes or so, our arms raised for much of that time. On a bad day just don’t do it – letting your hair dry naturally is not a crime, the fashion police will not issue a citation. Actually, no, the fashion police might very well issue a citation, but WHO CARES! Our path to regaining our functional movement and managing our pain is WAY more important than someone caring about our hairstyle. If we force ourselves to do our hair to meet social expectations, where do we go? Yep, back into that pain boom-bust cycle.

Dishes and Ironing

Ironing is easy – I’ve talked about that before – just don’t do it. One item when you need it, that’s enough. Although sitting may be a solution, I find I don’t get enough pressure happening so the clothes don’t look “done”.

A fellow patient I know says it takes her three tries to get the dishes done, with rests in between. Standing is a major source of pain for her at this time. It is what it is – if you have to wash a plate at a time, so be it. Build up to two plates. In time you should be back to being able to do all the dishes at once, but feeling guilty because you can’t now is not going to help. Wash anything you use as soon as you use it is a strategy I adopt most of the time. Living alone we tend not to generate a dinner wash of six plates and cups, which is a good thing. If you have a dishwasher, I hate you already (I don’t).

Cooking

Cooking is a little different. We need to ensure we are eating healthy, nutritious food: the two main reasons are to enable our body to fight this battle the best it can and to minimise or reverse any weight gains due to medications and our reduced activity levels, thereby protecting our joints and internal organs. Unfortunately, cooking is not necessarily as easy to spread over the day as other tasks can be.

We need to plan our food preparation so we don’t do more than we should at any given time. We may simply have to give up some of our favourite dishes – for a while – if they require lengthy preparation. There is NO point in spending a painful hour preparing something only to be too exhausted or in too much pain to actually enjoy the fruits of our labour. Don’t put yourself through it. Console yourself with the knowledge that a dish requiring less preparation is probably a healthier dish anyway!

This is where living alone can actually be a plus, as we aren’t faced with anyone complaining about the “plain” food. Then again, someone else could be cooking for us! It is what it is, just please eat healthy, nutritionally balanced meals!

If you can afford it (many of us, having reduced our working hours due to our conditions, can not) delivered meals such as Lite n’ Easy can be a great solution, at least to have some in the freezer as a standby. I use my slow cooker to cook six meals at a time and freeze five. My freezer is bulging with pork, beef and lamb meals which take seven minutes to defrost and three minutes to heat in the microwave. Lifesavers if I have a tiring day at work. I’ve been known to boil two eggs and have them with a steam fresh bag of vegetables if all else fails.

I never peel potatoes or carrots, the skins are good for us anyway. I’m not allowed green beans or onions, so I avoid a lot of slicing and dicing. There are great kitchen appliances available to make these things quick and easy. Make Christmas present requests. I know two people who are stroke survivors, both need to manage with one hand and have quite a few utensils that are very useful. Look at what is available that will make food preparation easier for you.

General Housework

One thing to avoid is the temptation to clean up like a whirling dervish if visitors are coming. Try to spread out doing tasks over the week and have a room you can just chuck stuff in if need be and close the door! “OMG, Jane’s coming over, I must have a pristine home” is a recipe for disaster, especially in the early days when you are learning your new life. Most of us who have worked all our lives are very much into the routine of spending a good part of our weekend doing everything: clean the bathroom, dusting, vacuuming, clean the oven, maybe mow the lawns, wash the floors, change the linen, do the laundry, ironing for the week ahead, grocery shopping and THEN we used to add some socialising on top of all that.

socialising is important
I do get to socialise! It is important.

Ummmm – not a good plan any more. It doesn’t matter what your major symptom is; pain, lethargy or other. Trying to do it all is not going to help. Stop. Don’t be tempted. We have no-one to delegate tasks to and can be so tempted to do it all at once, to feel we HAVE to at least try to appear “normal”. No we don’t. We have a new normal now. If Jane is a really good friend, she is not going to care if your place doesn’t look like Martha Stewart’s been your housekeeping consultant, Jane is going to care how you are feeling, how your health is.

Summary

Look, all that and I haven’t mentioned exercise once! I am now. No, I don’t write template exercise routines and publish them because that, I believe, is inappropriate for my client base. Every single one of us is different. Different conditions, different stages, different trouble spots in our bodies. It is important we make sure we have time to build our physical condition though, in ways appropriate for us as individuals. This is NOT a luxury any more so we can look good on the beach come Christmas holidays, this is now a necessity.

Living alone can make exercise harder. No-one to motivate us or support us. No-one to take that first short walk with us. It can be easier to just turn on the TV and hide from the world.

All the above careful planning of our activities will be for naught if we don’t build conditioning into our routine. Even before I did any formal exercise or pain management studies, I learnt very early on if I moved, my stiffness and pain receded. That’s what led me to learn more. Why was it so? How much better could I get?

Have I had bad patches? Of course I have. I remember the shower incident mentioned above, another day I was woken up by pain in my right arm that was excruciating, a day I lay down for fifteen minutes and then couldn’t get off the bed. Overall am I better now than I was in late 2014? Definitely. So. Much. Better.

For Melbournites, yesterday I walked from the corner of Nicholson St and Victoria Parade to Federation Square. Stopped, had a coffee (very nice Bailey’s Latte it was too), then walked to the Arts Centre.

Bailey's Latte
This was SO delicious.

Three years ago I was on crutches.

recurring appointments

Yes, Brain Fog IS a Thing

Brain Fog is definitely a thing. Not a thing we want, like, enjoy or get used to. It sucks: BIGTIME.

There can be many causes. Brain Fog can be a symptom of menopause. It can be simply a sign of aging. It can be a side effect of medications. It can be due to lack of adequate nutrition. It also seems to go hand-in-hand with many medical conditions, including autoimmune conditions and chemotherapy.

Before we can deal with brain fog in our day-to-day lives, we have to actually come to grips with the fact it is a thing. That’s tough. I had a memory like an elephant – once upon a time. At first you think maybe you are going nuts: at one stage I asked my GP if I could be tested for early onset dementia, I found it so scary, so “un-me”. It gets less scary as you develop strategies for dealing with it.

Check With Your Doctor

If you feel you are being affected, the first thing to do is check with your doctor (or doctors as the case may be). If you are female and of the right age, it may be menopause related and you may be able to consider Hormone Replacement Therapy which may solve the problem. If it might be a side effect of your medications, there may be alternative medications that may reduce the problem. Don’t just suffer in silence without finding out if there could be a different cause or a possible solution.

My personal example is around sense of direction. I would be driving in the right direction to get from point A to point B but my emotions would be telling me I was driving the wrong way. It wasn’t just driving. I’d park in the supermarket car park and when I came out I’d have no idea how to get back to my car. Admittedly, that was in a complex of shocking design, but it was distressing. I was almost thinking maybe I was going to have to give up driving, it was so bad. My daughter drove me to a medical appointment and I was convinced she was going the wrong way. It was stressful.

For completely unrelated reasons (several side effects I won’t list) I discussed a change of medication with the appropriate specialist. Within five days of ceasing the drug my sense of direction was back. I was ecstatic! Now, I can’t prove my sense of direction issue was due to the medication in question, however the co-incidence suggests it may have been. No, correlation does not equal causation, but in this particular case I’m fairly convinced.

Write Everything Down

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Write EVERY appointment or thing you have to do down. No, it doesn’t have to be on a piece of paper in a diary. I have calendar apps on my smartphone that will display several calendars at once, in different colours. This highlights any clashes between different aspects of my life. I have my office calendar, my Limberation calendar and my personal calendar.

Flag emails for follow-up! You’ll forget you said you’d respond tomorrow!

However you choose to do it, do it religiously! Unfortunately, this alone does not solve the problem.

Look at Your Calendar

Make it a religious part of your daily routine to look at the calendar. Allow me to illustrate. Last week I had a major change to my routine. While usually I work three days a week in an office, Wednesday to Friday, Last week I changed to working Monday, Wednesday, Friday because on Tuesdays and Thursdays I am going to Pain Management School (my name for it, not theirs). This change is temporary, but it is a disruption foggy brains find …… challenging.

I had an appointment on Thursday morning. As I lay snuggled under the doona I ran my day through my head. No, I convinced myself, I have this morning free. I made plans to have a late-ish breakfast and then wash and curl my hair. I was sitting waiting for the heated rollers to cool when my allied health professional rang and asked was I all right. “I’m fine”, I replied, thinking isn’t this a truly lovely gesture on her part.

“Well, I wanted to make sure because you are always so prompt.”

O.M.G I was SO SO SO embarrassed. I’ve always been the punctuality police. Being LATE gives me the horrors. Missing an appointment altogether because I FORGOT? O.M.G.

So make checking the calendar a part of your daily routine NO MATTER WHAT your foggy brain may suggest to you. Also check for flagged emails at the same time!

Medications Too!

Medications to be taken every morning or every night may not be so bad: I find that becomes just part of my normal brush-the-teeth-comb-the-hair routine. Anything that is not daily? Make an appointment in that calendar. The Repeat function in your calendar is great for that (see picture above). The classic example (sorry guys, this is a female example) is Hormone Replacement Therapy patches. Change twice a week, Wednesday morning and Saturday evening. If my phone doesn’t beep at me, it will be Friday morning before I think to myself “Did I?”

Even this morning (another Thursday, must be something about Thursdays) I again had a late breakfast (but DID check my calendar) then took a phone call, then sat on the edge of the bed to check social media and then thought “Have I taken my medication?” I decided I was pretty sure I hadn’t, so I took it. But the change in routine nearly bit me again.

Yes, the pill organisers from the pharmacy can certainly help because you can look and see if Thursday’s pills are gone.

Don’t Feel Guilty

This is about taking care of yourself. If you stuff up, as I did last Thursday, accept this is now part of life. You will forget things. All feeling guilty will do is add stress to your day and we’ve already talked about stress. Most of your medical team will understand if you miss an appointment – they’ve seen it many times before. WE each think we are the only one, but we aren’t. Friends and family should care enough about you to understand. Work, I agree, is slightly different. If employed, we are getting paid to do a job and we should do our utmost to not forget, but if it happens, it happens. Apologise, reschedule, move on.

Shopping Lists

I’d happily been through my whole life rarely if ever writing a shopping list. Now? I write shopping lists. I can’t stand getting home from the grocery shopping to find the one thing I REALLY REALLY needed is not in that pile of shopping bags.

Variations on the Theme

Brain fog is a thing. It can also be different for different people. One thing I haven’t yet found a solution for is retention of new information. For example, I’ll read something on a web site, let’s say a price of an item. As soon as I’ve gone from that page, I can’t remember the price. While studying I found rote learning of anatomy hard to retain – I still struggle with the names of some of the muscle origin and insertion points, although I know where they are! Concentration may suffer, your mind will wander during conversations. The brain may “freeze” – finding a perfectly common word just escapes you (very difficult in business meetings, also very menopause-typical that one).

Some days, the brain just doesn’t want to be taxed.

Sleep, Exercise and Nutrition

Poor sleep, inadequate exercise and less than optimal nutrition can all contribute to brain fog, over and above any medical issues. Do the best you can to ensure you keep these aspects of your life in tip-top shape.

I’m relatively lucky. I’m not suffering from brain fog much at all and I have strategies to mitigate the difficulties. The first step was accepting there was a change and I had to manage it. The second step was learning to work with it, rather than fighting it. Fighting it is stressful and then we get back on the wheel of exacerbating our condition by fighting the condition. Completely self-defeating.

What are your experiences of brain fog? What are your managing tips? Please share!