Dealing with Brain Fog

So, I will admit that I don’t get brain fog too often. Maybe like once a month, usually at night, and it’s usually not too bad. It is one of the reasons that when I was working my rheumatologist gave me a note saying that I couldn’t work after 7pm (no one ever followed that rule exactly though, it would be 7:30 or 8 usually). However, on Monday I had serious brain fog.

The whole day felt off. I did yoga in the morning, then did school work, okay seemed fine. Went to a chiropractor appointment at noon. Still okay. Got home started to feel beyond exhausted. Checked the times for my discussion group for school – 7:30. Okay. Felt more tired (apparently I ran out of spoons really fast that day). Took a nap (I never take naps because they make me feel groggy) because I literally couldn’t stay awake. Got up half an hour later. Felt slightly better. Checked the times again for the discussion group – still read 7:30. Chill out for a bit, take a bath. Check the times again. Still read 7:30. Then 7:30 rolls around so I log in (after again just reading the 7:30 start time) and no one is there… Check the times again. It says 7:30 Atlantic time, 6:30 Eastern. Then I had a major anxiety attack and eventually got myself in the other group that night (discussion started at 9). I did feel a bit better later but geez was that whole day weird.

So what did I do between 7:30 and 9:00 other than freak out and join the other group? I did something that I wasn’t even sure was going to help but did a bit (not a lot but enough that I could actually participate in the discussion group). I played the piano. Music is great for the brain. In fact there are studies that suggest that learning to play an instrument can delay or reduce your risk of dementia. I purposefully picked songs that I knew how to play, are slightly complicated, and hadn’t really played for a long time. I forced my brain to work. Did I play them perfectly? No. I did play them well enough though.

Technically I only have a keyboard at my current place. My actual piano resides at my parents’.

To be honest, I’ve tried a few Google searches and there aren’t a lot of “remedies” for brain fog. Usually it’s just something Spoonies have to deal with, so either the day is a write off or you just sleep more or veg. I did find one article (https://www.healthline.com/health/brain-fog#treatment) that offers a few ideas that I think I’ll try to keep in mind (though I’m pretty sure piano will be my go to). Making sure you are getting enough sleep at night (8 hours), manage your stress (meditations or yoga anyone?), not drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, doing exercises for your brain (puzzles, word games, piano), and proper nutrition (protein, fats, vegetables and fruits!). Okay so none of these are a cure but I’d be willing to try any and all if it means that the brain fog is even less bad in the future. In fact, probably doing a lot of this on a regular basis would help prevent brain fog (and as I mentioned I don’t get it often).

Disc golf counts as exercise right?

What are your thoughts on brain fog? Anything that works to help you? Comment or DM me on Instagram @janeversuspain.

Daily Stretches: Lower Body

Stretching is important whether or not you are exercising. These are some of my favourite lower body stretches, which can be great if you have chronic pain or discomfort in your buttocks and legs. Remember to always consult a physiotherapist or chiropractor when possible. And only go as far as you can with stretches! Don’t hurt yourself!

Stretches in this video:

*lying glute stretch
*figure four
*quad stretch
*elevated standing toe touch
*standing toe touch/forward fold

Subscription Content: 28 Day Self-Care Challenge

Make sure you watch this before you start reading!

I know that April feels like it was a century ago (I mean really, 2020 has been the longest year ever!) but if you can remember, I did a 30-Day self-care challenge to make sure I was taking care of myself during the beginning of the pandemic. It was especially useful at the time because I was on furlough from work and like many of you, had some anxieties about money. Well, here comes October 2020 and the world is still in peril, so I figured, why not do the challenge again. This time I made it just 28 days, and I hope all of you will participate too!

The original 30-day challenge I completed from April-May this year.

In fact, I’ve made this premium content because I want you to participate! I’m going to set some weekly challenges, with 7 activities each that you can complete on whatever day you choose. Each Saturday, you will be given new challenges for the next week. And you can keep me and everyone else posted on how you’re doing through comments.

Are you as motivated and ready as I look in this picture?

Before we get right into it, I want to make sure that everyone knows what I mean by self-care. We are going above and beyond just doing the basics for ourselves (which can be self-care depending on your situation). There are five dimensions of self-care (I will talk more about in future premium content for you amazing subscribers), that we want to focus on. The Physical dimension focuses on your body; the Emotional dimension is all about feelings and self-compassion; the Social dimension focuses on keeping you connected with others; the Intellectual dimension keeps your mind working (especially great if you’re getting up there in physical age); and the Spiritual dimension focuses on however you like to bring spirituality into your life.

I’ll remind you which dimension each activity fits in as we go. Since I’ll be completing this challenge with you, I want to remind you that sometimes self-care means acknowledging that you’re too busy one day to actually practice self-care. As much as I think it’s important to do something for yourself each day, it isn’t always possible. If that happens to you, just acknowledge that it happened and let it go. This isn’t meant to be stressful!

A lot of the activities are what I call “chill” and everything is little to no cost. The idea is that you should be able to do everything, or at least most things on this challenge!

Okay, so here we go with week one challenges!

  1. Spend 30 minutes reading a book or magazine (intellectual)
  2. Do a 10 minute meditation (spiritual)
  3. Take a 30 minute bath – spice it up with bubbles or epsom salts (emotional/physical)
  4. Colour or do some art – by yourself or with a friend! (emotional/social)
  5. Tac an extra 30 minutes on your daily walk – or go for a walk with a friend! (physical/social)
  6. Do some baking – by yourself or with a friend! (emotional/social/intellectual)
  7. Do 20-30 minutes of yoga – by yourself or with a friend! (spiritual/physical/social)

I can’t wait for next week when we sum up how this went and set our new challenges.
Take care and stay safe!

Transitions

One thing that can always be certain in life (besides death that is), is that we will encounter many transitions. These can be developmental, social, societal, living circumstances, jobs, losses, wins, health, and on and on. There is absolutely no way to avoid going through the transitions. Of course, some are positive and make us feel good. Others are neutral, it just is what it is (that’s how I look back on puberty but probably not how I felt at the time!). And yet others are, of course, negative and make us feel crappy. So how do we deal with all these transitions? Especially the bad ones? There’s no perfect answer, and everyone is unique and individual, but here’s my take on it.

Clearly my brother and I had to transition from these cute little tykes to adults.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I am very drawn to existentialism. In fact, when I become a psychotherapist (almost done my masters!) I plan on practicing from an existential-humanistic-maybe-some-positive-psychology-thrown-in perspective. Why do I like existentialism?
1. we, as humans, have choice and free will
2. it’s normal to have some anxiety
3. we need to make our own life meanings
4. the only guarantee is nonbeing (death) – okay this one’s a bit grim but it’s also true

What does this have to do with transitions? Well, let me take you through some of the transitions I’ve been through in the last month (there have actually been too many for my tastes but sometimes that happens), and how I dealt with them.
1. My 11 year old dog, Spike, my little baby, had to be put down. I cried, a lot, for three days. The I decided to give some meaning to this and wrote a children’s book. My friend is currently illustrating it and we plan to self-publish. And the book, it goes with the theme of health issues and will be helpful for children with chronic health problems.
2. My old roommate (whom I adore) moved out and my new roommate moved in. This started off great, with us hanging out and going out for dinner. Then this less than happy situation occurred and to be honest, she may not be my roommate much longer… which would then be another transition. However, my choice was to do some investigating into the issue, talk to the appropriate people, and manage my anxiety through meditation.
3. Yesterday I left my job at the retail company I worked at for 7 years (I had taken a year off before that, and worked for the company for 6 years before that). made the choice to leave, and now I am making the choice to focus on school and my side projects (writing, podcasting, maybe making some cool merch).
4. I have an interview for a practicum placement this coming Saturday. This is like a pre-transition stage because if I get the placement (which I really hope I do) then I will be starting a new chapter of my studies and career come January, with just a few months to prepare for it. Again, my anxiety will be managed through preparation and meditation.

Last day selfie!

I tend to be someone who is proactive. If I see a problem I try to fix it or resolve it, and then just manage my anxiety around it. Since death is the only given in life, then I choose to try to make my life as awesome as possible (thus the title of my podcast, Chronically Living and how to make the most of it). The title of this blog is Jane Versus Pain, and pain can come in many forms. Physical (like my undifferentiated connective tissue disease, fibromyalgia, and labral hip tear), or emotional (grief, anxiety, sadness, etc.). Managing life’s anxieties and working through those transitions that we will inevitably face is something we best learn to do.

Have a good week, and stay safe.

Exercises for Chronic Pain: Core

I have found that strengthening my body has helped a lot with chronic pain from fibromyalgia. I know that not every chronic illness warrior is up for this type of workout. When I started I went slowly, and added more exercises as I got stronger and found a general decrease in pain. It may not work for everyone but it certainly works for me!

Exercises in this video:

*front planks
*side planks
*bicycles
*jumping leg tucks
*one arm planks with knee touches
*abdominal cocoons
*bent knee leg raises

Wabi-Sabi

Some of you may have heard of this concept before, and many of you may have not. It was only recently introduced to me through my meditation app, where the guided meditation happened to talk about wabi-sabi. The explanation of it made me realize how much I identified with the concept and how important I think the concept is, regardless of what we’re dealing with in our lives.

What is wabi-sabi? It’s a Japanese worldview that has been around since the 15th century. There isn’t a great translation for it (as often happens when we try to translate culturally-specific concepts) but roughly, wabi means finding simplicity in nature, and sabi means appreciating beauty. What it’s taken to mean is the beauty of imperfection, and accepting the imperfections in your life, while making the most out of what you have. Because no one is perfect, and yet we all strive to be, especially in the Western World. But why? I am not perfect, you are not perfect, literally no one is. Another way of viewing wabi-sabi is your ability to appreciate complexity while valuing simplicity. The world has become a more and more complex place, as we’ve seen through this pandemic, but also just through the consistent advancement of technology, and through the political landscape in the Western wold. But while the world may be complex, it is the simple things that are more likely to bring us joy. Like spending time with family or friends, being able to work from home if you have that option, and the adorableness of a child’s laugh.

Accepting our imperfections: physical, and otherwise is a part of wabi-sabi. Photo at Kalamalka Lake, BC.

This concept is tied into Zen Buddhism. There are three aspects of Buddhism that it is related to: impermanence (we’re all going to die fyi), suffering (is inevitable, no one has a life without any), and non-self (which may not have actually been said by the Buddha, there is much debate). These concepts kind of tie into existentialism too, don’ they? Finding meaning in life, non-being, existential anxiety… Wabi-sabi definitely ties into some Zen principles like simplicity, asymmetry, beauty, naturalness, grace, freeness, and tranquility. And finally, I see the connection to mindfulness (which comes from Zen Buddhism as well) such as being present, seeing things as they are, and acceptance.

Nature is full of imperfections. Photo taken at Niagara, ON.

When it comes to health, there is definitely ways of applying wabi-sabi. We must accept our illnesses. We must accept any body imperfections that come with them. We are beautiful the way we are. We should look for the beauty in the simple things in our lives to make ourselves happy. That doesn’t mean we can’t dream or strive for more. Rather, we can enjoy and accept as a way of improving our mental health, while always trying to make the most out of life.

Sometimes it’s about just enjoying the simple things. Photo: My friend and I last October, just outside of Toronto, ON.

Essential Oils for Self-Care

Self-care is very important when you have a chronic illness. I personally have come to love essential oils, and have been using them a lot recently as I grieve the loss of my beloved dog, Spike.

Here’s the list of oils that I go through in today’s episode:

* peppermint – energy
* tea tree – stimulant
* rosemary – relaxation
* sweet orange – uplifting, calming
* cinnamon – soothing, immune-boosting
* frankincence – relaxation, immune-boosting
* lavender – relaxation
* eucalyptus – cleansing, purifying
* lemon – energy, cleansing, purifying

Diagnosis Update

Isn’t it always the case when you have an autoimmune disease that there are multiple updates over the years? Like either a change of diagnosis or an added diagnosis. I follow so many people on Instagram with the same experiences. This week I had an appointment with my rheumatologist (and a resident, so two docs which was fun – by the way I love that the hospital I go to is a teaching hospital because I think that makes everyone work a little harder to provide excellent care), and of course there is an update to my diagnosis.

Image from: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/autoimmune/index.cfm

Lets travel back a bit. First I was given an incorrect diagnosis of gout back in 2015 by my GP. Fast forward to February 2016 when I first saw my rheumatologist, ran some tests and then a month later gave me (maybe a little too quickly) a diagnosis of lupus. Fast forward to June 2016 and she added fibromyalgia to the list. Then we skip over to November 2016 and she decides that I don’t qualify for a lupus diagnosis and I am a “mystery.” So I have remained with a fibromyalgia diagnosis since then.

Me back in 2016.

Now my diagnosis has been updated to Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, which upon looking up what exactly that was, makes a lot of sense. So what is UCTD? It’s a systemic autoimmune disease that doesn’t quite fit the criteria for any differentiated autoimmune disease – like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or scleroderma, etc. I’ve read some different statistics on it, and it seems that around 25% of rheumatology patients have UCTD, and only between 20-30% of patients will eventually get a diagnosis of lupus, RA, etc. Symptoms usually include high ANAs, arthralgia/myalgia, arthritis, Raynaud’s, and fatigue, among a few others.

My symptoms include consistently high ANAs on blood panels that are taken every 6 months, arthralgia/myalgia, I don’t quite get full-blown Raynaud’s but certainly very red and slightly swollen fingers in the cold, sometimes numbness in my fingers or toes, and fatigue. So, while I don’t fit the criteria for lupus, I certainly fit the criteria for UTCD.

Now how does this make me feel? Honestly, a sense of relief. I am happy to have a diagnosis again, and one that seems to actually fit what is going on. My rheumy is going to fill out the paperwork I need for my work coverage (because they’ve been after my sick days), which also makes me feel relieved. Basically, I feel like it’s good to get a diagnosis because the waiting game on diagnoses can be anxiety-riddling experiences as I’m sure many of you know.

Relieved at my diagnosis but missing my baby.

I also want to give you an update on Spike, because last week I mentioned he was at the vet. Unfortunately he had to be put down. I am heart-broken as I’ve lost my best friend.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This is one of the best mindfulness activities for anxiety. Tensing and releasing muscle groups, with diaphragmatic breathing in between can be very relaxing, and it is followed by a full body scan. I have found it very helpful in the past. Let me know how you feel in the comments.

Taking a Break with Family

As I titled this I realized some people might automatically read “from” family which is 100% not what I’m going for. Rather, taking a break from all of the other things in life to spend time WITH family, is something some of us probably need right now (some of you may have just spent the past 6 months locked up with your family and may need the opposite type of break)! I needed the break for a couple of reasons: (1) I live far from the rest of my family, (2) because of the pandemic this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing them, (3) work has been hella stressful (also due to the pandemic), and (4) while your support system can include many other people, mine also includes my family.

Me and the bros in Kalamalka Park, BC. Epic hike!

And so, I risked it and went on a plane, taking me from Ontario to BC. (To be honest the airlines are doing a decent job at making travel as safe as possible and all passengers seem to consider safety important). Both of my brothers live in BC with their partners, and it was my younger brother whom I stayed with. The trip itself was a mix of physical activity (hiking, kayaking, yoga – all my faves) and chill time (eating and drinking at wineries and pubs, and watching movies).

Yoga day at a winery overlooking Lake Okanagan.

There are two parts of my trip that I valued the most. One was hanging out with my younger brother, both the first day I got in when we just toured around town and caught up on what’s been going on with one another, and then when we binge watched three movies back-to-back on Sunday night because we both love movies. The other was when my older brother and his wife joined the other three of us on a hike, winery tastings, and dinner, allowing us all to spend some time together. Interestingly it is my older brother I’ve seen the most of during the past few years as his work often brings him to Toronto to visit. Because of Covid-19, his company has restricted travel until the new year.

How we do a winery!

Having a mental break and spending it with people I love was so important. I maybe pushed a bit too hard on some of the hikes but it made me rethink where I want to be in the near future, and to be honest, I never consider change a bad thing. We’ll see where the future takes each of us.

If I can also get some thoughts, prayers, whatever you personally do for Spike I would really appreciate it. He is at the vet, having been extremely sick over the past 18 hours.

When Spike was feeling much better on his 11th birthday a few weeks ago.