Living with Fibro

Seeing Through the Fog: Fibromyalgia and Slowed Responses

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that causes pain all over the body, as well as crushing fatigue. It’s more than just a physical disease, though; it affects the senses and mind, as well.

People with fibromyalgia often experience extreme sensitivity to various kinds of sensory stimulation. Often, bright lights or loud sounds will be intense and problematic.

Scents can also cause issues; even mild odors—to some people—can seem strong and cause headaches. This kind of over stimulation can lead to stress and anxiety, as well as increased levels of overall pain; such is the impact that the brain has over the body.

Another cognitive symptom of fibromyalgia is known as “fibro fog” or “brain fog.” The name of this symptom does a succinct job of describing what it feels like; people suffering from fibro fog often feel as though they are trying to function through a mental fog. This can cause problems with memory and concentration, as well as overall slowed responses.

People dealing with fibromyalgia and slowed responses may be frustrated when trying to go about their daily lives or do their jobs.

This is especially frustrating because fibromyalgia is an invisible illness and symptoms like fatigue are often seen as a weakness, rather than valid symptoms.

People are either told by others (or feel about themselves) that they need to “suck it up” or “pull themselves together” in order to function the way other people do.

It’s important, however, to realize that cognitive issues and fatigue with fibromyalgia are just as valid as the pain that its sufferers experience.

It’s also important for fibro patients to know (and make those around them understand) that an “invisible” illness is just as valid and should be taken just as seriously as an illness with visible symptoms or effects.

Treatment for Fibromyalgia and Slowed Responses

Help for the cognitive symptoms of fibromyalgia means treating the disease as a whole. There is an intense mind-body connection with fibromyalgia, so if you want to combat symptoms such as fibro fog, you’ll want to address your physical pain as well as your cognitive symptoms.

Rest and Good Sleep Hygiene

Insomnia and chronic fatigue are common symptoms of fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, fatigue plays a large role in fibro fog and the slowed responses, memory and concentration problems that come with it.

Getting rest can be a challenge for many people with fibromyalgia, but it can be hugely helpful in easing pain and clearing away the mental fog.

For some people, medication works to help ease their pain, calm their anxiety, and/or help them fall asleep.

It’s also important to develop good sleep hygiene. Try to go to bed around the same time each night. Make your bedroom a sanctuary that is free of ambient light and outside noise.

A white noise machine is an excellent way to drown out any annoying noise, as well as to help soothe you to sleep.

Two hours before bed, stay away from all screens—computers, tablets, phones and television—as they can stimulate your brain and keep it from falling into a restful sleep.

A hot bath or shower two hours before bed will initially raise your body temperature, and as it falls, you’ll naturally begin to get sleepy.

If you can’t sleep after a half hour, however, don’t lie there and toss and turn; you’ll only stress yourself out. Get up and do something quiet and relaxing.

Read a book, sip a cup of (decaffeinated!) tea, meditate or listen to soft music. Give your mind and body time to settle down before returning to bed.

If you are tired the next day and must nap, keep your nap short (less than an hour) and try to nap before 3 p.m. so you don’t throw off your sleep cycle.

Getting rest will help your mind feel refreshed, which will help you better combat the symptoms of fibro fog.

 Fibromyalgia and fibro fogStart an Exercise Program

There is a huge mind-body connection at play with fibromyalgia. Physical symptoms like pain can cause or exacerbate cognitive symptoms like fibro fog and anxiety, which then make pain levels skyrocket.

Exercise has been proven to help both physical and cognitive symptoms. Always talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program; he/she may suggest a particular kind of exercise or may suggest a trainer to get you started.

No matter what, start slowly and gently. Movement can help fibromyalgia, but exercise that is too intense can cause extreme flare-ups of pain.

If you work out and feel good the next day, you can gradually increase the intensity. Exercise such as yoga and tai chi (that involve movement and gentle stretching) can be a good place to start.

You’ll notice your muscles getting stronger, your joints feeling less stiff, as well as your stress and anxiety levels lessening—all of which can decrease cognitive problems such as fibro fog.

Keep Anxiety and Depression in Check

Anxiety and depression can exacerbate pain; they can also make episodes of fibro fog with its memory issues and slowed responses worse.

For some people, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help ease their anxiety and depression.

As mentioned above, exercise has been proven to help with these symptoms (but it takes time; you likely won’t see an improvement right away).

Another helpful treatment to deal with the stress, anxiety and depression caused by fibromyalgia is cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Many people with anxiety and depression get caught in a cycle of negative self-talk and thinking that can cause even more anxiety and depression.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is useful in helping people change the way they think about and react to things. With practice, it can help break the cycle of depression and anxiety, which can help ease pain and lessen the impact of fibro fog.

No matter what treatment strategy you try, be patient and be kind to yourself; talk to yourself the same way you would to a friend who was dealing with these issues. Keep in mind that improvement takes time.

 

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Living with Fibro

2 Comments

  • It’s not just a dislike of the smell of something (even due to neurological Central Hypersensitivity), frequently it’s an actual immunological reaction caused by a dysfunction of the Cytokine feedback response loop.

    Fibro people (like myself), can get profound systemic inflammatory responses to things that healthy people might find only unpleasant.

    Cigarette smoke & perfumes top my list, with reactions from a mild headache & prickly red skin, through to swelling & hives, bleeding from the gums, nose & even the sclera of the eyes, and dyspnea (difficulty breathing). Afterwards, there can be extended periods with severe Apthous mouth ulcers (covering the tonsils & reaching down the throat), facial skin cysts & migraine headaches.

    You can understand how difficult it becomes to go out & work or to socialise. How an entire day can be ruined by one thoughtless person.Repeating that it’s just the smells that are the problem really doesn’t help…

  • What’s it like?

    Like trying to think through porridge. Every though becomes an effort. Commonplace memories slip away as you try to recall them & making new memories becomes impossible.

    Your Working Memory (or how many things that you can concentrate on at once) gets truncated from 7 thoughts down to 3. A brief interruption will permanently derail your train of thought, leaving you with dozens of unfinished tasks surrounding you every day. Sentences become nonsensical as you forget what you were saying halfway through. Anomic Aphasia disrupts your recollection of certain words (the names of people & objects especially), meaning you end up using long circumlocutions to try to communicate what you want: saying “Pass me a spoon” becomes “Pass me that thing, you know, hard, metal, with a scoopy bit at one end – SPOON! Pass me one, please”.

    It takes concentration to control your emotions. Lose this & you loose all that discipline that you’ve built up from years of being an adult and now (with addition of the neurological dysfunctions affecting your brain chemistry) you’ve got mood swings like a teenager: shamed by your childishness, irritated by minutia & aggravated by everything. Above all, there’s constant stress & anxiety of wondering if you’ve forgotted some important obligation, or appointment, or bill that’s due. You go & check, and by the time you’ve taken a few steps, you can’t recall the answer.

    Pain is always a part of Fibromyalgia.

    When you’re at your worst mentally & experiencing severe Fibro-Fog, then all that discipline you build up to suppress full awareness of the pain collapses & it blasts it’s way into your conscious mind, draining your energy & making everything worse. There’s nothing you can do but withdraw to your bed, taking as much pain medication as you can (with all those horrible side-effects) & waiting it out…

    Imagine that you’re a healthy person trying to have a conversation with a person who’s got Fibro:

    They look slow, clumsy & tired with a stiff, emotionless face & keep asking you to repeat what you said just a few seconds ago. Are they interested in what you’re saying? Are they annoyed or angry at you?

    What you don’t see is their inner turmoil & the contant exhausting effort to push back the grinding pain, trying so hard to follow your conversation through the Fibro-Fog & clinical depression. Never showing how they’re really feeling, masking their suffering so as to grasp on to that tiny remaining fragment of a relationship.

    Just ’cause you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening…

    Fibro-Fog is a real neurological dysfunction & measurable fact of Fibromyalgia.

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