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Cannot brain today.

January 18, 2011


My initial impulse was to post this locked on Dreamwidth, which says a lot about attitudes.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been running into a lot of fatigue and cognitive problems lately. Mostly executive function and some language-related, so please be understanding if this post doesn’t hang together too well! I’ve been coming up with a lot of ideas, but kept them spinning around my head in the “try to wrap language around them properly” stage rather than being able to write. Not very much has been getting done around here. It’s been pretty hard to deal with.

I’ve been telling myself that this is understandable, what with having trouble getting much done besides playing (nonverbal) puzzle games, but have realized that it has more to do with the combination of feeling DUMB and having too much to prove. And all the worrying about not being able to meet “obligations” has, not too surprisingly, made things that much more difficult. It’s bludgeoning myself with disablism, pure and simple.

Our society has some pretty screwed-up ideas and attitudes about intellectual disabilities, and for all the lip service given to diversity and “tolerance” (which IMO should be a bare minimum, not a goal), tends to place a very low value on people with these disabilities. To the dehumanizing point. Nobody wants to be mistaken for someone with this kind of disability, and it makes me cringe hearing some of the ridiculous “don’t confuse my kid with one of Those People” comments. Not to mention the number of people who will openly say they’d rather kill themselves than know they had some form of dementia or serious traumatic brain injury. It’s horrible.

Even though I’ve had to look at some of this programming and know it’s just not right (much less sensible) to place so much value on some monolithic idea of “intelligence”, this is another case where very different perfectionistic standards seem to apply to myself. Would I look down on a total stranger–much less someone close to me–because they had an intellectual disability or assortment of cognitive problems? Hardly. Have I absorbed and internalized some of the nastiest attitudes out there, busily judging myself by them? You betcha.

This is not unusual among people with learning disabilities and unexpected neurological setups in general. Which is a shame. AFAICT, a lot of us get so caught up in the old “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!” reaction that we have trouble seeing that applying these slurs–and the assumptions underpinning them–to anyone is just wrong. (Aspie Supremacy, anyone?) I mostly got over the “ooh, am I looking crazy?!” bit, but the lazy and stupid memes have apparently taken more time to show themselves more completely for the hurtful farces they are. Not only do they really hurt “Those People”, they hurt us ostensible “exceptions”. Yeah, basic 101-type stuff, but frustratingly hard to get totally through one’s head.

If anything, I got an extra dose of feeling like my main worth lay in being perceived as intelligent–along with lots of anxiety related to that, since, erm, I have had persistent trouble with cognitive weirdness and variable abilities. I also grew up with adults (OK, pretty much totally my mother) who placed particular emphasis on certain kinds of verbal “intelligence”, to the point of considering people who didn’t display that to be not very bright, possibly to the point of intellectual disability where that was not a neutral judgment.1 As I figured out a while back, a lot of what looks like certain verbal abilities for me is probably really applying other abilities to emulate that; it’s clunky at the best of times, and one of the first things to go when I’m tired, stressed, and/or sick. (Enter chronic illness…) Or for no apparent reason, sometimes. I’m also pretty sure I’ve been having seizures (lifelong, more lately) which mess with my receptive and expressive language abilities pretty directly besides the postictal brain fog.

Given some of the nasty attitudes toward “having Teh Dumb”, other people have tended to ‘splain away and just plain not want to admit that someone they don’t consider to be Like That can experience these problems. (Well, when they’re not snarking about your apparently Not Trying Hard Enough to control it, and persisting in saying/doing “dumb” things that give them some cognitive dissonance.) I was on a long line of medications which gave me cognitive problems, some I suspect through decreasing the seizure threshold and some more directly (“Dopamax“, anyone?). When I mentioned that I was concerned about the cognitive effects, people including doctors and family were awfully quick to say that these were not really noticeable to other people. Because it would be horrible if they were obvious, apparently. Or they would brush off concerns entirely. (Gee, nice! Gaslight someone who is having obvious problems already!) It would also get put off on depression, when, yeah, some of the nastiness surrounding cognitive difficulties can make you pretty depressed. Bizarrely, when I was having bleedingly obvious expressive language difficulties, it sometimes also got put off on mania (which I have never experienced, but which is apparently fixed with more Dopamax…).

Admitting that you’re experiencing cognitive problems is a gateway to just giving into them and having a bad life. Or something. Sort of like identifying as disabled in general, but even more so. (“And he wore a hat, and he had a job…so that no-one knew”#)

No wonder I turned out ashamed to the point of not wanting to talk about these difficulties. And feeling the need to work overtime to try to prove that I was OK anyway.

Last week, I managed to wake up with a sprained knee (on top of the more chronic pain), and had trouble keeping off it for a few days. Must prove I’m not lazy! *headdesk* Then it finally hit me that the Random Stranger standard applies here, too: would I automatically assume and insist that someone I didn’t even know was a lazy, good-for-nothing, useless piece of crap for not gamely gimping around on a sprain? Hell no. That’s not just unreasonable, it’s just plain mean. If I don’t want to be the kind of person who treats people that way, should I do it to myself?

Combined with the fatigue and brain fog, after a while I just said to hell with it–and spent most of the time piled up in bed with my shiny new HTC Desire Z2 and downloaded a lot of game apps to pass the time since I’m not concentrating well on reading.

My head did not explode. Nigel did not suddenly start hating me, or acting like I was some kind of selfish useless dead weight who doesn’t care about other people. (And again, rationally, I would not want to live with someone who would act that way!) The animals just piled in the bed with me and snuggled, about like you’d expect.

The only bad thing that happened when I Just Wasn’t Trying was that the mental scripts kicked in overtime. You know, the ones that insist you’re Just Not Trying Hard Enough to hide the fact that you’re lazy and stupid? This time, with some mindfulness, it was darkly hilarious.

It finally occurred to me that maybe I didn’t need to get up and start working, and keep soldiering on with very little regard to the way I was feeling, just to show that I’m Making An Effort. Nigel doesn’t expect me work myself into the ground partly to mollify him, and I’d be pissed off if he did. I am allowed to rest. I’m even allowed to take time off to play games; it would be really rich if Nigel did object, being a gamer himself. My mom’s emphasis on Carrying On (i.e., playing the martyr and building up resentment, in a lot of cases, besides destroying her health) also started looking more absurd and destructive. Maybe it’s OK that I sometimes just can’t do much that looks productive–and it would be mean to push myself to do it anyway.

Laziness down, stupidity yet to go. Yesterday, I was apparently ready to deal with that one.

It hit me forcefully that, hey, maybe I don’t need to worry about the cognitive problems maybe never improving. They might, or they might not. And maybe, just maybe I’m an OK person in any case. Maybe I don’t have some kind of obligation to Try Harder not to has Teh Dumb–and if anyone objects, it’s about them. And maybe the messages about that were horribly wrong all along.

Maybe, eventually, it sinks in all the way.


1That included one of her cousins who is more mathematically inclined, her nephew who was late talking (until he started speaking in complete sentences), and my best friend growing up who is also on the autistic spectrum. While I may not have had the words to explain it, that was extra-uncomfortable because I knew we had an awful lot in common; I mostly just “passed” better in some ways. Besides its just being rude and nasty in general. Yeah, worth judgments seemed to be attached, though she’d have totally denied it, not wanting to think she could be that mean.Back

2Which I only got after Nigel pretty much insisted, and took me out looking at new phones. (Even though I lost the charger to my 2003-vintage low-end Nokia.) Because poor and/or disabled people aren’t supposed to want nice things. His encouragement did help knock more holes in the “waah, I’m not even doing paid work, so I don’t need–much less deserve–something nice” pile of garbage. So far, it’s looking like the best £25/month I’ve spent anytime recently.Back

One Comment leave one →
  1. Foggy Mind permalink
    August 27, 2017 12:30 pm

    I’ve had the sub-par cognitive abilities, brain fog, etc. for about a month now. Also been needing a lot more sleep.

    There is an upside, though – if I’m not so sharp mentally, my Pure-O OCD is a lot less bothersome. A reduction in working memory seems to make it less tenacious.

    Even just for this reason, I think maybe I don’t mind keeping the brain fog, etc., or even cultivating it.

    I have no real need to be really sharp mentally, anyhow, so, so far, I think it’s just fine with me.

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