Cognitive fatigue

I’ve held off writing this post for a while, hoping I wouldn’t have to, but as the game of life played out, I have to after all.

It’s 7p in the US Central Time Zone.  We finally got our home office desktop computer fixed (have you ever tried to blog on a very-outdated WordPress app?  It’s not pretty), and so I’ve invaded my partner’s space.  Or maybe over the past year or two he’s invaded mine.  I don’t know; I’m not sure who was here first.  And I’m not entirely sure that it matters.

I’m surprised at myself, on two points.  The first is, he’s dozing behind me and although that would normally be a creative dealbreaker, I’m finding myself writing this anyway.  The second is, it’s 7pm, when not too long ago, my brain would’ve given out long ago.

That’s probably the explanation I owe.  There was a time in the not-too-distant-past when I was a blogging machine, spitting out as many as four blog posts in one day.  Now, three months have floated by without so much as a single keystroke.  That’s not like me.  But it has been.

I searched and found…and cried.  Once again, I experienced something that was different from those around me.  Once again, I freaked out, because something was wrong.  Once again, I went searching and at first, I found nothing.  And then, once again, I searched again some time later and found that there’s a name for my experiences.  Once again, the characteristics fit.  And once again, I’m finding myself in another learning process.

This time around, however, isn’t quite so happy.  This time around, the label isn’t Asperger’s or autism or whatever the DSM-V says we have to call ourselves.  This time around, it’s Cognitive Fatigue.

Cognitive Fatigue is defined as “a state usually associated with a weakening or depletion of one’s mental resources”, a sort of mental exhaustion that is characterized by depressing-sounding concepts such as suppressions of analysis, creativity, motivation, language, and short-term memory, as well as thought disorganization and thought deceleration.

Makes it a little tough to gather enough “brain juice” to write posts, read posts, or write or respond to comments in anything other than Emojese.

Cognitive Fatigue sometimes gets mistaken for simply “being tired“, but it’s not–it goes deeper than that.  It’s like having “brain spoons”, where you start out with a fixed amount each day and you’re not privy to what that number is.  All you know is that you’re hauling-brain-ass along, whipping out thoughts and ideas and self-expression left, right, and six ways from sideways, and suddenly you hit a brick wall you never saw coming.

Boom.  That’s it.  You’re done.  DONE.

For how long?  Until.

Until what?  Until.

Probably until the next day.  When you have school.  And then work.  And when you’re also on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, and your school is online (easier) but your work involves peopling, that just compounds everything.

What they tell you about Cognitive Fatigue is that it’s often a “gift” that keeps on “giving” after a brain injury (TBI) or an effect of Multiple Sclerosis.  What they don’t tell you, maybe because “they” don’t know themselves, is that there might be other reasons for it.  Because everything I found out described my own experience, but I have no known history of either Usual Suspect.  My autoantibody test was negative for MS-related antibodies, and I have no known history of concussion, unless you want to count the playground in kindergarten, and I’d been fine after that.

It doesn’t matter when or what I ate.  It doesn’t matter how much sleep I got or didn’t get the night before.  It doesn’t matter what I had to accomplish that day or how long or fun my to-do list was.  My body might still be wide awake and on fire; it’s just my brain that crosses its arms across its chest, digs its feet in the dirt and refuses to budge another inch.

This isn’t “garden-variety” depression, either (although that in itself is serious enough, I’ve experienced serious bouts of that, too, and yes, I meant to use “serious” twice, because it is).  It’s not that I’ve lost interest.  It’s not that I lack motivation.  It’s not that I need a simple, short break.  It’s not the weather.  (Although it might be the planets…)

I have a pretty good idea of what it’s not.  I have less of a grip on what it is.

At least it’s an active area of research.

My own Cognitive Fatigue began very suddenly, over the course of less than a week in late May 2017, and it likely progressed after that.  I noticed that I couldn’t think.  I was restless at work–once a redlining steam engine with jugs full of motivation and a to-do list that would put George Carlin’s Scroll to shame, working well past 8pm every night while the hours blipped by, I suddenly saw time slow like a warped Salvador Dali clock and I would pace, not knowing what to do and not being able to get excited about much of anything.

An eternity would pass before I’d look up at the clock, and I would notice that it was only noon.

My brain was done for the day; it had had all it could handle.

At home, I fare slightly better.  My brain lasts until anywhere from 3-7p.  Not my usual 8p at the office, but I’ll take it.  I think the difference is being in my home environment, without pressure, without having had to fight traffic or interact with anyone else.  But as usual, I’m not sure.

And why this started in the first place, seemingly out of the blue, is also a mystery.  I have only theories, on which as yet I can find no solid ground.  Perhaps it’s a brain injury after all, but maybe not a physical one; the injury itself could be biochemical.  My mind drifts toward the memory of the nickel poisoning I sustained almost two years ago.  The one that almost led me to say a permanent goodbye.  I honestly couldn’t see the point of occupying space on the planet for another day.

In sharing this, I’m not looking for sympathy.  It’s not a cry for help.  It happened a year and a half ago and I’ve gotten past the emotional abyss that was my summer 2017.  I survived, I’m still here, and living to tell my story.

I’m talking about it because it’s important.  It needs to get talked about, not shoved under a rug.  There aren’t rugs big enough for some topics anyway.

I’m talking about it because the world likes to tiptoe around these topics, or turn them into cliches with walks and ribbons and dedicated days.

You know what?  Every day is suicide prevention day for me.

And heavy metals?  Scoff if you want; they’re real.  It happened.  I’ve lived it.  And through it–barely.

This past fall, I got nickel-poisoned again.  It was hell.  All over again.

Luckily, this time, I recognized what it was.  Because of that, I could deal with it quickly, and deal with it quickly I did.

But tonight is a special night.  It’s a special night for me when I can sit down and gather my thoughts into enough focus to compose a post this long and this coherent this late in the evening (despite logging on to find at least 5 comments in limbo about how I’m wrong about This or That, which serves only as a reminder as to why it sometimes takes increasing energy to blog in the first place; this post seems to be a favorite target).

What is special tonight was barebones normal before.  It’s something I used to take completely for granted.  I don’t anymore.

I don’t take anything for granted anymore–my life, my brain, my work, my words, my friends…nothing.  It’s all special.  It’s all a gift.

This past year and a half has been disorienting, dissolving, fragmented.  Confusion doesn’t begin to cover it; to call it that would be trite and simplistic.

I’d hate to jump the gun and say I might be coming out of it, or even say something as boldly as something about being able to see a light at the end of the tunnel, but maybe I do, somewhere on the horizon.

Being on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum in a neurotypical world is challenging.  Being bona fide cognitively fatigued is challenging.

Now pair them together.  Life becomes a clusterf**k.  I just want my regular AS-brain back, that’s all.  But nickel does lodge deep into the brain, as do other heavy metals.  Getting them out is going to be a risky chore, and I’ll have to proceed carefully.

This may take a while.  ❤

But for tonight, I freaking did it.  And for tonight, that’s enough for me.  🙂

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(Image Credit: James McCarthy “Tolkyes“, Deviantart)

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54 Comments

  1. Oh, can I relate to cognitive fatigue, as well! I think many people like me, with bipolar disorder, experience that after periods of mood elevation (mania or hypomania).

    The comment from terismyth, above, also expresses how I feel about your blog. I have learned so much from you, and it’s amazing how I can related to so much you’ve written, personally. I do not have Asperger’s or any autism spectrum disorder. I believe I originally found your blog because my nephews have/had Asperger’s and I wanted to read what you wrote about it. We lost my youngest nephew 2 1/2 years ago to bipolar depression. He spoke very little, but produced the most amazing nature photographs I’ve ever seen. We even published many of them in a book in his honor.

    Liked by 2 people

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