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  We finally got our home office desktop computer fixed (have you ever tried to blog on a very-outdated WordPress app?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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40 Comments

  1. It’s good to see you back. It’s challenging to read why. I’m not familiar with cognitive fatigue, I’m grateful for your explanation. I really hope, for you, you are coming out of it.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I was wondering about you this morning (not for the first time). I’m glad to see a post from you. My own trauma has kept me silent for well over a year now, and I was starting to wonder if you had given up altogether, which does happen sometimes, as people move on to new things. I’m glad you haven’t stopped, though I am feeling a great deal of empathy for the challenges in your silence.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. I didn’t realize how long it was since you last wrote. Glad to see you back and hopefully on the mend. I kinda understand the tiredness, though I think often for me it has been pushing myself too hard and probably experiencing mild shutdowns.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I wouldn’t have guessed cognitive fatigue specifically, but neurodiverse zebras have enough medical history from case studies of just falling off the fibro and CFS/ME edge when they burn themselves out that I wondered of something similar had happened. Sorry you are going through this.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. I had to look three times to make sure I was actually seeing a Silent Wave post😍😍😍🎉💃👏
    I haven’t looked at the linked info yet, but what describe sounds an awful lot like the Fibro Fog I deal with. So many times I’ve gotten frustrated trying to talk to someone and the words just evaporated. I couldn’t finish a sentence because I couldn’t remember simple words. And the depression like symptoms, YES! It’s frightening especially if one has a history of depression. I’m always on the lookout for my Depression Monster👺😧. It’s different from depression for me in that there’s no sadness or hopelessness. I just feel heavy and sludgey and just don’t wanna participate.
    Anyway, Dearest Dude😍😎, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with the poopy, but I’m glad you’ve identified it and hopefully 🍀🙏it will move on it’s way…far away👍💌💖💞✨

    Liked by 7 people

  6. Well, I’m so happy to see a new post from you. As I can see from the previous comments, I’m not the only one who has missed your voice here in WordPressia. But dang, I’m sorry to hear about the cogfat you’re struggling with, and WTF about the nickel poisoning???? Had you written about that before? If you write more about it, may I suggest the title “Why, If I Had a Nickel…”, or some such.

    Very sorry to hear of your struggles, but thrilled that you’re sharing them with us.

    Courage, Doc!

    🙂

    Liked by 6 people

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this post. I wonder if Cognitive Fatigue can also follow a virus? This has been a really helpful read and I need to find out more. I have yet to follow your links.
    It is so lovely to see you back here. I’m still around but not blogging and just read occasional posts by others.
    Take care my friend. I hope you find helpful ways to cope and heal through this difficult time.
    💜 💛 💜

    Liked by 7 people

  8. Good to hear from you again! What you describe sounds very familiar. In a blog somewhere I read that autistic burnout/masking can bring on temporary brain damage type symptoms. Hope you feel better soon x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Cognitive fatigue is an aspect of my disease. You are right, I haven’t seen much written about it, nor can others be sympathetic to something they have not experienced. My husband is witness to the effects everyday – my mind won’t transition, or stubbornly thinks I am right when I am way off base, or replaces words with other words, or loses them all together. When faced with a form, or asked more than one question at a time, my brain freezes. It is extraordinarily frustrating, and despite how it makes me appear to the outside world, it does not equate with intelligence. it is a processing challenge. Wow. Didn’t expect to write so much – you must have hit struck a chord. Suffice to say, sorry you experience the same.

    Liked by 7 people

  10. It’s nice to hear from you again. Interesting post. I was born with Wilson’s disease and when it became symptomatic at age 25, my body was flooded with copper as my liver collapsed. From that point on I have had fatigue. Initially I put it down to liver disease but after my transplant I guessed it was the drug combination I was on. Then my thoughts moved to autism. I guess it is probably all those things with a dose of older age. Hope you get more of the higher number of spoon days.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. So glad you did it. How can I tell you anything that may help, push you forward, see that light at the end of the tunnel when myself well… not so good (meltdown from midnight to 3:30 am last night). But by writing to you I somehow get out of my hole and try to pull your arm gently so that you may also do so, get that smart brain of yours going as you did so well in this post. I have missed reading you. I am glad you shared this today. So let us just get out of our holes even if for a few minutes, even if stuttering, even if not walking straight. I am here to lean on. Kenza.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Hello again- I’m thrilled to hear from you again.
    I’ve learned more from your posts about Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, depression, etc than any other blogger. And i follow quite a few.
    I’m sharing your post as i do often, with a friend who also struggles with these issues.
    You are a warrior, a saint and someone I look up to.
    As a mother of an autistic/Asperger 27 yr old son I respect everything you have taught me about this disability. Although I believe he is brilliant and will go far because of his autism. It’s just that I couldn’t learn about him within your insight. Your descriptions and stories about your struggles have resonated with me and helped me understand so much.
    Because of you I have much more empathy and patience when dealing with Andrew.
    Currently he is finishing a coding class at UC Berkeley. He loves it and we are hoping he can find a job with these new skills. His performing arts degree will only get him so far, but we are grateful he graduated. Even last night, he stopped by and needed our internet cause his was down, and he admitted by now he would be overwhelmed and would shut down and not ask for help. This is huge that he can articulate his feelings. I learned all this from YOU.
    If there is anything I can do tohelp you, please let me know. I can send cookies 🍪 or candy 🍭 to make you feel better.
    Hugs
    Teri:)

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Haven’t heard from you in ages, sorry to hear that! Speaking of getting rid of heavy metals, I just tried using bentonite clay on my face. I feel so much better! (circulation, less foggy)
    You can pick it up pretty cheap on eBay or amazon. Best of luck to you!

    Liked by 4 people

  14. I think you’ve described it so well with “it’s just my brain that crosses its arms across its chest, digs its feet in the dirt and refuses to budge another inch.” With fibromyalgia, which is my technical diagnosis, they refer to ‘brain fog’. I think for me cognitive fatigue is closer to the point at times. And there’s no rhyme or reason, no way to prevent or predict, it just is, it just happens, and it’s frustrating and exhausting. The way you’ve viewed your ability to blog all of this and to appreciate everything without taking it for granted, is so encouraging and heartening. I think a lot of us could learn a lesson from that. One step at a time, you can do this, even though going with the flow and managing what you do isn’t easy, you can do it. Sending hugs and thank you for writing this, I think you’ve shared your experiences perfectly.
    Caz xxxx

    Like

  15. Laina, dear. I believe in this, honestly! I also wanted to make sure if you ever wanted to do Instagram it is easier. Short words and posts. I had too many people to keep track of on my blog. I care about you. I wanted to make sure you knew where to find amazing, short snippets of thoughts. I am definitely feeling less pressure.
    FB is: Robin O. Cochran (Delaware, Ohio)
    Instagram at: robincochran55
    Take care and wishing you peace and calm moments with your return to energy enough to stay in touch with those who need your “voice!” 🌟❤️☮️

    Liked by 4 people

  16. Good to see you here and hope that fact alone is a sign that you are on the road to recovery. You are so tuned in to how your mind and body operates, I hope you are able to navigate through to brighter days by listening to your body and doing what you need to do. Take care.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. I do miss your posts, but I understand, because I go through something similar. I’m in a constant state of burn-out mentally and physically, where it seems like I’m always this way, at least I am most of the time. But I also live with multiple different chronic illnesses, along with consistent traumatic stress and high levels of dissociation. So the stress of that can cause total shutdown very frequently. I no longer even have a blog up, so you’ve got one up in that regard over me. Self-care is a priority. You are missed. You are loved. We will see you again when you are able to come back, but until then I will just go back and enjoy all of your lovely older posts. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Lania, I’ve not been blogging much either due to dear daughter being poorly with her ocd. Life is pretty hard here, but I wrote today and thought of you and wondering how you are? Sending a hug. x

    Liked by 2 people

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