Uh oh. Itís happening again. All signs indicate an impending cognitive shift. The result of this electrical short circuit in my brain can resemble a profound panic attack. Other times, it comes off as an intense ďsenior momentĒ. As my neurologically diseased body slows down, my thoughts can accelerate erratically. And then abruptly halt. Like a frayed wire, neurological impulses and perceptions sometimes get through clearly, sometimes jumbled, sometimes in hyper drive and often impulses donít get through at all. Normal daily sprinkles of incoming information can be perceived as a torrential downpour of terrifying awareness. Or despite how intense the concentration, I have no recall. Unimportant trivia mixes with items of substance that becomes impossible to differentiate and prioritize. A previous gentle flowing stream of intelligence becomes dangerous swirling flood waters of overwhelming data. Without warning, information overload can burst its banks in raging fury. Or frustration from inability to perform simple mental tasks sets in. Either way, I am swept into a whirlpool of fear and confusion.
Years ago as a Registered Nurse, I recognized that cognitive dysfunction can affect a patientís quality of life even more so than the physical symptoms of disease.
Neuropsychological assessments have quickly evolved as an essential portion of the overall evaluation of the brain injured patient. Now, as I live with the results of brain lesions of multiple sclerosis, I find myself looking over those previous words and going, huh? Big words, medical explanations, complex terminology are of no assistance to those who live with mild cognitive dysfunction. Itís not that we are stupidÖin fact, as a whole we are a very intelligent group. Itís just that occasionally the simplest things can be a bit confusing.
Cognitive impairment can affect a wide variety of people. Those with Alzheimerís Disease and related disorders (ADRD), multi infarct dementia, AIDS related cognitive dysfunction, traumatic brain injury, stroke and neurological conditions as Parkinsonís and Multiple Sclerosis can fall victim to varying degrees of confusion. Difficulties with concentration, attention, memory and poor judgment name just a few symptoms of minimal deficit. These cognitive symptoms occur when injury or lesions develop in brain areas responsible for information processing. These deficits tend to become more apparent as the information to be processed becomes more complex. Or when it is perceived that there is just too much input to sort through.
In this fast paced world, the information faced daily by any given individual can be mind boggling. Becoming swamped with data can be difficult for the average person; for the person with cognitive dysfunction, it can be absolutely incapacitating. I am only doing about half of what I was doing before the latest exacerbation of MS.. Thatís a fraction of the level of activity expected for someone my age. Yet, I am overwhelmed. Things that I need to do are jumbled in my head. Itís impossible to make any sense of it all, yet everything must get done.
The medical term for this condition for post brain injury, or any neurologically cognitively impaired incident is ďfloodingĒ. It is the inability to prioritize and implement a series of simple tasks or thoughts. I am flooding. Worse, I am drowning. I could be a walking medicine cabinet from all the meds that I have been offered to cope with this, and some in fact, help me gain some ground. But what has given me the greatest sense of control, is by doing all that I can myself, before finally surrendering when I absolutely can not continue.
So I take deep breaths to calm the panic, try to focus on lists and invoke Godís help. Outwardly, I get very quiet, then mentally detach, and seem to shut down to everything except the task at hand.
My husband sees that I am currently flooding. So heís pasting reminders for me all around the house. (Please keep the porch door shut; turn off the oven; donít throw away new ant trapsÖ) But so many notes, so many reminders are discouraging. I feel like an idiot. Heís only trying to help. I love him and know that he will pick up the pieces to what I canít get done and in the end, everything will be alright.
But sometimes I forget how to tread water.
When I can no longer stroke items from the ďto doĒ list, I quiet myself and close my eyes. In this meditative state, I surrender to a Higher Power. Almost immediately (interiorly) I see gentle hands robed in white settle upon my head.
Panic subsides. There is a feeling of absolute trust. All will be well. Soon, I am wrapped in the Spiritís wings. There is calm and peace within.
And I am floating, not drowning on this sea of confusion.
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