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In The Land of Fibrofog it Isn't Very Brainy Out

Updated on April 23, 2017
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Nikki has a Master of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Alberta. She is a freelance article writer on a variety of topics.

Yes, my cup doth overfloweth with pain not brain

To begin with, I will give a short concise description of fibromyalgia syndrome. It is pain even spread all through the body with extra stabbiness in random areas for funsies. It is sleep dysfunction, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction. Fibrofog is the word we use to describe the cognitive dysfunction in fibromyalgia. The cognitive dysfunction that affects concentration, short term memory, long term memory, and working memory but not processing speed. The brain decides to misfire pain signals and then forgets to turn them off. Cranked on the pain music and just let it go wild. What does it feel like you ask? Like you went into a hot tub but instead of water it was pain, and you sat in the heated pain for about a month until all the pain was saturated into you and the heat drained you of every ounce of energy you had left in your being. Like that. Your cup overfloweth with pain. But, as you will see, not brain.

Why is the land of brain so foggy?

Fibrofog studies have shown it is likely from the pain, not the insomnia that causes all the brain fog. More pain, less of a capacity to do advanced calculus through it. Or know things like your phone number or address. This is because half the brain is going 'oooh this sucks. Really hurting here. Oh, and that really hurts even more. Why did you even move like that, you know I hate that! Pain, pain, pain, pain, pain.' And 1/4 of the brain is going 'I wish I could just curl up and sleep.' Which leaves just 1/4 to do anything with.

It affects our short-term memory. Or long-term memory. Our working memory. Our concentration and focus. And our vocabulary. The only this that really isn't affected is processing speed.

And glitches arise. A lot of glitches. Yeah, sure, I put the milk in the cupboard and the keys in the fridge. Or put away the dirty dishes instead of the clean ones. But imagine a haze so thick you can swim in it. You get lost in it.

Articulate I am not

Let's say one day you woke up and every time you said 'pickle' what came out was 'potato'? It would be a little odd, eh? I mean, you don't even like potatoes and now you have a lot of potatoes and no pickles when all you wanted was a pickle. What if every time you opened your mouth this word substitution would happen. Then to make it even more exciting sometimes you couldn't think of the word at all. Not even if someone said 'I will give you a million dollars to name this thing with dill that looks like a wee cucumber in a jar.' And you stared at that pickle and no word came to mind. Crunchy-wee-cucumber-bit. What if then sometimes when you spoke your sentences came out in the wrong tense. Instead of 'I work today', it is 'I worked today'. Then what if, they the sentence came out all garbled up and made no sense at all? What if pickle came out smeekle?

It is a real fun game we play with other people called 'What the hell am I trying to say?' and 'I'll describe an object and you tell me what it is.' I call it word jumble. Some people play it very well. I give them a cookie if they are right. And a stern frown if they are wrong. I often speculate if my brain exists but my MRI has demonstrated it is in fact there. I have proof and proof is in the pudding brain. Sometimes I shout out words like an epiphany of words I couldn't figure out an hour before when they suddenly occur to me. I do a fist thrust to the air as well. Using the wrong words in conversation though isn't always apparent. Sometimes I notice, sometimes it is the giggle of the other person that tells me.

"That art gallery was spatula. I'd love to cucumber again.'

Or the sentence falls into fragmented pieces and you can't get them out. 'The concert was also spaaaachuu...great.'

The next issue is from fibromyalgia itself. Our hyperexcitable system and sensitivities. When there is a lot of background noise we have a difficult time blocking that out and talking to the person in front of us. It intrudes and makes it very hard to comprehend the person in front of us. It can not only make us lose our capacity to comprehend others but make us lose our train of thought. I once had this group interview. I don't recommend this style for introverts. It is torture. But whatever, managers, torture the poor introverts. But they have everyone groups in one room all yammering at the same time. Let's just say I had a problem understanding my interviewer and kept forgetting midway through my responses what my point was. I get this inkling she thought I was 'on the pot'. Oddly enough they didn't hire me. So weird. Somewhat to my relief. I can't tell you the name of the company but it rhymed with Ballsmart.

We can likewise have issues with oral instruction; simple and complicated. That good old short-term memory doesn't allow them to stay in there long enough for you to follow them unless they are written down or you write them down. You nod. Got it. Got it. Got it. Gone. It's gone. I remember nothing of this conversation. What year is this?

Math and words

If you think your communication skills are just verbally messed up, you are in for a surprise. Surprise! It is also math and the written word. No secret note passing to make your point. It will be equally fun to figure out.

Let's take math. Like, take it and never do it because even simple math is problematic. Your working memory is when you take something and do something with that piece of information. Ours is a little shot. So if you do simple math and say have to 'carry the 1' say goodbye to that 1 it is now in the void of space that is the fibro brain, never to be seen again. So you do it on paper. Yeah. Except transposing numbers is very common with fibrofog. You might have to triple check that way. Just in case. Best use a calculator and triple check your work all the time. Numbers are just a problem anyway with short term memory. You can give me your phone number and before I can write it down or put it into my phone... forgot it. So you can tell me again... forgot it. On the sixth try with you speaking very slowly I will finally get it. I will, of course, upon occasion forget my own number. And address. I am thinking of getting an emergency identity tattoo on me.

And if you can transpose numbers, you can transpose letters. Word becomes work. P becomes d or b. Math becomes Matt. And that tense issue reemerges. Work becomes worked.

'3ack to worked topay' makes perfect sense in my special little brain code. Who even needs to code things? I have my own secret language.

A good intro Fibromyalgia book I read when I was young


Concentrating is hard. Well, it is with lack of sleep and a brain full of pain. Pain is so utterly demanding that way. Pay attention to Me, me, me. All the time. Hard to think through it. So focus and concentration is somewhat of an issue.

Pure and simple just the concentration and focus is a problem for trying to complete a task. But it can muddle things up in weird and bizzare brain fun ways. We can, for example, forget how to do a simple task we have done so many times we know it like the back of our hands. Or like we know our phone number... bad example. I once parked my car and tried to take the keys out before putting it in park, because I forgot the automatic routine of it and how to do it. We can forget the basic order or basic routine of very simple things. I once couldn't file because I forgot the alphabet. I once lost my white car in a four-level garage for hours. I once got myself lost in an airport for four hours because I needed to get to the taxis on the first floor. A normal brain would look for 'stair' signs. I was looking for exits... on the second floor. Couldn't think myself out of that puzzle for some time.

Who Are you?

We have a lot of problems accessing our long-term memory for things we Know. So we can forget people's faces. Their names. Problems with facial recognition of people we ought to be familiar with can be pretty disconcerting. Or with someone you, quite literally, saw an hour before. Our long term memory can be hazy because those memories were encoded with a lot of pain. And recalling them with a lot of pain can fail. I would, for example, fail to remember a new policy but would remember the old one. I have troubles remember events in my life, or who was at them unless someone teases the memory for me. I forget I learned a new policy, forget it changed or forget how to do something basic. Then the next day the opposite.


Studies have suggested we are cognitively 20 years older than we are. Whoo. But let's look at the silver lining, shall we? We can always win an argument because we never remember doing or saying that thing they said we did or said... ergo didn't happen.

People don't understand fibromyalgia so they will think you are simply an 'absent-minded' person and you will get away with doing absent-minded things because of this cute character trait that amuses people so. People will be endlessly amused by the stories you will tell them. Like the days you forgot to check the gas gauge and were late to work because you ran out of gas... again.

There are many ways around fibrofog. Sticking to routines. Eating many small meals. Taking a lot of simple notes for yourself. Getting good, regular and consistent sleep. All sorts of tips. But it is always there a little bit. We just need to find the best ways for oursleves on how to work with it and around it in our lives or workplaces.

Does fibrofog interfere with your work?

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© 2017 Nikki Albert


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