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Frustrating Challenges of Brain Fog

One of the more frustrating challenges of living with narcolepsy is the brain fog and memory issues. There are many times when my close family and friends retell stories that apparently I was there for but have no recollection of. On days when my excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is hammering down on me, I find that my brain decides it doesn't want to help me out.

Am I dumb?

I have learned to use calendars and planners to my advantage. My phone is set up with weekly reminders like taking out the trash, paying bills, and big due dates. However, I can't set reminders about memories I have that slowly fade away. My calendar can't help me complete big assignments. That is all on me – and it can be very difficult.

Sometimes I will say things like, "Oh, I'm just a forgetful person!" or "My memory isn't the best," when talking to people who don't know me as well. For a long time, I thought I wasn't the brightest bulb in the box. During my early college years, there was a big state exam that I had to pass to complete my teaching certificate. It took me 5 tries and over 4 years (plus some heavy accommodations) until I finally passed.

Keeping up with assignments

This past semester, I had a big assignment due for one of my master's classes. I knew about it since the beginning of the semester, learning more specific details in September. This paper wasn't due until the end of November, so I told myself I would start working on it in late October.

I have learned that trying to do homework at my home doesn't tend to work well. My brain associates my house with sleep, so even if I sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in hand, my brain struggles to focus. I often catch myself staring at the computer for minutes on end without realizing that much time has passed.

Asking for help

Feeling overwhelmed by the assignment and doubting my skills, I unintentionally put off the assignment week after week. I saw the due date coming closer and forced myself to focus without success. Tears would stream down my face as I thought, "Brain, why won't you work?"

The day before my paper was due, I emailed the professor in distress. My lack of confidence and unrelenting brain fog was towering over me. I explained there was no way this assignment would be done in time. Kindly, the professor gave me uplifting confirmations and gave me an extension.

Negative self-talk

Almost immediately after receiving his email, I started thinking, "Gabrielle, it is your own damn fault that you didn't do this paper when you knew about it all semester. You better turn it in by tomorrow – you don't deserve an extension!"

It took time for me to stop treating myself so harshly, reminding myself that I have a neurological disorder that makes it difficult to sit and focus for long periods of time. My partner reassured me that I needed to give myself grace. I never worked so hard in my life. Despite the overcast, the sleepiness, the brain fog, I managed to turn in the paper by the end of the same week it was due.

I deserve love

I wish there were a moral to this story. I also wish I could do something to change this part of myself. When these things arise, all I can do is remind myself that I deserve to love myself through this.

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