“It will happen slowly, but it will happen.” I remember my neurologist, Dr. X, standing in front of me, her stethoscope around her neck and her hands in her pockets. She was quiet, relaxed and exuded confidence. Her composure gave me faith that it truly would happen. The Brain Fog would loosen its grip and my short-term-memory would improve.
My cardiologist referred me to Dr.X because I had a panic attack at a zoo after getting separated from my husband. I didn’t even think to call to reach for my phone. I sat down on the closest bench and willed myself not to cry. I guess sitting was enough of a rest to bring back some clarity because I remembered the phone in my pocket. But before I could even call, I looked up and there he was. He had come back for me. I was shaken to the core. This event became a part of my history and one of the factors in my dysautonomia diagnosis.
A few weeks earlier, Dr. X had ordered several head scans and a round of memory testing. The results were mixed. Physically there was nothing wrong that they could see in the MRIs but the memory testing showed I had some problems with recall and acuity. I knew I could not figure out how to put a tray of colored blocks into patterns fast enough. Sigh. She said, “ Too early, it’s too early for that for you”.
We talked about my life, what I had done, what I would like to continue doing and what was special to me. I needed to get my brain juices flowing again. I am not sure how she got me to think this was my idea but Dr.X is a master of beneficent persuasion. I told her I read every day, I love adult coloring and taking photos with my cellphone. I had set my fate; it was like that great line from Ghostbusters, “You have chosen the destroyer.” Well, I had chosen.
She liked me reading every day but suggested it should be non-fiction and subjects that are new to me. She liked adult coloring but only if I drew my own line drawings to fill in. Photography is a great hobby, but I needed to take photos in unfamiliar places. She also threw in making things by hand. I liked the thought of all of this and I accepted it. I think that accepting was the most important part. She recommended (with twists), what I already loved to do. Since I will be doing this forever, it is important to love your therapy.
I love gardening and horticulture and fully embraced university extension factsheets - short and sweet, info-laden pages about plants, animals, or foods related to our lives and environment. I average about a half-dozen a week. It’s amazing how fast you can tear through a few pages about the flowers, herbs, or pollinators you love. There are a zillion topics to choose from and all non-fiction. My other joy has been cooking new recipes from old cookbooks. Again, reading.
My thrift-store cookbook addiction has finally paid off. Right now I’m learning how to cook for my freezer which equals a fast and healthy dinner instead of take-out when I want to crash instead of cooking. Last week I froze polenta wedges and bags of cooked chicken strips I made on the electric grill. The week before I did some sweet potato puree and bags of chopped onions. I’ve got bags of frozen rice and cooked noodles tucked away. I make at least a dozen servings of each recipe so it’s worth the “spoons” I use for prep time. We’ve cut down greatly on takeout so overall this is a big plus. We eat a lot healthier and we keep our take-out money in our wallet. Please tip the cook.
Another big gain came from reading DINET’s Facebook feed. Not every article is about dysautonomia and I enjoy reading the personal perspectives. More than anything else, I’ve gotten an education in how dysautonomia affects our lives. I can now dialogue with my doctors and better explain to family or strangers what we experience.
Taking photos is easy - getting someplace new is not. My cardiologist already prescribed a daily walk -either outside or at the mall. I limit driving - no joy rides - just to the doctor or the supermarket across the street. I don’t go far. I park on top of the mall’s highest lot and took panorama shots of the skyline in the distance. I go downstairs and inside and take sienna tints of shoppers rushing by my bench. I go into to the dressing room and do a personal photo shoot of myself in fashions I would never buy. Well, not all the pieces! I take different photos of different things in different places. Mission accomplished. Each day I walk my two dogs separately (four walks a day!). I used to keep the phone in my pocket, but now it stays in my hand. I take pictures of what thrills me that moment - bark, molds, flowers, critters, clouds in the sky shaped like ducks. I usually delete more than I save - but the ones I save are keepers.
Neurotherapy can do more than give you clarity; it improves your life. You are better able to interact with people and the world again. I’ve heard knowledge is power, but in this case, knowledge equals confidence. I don’t know what I look like to strangers when I’m grasping for words. It bothers me deeply that people see me impaired. Do they think I’m drunk or witless? Am I allowed out by myself? But now, I no longer find myself searching so often for words in a conversation. I am not hesitant to speak because I can find many words in my head, not just the one I lost in thought. Being able to have a conversation go to its end is something so many take for granted. I did, too. Learning about my condition has given me a greater vocabulary. I have a larger arsenal of words and phrases to bring to mind when I am suddenly at a loss for a specific word.
In the last few months, I feel like the fog is clearing. I can recall discussions much better—I’m no longer asking my Hubs what he wants for dinner six times in a row. I think the last few months have been some of my most productive since my symptoms showed up three years ago. I’ve made advances in clarity and cognition. I can articulate better and I have more energy for “spoons” saved. We eat better and the dogs love it when I pick up that camera. And Hubs is sure happy--who doesn’t love a dinner like grandma used to make?!
Editor's note: AdultColoringBook_TrudiDavidoff.pdf Download and enjoy!