Losing My Mind: How My Disease Changed My Brain

Living With Brain Fog

Papers strewn on the floor. A jacket on the living room couch. Paper clips on the counter, the unmatching colors as sporadic as their scattered placement. Clothes in a pile by my bed. Dishes left on the table with half-finished food. These were my first symptoms of the late stages of my disease.

It was my senior year of high school and sophomore year of college. I’m not going to explain how that’s possible, just go along with it. In addition to strange pains in my chest and sudden muscle twitches, messiness wasn’t characteristic of my normal self. I didn’t see the correlation between my symptoms, like a preschooler who can’t follow the simple nomenclature of “connect the dots.”

The change to my character wasn’t just clothes on my bedroom floor, it was the lack of lists. Lists I used to make every day. Obsessively. With the accuracy of Leonardo Devinchi, down to the exact minute. The lists ceased, along with my normal tidiness. Neglect of simple tasks evolved. Clothes were strewn about. Projects left on the coffee table. Half eaten meals I thought I finished. Protein drinks left in my car, morphing into chunky, sour monsters. I kept one and named it Sherman.

As I transformed into a tornado of clutter, tension erupted between my very organized mother and I. We would fight often. She didn’t believe my excuses: I simply couldn’t remember to gather the things I set down.

The strange memory loss, along with the chest pain and muscle twitches, rolled off my shoulders and onto the pile of nievity that was my young mind. Nothing was wrong with me. There couldn’t be. I was in the “best physical shape of my life.” These things were just flukes. Nothing to be worried about. Right? Wrong.

I remember the first time I forgot to do an assignment. Ever. In the history of my short and very nerdish life, I had never missed an assignment, nor garnered a grade lesser than an “A.” Now I collected some “Bs?” What in the crap of my milk monster Sherman was happening?

Four short months later I found myself in the emergency room after a series of seizures. I spend a week in the hospital while doctors tried to figure out what in the deepest of Hades was wrong. They didn’t figure it out, and their sloppy, generalized diagnosis brought us only to dead ends. More family tension. No treatment besides a few pills. The usual crap.

Fast forward to senior year of college and my brain began malfunctioning once more. Pretty soon I was down and out, not able to read or communicate. Still no useful diagnosis, only a brain that refused to cooperate in a deathly, bedbound body.

After the spring of 2017, a diagnosis, and the start of treatment, I was back up to about 75% of my brain capacity. I still had a hard time following conversations. Talking with people, I would often be confused on what they were saying. Socializing was hard. Which has never been the case for me as a “social hawk.” Not a social butterfly. My method of socialization is harsh, pulling the quiet ones into conversation. I shall make you talk.

When I returned to school fulltime, I still had a hard time following conversation. It didn’t help that I was taking a foreign language class and three 400 level classes. I was nervous about flunking the semester. I shamefully waltzed into the tutoring center to get help for my Spanish class. No bueno. Fui muy nervioso.

Caught in a conversation at church I couldn’t understand, I’d simply stare at the person’s mouth. It was moving, but I couldn’t understand the gibberish. Like Charlie Brown’s parents. Like a cat with a mouth full of gravel drowning. Like the speeches of Nancy Pelosi.

I was glad for my previous experience with interpersonal communication and took cues from facial expressions and body language. Such would render a semi-accurate response, with an error of + or – 4. Academic jokes. They don’t get all the laughs.

As the semester wore on, my cognitive function started to improve. Back to 85%. My conversational skills were restored. My comprehension enhanced. I was even able to manipulate people again. Wait, what?… nevermind.

After ceasing my treatment in December 2017, things started going down the old slope again. I started to forget how to spell things. I hadn’t realized how bad it had gotten. You know when you spell something and autocorrect fixes it for you? Autocorrect couldn’t even decipher what I was trying to spell.

One particular day, I forgot how to spell “against.” It was like I had never heard the word. Or seen it. It looked alien on the page after I finally figured it out. That was it. I couldn’t work as a writer if I didn’t know how to spell. Not to mention working as a teaching assistant. There’s nothing more embarrassing than going to write on a whiteboard forgetting how to spell the next word you want to write down. I’ll just smile real pretty and hope they won’t notice. Too late. Oh. Crap.

Fast forward to today.

I forget why I walk into rooms. Given, this happens to everyone, but in EVERY room? I don’t think so. I’ll have to retrace my steps, or ask my mother what I was doing. Because moms can read minds in addition to the eyes on the backs of their heads. Superpowers.

After quitting my job, the additional rest seems to have improved my spelling and critical thinking skills. Thank God. I also want to thank God that those things have been stripped away.

I’ll just say it: I was an arrogant person in the past. I believed I was invincible. I based my value on my brain power, my physical ability, and my socialization skills. Suddenly, all of those things were taken away. I couldn’t spell. I couldn’t hit the gym. Understand a conversation partner. Who am I now?

I’ve had a huge “under construction” sign on my forehead for the last three years. It’s only in the past four months that I’ve finally been able to come to rebuilding after an extensive demolition of all my preconceived notions. Notions of who I am. Notions of who God is. Notions of how the world works.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had always believed, deep down, God loved me for what I could do physically. For how many people I could reach out to. For my good grades. I believed He loved me unconditionally, but to gain His respect and approval, I had to strive for perfection. Not true, but the idea holds some proverbial water.

God can love me without being proud of me. Just ask a parent with a prodigal child who loves earsplitting metal and magical white fairy dust. If you didn’t get that last reference, you’re probably too sheltered.

I was, however, missing the mark on what made God proud. He was never proud of my striving for excellence in school, physical fitness, or work. He was proud of my faithfulness to Him behind those things, my motivations for attaining them. Though God didn’t base His pride on the physical manifestations of faithfulness, I did. So much so, I based my whole identity on those manifestations.

I’m getting into a whole different topic of “identity,” which is a can of worms bigger and more mysterious than a black hole. Not what this post is about. This post is based on the thought that though my mind may fail me, God will never base my worth on such shallow depths. God is interested in the faithfulness behind my actions. I can still gain the approval of Christ through dwelling on the faithfulness of His character, even if I become dumber than a frog with a lobotomy.

There’s nothing wrong with working to bring a smile to God’s face. The wrong in becoming focused on the act of striving over who the act is for. Simple. Boiled down. Like my brain these days. Though, as said above, it is getting better.

Wait. Where am I? What was I doing?

Colossians 3:17 (NIV)
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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