By Michele Rosenthal
The most difficult part of being sick - and recovering afterward - is the cognitive impairment we experience during that time. Whether due to drugs, medications, stress or just plain exhaustion it can be so difficult to keep our heads clear, our minds exact, and our thoughts congruent. After fifteen years of being a chronic, sleep-deprived, malnourished and overly stressed patient with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), however, I discovered that there are definitely some self-empowered ways to gain control during that fuzzy-brained period.
1. Develop a healing intention - Clarity often comes and goes during illness and recovery. One thing that helps is to be clear about what we're trying to achieve. Keeping the end goal in mind (by writing out a description, listing details, making a vision board) helps the brain stay focused on making the right pictures, which supports recovery.
2. Education, education, education - The more we as patients know and understand the better we can advocate for ourselves, make good decisions and effect progress. This doesn't mean we have to know everything all at once. Learning in bits and pieces on a good day, in a clearer hour or moment, is enough to give us the power of knowledge. That feeling of empowerment can be key in meetings with doctors, therapists, family and friends, plus other support system members.
3. Develop good connections - Sometimes the last thing we feel like doing is the first thing we need to do. When we're cognitively impaired we don't really feel like making friends. But it's just then that we need to buddy up (with new or already familiar buddies) and connect. Having good connections with friends, family and medical staff means there's someone on our side to advocate for us when we are having a bad day and can't do it for ourselves.
4. Make the effort to communicate - One thing that really hinders the care we need is how we verbally shut down in the brain fog. However, our care vastly improves when we muster our energy to express what we're experiencing, what we need, what is all right and what is really, really wrong. Making lists, keeping logs or using a tape recorder can help us effectively express what others need to know.
5. Commit to the journey - It's so tempting to give up, give in and shut down when we feel out of control, not ourselves and without the energy we're used to. Still, despite those moments of despair we each have to make a commitment to ourselves that we won't let the situation get the best of us. Find one thing that makes you feel like yourself, brings you joy, or refuels you and use it as often as you need to keep you centered on your path through and out the other side of any part of the illness and recovery process.
Managing and recovering from PTSD was an enormous challenge for me as I had difficulty concentrating, remembering simple things and processing even the shortest thought. What I learned, though, by putting in place each of these five self-empowering things, is that we all have deep healing potential; the trick is learning to tap it. Giving ourselves concrete actions can lead us straight to that potential, and also show us how to leverage it.
Michele Rosenthal is the founder of www.healmyptsd.com. Her recovery memoir, Before the World Intruded: A Memoir of Trauma, Survival, Identity and the Pursuit of Joy, will be released in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @micheleptsd.