I Think, Therefore I Am More Than My Mental Fatigue
“A river cuts through rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” — James N. Watkins
My cognitive fatigue didn’t begin until long after I was paralyzed in 2016 by aggressive relapsing-remitting MS. The fatigue came as a huge shock to me. I had read about it and even thought I knew how it felt. I thought that because I was already unable to walk, the mental fatigue would have occurred already. I was incredibly wrong.
Imagine you’re in a ball of bubble wrap waddling around, unable to touch anything or anyone around you. That is what cognitive fatigue feels like.
The life of the mind
Imagine, also, the one thing you believe makes you “you.” Maybe it’s your legs if you’re a swimmer or your hands if you’re a surgeon. My brain is that thing for me. Even when I couldn’t move, stand, or walk, I had the freedom of my mind, which kept me sane.
If I were asked to choose between my brain and my body, my answer would always be 100% my brain. It’s who I am. It makes me, well, me. I was never an athlete. I have always been mind more than body. I am a scientist, a deep thinker, a planner.
I was told I’d need to take modafinil, a fatigue medication. It worried me that I would need to take medication to keep me as “me.”
I had all kinds of questions: Where was my mind going? Would it come back? Would I need to stop my life as it was? Would I be able to have babies? Would I be able to keep my job, or have a job in the future?
There are days I have to “moo” at my husband for help coming up with the word “cow.” There are days I think my day was a dream because I feel so out of touch with the world around me.
Then there are days I ace my neuroscience master’s exams.
Here to stay
I know this mental fatigue I feel is not going away. It has affected my relationships, sent some out of joint, and train-wrecked others. I understand it must be very difficult to engage with someone who is there in body, but not in mind. I want those who might have encountered it to know that I understand how rude it can appear. I want them to know it is not intentional or malicious.
It’s not me.
But I’ve also encountered some people who have tried to use my fatigue against me. There have been times that I have been made to feel like I’m not worthy of having the same social interactions as nondisabled people, or that I’m “toxic” because I sometimes struggle to engage in a conversation when I am fatigued.
I don’t understand why people behave like this; perhaps they lack compassion or have no understanding of what it’s like to live with challenges. I’m not toxic or unworthy.
I am real. I am thoughtful. I may be quiet at times when I have to be for my health and, frankly, for my sanity.
And I am still here. I have been to rock bottom in this fog of fatigue, and exploded back up again when it lifted. That’s no small accomplishment.
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