Mental Exhaustion Is A Problem, Too
Last updated: May 2021
One of the things that we talk about the least when it comes to ankylosing spondylitis is the sheer mental exhaustion. Obviously, fatigue is all-encompassing, which means it takes over our bodies, minds, and soul. And physical exhaustion is a given.
But it’s hard to pinpoint the mental exhaustion, and even harder to explain it to others. I find that I can sleep a normal amount of time every single night and still wake up feeling as though my brain is lagging far, far behind.
Mental exhaustion looks like a few different things for me.
Feeling as though I can’t concentrate or focus for huge lumps of time, which is really difficult when I have to do anything, like, you know — my job (which includes turning articles in on deadline!). I’ve learned how to better write and be productive without disturbing my workflow, but it takes a lot of mental fortitude and planning. And I hate battling against my own brain! I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Timer, which is essentially a tool that gives you 20-25 minutes of straight work before it alerts you to take a break. It helps me train my brain to focus, and because I know there's an endpoint, it's helpful. I also like to turn off my Internet so that I’m not tempted to use Wi-Fi (10/10 recommend).
Mental exhaustion also comes in the form of brain fog, a feeling as though I can’t formulate ideas or thoughts with coherence or nuance. This is especially difficult as a writer because, well, I'm expected to come up with clear ideas! Sometimes it takes a few hours and a cup or two of coffee before I’m firing on all cylinders (and even then, it's doubtful how many cylinders are firing).
This sort of brain fog is exceptionally nebulous, because some days it’s better than others, and I can’t always predict it. It’s like I’m searching for a clear and elegant way of saying something or expressing a feeling, but everything comes out jumbled or clunky or black and white. Sometimes it takes a few seconds for the words to get from my mind to my mouth, which also is a strange feeling if you’re someone who’s been accused of talking too much since childhood.
Mental exhaustion also comes in the form of feeling overstimulated, as though my brain will fry or glitch or simply implode because of the excess stimulus. The triggers are lights or sounds or the electrical hum of a refrigerator. Oftentimes, overstimulation comes from consuming too much media and looking at to many digital images. Sometimes it’s having the TV on in the background and not realizing that it’s making me feel off. I believe now that sitting in silence is the best thing I can do for myself, and there are actual studies that show that silence is very good for the brain. I like to think of silence as a form of medicine.
Inability to solve a problem
Mental exhaustion also feels like not being able to think on my toes, and not being able to solve problems quickly. I’m a very good researcher, and I’m the first one you should turn to if you need the cheapest and most convenient plane ride or find how to build a website or write a book. But when flare-ups take over my brain, the mental fog makes it all that much harder.
Do you notice worsening flares in colder weather?