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The Cure For a Disorganized Mind

Posted Mar 25 2012 11:47pm

Revenge of the Goldfish by Sandy Skoglund

Goldfish brain. That’s what my friend Anna calls it. Cute but vacant: you can tell a goldfish anything – and expect it to be gone within the second. While it’s great that your goldfish will never tell anyone that you clean your earwax with your car key, it’s not awesome when it comes to anything approximating normal life. See, I have goldfish brain right now. And let me tell you it’s not at all cute in a human adult.

Let’s be honest: I’ve always been a little more scattered than most. I forget so many things that it’s become a punchline among my friends. One doctor a few years ago told me I had mild ADHD but that since I’d learned over the years to compensate well for it he considered me a success story. You know what’s fun? Going into the doctor and getting both diagnosed and cured in the same appointment! Unfortunately these days, thanks to my anti-depressant medication screw up (and possibly my birth control method, the Mirena IUD) I’m way more than a little scattered and I’m not compensating well at all. And also my hair is falling out.

Tonight a friend told me that she’d noticed a difference in me lately – that she could see it as I walked into a room. A shadow over my eyes. A tightening of my jaw. An uncertainty. This made me sad. Not because it isn’t true but because I’d thought I was, well, compensating. I’ve been trying so hard to just be normal. (Whatever normal means to me these days.) But you know what happens the harder you try to be normal? The weirder you get. And trying to be normal is exhausting. I feel like it takes me so much effort just to function at what used to be my baseline. I was supposed to go out with my girlfriends Saturday night for some much needed r&r but instead I cried for an hour and then fell asleep. By the time I woke up they were all ensconced in The Hunger Games and I had to spend an hour prying my contacts off my eyes.

This is not me. But it’s the me I am now. And I hate this me. I can feel my mind swirling and slipping and I hate it. But my insurance company, after much faxing and hold music, decreed that I can no longer have my medicine unless I want to pay $700 for it. Which I can’t. I cried about this all weekend. It makes me feel trapped. But then I started researching my non-medication options. There are ways, apparently, to cure a disorganized mind.

1. Meditate. Who saw that one coming? One site called it “bootcamp for brains” and pointed out that learning to focus is, well, a learned skill. Sometimes the easiest cures are the ones we resist the most (pride? unbelief? boredom?).

2. Brain games. A couple of months ago, I signed up on – a site run by Harvard researchers designed to enhance your cognitive nimbleness in 5 different areas. While I originally signed up to see if I could fix my horrendous spatial sense (the only thing I’m better at than forgetting is forgetting where I’m going – getting lost is practically my profession) but what it’s turned into is a measure of how I’m thinking. I’ve played faithfully every day for two months and my chart shows a marked decline starting a month ago when my meds got switched. It’s interesting to see it so quantified. I am, literally, getting dumber by the minute. But the games are very entertaining and they’ve definitely helped me try new ways of thinking. I tend to stick to word puzzles in real life but Lumosity forces me to work on what I’m weakest at: numbers, math, spatial orientation, memory.

3. Get organized. While this is a great life skill for everyone it’s particularly crucial for people like me. The advice is to have a calendar. Set up timers and reminders on your computer. Use an alarm clock – all day. Color code things. Write things on your hands. Write things on post-its. Write everything down. At first I rebelled a little at this. It makes me feel incompetent. And yet I will look at my calendar first thing in the morning and see I’m babysitting a friend’s kid at noon and 9 times out of 10 I’ll have forgotten it an hour later. Pride in pocket, stat.

4. Keep a set schedule. Schedules are my lifeline and heaven help me when something interferes with it. But the part of this that was new to me was to write down my priorities and schedule my tasks based on that, rather than just on time.

5. Get enough sleep.

Perhaps this debacle is a blessing in disguise by forcing me to finally learn some better techniques to deal with myself. Or maybe I have a brain tumor. (Catastrophizing is a seriously underappreciated talent.)

Anyone else have a goldfish brain? What are your tricks to being more organized? Any tips for me?

P.S. I’m sorry about the pity party. I’m even annoying myself right now. I promise I’m not just trying to whine – I really am trying to fix this!

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