Cognitive changes can sneak up on you. Everyone has those times where they can’t find their keys, forget an appointment or maybe their PIN number. These are occasional occurrences and in no way should make one think they are cognitively impaired.
My first sign was what I call word search. It’s more than just forgetting a name, or a specific word, it can be substituting, consistently, one word for another or going brain dead and unable to come up with the word you want. When I first knew this was happening, I asked a friend at work if she had noticed. She thought the pauses and hesitations were intended, that I was pausing for effect. It still made me uncomfortable when it happened, but I didn’t fret as much as to how it made me look.
I’m a prolific list maker. It’s my way of being organized, of keeping track of what I’ve done, and what I have left to do. Given the scope of responsibility in my job, I had a lot of lists. Even with the stress of everything, I think I was coping, no more than coping. Until I moved and changed my job.
I lost the security of working with a known team, of having coworkers who cared about me, respected me, and understood what I was dealing with. I had a family doctor, a neurologist and a dentist. I had my favourite shops and knew where I could quickly get whatever I needed with little fuss or bother. I had the comfort of familiarity which made my life easier.
In the beginning the new job was interesting, and we were so busy I had little time for anything else. Then the reality hit home and the real trouble started. The next year was so bad I can’t begin to tell you. I made a friend at work and without her I probably would have broken down long before I actually did.
All my usual MS symptoms worsened, especially the fatigue. The joint pain I had had for years became an issue and I saw a rheumatologist and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
I found I couldn’t remember numbers. Phone numbers had to be written down, but more than that, when someone recited numbers to me I often had to have them repeated and repeated for it all sounded like a foreign language to me. I couldn’t make sense of money, had trouble counting my change, or calculating the correct amount when paying cash.
Forget the list, I had a notebook and wrote down every phone call and any conversation related to work. The new facility was huge, and to make the rounds meant a lot of walking. My presence on the units was decreased just because I couldn’t physically do it anymore. I stayed late every night because I needed that time in the office to finish work I couldn’t get done during the day.
I was so afraid of making a mistake, my desk and office were organized so I had needed information easily at hand and files piled high with work to be completed.
Sometimes I would leave a meeting and by the time I returned to my office, I couldn’t remember what it was I was supposed to do. I couldn’t think clearly and was feeling the affects of all that stress. Plagued with bouts of blurry vision, numbness in my hands and feet, joint pain, headaches, I was tripping, dropping things, finding it difficult to track multiple conversations.
The staff and my boss at the other workplace had been supportive, in this new place I was getting negative feedback and no support. I had no local resources, had just gotten a family physician, because a staff nurse told her about me and asked if she would take me on as a patient. Professional courtesy is a wonderful thing.
The final straw at work was almost missing the deadline for a report I had to do for the Ministry. The deadline neared and I had done nothing, had forgotten all about it. All my fears, my struggles to remain in control had come to a face smacking, stop-me-dead-in-my-tracks reality.
I was no longer functioning at an acceptable level and didn’t know what to do, where to turn.