September 09, 2005

Presence of Mind

It occurs to me that I have not really written anything of substance about the nature of my condition or how I deal with it, so today I'm going to do a little of that. NMH and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome bring a whole host of symptoms to the table, but if I must boil it all down to one subject, it would be presence of mind.

Firstly, let me define the term a bit. When I say "presence of mind", I mean the focus it takes to hit a baseball with the bases loaded, give a speech in front of people, or write a report at work after being kept up all night by an unhappy baby. This type of mental focused gets stripped away if you have chronic fatigue—through the condition itself, and also by virtue of it being necessary to overuse this focus on a moment-by-moment basis.

You see, most people summon presence of mind to overcome obstacles they do not face as a matter of routine. A baseball player doesn't have to focus on coming through with the bases loaded more than once a week on average. People don't give speeches every day either, unless it is the same speech repeated for a different audience, and babies are not constantly unhappy, and even if they are, they eventually grow up, and most parents receive some help along the way in the form of family, friends, schooling, or day care.

For someone with a chronic fatiguing illness, however, it takes presence of mind just to get up in the morning, to sit straight in a chair, to have a conversation with someone, or to do accomplish virtually any task no matter how insignificant in appearance, even something as benign as focusing on the plot of a movie. The typical activities that require serious mental focus essentially become out of reach in most cases, as the focus required is eroded already by nature of the health condition itself, and what focus remains must be used constantly just to make it through a day.

As I write this blog post in what would constitute a no-pressure situation for most, I must constantly fight to keep my mind engaged at a basic level. On several occasions I have forced myself away from staring vacantly out the window, for instance, which then requires me to re-read sections of my post here to remember what I am trying to accomplish. Later today I will require the mental focus I am using now to make a phone call, then to endure the many problems I face when eating dinner, such as global muscle tiredness in many areas, including my jaw, back, legs, and hands, all of which are required to eat while sitting.

So, in order to achieve something greater than surviving with dignity into tomorrow, I am forced to hurt myself in some way, whether mentally, physically, psychologically, or all three. Writing this will preclude my reading anything coherently for at least several hours, more likely the rest of the day and possibly into tomorrow. The well of already eroded mental fortitude is essentially used up.

In a pinch, I can summon the ability to focus on activities in sequence, but at great personal cost. This is how I have been able to attend college for lengths of time, be in wedding ceremonies, complete web projects, perform in a recital, and the like. The consequences of such prolonged overuse of "presence of mind" results in months of increased symptoms on all fronts. For instance, after I have attended a semester of college, I can expect constant vision problems, disorientation, inability to listen to people talk, and minor wounds not to heal. There are a great many more examples like this, but hopefully this illustrates my point adequately.

I suppose that the level of mental focus I or anyone with a similar condition must summon is comparable to the classic feat of strength of a woman lifting a car to release her trapped child. We as humans are simply not built to endure that type of focus and energy. Otherwise, we would lift cars as a matter of course.

I have used up my presence of mind for the day, but I hope I have helped illuminate you to one aspect of NMH and Chronic Fatigue about which you may not have been aware. If you read this, give me some feedback. I will write more along these lines if this post proves helpful.

Posted by Andy at September 9, 2005 03:56 PM to the Health category

It's one thing to know the issues that you deal with on a daily basis, but to see it all in writing and in that format is just plain powerful.

Posted by: Kevin at September 26, 2005 10:43 AM

Thank you for sharing. I'm sure this wasn't an easy task. I pray you're better soon.


Posted by: Jim at September 26, 2005 11:44 AM

I appreciate you guys reading it. It's hard to write, yes, but not in the way you're thinking. It's hard due to the difficulty in writing, period for me, but I really want people to have a sense of this condition. It makes things easier and draws people closer together as well I think.

Posted by: Andy at September 26, 2005 08:12 PM

Makes me realize just how much I take my own health for granted. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Bobby at September 28, 2005 02:12 PM

andy - thanks for taking the time to record your experiences - this has helped me to understand you at yet a level deeper than before and perhaps will serve to help me help you at a deeper level as well - best to you - jeff kucine

Posted by: jeff kucine at October 11, 2005 01:34 PM

After reading this..."presence of mind." YOU will be greatly challenged by the newest venture you have written about on November 18th.

Think about your health and what it would do to you to have:
constant vision problems, disorientation, inability to listen to people talk, and minor wounds not to heal.

Finanical ventures require a you have the stability required?
A venture, that YOU do not have all the information or pieces to the puzzle to complete.

Blessings, Sara

Posted by: SARA at November 19, 2005 10:58 PM

Well, my parents will probably handle the heavy load on the financial end. I want to try to keep a hand in it so I have some idea what is going on, but that might be it at this stage.

Posted by: Andy at November 19, 2005 11:41 PM
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