‘Cog Fog’ and other adventures


(I promise that not every post will be about the latest health thing I’m experiencing.  But, every major health experience, if indeed significant enough, will probably get a blog post.  Today probably counts as potentially significant.) 🙂

Last night around 11.30pm, as some of y’all know, I tossed the stub of my last kretek over the railing of the staircase and went back into my apartment.

There might as well have been a “Now Entering: The No-Kretek Zone”.

And I wouldn’t have batted an eye.

After all, I had planned (since oh, about mid-March, then mid-April).  I had practiced (yesterday).  I had logged many hours pondering what life would be like, what I might experience, which temptations might cross my path and dangle sweet candy, what I might be up against, and how I might ward it off so that perhaps, I might have a fighting chance.

Giving up nicotine is tougher than doing away with many of the “hard drugs”, after all, they say.

And I’m doing it.  I’ve taken my first step, and I didn’t fall flat on my face.  Well, maybe I did, in a way.

I’ll explain; you decide. 😉

First, I need to put in perspective that this is merely Day One.  One Day, out of a lot more One Days to be lived.  That still puts me at Level Infinitesimal yet.  But despite the lack of track record length, it’s been…interesting so far.

This morning was a lot like yesterday morning, except that yesterday was Practice (aka “How Low (on kreteks) Can You Go (get by with)?”), and today commenced The Real Deal.

This (“Real”) morning, I had gone outside, just like I had yesterday (“Practice”) morning.  On both mornings, I walked at medium intensity, which typically sucks in South Texas in May, except that this morning, we were blessed with overcast skies.

And after that, just like yesterday morning, I thought, so far, so good.

I felt a little Brain Sag leaning in to the edges of my consciousness, much like a fellow airplane passenger in the seat next to yours who made it perplexingly far in life with a shockingly minuscule awareness of boundaries.

I figured, meh, I’ve got one meeting this morning, and then I can settle in and work independently, like I prefer to.  The meeting should be quick, it only involves one other person, and that person is relatively pleasant to deal with.  I’ve got this.

Noooope.  I didn’t Got This at all.

Maybe I was harder on myself, passing more judgment on myself than my meeting-mate passed on me.  Because I’m pretty sure I was more (painfully) aware of my cognitive shortcomings than they were….at least–oh God(dess) I hope so!  Because if the other person saw what I saw and knew what I knew…

And then?  I tried to brush off my uncharacteristically incompetent performance and install myself into my independent projects…

…and I couldn’t!  I couldn’t explain it, either.  I was glued to my to-do list, but couldn’t make much sense of it, nor could I break it down into smaller pieces and tackle it that way.  Nor did I think twice about doing things like sipping on my fruit and vegetable smoothie after I had already put my white coat on (FunFact: no matter what, I will spill.  The spillage increases with the lightness in the color of my clothing.)

In short: zero executive function.  No ability to sequence tasks in logical order, find the words to express my thoughts, and so on.

I felt like the biggest airhead on the outskirts of the Milky Way.  I shit you not.  I could not organize my thoughts, maintain a mental “outline” or big picture of the subject matter, choose my words correctly, construct my sentences coherently, or think above a certain level.

Seriously, I literally felt like I had dropped 30 IQ points, and in all actuality, I (hopefully-temporarily) probably did.  (Please know that I’m not insinuating that brain fog is in itself linked to low IQ, nor is a low IQ a bad or somehow lesser attribute or anything; I’m just describing what I experienced.)

Another nuance I noticed was that along with the drop in cognitive ability came a similar drop in confidence.  This may have stemmed from the lack of a mental handle I had, a feeling of being directionless, a self-perception of inferiority.  I wasn’t doing my best; surely I could do better than this!  Except that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to do today what came so easily yesterday.  So not only was I stuck in a Cog-Fog, but I also felt the shame that often came tethered to not doing one’s best.

What’s up with all that?

Well, I haven’t exactly pinned down the neuroscience behind the brain fog (grin), but apparently it’s A Thing, experienced by roughly two-thirds of recovering nicotine addicts.

Yep, count me in.  I’m right there with ’em.

I’ve been reading some amazing websites (two of my favorites so far are Shoot the Messenger‘s post on quitting and the website A Choice 2 Live and the general consensus among those who tell their firsthand Quitting Stories is that “They” (those who write the “stop smoking” articles) focus on the wrong aspect of nicotine cessation.

In their eyes, it’s all about The Cravings; the Firsthand Storytellers will tell you (and so far, my experience, as limited as it is right now, mirrors their stories) that the cravings are easy.  They last like three minutes, and it’s hardly impossible to resist them or distract yourself.

Yet, that’s what the article-writing guru-experts will fixate on, when actually, the real challenge at hand is the nicotine withdrawal.  Cravings and withdrawal sound similar and many of the emotions and thought processes involved might overlap between the two.  But they’re actually completely different animals.

I feel compelled to issue one of my trademark “for the record”s right about now…

Although I felt stupid, and a little ashamed that I didn’t “have it together” for my meeting, I want to make it clear that I refuse to shame myself for that.  Feeling inadequate in meeting the expectations of someone else is one thing; berating yourself endlessly and viciously is quite another.  I straight-up refuse to do the latter.  The last thing anyone in this or any other position needs is to feel (obligated to feel) even worse than they already do.  Ditching addictions, living with brain fog or other cognitive issue of any kind, etc, can be enough of a challenge without taking more abuse from myself/ourselves/etc.  I made the personal decision to be as gentle as possible with myself and try to remain generous with patience.

So, we actually cut our losses and left the office early.  After lunch, I struggled to finish up some of the work I’d been muddling through, and then we called it a day.  We went home and watched DVDs; I found Beavis and Butthead entirely too funny (lol).

I think my brain might be starting to grind back to life.  I hope so; it’s got a big day tomorrow, lots of work-related to-do list items to slash through.  My brain’s going to have to chug pretty hard.

There’s good news and bad news: The Why Quit page (also linked to earlier) earlier says that most nicotine-kickers’ brain fog clears up within about 2 weeks, to levels equal those of never-users.

I hope it doesn’t take me quite that long!  I’ve got so much to do and so many counting so heavily on me, at work and elsewhere.  I’ve got a conference coming up, chronically ill family and friends to watch over, a business to run, collaborative projects to make good on, and so on.  There’s no such thing as being down for two weeks in my world.

I make the best of the rough patches by reading, laughing, knowingly nodding, and identifying with a lot of what is articulately described in this kick-arse blog post by Shoot The Messenger (she’s got quite a few that rock!).  I run out the restlessness by walking.

The most exciting story of the day, though, is that…

…I am currently testing out an antihistamine remedy for myself: various dosages of Vitamin C…

…And so far, it has worked!  Granted, it has worked in the early stages of a limited self-trial, but hey–I’ll take it!  It actually arrested the early pangs of a histamine attack today (!!).  Complete with The Itchy (inside the nose) and everything.  Omg I can only hope it’s that easy.  I could totally use a healthy, natural, permanent solution.

Maybe I wouldn’t even need to start a trial of Zyrtec at all (!).

And now I’m in the process of trying to get my brain back online a little sooner than the anecdotal estimates predict.  I will definitely incorporate a good friend’s advice and step up the intensity of the morning exercise, to something more vigorous, now that I’m pretty sure I won’t die in the process (lol). 😉

Yep, I think that my brain may have made some progress in clearing up, even over just the past few hours.  Here’s hoping!

And hey–as of two minutes ago, I just surpassed the First 24 Hours mark.  Yep, I made it through the day, as weird as it was, without cheating (I don’t have any left) or even going off on anyone (note to self: beware; prime time for flying off the handle is statistically Day 2, and the restlessness peaks on Day 3).

But breaking addictions are about Just For Today.  And in taking stock of the day, having survived, stuck to my guns, and otherwise done well, maybe I didn’t fall so flat on my face after all. 😉


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