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Pyjama Girl's brain drain

by Liz Main

16th March 2008

I really wish I could remember what I was going to write about this month. I had this great idea while I was in the shower, but now it's gone. No idea what it was. Faded into the ether in a haze of who knows what.
Actually, after a lengthy phone discussion with one of the Ouch team, I have remembered. I was going to write about how my concentration is shot to pieces, how a couple of days of having to think leaves me knackered, and how I increasingly don't seem to be able to remember anything from one moment to the next.

I know that Ouch columnist Tom Shakespeare has been having a similar memory seepage, which he says happens on the wrong side of 40. Despite hitting the big four-oh too, I don't think it's the answer. (That's not to say, however, that I won't end up like my mother, who when relating the story of a friend who had developed Alzheimer's said it was absolutely tragic that she couldn't remember the name of "What's his name, you know, that guy". Indeed, mother, what was his name?)

More and more things slip my mind, but it seems that my ability to digest new information is also waning. There's a sort of nightclub-style 'one-in, one-out' thought pattern going on: for every new piece of knowledge processed, another is deleted, or at least archived onto some sort of cranial back-up file that can't be accessed without a password.

Maybe this is normal. People keep reassuring me by saying: "Oh, don't worry, that happens to me all the time". It's in the same vein as the universal "Oh, I get that" response which almost anyone with a disability seems to encounter at some point.

But when you've got a condition that is related to cognitive impairment, you can't help wondering if such memory problems are out of the ordinary. I particularly worry that the side-effects of medication might be the root cause. I was trying to look back to before I was on meds, or to how I was before my dose started to creep up, but with little success. At what point did my brain start to fry? And if this is a side effect, then what do I do? Do I lower the dose? I've been giving that a go, but it always seems to result in hypomania. Do I change the meds - and if so, to what? After all, I settled on my these because they seemed the lesser of the side-effect evils. Or do I just have to grit my teeth and bear it?

Possibly the only way to know if the medication is to blame would be to cut it out altogether, but what would happen then? Is it fair to expect my husband and family to pick up the pieces if things do go awry as a result?

More worryingly, are these difficulties a sign of a deterioration in my underlying condition? I wasn't diagnosed with bipolar until relatively late in the game, and was told that it might get worse as I got older. I'm experiencing more hypomanic episodes than I was, so perhaps that's got something to do with it. However, I don't really want to consider that option, because it doesn't point to a rosy outcome.

Last week I had the joy of sitting through three days of a conference. It was interesting for the most part - one of those events when you actually do learn new things. But each day I came home with my brain full to bursting and unable to cope. It was all I could do to go through the motions of cooking dinner, walking the dog, and going to bed. By Friday night I retired at 7.30 pm, absolutely mentally exhausted and unable to even slump in front of the telly.

And it's not just being exhausted that does it either. After a good few hours of sleep that night, I woke with the sudden realisation that I had made the cardinal sin of forgetting it was my niece's birthday on Monday. I rushed online to order a gift, hoping against hope that they would deliver on the day. (They did, and so my good aunt status was maintained despite my hopeless memory.) Since I was up and about, I decided to brown the meat that was to go into the slow cooker later, then promptly forgot about it and set off the smoke alarm at 4.30am.

Even as I finish writing this article - something of a miracle in itself, since I now often find myself having conversations where I stop mid-sentence because I have absolutely no idea what I was going to say next - I've just realised that I set a meeting today, but mercifully forgot to reply to an email to agree a venue so haven't stood anyone up.

This surely doesn't happen to everyone who enters their fifth decade, so is it my condition or the medication that's to blame?
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