Life Hacks for Brain Fog: Chronic Illness, Focus and The Professional Artist
Part I of a series.
It’s tough enough dealing with a chronic illness, but the toll it takes on your ability to think can be disabling, even when the pain is manageable. Brain fog is a condition that affects many people with diseases like Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Lyme, endocrine disorders, and so on.
As a professional artist, I need to stay on top of my assignments and not only live in this world, but juggle the details of my fictional worlds as well. If I can’t be cured, I have to live with it and do the best I can with what I’ve got.
Here are a few tips that work for me. If they don’t work for you, fine. It’s a free country. Do something else.
In my original post on Brain Fog, I wrote “get organized and stay organized”. This is #1 on any list of dealing with brain fog.
CLEAN YOUR SPACE: People who see pictures of my studio online often comment on how messy artists are supposed to be, and that I must have cleaned up my studio for the picture.
My office stays as tidy as possible. If it gets untidy, I stop and clean it up, even if it means stopping in the middle of a job. This can be hard, because along with chronic illness you get fatigue and depression. But you will be far more fatigued and depressed if you have to work in mess. Many people feel better if their space is better.
Visual noise creates stress, and lots of artists say they profit from the frisson that comes from stumbling over bits and pieces of detritus, forgotten doodles, and that book they bought last year. It creates a kind of synergy between them and their environment.
“A messy desk is a sign of…” is the phrase people toss about to show that their space indicates there is a lot in their head, and then they point to some genius with a messy desk to justify the fact that there is a year-old Mcdonald’s Happy Meal container by their computer.
A messy desk is really just a sign of a messy desk, and it’s just as easy to point to the messy desk of a fool as it is to point to the messy desk of a genius.
The chronically ill artist has excesses of anxiety and stress and brain fog makes keeping track of items in a badly cluttered space almost impossible.
As I wrote before, this energizes art making for some, but tips others into overwhelm. The overwhelmed artist is like a pinball machine, with thoughts bouncing off one thing or another, being batted by little flaps until finally they disappear down a black hole.
Your mind is battered about, lots of energy is spent in unproductive ways, you can’t focus, and then your time is done.
Chronic illness is a physical drain, but it’s a major brain drain. The more time you get knocked around, the more time you lose out on your art. It’s bad enough being exhausted, it’s worse being exhausted and frustrated.
As difficult as it can be motivating yourself to get up and get your space in order, the benefits are long-lasting. The average person loses one hour per day due to disorganization. With brain fog, you are losing more than that. In the past, I could sink days into searching for lost items in here. One night before I had to get on an international flight, I was up until 3 AM looking for my passport. Do that a few times a week…
There is a difference between messy and meaningful clutter. A certain amount of visual clutter in my art space actually helps me stay on track of my work, because for the artist with Brain Fog, out of sight really is out of mind.
I’ll get into that more in my next post. Which you can read RIGHT HERE.