A Learning Experience

Last Monday, the stairwell next my apartment got painted. I have massive problems with paint fumes — it triggers my asthma in about two nanoseconds. I have an arrangement with my landlord that involves advance notice (so I can plan to be elsewhere), taping up the door to painted areas, etc., but through a farcical chain of events, the painting was a surprise to all. Compounding the issue is the fact that the fresh air exchange in the public hallways of my building is currently not working. Thanks to this, I learned something.

Paint fumes make me stupid.

Not like fibro or RA fuzzy brain. Paint-induced stupidity is far more profound, which was a surprise to me as I thought fibro/RA fog was about as uncooperative as my brain could get. I had no idea. I spent last week in some sort of strange fugue state, where I couldn't focus, my concentration was nonexistent, I was vaguely aphasic both in speech and writing, everything was blurry and it felt like my eyes were moving independently of each other like a chameleon’s. With my regular pain-related fogginess, I can sense the working parts of my brain, sort of like shadows buried in the fog — you can see the structure, you just can't quite access it. Last week was different. Last week, there was a white mist with dark blobs moving randomly around in it, not connecting to each other. I did a fair bit of whining about it and its consequences, namely that I hardly got any work done. And that’s the second thing I learned.

You can’t write effectively when your mind is a fog.

During regular foggy times, it can take me two days to do a post. It’s hard going, feels like molasses in January, but I can get there. This time, it was nigh on impossible to string a sentence together. I tried. Lord knows I tried. Every day, I sat at my computer trying to do things and every day passed with hardly anything being done and what did get done, wasn't done very well at all. The days did pass quite quickly in an odd way and by the evenings when I looked back to try to pinpoint what had happened, I couldn't. A friend of mine who knows about such things as paint fumes and impact of same said that in those susceptible to being affected, the fumes can affect "mental clarity." Yup. That's putting it mildly.

Part of the frustration was that it was also nigh on impossible to air out the fumes. What with the lack of fresh air exchange, plus the depth of winter having settled in and showing no signs of abating, it came down to a choice between fumes or frostbite (when the windows weren’t frozen shut, that is). I thought of leaving during the day, but the minus plenty outside was a severe deterrent. Besides, I kept blindly going back to sit in front of the computer, because that's what I do. I work during the day (and evening) and the habit’s apparently so ingrained by now that I’d do it in my sleep. Still, nothing got done. A couple of days ago, I looked at The List and realized I had done maybe a third of what was on it for last week. And shortly on the heels of that, I realized something else.

The world didn’t end.

And sure, I’ve been in place before where not all the list got done and everything was fine, but nothing this profound. And sure, I seem to be in a bit of a lull project-wise, but still…  The world didn’t end. In fact, the world’s ticking along nicely. It turns out that I am not indispensable and surprisingly, this realization was a huge relief to me. Despite having spent a week feeling like crap, when I came out on the other side, I actually had less pain and felt much saner.

Which just proves the point that believing you’re indispensable is the first sign of an impending nervous breakdown.

I got my brain mostly back this week, but haven’t kicked into Energizer Bunny mode yet. Because I realized another thing. I’m tired. Bone-deep tired. So I’m taking it easy, doing what I can, but not as much as I can and it’s been pretty wonderful.

I’m not saying they should paint more often, but I did learn something from it.


Allison said…
Since paint fumes can make a person high, it makes sense that they also make a person stupid.

Now, this: "Believing you’re indispensable is the first sign of an impending nervous breakdown." I need this printed poster size.
FridaWrites said…
There are low odor, low VOR paints commonly available now, and they should be using these around you and young children--and everyone in the absence of ventilation. Anyone can experience serious chemical effects from paint; of course that's exacerbating for those of us with autoimmune conditions or other health issues.

Hope you feel better soon!
FridaWrites said…
VOC, not VOR
Leslie said…
I'd be conerned about drain bammage but considering the post you just made, I guess everything is okay - just a few days of paint fume induced high. But really, why aren't they using the low VOC? It's really very tolerable. They do the same thing where I work with this hideous paint that has awful fumes. Makes everyone ill.
Anonymous said…
Wow, what a trip Lene. You went on a vacation and didn't spend a dime. I am glad you are feeling better now. Back to work my girl! LOL
Colleen said…
As I'm fond of saying, there is little that is bad that doesn't have some good in it! Glad you got some rest while you were foggy. And that it convinced you to rest more!