This time I’m not writing a blog about something tech-related, rather a very personal one. I’m currently recovering / rehabilitating from Long Covid and in this post I’d like to share a functional model that helped me understanding much more about my brains, energy levels, lack of focus/concentration and why I’m so forgetfull (at moments) or get stetbacks.

Background

End January ’22 I caught Covid19. I managed to stay away from it for a long time, and knowing now , quite rightly so. Because like so many others (10-30%) I suffer and am recovering from Long Covid. You can get Long Covid irrelevant of the “heaviness” of your Covid19 symptoms. There is even research showing that having mild symptoms seem to increase the chance to get Long Covid.

There are a number of Long Covid definitions out there, but the consensus is that if you still have Covid19 symptoms 6 weeks up to 12 weeks after your Covid19 infections, you suffer from Long Covid (most common symptoms are chestpain, muscle pain, brain fog, shortbreathness, palpitations and extreme fatigue). The exact cause is not clear, but it is clear that Covid19 can have an impact on your autonomous nerve system.

Autonomous Nerve System

The human body has two nerve systems; one that we can control (like moving your arm), and the autonomous one that we cannot control via our brain. This autonomous system determines on its own when you should be awake, sleep, or trigger the fight/flight response. It also controls your heartrate and some bodily functions like healing processes during sleep.

Covid causes your autonomous nerve system to be completely out of balance, feeling tired or active within like minutes, or feeling stressed out for no reason. My symptoms were shorbreathness, chestpain and extreme fatigue (I had to take rests between showering, shaving, getting dressed, before and after breakfast).

Fast-forwarding 8 weeks after my Covid19 infection, I got a few tests and luckily my lung capacity and function was the same as last year, which meant I had to recover from Long Covid and got referred to physiotherapy (specific covid treatment program) and an occupational therapist. Both are helping me very well in recovering, baby steps at a time (and fallbacks). One thing I’d like to share is the following model my occupational therapist presented to me. It helped me understanding a lot on why I was feeling tired and why I had a few (big) setbacks and frustrations.

Cognitive (thinking) Pyramid

She showed me the diagram below, as a functional model / representation on how our brain acts and uses energy. It is a shortened version of the Cognitive (Thinking) Pyramid.  

This model should be read from the ground up.:

  • The foundation of our brain/body is energy. Like if you don’t eat, you don’t get your calories, sugars, waters and you wont be able to function. So energy is the basis, also for your brain.
  • The second layer is the processing of stimuli. It is the layer where the stimuli from your senses (feeling, sight, sound, taste, and smell are processed. They are part of our primal existence.
  • The third layer managed the funciton of focus and concentration. Functions in this layer decide which sense and stimuli to process and which ones to ignore. It is effectively the focus/concentration you are able to get into or be active in.
  • The fourth layer is memory, those stimuli / inputs we decide to give attention are determined whether they need to be stored (either short or permantly) in memory.
  • On top of memory functions, we have communication like talking, writing.
  • And on the top of the model , there are the cognitive executive functions, like organization, planning, problem solving and performing tasks that we learned. Some tasks are of course easy (muscle memory) , and some can be very complex. All these tasks fit in the top layer.

So in order for me to do some planning, or troubleshooting a new problem, or learn something new, I need to have enough energy, be able to process stimuli, create focus to filter out the unnecessary bits, store bits of info to memory and then analyse which peace fits how together and commit that to memory too.

After she explained this model, she made the following addendum that helped me a lot.
She drew a dianogal line, like below, and said that this is you, when you are completely healthy and fit. You can do your tasks, do your job, without too many problems. If you get tired, you sleep, get rest, and become fit again.

But now, what happens if you have don’t have that much energy, and she moved the line to like 1/5 of the pyramid, e.g. only 20% of my energy. And she effectively hid most of the different functions, like shown in the figure below.

And that made total sense to me on so many levels.
If you don’t have enough energy in normal life, like after a bad night sleep, or some stress factors, you find it more difficult to learn, or execute complex stuff like planning a large scale project. But also, I tried to join a webex meeting from work (just to say Hi) and I got so tired after 30 minutes that it was frustrating for me. But now it made sense. I tried to follow a webex with 8-10 co-workers , while I’ve been out of work for a while, trying to listen in, follow what was told and immediately tried to determine impact and potential consequences.
 
It meant I was doing executive functions while I didnt have the energy; e.g. I was pulling energy much faster than I could supply and even drained some energy from the reserve power, so to say. And drawing energy from the reserve means setbacks later to recover and recharge the reserves first (you could compare it to charging your iphone when it’s completely empty. In 5-10 minutes your iPhone goes out of red, but it takes much longer to fully charge).

Summary

This model has helped me a lot in understanding much more on why I was having so much difficulty with a webex whereas I could do a phone call 1:1 with someone for much longer. It took away some frustration. I wanted to write this post as soon as I learned about this model.

I hope that sharing this post and model will help my fellow Long Covid persons in understanding and managing their recovery. Of course you should find professional help and treatment for Long Covid in your area, if you’re suffering from it, especially the rehabilitation field has knowledge about these models and the steps to take.

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