This Program Has Cleared My Brain Fog
How well it’s worked has surprised me.
One of the biggest challenges facing people who live with chronic illnesses is the ever-present, nightmarish brain fog that can come with them.
I have a few physical issues that cause me a lot of complications. The pain from arthritis, for instance, drives me to the brink some days. I have such a high pain tolerance at this point that when I cut my heel open, I just keep on walking.
Fibromyalgia? That checks every box. Living with pain, plus the bounties of irritable bowels (c’mon, bowels, stop being so grumpy!), shaking and quaking muscles, brain fog, and so many other problems associated with it.
A doctor once asked if I knew what the definition of fibromyalgia really was. I told him no.
“It’s doctor speak for ‘We don’t know what the hell’s wrong with you.’”
That’s pretty telling.
Top all of it off with being blind, and I have a physical soup of pain, distractions, constant worrying, and concern that my wife is going mad with my constant complaining.
Then there are the mental issues I deal with continually. I’m bipolar, have ADHD, live with autism, and have Dissociative Identity Disorder to ice this donut of love.
Between it all, it’s a wonder I can function, let alone write coherent sentences, articles, and stories.
As the years have gone on, and I’ve reached that ever-dreaded 50 year mark, I noticed everything getting worse. My mother, deep within the throes of her own dementia, is a constant reminder that I potentially have that on my horizon.
I needed to do something to get myself organized and healthier.
Enter the zettelkasten.
A few months ago, I randomly ran across someone writing about Roam Research. It’s a note-taking, personal knowledge management “software as a service” type of program.
With the program, which is exclusively usable online, you can take notes, link things together in unexpected ways, and try to keep track of whatever knowledge you acquire.
It, and similar programs, are based around the idea of using note cards or similar “slips of information” to organize thoughts and pieces of knowledge. The method has been around since at least the 1500s, with Conrad Gessner, a Swiss physician, naturalist, bibliographer, and philologist, coming up with his own system of research cards. He would glue strips of pages to sheets. Others used similar methods to get themselves and their libraries organized.
The methods of the sociologist Niklas Luhmann deeply inspired the modern iteration of programs like these. This man took the idea of the zettelkasten (German for “slip box”) to a whole different level. By the time he passed away, he had amassed over 90,000 index cards, meticulously written out by pen and typewriter.
The organizational technique worked for him to the point he managed to publish 70 books and 400 scholarly articles and theses.
That’s some serious thinking power.
While Roam Research had qualities I thought would be good, I was turned off by the fact it’s online only. I live in a rural area. That means if Miss Jackson’s cow down the road farts, we’ll likely lose internet access for a while.
That would not at all work for me.
Obsidian claimed to be different. Boy, were they right.
I explored the other options available and came across Obsidian.md.
Obsidian, like other note-taking programs, uses Markdown language to function. If you don’t know much about Markdown, don’t worry. I don’t, either.
But see, that doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to be a computing genius or a coding wiz to make use of a program like this.
Sure, if you’re able to do some coding, you can make it that much more powerful, but this thing has filled a need-gap I didn’t even know I had until it was resolved.
The power of getting your thoughts down is incredible.
My wife is a big bullet journaling fiend. She always has her notebooks nearby, working with them every day to track each single thought she can.
She’s obsessed, and I’ve watched her get herself more together because of it.
I know writing journals is helpful to keep track of salient thoughts and information, but writing in them with a pen is just not for me. My carpel tunnel can’t stand working with it, and with the blindness as a cherry on top, it turns out horribly.
When I first started working with my Obsidian Vault (as they term your storehouses), I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with it. I only knew I wanted to start putting things I’d been highlighting and tracking from books and articles somewhere safe.
I’ve experienced a lot of loss of my own stories and books before. I never wanted to go through something like it again.
When I realized Obsidian could not only help me “get my crap straight,” but I could save the files anywhere I wanted, I went full-bore into it.
I started it all with a blank slate, and now have over 12 million words in it. Snippets from books, random highlights from articles, my own stories and life experiences… it all adds up.
That’s a lot of information, and it’s definitely one reason Obsidian can claim they help you make a second brain.
The lifting of the fog began in earnest.
What I’ve noticed over the few months I’ve spent with the program is the brain fog that has been so ever-present and daunting in my life for years has faded away significantly.
I still have days where I’ll notice it trickling into my awareness, of course, but it lessened the extent of the power it had over my life in radical ways. I’ve done little else to change things for myself, such as diet or exercise (certainly not that!).
The only new thing has been Obsidian, and my working daily within it.
It’s also helped me write better articles and stories.
I’m a fiction writer, primarily, and having a space I can jot down ideas or random bits of dialogue is nice. I’ve tried, like journaling, to do it in notebooks and index cards. I have no clue where those are at this point, attesting to how difficult that kind of thing is for me to work with.
Obsidian, on the other hand, keeps those things nice and safe for me, all nestled within a program that’s easy to use and even easier to back up.
That’s the other important part to me. As I mentioned, I have gone through drastic losses of my stories, devastating me to the point I quit writing altogether for over a decade.
Since it’s all done on the computer or phone, and all the files are made with simple text formatting, any device can read them. I have it all set to automatically back up on Google Drive and other cloud file storage solutions, so I never have to worry about losing my data again.
That’s a comfort to someone like me.
It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely great for certain people.
I will say I don’t think Obsidian is for everyone.
My dear, loving, bullet-journaling wife can’t think of a way she would use it she doesn’t already have covered. No matter how hard I try to convert her, she has no interest.
It’s okay. I know other people I have spoken about the program with have had mixed results, too.
However, for people like me, who are already at least familiar with computers (I used to repair them for a living), and who have issues preventing them from using the old paper-and-pen methods, it’s a really nice solution.
I do also use some plugins with the program to help manage things better than the base program allows, but that’s a prominent part of the functionality of the thing. It’s modular, and it has as much or as little power as you’d like to give it.
All I know is, for me, it’s made a big difference in my life. I’ve seen how much of an effect it’s had on me, and my wife’s noticed the differences, too.
It’s also encouraged my writing with the randomness inherent in the system. I can, for instance, press a button and it’ll pop up an aimless bit of text or a note from somewhere within the database. Often, if I do it, I’ll find myself triggered to write an article.
If you’re interested, there are a lot of tutorials on YouTube and around the web to really get things going with the program.
You might just find your own second brain can do amazing things for your life, too.
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Thank you from the depths of my soul for being here. Keep striving to “be the best you that you can be” at this moment. Remember, no matter who you are or what you’re going through, you are worthy of being loved. Don’t let anyone teach you anything different.
Such an amazing use case! I'd love to know your workflows one day etc. Would you mine if I cite your post on my blog?
I've been thinking about getting into Obsidian for a while now, but haven't pulled the trigger. For now just the plain old Bear app on my Mac does what I need it to do. We'll see.