Cognitive functioning is currently down a notch.  (I know I’ve complained of this before, but bear with me – I think it merits understanding.)

I found a recipe for Easy Lentil Curry on the blog:  Simple VeganSince I love curries and lentils, I decided “easy” must mean it is doable even for me.  Part of ME/CFS is a compromised working memory and executive functioning, two terms I had been very familiar with prior to becoming ill, in my role as Special Education teacher.  Knowing what I do about learning disabilities, I applied the same steps I would recommend to students.

  1.  Scan the material.    Before I committed to the recipe, I scanned the document for amount of effort required, such as chopping, since this is physically difficult for me.
    When I determined that it appeared to be within my range of capability, I scanned for ingredients.  One thing stood out:  chili was called for, and I knew I was out.  I sent my husband on a mission.
  2. Ready resources.  I gathered all the required ingredients and set them out on the counter, along with measuring devices and cooking utensils.  By now, I had the requisite chili.
  3. Read the recipe.  Before tackling the cooking, I made sure to read through the recipe start to finish.  Knowing how my mind works (or more appropriately, doesn’t work), I read the recipe over several times for a period of three or four days before actually tackling it.

Go time!  I picked a day when I had no other plans, and felt fairly well rested.  Before started I perused the recipe again and noted that the author suggested soaking the rice and lentils ahead of time.  I couldn’t remember having read this part before, but decided to follow instructions, so; I measured out a cup of each and put them in a colander to soak, while I chopped the onion and garlic.

Working memory is the part of the brain that holds information received and carries it through to application.  This part is always a little tricky for me.  To minimize failure I try to read one step at a time.  The first step read:

Cook the rice and lentils according to package directions.

(Inject stunned silence here.)

I had just mixed the rice and lentils to soak.

I checked the packages.  They both needed different cooking times.

Frustrating, yes, but I wasn’t about to give up.  I’d been dreaming about this dish for days.

I tossed the first batch, measured out more, and prepared as per directions, deciding to walk away and have a rest while they cooked.

Determined, I started again, chopping the onion and garlic, and opting to add ground ginger, as two vegetable preps are my limit.

I added one ingredient at a time, referencing back to amounts indicated to ensure I didn’t miss anything.  Each item used I moved to a different part of the counter to indicate my progress.  A teaspoon of this, two teaspoons of that and that and that, and voila, my curry was complete…

Except that the curry spice sat alone on the counter, unused.

What?  How had I missed that?

I read back over the recipe.  It clearly stated two teaspoons of curry powder.  Two teaspoons cumin, two teaspoons turmeric, and two teaspoons curry.  And chili, right?

No chili.

Somehow, every time I read curry, my mind substituted chili.  I’d even sent my husband out to fetch some.  WTF?

I wanted to cry.

Instead, I added the curry and let it simmer.  What else was there to do?

This is how the learning disabled mind operates:  it will lock onto a concept – correct or incorrect – and not let it go.  From the very first time I scanned the recipe and mistook curry for chili, my mind inserted chili into the ingredients list.  If I had not made a visual checklist for myself by lining up the ingredients before hand, I would never have discovered my mistake; I was that certain of myself.

In cooking, such mistakes are maddening, but not devastating.  Instead of lentil curry, I’d made lentil churry; it was still edible.

Imagine though, how debasing it must be for students whose minds, like mine, just don’t process information at the same pace, or in the same way, as the rest of the class.  Ever since I’ve contracted this disease, I think of those students.  I think of how, if I had to pass a test by completing this recipe, I’d be screwed.  I’d done everything right:  scanned the material up front, gathered all the necessary resources, and studied before application time came around.  Still I failed.

Educators put measures in place to help support special needs students, but is it enough?

As I bungle through each day, fighting with my own mental issues, I have to wonder.

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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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