Postcards at Sea #5: Words Like Fishes

November 9, 2016

Out here, floating in the ocean, words are hard to find. They are like fishes, all around me in the water but they dart away whenever I need them. This difficulty finding words is one of the more curious symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and has a hazy physiological explanation where the fatigued brain doesn’t have enough processing power to find particular words or remember day to day details. The tireder or more distressed I am, the harder it is to find the words.


Alphonse de Neuville, Inhabitants of the Sea, Book Illustration c. 1871 

The lived experience is both frustrating and amusing. We have started keeping a list of the way I say things if I can’t find the right word.

  • The wiping thing for a napkin
  • The computer that finds things for the Satellite Navigation System (sat nav) in the car
  • Liquid sugar for maple syrup
  • When you are sick and go backwards for relapse
  • The clothes outside for the laundry
  • Meat covered in breadcrumbs for a schnitzel

My lovely man will often start listing words for me when he sees me struggling, then I can just pick the right one instead of finding it. But sometimes, it is like crazy charades with hand gestures.

Of the interesting things about this bizarre phenomenon is that it is only nouns that I loose, but not the same ones all the time. It seems to be just a lucky-dip in my brain at the moment.

Losing words is also much more likely to happen when I am talking rather than writing. But when I am writing especially on the computer I forget what I am trying to say half way through the sentence or I can’t seem to hold the meaning in a paragraph. That is because my short term memory is affected by the CFS (but not long term memory, so I can do OK on a trivia quiz!). Even simple posts need draft after draft after draft to catch the words and the meaning in my net.

Just as we have started to value the local as globalism has become omnipresent (see…I can find that word but not napkin!), words have become very precious to me since they became scarcer. I borrow books on words and read about writing which is funny because I forget what I read as soon as I put the book down! I did save a few lovely words to share with you though, from a book by Tiffany Watt Smith, called The Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust (2015).

  • Fago, an Ifaluk word for the love and compassion we feel towards someone coupled with a sense of sadness at their mortality.
  • Kaukokaipuu, a Finnish word for the yearning for a distant land
  • Ijirashii, a Japanese word for the sensation of being moved by seeing the underdog overcome the odds

My hope is that if I keep showing up for the words, keep looking for them and making space for them that they will eventually return to me. Till then, I can watch them swim around me and occasionally amuse my family.