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Cooking is a Cognitive Challenge

by Linda W. Arms

Many of us used to think that cooking was a fairly simple task.   I thought so before my brain injury.   Even though I was very busy with a demanding job and other things in my life, I enjoyed cooking.   I was never one to follow recipes.   I preferred getting ideas from meals I ate in restaurants and looking in food magazines.   I liked to create my own things and made many complex dishes for my family and guests.

I don’t really care to cook that much anymore.    It was one the things I immediately stopped doing after my brain injury because I didn’t have the physical or cognitive energy.    My family took care of cooking for me, including the shopping and the cleaning up.   I just couldn’t do it.    I was very weak at the beginning.    My motor skills were off.    Stirring and other rotating hand motions made me nauseous and dizzy.    My vision had a number of problems that weren’t yet fully diagnosed.   The tasks involved in trying to cook a small meal were too overwhelming for my brain to process easily.

I just didn’t cook.   It was just too hard and it made me feel worse.   I tried many times to at least help by doing a few tasks but often that was too much for me.   We just don’t realize how much is happening when we cook something.    You have to decide what ingredients and dishes you need.   You need to wash and cut things up.   You need to figure out the order and timing of things.  You need to use motor and visual skills as you use utensils and do other cooking tasks.  You need to use memory.    You need to process things and sounds that are around you in the kitchen; you need to tune those things out and focus on what you’re doing.   I’m sure that’s just a small part of it.   But you get the idea.   Lots of stuff happening for our injured brain to process.

Over the last years I slowly expanded my cooking activities.   I would do easy things at first.   Someone in my family would help by cutting things up for me.   Someone was also always standing by to save me.   They also were quiet while I cooked.   They knew that any talking; or having the TV or radio on would cause too many problems for me.   I had to have silence and no distractions while I cooked.   S..l..o..w..l..y  over the last seven years, I am doing more cooking and even talk at the same time!   It sounds silly but that’s how it is.   I expect some of you can relate.

I don’t really enjoy cooking that much anymore.   I still have to approach it differently than I did before.   It’s a lot more work.   I usually always burn one part of the meal.   It’s kind of a joke these days.    I’d like to also thank my husband for stepping in and cooking many of our dinners these days.   He’s become a wonderful cook!

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mid section view of a woman cutting vegetables

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8 Responses to “Cooking is a Cognitive Challenge

  1. Larry Marquis

    I’v always cooked and loved to shop for groceries and cook. Since my two strokes it has been so difficult to do what I always enjoyed doing. First my vision is nearly gone and my train of thought can easily be distracted. I still do cook , but now I have to have a recipe to follow , where I never did before. I have to be alone with no distractions and write it in an order that I can follow and understand. I need to get all ingredients measured and set aside in order. My biggest challenge is making sure I read the correct measures. It is a challenge, but I like challenges and try to learn from my mistakes. My biggest fear is that I leave the gas burner on and burn the house down. We also have an old fashion wood cook stove that I’m getting pretty good at cooking on.

  2. Lyn

    I to can relate very much to your story about cooking but I find it sad that my family or friends just don’t understand I had a stroke and I am now paralized on left side and have aabi injury now I’m now still learning to be a netterother toy 14year old twins

  3. Marianna

    I can relate completely on the needing silence… needing to focus.. I lost my left cerebellum almost 2 years ago to a stroke. I am still learning every day. xoxo

  4. That sounds familiar… Cooking was one of the things that I really struggled with for years, and I only got into it because I had to — I was taking care of someone who had even more problems than I did, and anyway it was a great way for me to really work on my timing issues. I had problems for years with anyone talking to me while I was cooking — I would fly into a rage, which wasn’t very fun for people who saw me going off the deep end, while holding a large, sharp knife 😉 In fact, people learned to just stay out of the kitchen when I was cutting things, because I could fly into a rage over what seemed like “nothing” to everyone else, and people were afraid that I would use the knife on them. Thankfully, this has changed. I have learned to tell people “I’m cutting with a knife right now and cannot talk to you and concentrate on cutting this carrot at the same time.” Other people have also learned to not interrupt me when I’m cutting, and not treat me like I’m deficient if I need to just concentrate on one thing at a time.

    It seems that people never pick *easy* things to discuss while I’m making supper — it’s always something socially complex or highly impactful… never something like “The weather was nice today.” 😉

    I still struggle with the timing business, if I’m not paying close attention and thinking things through. I’ve had a couple of big screw-ups in the past several months, because I didn’t stop and think things through well enough. Fortunately, they turned out okay, and the problems were mostly about the emotional fallout and how to recover from my panic.

    It’s all a process. And I am learning more every day. At least I’m learning 😉

    Be well and keep on cookin’! It gets better with time and practice, so don’t give up.

  5. For me, pre-TBI, I used to *love* to bake, I found it relaxing as it was something I’d done growing up.

    Post-injuries, it’s something I do rarely, but no longer find enjoyable or relaxing.

  6. I was never a very good cook…Now, Post TBI…I’m hopeless in the kitchen! But my husband is tired of cooking…so I try…I really try hard…never mind that He is a fairly good cook, and I can’t do anything right! Oh well…what can I do? I just keep trying…

  7. Suzanne Ray

    Ironically, I used to be a home economics teacher and a project/time management instructor! The timing issue is one that still presents me with many problems. Last evening I was cooking a special meal for a friend and she called to tell me she was running early. Well, that sent me into a bit of a tizzy and it took awhile for me to recover because I had planned exactly when I needed to start cooking many of the foods I was planning to serve.
    For holiday gatherings with many family members, I try to plan meals that include side dishes that can be prepared a day or so in advance.

  8. Elizabeth

    Oh my gosh!!! That is totally ME!!! I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong, I could never put it into words… Thank you for expressing what I have not been able to do!

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