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28 People With Chronic Illness Explain What ‘Brain Fog’ Feels Like to Them

“Brain fog” is a term that often comes up when people share their experiences with chronic illness. If you don’t know what it means, you might assume it’s similar to feeling a little sleepy before your morning coffee, but its effects can extend well beyond that.

Brain fog can be hard to understand unless you’ve experienced it yourself. And even when you have, you might wonder if others ever feel the same way. That’s why we asked our readers on Facebook who have chronic illnesses to describe what it’s really like. Their responses were truly eye-opening:

1. “My mind feels as slow and achy as my body, struggling to take each step.” — Barb Silvestro

2. “Imagine not sleeping for three days and then trying to understand quadratic equations.” — Melissa Austin

3. “If someone is speaking to you, all you hear is Charlie Brown’s teacher. You know the person is talking, but you cannot decipher the words or the meaning.” — Lori Hughes

A quote from Lori Hughes that says, “If someone is speaking to you, all you hear is Charlie Brown's teacher. You know the person is talking, but you cannot decipher the words or the meaning.”

4. “Imagine being shaken awake at 3 a.m. from an extremely deep sleep and asked what type of pizza is your favorite. You might give an answer, but because of your confusion, the answer might not be the ‘best’ answer, nor the one you would normally give.” — Ross Caynes

5. “Imagine losing your keys five times in five minutes, absent-mindedly pouring yourself three bowls of cereal, struggling with remembering what you need to do next, forgetting the majority of the words you know when you need to say something and having an audience for the whole trainwreck that is your new reality.” — Paula J Frey Slater

6. “You are swimming through JELL-O.” — Samantha DeGroot

7. “I like to think of it as a library card catalog from the old days. I know I used to have the card in that drawer (that information in my brain), but the card is gone or misfiled now.” — Alyssa Schultz

8. “Brain fog is like stumbling around in the dark with no clear path out. It’s like your brain being trapped in quicksand constantly.” — Rachel Johnson

9. “Brain fog is needing a reminder to remind you what your reminders are for.” — Selena Marie Wilson

10. “It’s literally like being in a fog. In fog, you can’t see far enough ahead of you. With brain fog, you can’t think far enough ahead.” — Kelly McCoy Hickey

11. “Brain fog is like, y’know, what’s that word? Maybe, if I Google that term, um, that I used last week when I saw my doctor. Was that last week? Let me look on my calendar. Hmm, where’s my iPhone? Did I leave it in my pocket when I went out early? Was that today or yesterday? Oh, wait… Darn, I used to be so good with words. I can remember my SAT scores and got almost 800 on the verbal test, but now I can’t remember words. That is brain fog.” — Angela Oddone

12. “Brain fog is like having the memory span of a goldfish. It’s hard to plan for the future when you can barely get through what you are doing now. — Sara Cohen

13. “Brain fog for me is feeling completely lost in a familiar place.” — Cherie Rendon

A quote from Cherie Rendon that says, [Brain fog for me is feeling completely lost in a familiar place.]

14. “It is not just stumbling on a word but losing your entire train of thought and sometimes even feeling as if English is not your native language.” — Judy Pamer

15. “Brain fog to me is like being stuck in mud and trying so very hard to pull yourself out. It is exhausting!” — Penny Royer

16. “It’s as if you’re walking around with an invisible eye mask; you should be able to see clearly but you cant.” — Hayley Gardner Shimanek

17. “It can feel like drowning without the water. Like you are mentally struggling to get back to the surface, blurry vision and muffled sound included.” — Tifa Carlyle

18. “It’s like your brain is an extremely messy desk and you can’t find anything, but you know you put it there.” — Julia Ann Lange

19. “It feels like I have cotton candy in my head.” — Crystal Angela Sada

20. “Brain fog is like a poor Wi-Fi signal — it’s half there, it’s half not, and you have no idea when your ‘browser’ will load!” — Arianne Gaudet

21. “It feels like you’ve had one too many shots of tequila.” — Desiree Carbeil-Fortin

22. “It is like you have a fish bowl over your head and cannot fully understand what is going on around you.” — Tiff Paige Miller

23. “[It’s] like trying to think through a brick wall. The words, meanings, processes — all the things — are just on the other side where you can’t reach them” — Faith Merryn

24. “It feels like you have been awake all night completing an assignment and after handing your assignment in, you have no idea where you parked your car.” — Kate Eastman

25. “It’s like playing Charades or Pictionary with yourself. You know the word or name you want to use but you can’t get your brain to come up with the right answer.” — Sandra Martorano Tentler

26. “Thoughts come into your mind, but they don’t stick. They dissolve away quickly and are gone.” — Chronic Beauty

27. “It’s like a really bad hangover without the fun night.” — Bec Brown

28. “It is like your brain is a puzzle, and the pieces are scattered all over the place.” — Bekr Usque Ad Finem

A quote from Bekr Usque Ad Finem that says, [It is like your brain is a puzzle, and the pieces are scattered all over the place.]

Do you experience brain fog? What do you wish others understood about your experience? Let us know in the comments below.

*Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

28 People With Chronic Illness Explain What ‘Brain Fog' Feels Like to Them