“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.

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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


At Sunday night’s Academy Awards, Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out” took home the win for Best Animated Feature. When director Pete Docter accepted the Oscar, he had a beautiful message for any kid who feels sad:

This film was really born from watching our kids grow up, which is not easy. Anyone out there who is in junior high, high school, working it out, suffering — there are days you’re going to feel sad. You’re going to feel angry. You’re going to be a little scared. That’s nothing you can choose. But you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It will make a world of a difference.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit Active Minds.

Related: How ‘Inside Out’ Helped Me Understand My Grief

I am a special education teacher and have been for upwards of 15 years. I’ve run a classroom for students with various disabilities. I’ve run a resource program so my students could be integrated into the general education classroom with my help.

Furthermore, I was in the same boat as the students I teach. I was that “special ed” student in your classroom. I was integrated in the beginnings of the original IDEA law when students with disabilities had to be included in classrooms with their non-disabled peers. My teachers, with little experience and training, had to find ways to relate to me and make my education productive and meaningful.

Here are some universal themes I wish I could tell the teachers who taught me then, and the teachers who teach my students now.

1. If you think disability is a big deal, it is. So much of disability is about the perception of the non-disabled person. Many times my students were welcomed by teachers who treated their needs as a variation of their humanity. Other teachers found their needs too much of an aberration to handle. The students were the same — the perspective wasn’t.

2. My students have a sixth sense. Even with the most professional teacher, my students and I could tell who wanted us there and who didn’t. Children by nature want to please people they like and who like them. My students are no different. Find the connection and they will do whatever you ask as best they can.

3. Disability is situational. Students may have academic or behavioral challenges in certain areas. But I guarantee you they have a strength. Build their confidence and self-worth by identifying that area and finding ways for them to use it — big or small — as often as possible.

4. Disability is a two-way street. I know I have to make certain social efforts or submit to some medical procedures to survive and get along with some degree of conventionality. It means a lot to me and my students for non-disabled people to make the effort to make an adjustment to a room, a conversation or activity to meet us halfway. It tells us you want us there, too. Our personhood comes first.

5. Disability is part of us. For many of my students and me, we were born with a disability, just as we were born with a certain hair color. Even if we are “diagnosed” at school age, chances are you are just putting a label on characteristics we have had for years. So please be careful as you discuss our struggles. Criticism and frustration can easily sound like rejection and judgement of what is inherent in our nature.

6. A “fix” is not the answer. So many times, the undercurrent of any conversation I have regarding my students reflects an attitude on the teacher’s part in which they view my job as the “fix it” teacher. The expectation is that I “fix” the student so the students will not “suffer” or that the teacher does not have to put in extra time learning strategies to include them on top of the insurmountable things they already have to do. I cannot “fix” them. What I can do is highlight their strengths and teach them how to work around their disability as much as possible. But it will still take acceptance and accommodations on the part of others to integrate them into mainstream society.

7. Beware of the “not in my backyard” mentality. On the surface, many people will support my work and support the integration of students with disabilities — until one of “my” students enters their classroom. Then it is “too much” or “not fair” to “my” student or “their” students. Understand that disabled or not, each student is our student. If you are feeling ill-equipped or unsure, talk to me. If you are open to learning and collaboration, we can work together to make it work.

8. Be kind. Take a breath, gather yourself and no matter how you address a frustrating situation — choose kindness. Address the disability and how it is frustrating you, not the child. Focusing on the disability is proactive and productive. Addressing the child as if the disability has no part in your frustration just shames the child for something she has little to no control over.

teacher and students sitting around table
Maria and her students

Follow this journey on Disability Rants.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected moment with a teacher, parent or student during your (or your loved one’s) school year. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

My son Rick was born six months ago. Typically six months doesn’t seem that long. But when you or a loved one is sick or your health is failing, six months can seem like a lifetime.

And it seems like the person I was six months ago is just a distant memory.

Rick’s birth forever changed me, and it forever changed my family. Most would agree that a new baby changes everything. I admit I felt like I experienced that when my daughter was born. She made me a mom.

Rick made me a better person, a better version of myself. His beginning tested me in every way imaginable and tore down walls I didn’t know existed. I was wrecked to the point that I wasn’t sure if there was anything left of me.

But now I’m stronger. Stronger in my convictions, stronger in my confidence, stronger in my ability to stand up for my son and ask necessary questions, and, most importantly, stronger in my faith.

author and her baby

When acquaintances or patients learn I have a son who was born with special needs, the typical response is “I’m sorry.” I understand their compassion and sometimes pity. Their response comes from love, and they have the best of intentions. I’m confident I reacted that way to people in the past in difficult situations.

But now that I’ve started putting myself back together piece by piece, “I’m sorry” isn’t necessary.

Rick has changed me and every single interaction I have. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for him, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

While there were dark moments of pain, fear, unstoppable tears and horrible nightmares, I hesitate, but I would go through it all over again. I’m not saying I wouldn’t change anything, I’m saying you don’t get rainbows without rain.

A friend’s wise words helped bring me additional perspective: “Rick just is who he is supposed to be.”

I’m incredibly happy with life these days. I know there will be challenges ahead with valleys, but I know I have the gifts and the people in my life who will get me through anything.

Please believe me when I say “Don’t be sorry” when you learn I have a special son.

baby next to teddy bear holding "6 months" sign

Someone told me I was inspiring. It blew my mind. I didn’t know what to do. I was so taken by the compliment. Me! Some days I get by fairly gracefully, or as gracefully as someone falling, tripping and fainting her way through all this illness can. Other days I am a bumbling, angry, screaming mess not capable of much of anything other than breathing.

But as this wonderful lady who told me I am inspiring said, sometimes just breathing through the tough times is enough. And the fact that I don’t always make it sound like nothing and just barely squeak by sometimes is what inspires her. So I’m writing this for all of you, who inspire me.

The medical definition of the word “inspire” means to draw in by breathing, or to breathe in. I don’t know all your struggles, but I know if you are reading this, you’ve faced them down and are still breathing. In my opinion, that alone is inspiring. You all motivate me to know I can get through my own struggles and come out a winner. In other words, you make my breathing easier, and isn’t that what inspiration means?

Please know when I say you are inspiring, I’m telling you that you motivate me to keep pushing through all of the pain and hard times, to keep breathing. So when someone tells you that you’re inspiring, perhaps you can smile, breathe it in and say thanks. Glow, so everyone wonders who you are. Smile. Breathe. Glow. Then inspire everyone you can to inspire someone else.

Get the whole world breathing along with you. Stay inspired, and tell me who inspires you.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Dear caretakers,

I’ve realized I get the credit too often for being “so strong” all the time. Most people don’t realize we don’t really have a choice. Sure, we choose to battle with courage every day, but we can’t really escape our illnesses.

But the caretakers. I believe you are some special people. You have a choice, and you stay.

You drive us to doctor’s appointments multiple times a week. You let us crank up the air and freeze you out when treatment triggers hot flashes. You pick us up off the ground when we collapse. You bring us Chick-fil-a when we’re not feeling well. You stroke our hair when we cry and wonder why we’re still not better. You watch seven episodes of House Hunters International in a row without complaining when we can’t get off the couch.

And you do it all with barely anyone knowing. Every day, you serve quietly and humbly without credit. And yet, you still stay.

So if you’re discouraged today, here I am to say the two words you don’t hear nearly enough: thank you.

You are appreciated. You are noticed. You are loved.

You don’t always get the credit you deserve, so please take this moment to consider buying yourself a big cookie, give yourself a pat on the back and know we couldn’t do it without you.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Real People. Real Stories.

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We face disability, disease and mental illness together.