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The Reality of Brain Fog (and Why It Takes 45 Minutes to Make Hot Chocolate)


In 2013 when my doctor used the F-word (fibromyalgia), I had no idea all the symptoms that came along with it. I thought it was just physical pain. “Just” as if that isn’t enough on its own. I had no idea how much of my life would be impacted by this horribly unfair illness. I had no idea  I had developed an invisible disability that would make me feel (and as far as I’m concerned, look) like a lying, lazy, uncoordinated, clumsy nobody.

So let’s talk about one of the symptoms. Forget that I constantly walk into things, drop and break things, trip over my own feet and want to fall asleep in the middle of a fun activity. Instead of discussing my broken dishes, bruised body (and ego), and fear of snoring in public, let’s talk about brain fog.

“Brain fog” is a state of diminished mental capacity that is temporary. It affects the ability to pay attention, to think, to find the words I am looking for, short-term and long-term memory, and can take my dignity and flush it down the toilet.

An example that might resonate was my evening attempt at making a cup of hot chocolate. The usual steps: get mug and spoon, scoop powder, pour in boiling water, stir and enjoy. Fibro Fog doesn’t allow that process. Instead, this was how I made hot chocolate while experiencing fibromyalgia symptoms:

  1. Turn on the kettle.
  2. Water the plants while kettle boils.
  3. Wonder why I boiled the kettle.
  4. Stand for a minute or two in utter confusion.
  5. Remember I was making hot chocolate.
  6. Scoop powder into mug. Then put spoon in sink.
  7. Boil the kettle again and pour into mug. Look at powder floating on top, and look at spoon in sink. Look back and forth. Remember I need the spoon but don’t know for what. Remember I need the powder stirred into the water. Wonder how to do that. Consider using a spoon and wonder if that will work.
  8. It works! Think I’m a genius and go back to my couch.
  9. Watch TV for a bit. Get a craving for hot chocolate, think I will make some.
  10. Go to the kitchen to boil the kettle and find the mug of hot chocolate getting cold on the counter.

The above example is an actual experience, not a made-up story.

If that was all that I struggled with, I could laugh and move on with my day. But it isn’t just funny moments like forgetting a hot drink. It is the moments when I am singing in my choir and I forget what I am doing or why I am there. It is being a teacher at the front of the class and either struggling to find the right words, or forgetting the topic I was teaching. It is going to the grocery store, forgetting the list, having no idea why I was there and grabbing anything to make the trip worth it — thus the six jars of peanut butter in the pantry.

It is when I am bored and it doesn’t occur to me to look at my to-do list. It is sending an email in the morning that I had already sent the day before. It is being asked to look at a map and staring at the pretty picture with no idea what it means. It is having to use a GPS to get to places I go regularly. It is the embarrassment of contacting someone six months later than intended. It is losing the car in a giant underground parking lot with no way of knowing how to find it.

Brain fog is embarrassing. It is humiliating. It is frustrating, infuriating and interferes with my quality of life. Sometimes, the only way to get through it is to laugh. I’m here to admit that lots of times it isn’t actually funny.

Getty image via Pinkypills