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The Skills That Help Me Fight the 'Brain Fog' From My ADHD

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I’m sitting in the passenger seat, listening to my husband talk about work. We’re driving down the street, and I’m looking at the passing cars. He’s talking about the new COVID-19 restrictions and his concern for the well-being of his students when I’m suddenly reminded of something else we need to talk about. I glance over at him, waiting for a moment to interrupt. I try my best to hold onto the thought I had. After a moment, I realize I can’t remember what my husband was talking about anymore. He glances over at me, expecting a response, and I look at him blankly. After a second, he asks if he “lost” me and gives me a gentle smile. I sigh, say “yes” and tell him that I had remembered something I wanted to say. “OK,” my husband says before asking me what my thought was. I start to answer, but I stop. I can’t remember that either.

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Brain fog can be caused by many different conditions. For me, the culprit is a cocktail of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder. These conditions affect how well my brain processes and retains information. It’s always been difficult to follow the flow of conversations, pay attention to lectures, and even watch TV shows. I can be the one talking to someone and still forget what I’m saying — right in the middle of saying it. It’s a frustrating occurrence. Forgetting these things makes me feel embarrassed and “stupid.” I worry that others will find me rude and dislike me because I can’t seem to keep track of what’s happening in conversations.

This type of brain fog happens to me almost everywhere. It happens to me when I’m on the phone. It happens to me when I’m in front of the cashier. It happens to me when I am trying to cook, drive, and eat. I often forget what people (including myself) are saying or doing, but I can also misunderstand other’s actions or words because of my brain fog. My husband and I have gotten into small spats because I misunderstood the tone of what he said and got confused.

For a long time, I didn’t think I could really do anything about my brain fog. I thought it was a personality flaw. But then I saw a doctor and was tested for ADHD. I started seeing a psychiatrist for my other disabilities. The first major change was the addition of medication to my well-being regimen. Of course, medication is a hot topic, but for me, it was necessary. I have found that my medication provides me with a very strong basis from which I can build skills to help myself. Any lapse in my medication schedule makes a big difference in how I act and go about my day.

The second change I’ve made in my life has been identifying skills that can help me strengthen my focus, memory retention, and information processing. The biggest skill to build on was self-awareness. If I am able to notice myself struggling or notice an environment that might be difficult for me to manage, I can work to adjust how I act, how I prepare, and which people I include. For example, if I know I will be somewhere where there will be multiple people to engage with, I might make extra care to take my ADHD medication at an appropriate time, and I might also give myself the goal of “refocusing.” Refocusing my attention is kind of like meditation to me — I try to let go of any wayward distractions as quickly as possible and get back to the topic at hand. I might also move the Notes app to the main screen of my iPhone to encourage myself to take notes if necessary.

Another major change I made was inviting people in my support circle to help me practice my skills. My husband is aware of all of my struggles and he himself also has ADHD. With him, I can be transparent in the moment. If I get confused or lost in a conversation, I can tell him. We practice saying things like, “Oh wait, I didn’t process that. Can you repeat it?” Or if I forget what I was going to say, I tell him, “I had something I was going to tell you, but I forgot. I might interrupt you later if I remember it. Is that OK?” My husband also suggested I take notes on my phone if I need to remember something for later. Sometimes I get really agitated and overstimulated when I forget something or have a hard time understanding others. In these moments, I tell my husband I need absolute quiet in order to reset, and then we sit quietly for a bit. It’s really helpful to be able to go through these motions with him and some of my friends too.

These moments with my support circle have helped me to prepare for moments with other people — like cashiers and the like. Since I’ve started to work on these little skills, I’ve found it easier to manage my emotions when the memory fog or confusion hits. I can regain my footing more quickly in a conversation and not feel so embarrassed or “dumb.” These skills are not a cure, but I have had an easier time managing my disability because of them.

Getty image by Morsa Images.

Originally published: March 29, 2022
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