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How My Mom Defended Me When Brain Fog Made Me Forget How Old I Was

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We were standing in line at a casino entrance. I fumbled through my wallet to get my ID ready. My mom wanted to go for her 66th birthday, so here we were. We found ourselves at the front of the line in no time at all.

I handed over my ID to the security guard who didn’t even look 18 himself. Glancing over it he mundanely asked, “How old are you?”

A simple question, with a simple answer. Except my mind drew a complete utter blank. I stood there dumbfounded. For some reason, I could not retrieve any information from my brain. There was just complete nothingness.

“Ahhhh… oh geez.” I glanced at my mother with pleading eyes. A glance similar to one I’d given a friend during a science exam I was ill prepared for.

“I—I can’t remember.” The security guard was instantly suspicious, alerted awake by such an absurd statement.

“Wait, I think, I think I’m 23…? No…22. No, no… 21?” I was answering with a question, a question I was asking my own self. I felt a sense of panic. Why can’t I remember, why can’t I remember… The throbbing heat of embarrassment washed over me. My brain was in another room; I was knocking at the wrong door.

“Oh wait – no, no, no. I’m 33. I’m 33.” The lights came on, just took awhile. The synapses of my brain seem to be thickened with molasses at the most inconvenient times.

He glared at me skeptically. “You just said you were in your early 20’s. Then you jumped an entire decade. I’m gonna have to ask you to step out of the line, ma’am.” My heart began to pound as anxiety entered my body. I felt eyes on me and became acutely aware of the scene I was making. He must think I’m lying, drunk or both, I realized.

That’s when my mother stepped in. She impatiently and matter-of-factly declared, “I can attest to the fact she’s 33. She’s my daughter, I delivered her from my own body. She has my-al-gic en-ceph-a-lo-mye-litis. Sometimes she has trouble remembering things. Or she can take this as as compliment that she looks a lot younger than her age.”

The security guard looked at me, looked at my mom. Looked down at my ID. Then handed it back to me. “Have a good day ladies, best of luck in there.”

Besides being utterly impressed my mom could pronounce the name my disease, I felt relief. I was afraid I would have been turned away, my lapse in memory suggesting dishonesty. It would have confounded an already embarrassing situation. How could I not remember my own age? The answer is this: severe brain fog.

Moments like this happen all the time. It strikes me randomly, and is completely disarming when it happens. Especially when it’s in the line at a casino, or even in an aisle at Costco. The other day, my sister pointed out a patio set she thought would look perfect in her backyard. Except, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what her backyard looked like. What scared me the most was that I had been staying with her at the time, and had just been sitting in that same backyard.

The brain fog I experience is comparable to the lens switching in the chair at an optometrist’s office. Is lens one clearer, or is lens two? The foggy unfocused lens becomes my mind, and I can’t control the switch. Through this lens the world becomes incomprehensible; I’m easily confused and disoriented. Finding the words to articulate this to others when it’s happening is next to impossible.

painting of people holding hands
By Christina Baltais
painting of two people holding hands
By Christina Baltais

I was grateful that in this brain fog moment I had my mom at my side. She spoke up for me when I was at a loss for words. I’m grateful the security guard was able to recognize the truth of the situation. It makes navigating brain fog a lot easier when it’s met with understanding and patience. It makes being out in the world feel safer, especially when you can’t predict whether or not your brain will be joining you.

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Originally published: November 2, 2017
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