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The Different Ways Brain Fog Affects All Aspects of My Life

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Before I had the unpleasant honor of joining the chronic illness community, my vocabulary was missing several phrases I’ve come to know all too well. I’ve learned more acronyms than I ever cared to and can recite far too many names of tests, what they are for and how they are usually done. I’ve learned words like “painsomnia” and “spoonie” and not only used them in my daily conversation but lived them. One term I’ve come to be much too familiar with is “brain fog.” I have some days when I am able to think clearly and can string sentences together without even really thinking, but other days, just trying to find simple everyday words is a struggle.

Recently I’ve been experiencing the fog more often than usual. It’s been so frustrating and embarrassing at times. Attempting to explain what it feels like is a bit difficult because that requires communication – the very thing the sludge in my brain makes so hard! On the days that are particularly tough I usually describe it as trying to think through mud. It’s as if I have to concentrate on every word to be able to get it from my memory to mouth without disruption. Facts and numbers I may have known for years become blurry and I question everything before I say it. I worry that I might get it wrong and look silly since, after all, I look completely “normal,” I’m not drugged, not intoxicated and have no apparent reason for being any less mentally sharp than usual.

It affects the conversations I’m able to have immensely. I want to be a friend with a comforting word but on the foggy days, I may not be able to find the words I want to use to accurately express my feelings. It’s hard to keep a conversation going when I have trouble coming up with the word “tea” or “window.” I might start a story and forget mid-sentence what my point was. Talk about a conversation killer! “So we were driving in the car and then… Um… I forget…” doesn’t really invite much response. It may seem like I’m uninterested in what the people around me are discussing but in reality, I’m doing my best to process what I’m hearing and just keep up. I probably am not able to have a thought, find the words to express it and actually say the words out loud before the topic has changed and what I was going to say is no longer relevant.

The brain fog also causes anxiety. I have had more than one experience when I was unable to communicate with my doctors well enough to let them know exactly what was happening. It didn’t hit me until I was leaving the appointment that I realized I completely forgot to mention a new symptom or ask a question I had. The way I had to relay the things I did say might not have been very effective and because of that I left without adequate care. I’ve now started making lists obsessively in preparation for appointments. That in itself though causes anxiety. What if they think I’m seeking drugs if I ask about a specific treatment? What if they think I’m just hypersensitive to everything going on in my body and dismiss it? What if this list is too long and they think I’m making it up? What if, what if, what if… The stress of effectively communicating can be crushing when you know it isn’t what you’re best at but you also know that your care is in the hands of this person who is reliant on what you tell them.

The embarrassment of mental slip-ups has become rather common as well. While there are people in my orbit who understand what I mean when I say it’s a muddy brain day and won’t think twice when I don’t talk much or take an abnormally long time to speak one sentence, there are so many others who have no idea. There are texts that I might proofread three times before sending because I see a new typo each time I read it. There are times when I just feel plain stupid because I can’t remember if the correct number is 40 or 400. Times when I kick myself because I realize what I just said may have come across in a completely different way than I intended.

For example, I was once shopping with my mom and she was looking at some skirts but complaining she couldn’t find one she liked. In my mind I thought about how I’ve watched so many episodes of the show “What Not to Wear” and learned about what shapes looked best on my body type, and how it’s helped me find clothes I actually like. However, what came out of my mouth was, “You should watch ‘What Not To Wear.’ You might learn something.” I felt horrible! Thankfully, it was my mom who has an unshakable self-confidence and knows me well enough to know I didn’t mean what I said, but that didn’t change the fact that to this day, that may be the meanest thing I’ve ever said to someone. We still joke about that particular exchange, but I was genuinely mortified that I could sound so cruel and petty when it wasn’t my intention in the slightest.

Brain fog isn’t just having trouble with calculations or not being quite as quick-witted as usual. It affects so many aspects of life in many different ways and has consequences that may reach beyond just a simple forgetful moment. There are lots of objects that become “thingy” and sentences that trail off into oblivion, but there are also miscommunications with loved ones and friends or nights of worrying and list-making as I try to minimize the impact of not being as functional cognitively. So when someone is having a “foggy” day, grant a little extra grace and patience. Try not to take their muddy brain personally – they’re just trying to think at a snail’s pace!

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Thinkstock photo via Creatas Images.

Originally published: February 20, 2017
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