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The Emotional Part of Brain Fog We Don't Often Talk About

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Many of us with chronic illness know the thief that is brain fog. It steals your knowledge and awareness. More than forgotten words and location of items, it can take you to places of isolation.

One part of brain fog that has become powerful for me is the direct access it has to my emotions. The theory is that we can think ourselves into and out of feelings. I believe that most of the time, that is true. Brain fog creates a glitch in this system I am still trying to work through.

My brain fog inhibits my brain from being able to see the happy possibilities. It’s like I cannot find the spoonful of sugar to help swallow the reality that is my chronic illness. I am a therapist and I have attended therapy for myself. I am very familiar with the process of “looking at the bright side” and “practicing gratitude.” And I really believe those things have merit and can work.

However, here is the glitch in my system: the bright side is foggy and when I think of things I am grateful for they are clouded by this illness.

For example, I love my children. Some days they are the only reason I get out of bed. I see their beautiful, loving faces and watch them succeed at wonderful new things. But it is not just the—I cannot keep up physically, I am missing events, they have to care for me sometimes—that gets in the way of the gratitude. For me, the brain fog actually keeps my ability to feel the results of the gratitude just out of reach. It is these more complex feelings that I am lacking, and the depth that is lost feels awful.

So while I still feel love, fear, frustration, anger, joy, the feelings that require thought, that use my intellect to access and reveal—often escape before I can catch them and hang on tight. To me, this is the real problem with brain fog.

I can adjust, strangely, to feeling absolutely clueless, but to not have the feelings that help me cope with the way my body was made feels tortuous.

So on those days what do I do?

I have not figured out all the answers, but I have a few things that have worked so far. As I said before, I am a therapist — a play therapist to be more specific. I “play” with people, mainly kids, to help them practice expressing themselves and cope without needing words. So I take these skills and find a way to do them alone to reach and feel the lost feelings without using my thinking brain.

One of my favorite things that helps is listening to music, and really feeling it. The songs actually help invoke those lost feelings that slip through my fingers. Smell is another. Oils, food, my husband’s cologne, my wet dog….each helps me reach to those deeper feelings of devotion, comfort, happy-to-be-alive feelings that are a virtual goldmine of gratitude.

These things are not easily accessed all the time, and sometimes I need to really work at emerging myself in the experience.

I really wish there was a way to make this a standard, weekly treatment for people like me.

Until then, I will keep creating these moments for myself.

Then on the days that—it is beyond challenging to get out of bed, the pain is too great, I am out-numbered by symptoms, I am David to the Goliath that is neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS), dysautonomia, gastroparesis, arthritis, anxiety, and depression—I have the sunshine to burn away the fog.

Originally published: August 24, 2019
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