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What It's Like to Have Brain Fog With Migraine

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What is it like living in a fog during a migraine attack? It’s like sensing impending doom.

Imagine driving on the road, and there’s a heavy fog ahead of you. You can’t see road signs or any familiar landmarks around you, but you still have to get to where you needed to go. You turn on your brights, slow down and try to keep your focus. Sounds easy, but it can be disorienting and daunting; you don’t know what’s ahead.

Imagine waking up one day and finding you couldn’t think, felt lost, and couldn’t remember simple things. These debilitating phenomena come out of nowhere. At least when you’re driving on the road, you see the fog in front of you, or you at least see it coming, and you can prepare for it; maybe pull over? Brain fog comes without warning. One minute you are doing fine, speaking eloquently, thinking clearly, then suddenly, BAM! Impending doom! You’re lost. Sometimes, you couldn’t remember what you were doing or what you were saying just minutes ago. It hits you like a ton of bricks. Trying to remember or finding words during a brain fog is like finding a needle in a haystack. Brain fog is not only disorienting, but it can also be debilitating.

I used to be a speaker and trainer for the John Maxwell Team. Organizations would hire me to do presentations at their staff meetings, and there were times when I visited schools and read books to children and talked about specific topics. I did well most of the time; however, the last few years have been difficult. I would often be in the middle of a speech or a presentation, and brain fog would decide to make an appearance; this was usually a sign of a migraine coming on. My sentences would get jumbled; I would say words I did not intend to convey such as book instead of paper, school instead of principal. Even when I was reading the words in front of me, for some reason, it just won’t register at that moment; it got very frustrating and embarrassing.

How would you explain to clients that you are experiencing sudden brain fog? That you have a chronic illness that stops you in your tracks, that you try to push through, yet it affects your actions and performances? Sadly to say, I’ve lost clients because of this; many do not understand. Because brain fog decided to be a sporadic uninvited visitor in my life, on top of the other debilitating symptoms my dystonia and hemiplegic migraines brought every day, I had to reevaluate everything and made some changes in my practice. My days became unpredictable, and I couldn’t make plans or set appointments anymore, so I’ve decided to break from my job and volunteer work. I can now only do what I can when I can, and though I’ve accepted the fact and had gotten used to it, it was pretty challenging at first. I felt robbed.

It isn’t so bad having a brain fog at home, but don’t get me wrong, it can still be maddening and infuriating, especially if you like to be productive all the time. However, it beats being out in public doing a presentation and explaining and convincing clients that it wouldn’t always be like that, that I might be better tomorrow or the next day; maybe the day after? Oh, yeah, there’s no certainty. Oh well! At home, it’s easier; I can control my surroundings, and I am not afraid of losing a client or looking incompetent in front of many people.

My family and I would often make a game out of my lack of memory or lack of focus, and we would have fun with it so I do not get too frustrated. Whenever I mean to say one thing and say another, my family could tell, so they would help me think and play the guessing game; fork instead of a spoon, cake instead of bread; you know how it goes. My family tries to make me laugh, and most of the time, I do, but it gets disheartening at times, too.

Though I try to mask my frustrations and try to be as positive as possible, there are times when it gets too much to handle. When this happens, I choose to stop; I stop whatever I’m trying to accomplish in the meantime, so I don’t crash and burn. Brain fog is just as scary as driving into a natural fog; there’s danger ahead that we couldn’t see; impending doom.

Many people do not understand what I go through and, sadly, are often quick to judge, but if I don’t need to explain, I don’t. However, brain fog is only one of the symptoms that many migraineurs and chronic illness warriors struggle with. I wish people would be a little more understanding rather than judging; this is why I try to spread awareness and break the stigma associated with chronic conditions.

We all go through rough times, but when a brain fog hits, stop and see if you can maneuver through the day safely. There is nothing wrong with taking a break; nothing is wrong with pausing and letting the cloudiness pass by before moving forward. Sometimes, we need to pull over to the side of the road and let the fog clear out before driving ahead. Occasionally, we must stop to reach our destination safely.

Getty image by FCS Cafeine.

Originally published: March 7, 2021
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