Brain fog has been “thrust into the limelight” in the wake of millions of cases of COVID-19 that have left long-term effects that include memory loss, inability to focus, and lack of mental clarity. According to the New Scientist, research about brain fog is finally being prioritized, although the condition has been around longer than we know.
“It’s something that patients with a wide variety of different medical problems have said has interfered with their ability to function for a long time,” says Sabina Brennan, a neuroscientist at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, and author of Beating Brain Fog.
I feel sort-of like a hipster, or a person that perpetually already knows about anything you say, taking all the novelty away. Anything that is cool, the hipster already thought it was cool yesterday and is over it by now. That is how I feel about brain fog.
My relationship with brain fog solely came about as a side effect of being a caregiver for my father. Constant overwhelm, decision fatigue, compassion fatigue, and just fatigue made it impossible for me to have the bandwidth for anything ‘extra.’ (By the way, ‘extra’ encompasses taking care of yourself, talking to people, having friends or even thinking about your friends.) This perpetual state of overwhelm + fight or flight mode for the better part of 2 years has changed my brain. I remember the first time I heard the David Bowie lyric (from the song Five Years),
“My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there”
I almost shrieked in recognition; in feeling heard and seen; in having this feeling reflected back at me. I felt like my brain had gone through a sea change. I had a whole new knowledge base and it was taking over.
The fog shows itself in ways that seem insignificant but add up over time. I can never remember anybody’s name who isn’t in my day-to-day life. I find myself stopping mid-sentence because I cannot think of the word I want to say. Sometimes the word is very simple; I just can’t think of it. I worry about folks losing their patience with me. While I’m trying to recall the word, I am also clocking the listener — which acts as a vicious cycle, making me more anxious to find the word and therefore, unable to find it. Sometimes it feels like I get stuck in superglue. In the middle of any activity, I stop and my mind is blank. I don’t know what I’m doing — I don’t know what my task was that I set out to accomplish. I’m frozen in time until I either remember my task, or I decide to latch onto another task to get unstuck. Sometimes that frozen time is accompanied by a general sense of dread until I resurface.
These symptoms started in 2018, soon after I became my father’s sole caregiver. They were acutely tied to my general feeling of overwhelm and panic, and a sense that I was never doing enough.
Decision fatigue plagued me the most. After making all the decisions possible for the whole day for my father, I couldn’t make decisions regarding anything else. I couldn’t decide what to have for dinner or what to watch on television. I couldn’t decide whether I should clean this dish first or sweep the floor. This is a horrible, horrible feeling. I am still working my way through the remnants of constant decision fatigue as I claw my way back to my vision of a healthy life.
So, yes; brain fog has been around for a long time and is a side-effect of many things, as well as having had COVID-19. It is incredibly important to discuss brain fog, research it, and find ways to approach it. It’s always those ‘invisible’ ailments that don’t get treated. Hopefully, for brain fog, that changes soon.