Brain fog is a really hard symptom to describe unless you’ve experienced it. It’s literally like seeing things through fog, where you concentrate really hard but everything still looks fuzzy. I guess it’s a bit like ‘baby brain’, particularly in my case since it’s the same bunch of hormones causing the problem. Except it’s a bit more than that – brain fog is also to do with fatigue, not just forgetfulness, where you’re so tired you can barely remember your own name. It means you do some really stupid things, which can be quite funny!
The first time I noticed I had brain fog was when I would suddenly have periods of time I couldn’t remember while at work. Teaching teenagers, the cynical part of my brain was telling me the kids were trying to pull one over on me but my pupils were the type to be honest, almost brutally so. So when they were stood there saying (shouting) ‘are you kidding me?! I actually did your homework and you’ve gone and lost it!’ (with a few more expletives of choice), you know they’re telling the truth. It’s hard to give the illusion of being all knowing and ‘on it’ if you can’t remember half of what’s going on!
Yesterday I tried to make myself porridge for breakfast. I’ve made porridge every day for years, that’s the only reason I can do it. I know I have to weigh it out and I know where all the components are because they’re strategically left in the same place, otherwise I couldn’t do it. Except the scales were switched to ounces and I needed grams. I’d already started pouring by this point so I switched it to grams and got another bowl but couldn’t work out how I could get the porridge oats from the bowl that started in ounces into my new bowl which was now grams. So I left the old bowl of oats on the side and started again. When my husband came home, he said ‘why didn’t you just tip the old ones into the new bowl’, which would have been the logical thing to do. Because I couldn’t work it out at the time, which sounds ridiculous, I know! Quite a lot, I then forget that the bowl will be hot when I get it out of the microwave, so I burn myself. It’s weird, because I know it’ll be hot, but it doesn’t quite transfer to what I’m trying to do- like reading a sign that says ‘electric fence’ and touching it anyway. Sometimes I ‘forget’ I’ve already put Nutella in and more accidentally ends up in my bowl. I really hate it when that happens 😉
Sometimes I go to the toilet when I’m out and have a bit of a rest first. It means I can go back to putting on an act for people who don’t know me so they can’t see if I’m struggling. It pretty much means I shut the cubicle door, close my eyes and lean my head against the wall and sometimes have a quick nap. However, what happens a lot is I’ve woken up and left and not actually used the toilet and had to go back again straight away to use it, looking like a right wally.
It does have an annoying habit of sneaking up on you and wiping your memory when you’re in the middle of doing something. It feels a bit like the obliviate charm in Harry Potter, you know, the one that wipes memories instantly. One minute you can do or know something, the next you can’t. Like I could be stood in the middle of town and someone could say ‘hey let’s go to primark’ and I think ‘I have no idea where primark is, how do we get there? Do we have a primark here?’ and not have a clue even though I can see it. It just doesn’t register. Other times I’ll be listening to someone speak and suddenly it’ll sound like they’re talking Japanese and I have no idea what they just said. Or I’ll get half way through a sentence and forget how to speak English.
Other examples include trying to open my house door with my car key remote, putting conditioner on my body instead of shower gel and then forgetting to condition my hair, looking for my glasses when they’re already on my face, I fall over a lot because my coordination gets bad… the irony of brain fog is there’s probably a lot more funny things I do, but I can’t actually remember what they are…!
A lot of this is ‘silly’ stuff which lots of people do when they’re tired. I think the difference between being tired and fogginess is the fact that when you’re tired, you might realise quite quickly that you’re being silly and be able to laugh it off and resolve it. But when you’re foggy, you don’t necessarily realise there’s a problem and then if/when you do, you don’t have the cognitive function to be able to work it out and fix it. Even if someone shows you or says a (what should be) straight forward instruction, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it. I still laugh it off a lot of the time, but it can also be really frustrating- I’ve always wanted to do things for myself and it can be upsetting if I can’t.
How can you help someone with brain fog? Patience. You might have to explain things a lot or wait a lot, but if you would wait patiently for a toddler or a person with Alzheimer’s to complete a task, then waiting for me to complete a task is kind of the same- it feels like I’m seeing or doing things for the first time a lot so I have to ‘relearn’ it. The more stressed I get about the fact I can’t do something or that people are waiting, the less chance there is of me doing it. Reassurance also helps, in a not patronising way. Because brain fog is usually accompanied by sensory issues processing sound and light, getting irritated, shouting at me or gesturing wildly won’t help, it just makes it worse. Sounds at normal volume feel like they’re weighing down on me, pushing me into the ground, and even normal light and movements feel like I’m in some kind of disco with strobe lighting, so adding irritation on top is unbearable. And if I want to laugh about it afterwards, joining in definitely helps!