Merriam Webster defines brain fog as “a usually temporary state of diminished mental capacity marked by the inability to concentrate, think, or reason clearly.”
The first time I remember being really affected by brain fog was in high school biology class. I would say I have an above average memory, and I have had a decent amount of practice with reading comprehension and memorization (thank you, theater company and four years of drama classes!). I remember this day in class vividly, because it frightened me. I had read the same two sentences repeatedly, actively working to memorize the text, and I could not remember what it said. I could not summarize what it said. I did not have the faintest idea what I was reading.
My brain would not work.
Since then, there have been many times over the years of similar experiences with varying levels of severity.
I would get lost going to church or work, the same car rides and drives that I had been making for years. I would look around and know what I was seeing was familiar but have no idea where I was or how to get where I was going. Or conversely- I could know exactly where I am but nothing around me looks familiar. I know how to get where I need to go only by memory- does that make sense? I know that I am near home and this is the Sheetz near my house. I’m a traveling in this direction, so I need to turn left. But my brain doesn’t recognize any of these landmarks even though it should.
Sometimes I can’t process what people are saying to me. There is no comprehension and no amount of explanation will help me understand more. The words don’t add up to form sentences for thoughts. Sometimes it doesn’t sound like English.
Jim Carrey in The Truman Show might give a little glimpse into what this feels like.
When I am foggy, it seems like everyone around me is in on a reality that I don’t know about. I am frustrated by the things I see and hear but cannot understand. Others are frustrated with me for not being able to go along with what they need me to do or be.
One of the most difficult aspects of cognitive dysfunction for me is the confusion. It makes me feel stupid. I am not very good at being stupid. I don’t take it gracefully.
I am a planner and a reader and I like to know everything I can about everything I can. On a good day I can improvise, be quick on my feet, problem solve, recall books/poems/articles/statistics and the names of all the characters in Game of Thrones.
On a bad day I can’t hold a conversation, listen to a podcast, or take in any new information at all. I might not be able to cross the street by myself because I don’t have the mental clarity to know if a car is coming, even though I looked to see (don’t worry! I don’t drive! So you are safe).
If I am more quiet than usual, it’s not because I am stewing and angry with you. It’s probably because I don’t have the mental capacity to hold a decent conversation.
If you asked if I wanted to play a game and I turned you down, I really did want to play! I ALWAYS want to play a game- but I probably didn’t have the cognitive ability to understand the rules or what would be happening in the play.
If you need something of me and I haven’t delivered- please understand that I want to. I want to help you. I want to help me. I like challenges and figuring things out and using this brain I’ve been given. Trust that when I say no, or I can’t, that I am already giving my absolute best effort. If I ask you for help, trust that I am not being lazy and that I really do need help- sometimes it’s just hard or embarrassing to explain why (if I can explain it at all).