Laura’s Pen lists her best, her worst and funniest brain fog moments and goes through all the different ways it affects her..
While brain fog is not a symptom unique to the ME/CFS community (MS sufferers call it Cog Fog and those with Fibromyalgia call it Fibro Fog) it is one that can rule our lives at times.
It is something that happens occasionally to everyone, but in Brain Fog/Fibro fog/ Cog Fog it is a lot more of a regular occurrence and can lead you to doing or saying some really bizarre things.
It can leave you thoroughly confused by a microwave, standing in rooms with no idea why you’re there, and spouting out sentences that don’t make any sense.
It can sometimes be one of the most heart-breaking symptoms, but if you learn to laugh at yourself (which I think is the only way to keep your sanity), it can also be one of the funniest.
These are my greatest brain fog moments (nicely organised into categories for my own amusement):
The break in my automatic memory (AKA the “what the f**k am I doing?”):
You know when you move into a new home and at first it takes you a little while to automatically open the correct cupboard when you want a glass? This is a bit like that. Except you’ve lived there for years and instead of going: “whoops, wrong cupboard”, you stare into it like if you can just understand this cupboard, you’ll have solved the answer to life, the universe and everything. Then you shake your head, think: “what the f**k am I doing?”, and try and remember what it was you were actually trying to achieve. “A glass!” You exclaim to the surprise of your cat/dog/partner/fish. Then finally open the correct cupboard.
Often, this break in the normal functioning of your automatic memory leads to weird shit happening. On the tame level, there’s putting objects that don’t belong in the freezer/fridge/bin in the freezer/fridge/bin, such as non food items (slippers in the fridge is one I’ve heard from someone else). In the mid level is the time I tried to open a bowl with a tin opener. A bowl that was in no way closed but was eventually going to hold the tuna that I needed to open with the tin opener, but that tin was still in the cupboard.
On the DANGER side, is the time I grabbed a pan straight out of the oven with nothing on my hand because I forgot that it would be hot. I removed my hand quickly but stared at it for about 30 seconds while I tried to comprehend why my hand now hurt. Eventually I made the connection and realised I had burnt my hand. Luckily, as I over react to danger, (I’ve cried From the shock of dropping something that made a loud bang and didn’t even break before), I reacted to the pain pretty quick and didn’t burn myself very badly.
Then there’s the time I put my hand across my sandwich to steady it but failed to remember the knife would cut me aswell as the bread and ended up with a slightly bloody sandwich. Yum. (I ate it anyway, I wasn’t about to risk making another one)
The “I forgot I was doing something half way through doing it”:
This is usually prompted by remembering something I forgot about earlier. I go to sort out the washing so I can put some on, something clicks in my head and I remember I need to take my medication, I walk off to do that. If I’m lucky I remember to take my medication but forget about the washing until I happen to walk into the pile of dirty washing on a heap on my bathroom floor. If I’m unlucky I go and sit on the sofa next to my medication but don’t remember to take it, until I later walk into the pile of washing and remember why I got distracted in the first place, and repeat.
These memory lapses very frequently result in me boiling the kettle and forgetting to actually make tea until several hours later.
The forgetting basic facts about yourself, your life or the world around you: (AKA “what’s my age again?”)
Okay, I think (hope) every adult forgets their age every now and again. I do that a lot. The best time was when I thought I was 21 again (I wish). But the most frustrating are when you forget things about your passions in life. You try to tell someone about your favourite film, but you have no idea what it’s called, so you start trying to name the actors, only, you don’t remember their names either. Then you end up giving a long-winded description of the plot and hope that the other person has A) seen the film and b) can figure it out from your cryptic clues.
The moving something to somewhere strange and then completely forgetting that you’d done it:
I haven’t done this that many times but it really bamboozles me when it happens. I’ve accused Ivan many a time of moving things when it was actually me. The problem is, even when the evidence is right in front of me, that I actually took a clean towel from the bathroom and put it on the dining room table, for example, I have absolutely zero recollection of doing it.
Even if I squeeze my brain with the might of all my trillions of neurons (disclaimer: I have no idea how many neurons I have) I come up blank, forever wondering why I felt the need to have a pink towel embroidered with “Elle”, or “her” in English, for dining-room-related liquid-emergencies.
Or just forgetting what you did two minutes ago:
I’ve had a few times lately when I’ve turned to Ivan and said “did I just do *insert action*?” because something in my memory has just remembered that I intended to do said action but it appears, as if by magic, that it has already been done. The water jug is now full, the plant has wet soil, the towel I had on the sofa has been put away (or possibly in the dining room, see above) but I have zero memory of doing so. It’s almost as if a little fairy came along and read my mind and did it for me
“Yes,” Ivan replies. “You literally just did that.”
“Oh,” I say, trying not to think too hard about it, because all that happens is my head starts to hurt.
The “I don’t know if I just went to the toilet”:
This one is pretty self explanatory. Sometimes I find myself standing outside the toilet knowing that I was planning on using it but no idea if I have already done so. This one is usually solved by having another go, although my bladder fills so quickly I can usually go whether or not I had already done so, meaning I’m never quite sure if I’ve just peed once or twice. Moving to a house with a noisier toilet system has definitely helped with this one.
The walking into a room and not knowing why you are there:
Okay, so everyone does this. It’s normal, but on a bad brain fog day I do this way too much. And as walking about unnecessarily is actually quite draining, it’s bloody annoying.
The realising the reason you don’t know why you walked into that room is because you’d walked into the wrong room:
This old chestnut. You sit down and remember why you got up, but realise, while you were standing in the bathroom looking absently into the cupboard when you thought you’d forgot what you were doing, actually it was way before that, because actually you wanted to get your phone charger from the bedroom. You weren’t even in the right bloomin’ room.
The forgetting how to do something you do every day:
Hmm… The microwave isn’t microwaving. *press buttons* hmmm is it broken? *stare at it* *press buttons again* how do you make it work? *give up after several minutes* * accidentally notice the socket and the fact it is unplugged* “oh!” *plug in* *lights goes on in microwave* *press buttons* *microwave beeps as you do so and then starts microwaving* “it wasn’t even beeping!” *slaps head* (our microwave is always unplugged due to not having enough sockets, I always have to plug it in)
The forgetting what you were talking about halfway through saying it:
Never ever go off on a tangent. You will get lost. When you go to return to what you were saying mere seconds before, you will have no idea. However, this is a good test of how well the other person is listening. And this is nothing compared to the host of speech-related brain fog issues, which I have given their own sub-heading:
The word blank:
I HATE this one. I’m a writer. Words are my thing. At the top of this blog, when I started writing, I forgot the word unique. I had to go online to a thesaurus, type in a vaguely similar word (individual) and find the word my mind was refusing to recall. Unfortunately, when you are talking to someone, you can’t do that.
I used to stubbornly sit there willing my brain into action while the other person looked on in silence, perhaps suggesting possible words like a kind of real-life predictive text (or speech). Eventually all that happens is you forget what you were talking about entirely.
Now, I try and get around the word. I often have to use three replacement words to explain myself. I have to ignore the part of my brain going “come on you’re a writer, remember the f**king word!” Keep calm and carry on as they said in the war/on Instagram.
The wrong words in the wrong order:
So today I told Ivan, my partner, that we needed to “plant the water”‘ rather than water the plants. This one happens a lot, and on a bad day it will happen sentence after sentence until I get really bloomin’ annoyed. It’s the kind of nonsense that the listener can translate, but it still gets on my tits.
Or, even worse the: “I’ve used a completely unrelated word in place of the one I meant to use”:
So after the word “water” decided it wanted to be planted rather than to be poured into my plant pots, it crept into another sentence unannounced, except this time it hadn’t even been invited to the party. Unfortunately, brain fog as it is, I can’t remember the sentence now. What I do remember is that water had nothing to do with what I was saying, I just happened to have said it a few minutes before.
In this example, the mistake makes some sort of sense, you can see where my mind got the word from. But often this isn’t the case. Usually it’s the noun that causes the problem. You are talking about the bins (low and behold the excitement of your life) and then find the word “cat” taking its place. You don’t even own a cat. You weren’t thinking about cats. But here one is, forming on your lips. (disclaimer: this is a bad example, I often think about cats)
The “I can’t remember how to spell”:
So these days, with auto-correct underlining as I write, this happens less often. But when I was at school and college, especially when sitting exams, this was a biggy. The worst time was when I forgot how to spell the word: “used”. It first happened during an exam (although I had repeat occurrences of this one). It was something about the “you” sound at the start. I decided there was probably a “J” in there somewhere, but it didn’t look right, however I tried to spell it. I gave up and wrote the whole essay carefully worded so I didn’t have to write “used”.
The “I can remember how to spell but somehow still write it incorrectly”:
I’ve done this with my own name before. I went through a phase when I was working where Laura became Layra. Yes the y is next to the u but that didn’t seem to be it. Because I know that for about three months at college I also started spelling With with an e on the end, like so: “withe”.
As soon as I saw it I knew it was wrong. But it was like something had overridden the automatic procedure that knows when I think “with” to write “W..I..T..H..” and added an erroneous “E” on the end. I was doing this about 80% of the times I wrote “with/withe”. Luckily for me, if you correct your mistakes in exams, you aren’t marked down on it. I hate to think what the examiners thought when they read them though.
The, I’ve forgotten how basic grammar works:
So you are talking to a medical professional, trying to express your symptoms clearly and intelligently so that a) they have a better chance of figuring out what’s wrong with you and b) they don’t think you’re mad. And then you say “my hip…” And you pause, because something in your brain is warning you that what you are about to say is wrong and you have to choose whether to carry on with what you are saying or try to figure out why it is wrong, and the doctor is staring at you, waiting for you to continue, and so you blurt out “hurted”. Yep, my hip hurted. Well done Laura, you can grammar to a nursery school level.
This is all I can think of for now (I say for now, this has taken months to write!) but I will update with any extra type of brain fog moments that happen. Please feel free to add yours in the comments. I know from discussions with other sufferers that there are some rather funny examples of brain fog out there. And feel free to join in if you have fibro/cog fog/any other type I’m not aware of.
From Laura (and her pen)
Update: new brain fog moments 09/01/2016
So, I’ve had a few more brain fog moments that I failed to cover first time round. Here are the new additions:
Talking in opposites:
Me: *taking off jumper* “Oh god, I’m really cold all of a sudden.”
Ivan: “You’re cold?”
Me: *Looks down at jumper* “Hot! Hot! I’m hot.” *laughs* *dies a little inside*
This has become my brain’s favourite new thing to do. Opposites keep pouring out of my mouth and it is only the reaction they get that makes me realise I’ve said something wrong. I haven’t got love and hate mixed up yet, but it’s surely just a matter of time… I LOVE it when this happens
Forgetting how to make tea:
Ok, so this really goes under automatic memory. But it’s a fun new example. So you’re 28-years-old. You make tea once or twice every day. You have this shit down. You can do this. Or so you think. Until you are staring into your cup, looking at the tea bag floating in the water and wondering why on earth it’s not working, why the tea and the water remain very much separate entities. Then you poke it with your finger (because you can’t think what else to do) and realise that the water is stone cold. You forgot to boil the bloody kettle.
I’ve actually made a comedy video out of struggling with brain fog whilst making tea, because its so bloomin’ hilarious..”don’t cry Laura, come on now.” *Laughs insanely*.
Also, if you make tea and breakfast at the same time, you are in huge danger of mixing things up. Soggy granola floating in your tea and hot water swimming in your yoghurt are certainly not very traditional, and definitely not very tasty.