‘Brain fog’ is not considered to be a medical condition in and of itself, but the medical community has begun to recognize its affect in recent years.
So what is brain fog?
For me, brain fog is being too tired to think. It’s not being able to string together a coherent sentence when I can think. It’s knowing that there are important things that need to get done – simple things – but not being able to figure out how to accomplish them.
On the worst days, it’s not being able to feed the animals without talking myself through each and every step from ‘put on weather-appropriate shoes’ to ‘unscrew the chicken feeder and fill it’. It’s not being able to remember what I fed myself. Or if I have any commitments that day, even if I’ve just looked at a calendar.
Brain fog is more extreme than mere forgetfulness – it’s trying to think, trying to remember things, using all your usual tricks, and nothing ‘sticking’. Fortunately, it doesn’t stay around permanently.
Brain fog is usually associated with chronic conditions – fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis, and Lyme disease. It can also be a symptom of food allergies, or even severe yeast infections. In my case, I suspect CFS/ME, but I don’t have the money for all the testing that would require to diagnose. I know it’s not Lyme, because I can’t remember the last time I was bitten by a tick. Probably 10 years ago, if not more, and these things haven’t been going on that long.
So how does writing figure into all of this?
I’ll be honest. For me, a lot of the time, it doesn’t. This is why I make very few firm writing commitments outside of National Novel Writing Month each year – I never know when I’m not going to be able to function enough to get a project done.
But there are a few things you can do so brain fog doesn’t set you years behind. Or, at least, what can feel like years.
Five Steps for Surviving Brain Fog
- Take care of yourself. Daily.
Eat healthy. Cut back processed foods and sugar (completely, if possible). Eat lots of healthy fats. Yes, fats. You know why fish is brain food? Because of its fat content. Your brain also requires cholesterol (cholesterol is also necessary for hormone regulation, and the production of vitamin D) to function. Egg yolks are one of the best, easiest, and cheapest ways to get plenty of good (HDL) cholesterol in your diet. Egg whites are literally empty calories, just so you know. If you’re going to eat something, you might as well eat what’s nutritious for you.
- Take a good multivitamin.
This goes along with taking care of yourself, but it’s important especially if you don’t eat (or can’t eat) plenty of fruits and vegetables. If there’s anyone who understands not being able to afford healthy food, it’s me.
Unfortunately, the supplement products I love the most are the Garden of Life RAW products, which are pricey. But I seem to absorb them the best, and they don’t upset my stomach (which was the deal breaker with just about everything else I tried. Vitamins are not supposed to induce daily vomiting.)
- Spend time outside whenever you can.
Being outside energizes me. Except in the depths of our Oklahoma summers when the simple act of stepping out the door makes you drip with sweat. It helps me focus, and even the rare times when it doesn’t help me focus, it at least calms me. Plus, sunlight is a vital part of vitamin D production as well. Vitamin D deficiency can also contribute to problems with memory.
- Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.
Part of the struggle with brain fog is not completely knowing when, how intensely, or for how long it will strike. Get ahead whenever you can.
- Pace yourself.
And yeah, while you’re trying to get a head, don’t overwhelm yourself. Especially if you’re dealing with brain fog because of one of the chronic issues listed above – pushing too hard can often induce a flare up, or a round of fatigue.
And one more bonus tip: become a note taker. Notes are invaluable to me when I’m stuck in the midst of ‘brain fog’, whether those are ‘you have an article/blog post/editing project due on this date’ or ‘this is how you dice an onion’ or ‘you didn’t get the laundry folded yet, so the dish cloths are still in the bedroom’.
And, of course, inspiration can still strike during the midst of brain fog. Being a note taker means you’ll be able to jot down the essentials so that you can do the idea adequate justice when your mind is cooperating again.
Writing is arduous during brain fog, but it’s not impossible. It will take longer, and you’ll second-guess everything you say. This is where a good circle of writing friends is vital – especially people who don’t mind when you need to ask what word you’re trying to think of by random, abstract descriptions of it. Or someone who you just need to be able to throw something at to find it if it even makes sense.
But don’t give up – the brain fog will lift, and one morning you’ll wake up ready to take on the world and everything you’ve been struggling to say will fall into place and you’ll make sense of everything that was going on during the brain fog. I promise.