Fog Brain…oops I mean brain fog

6 Jun
Brain Fog Bananagrams. Photo by Jess B.

Brain Fog Bananagrams. Photo by Jess B.

I didn’t intend this post to be about brain fog and ME / CFS but it is.

I wanted and intended to write a post in response to an article that appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine on 5th May 2013. The article was entitled “Hate Campaign” with the sub heading: “This man faced death threats and abuse. His crime? He suggested M.E. is a mental illness.” The ‘man’ the article is referring to here is Professor Simon Wessley, a British psychiatrist specializing in ME / CFS who has purportedly suffered death threats and all kinds of harassment as a result of his work in this field. (If you’re interested you can read an extract of the article on the ME Association’s website, but the full text of the article itself is behind a pay wall on the Times’ own website).

The article ran to some six pages and left me feeling bewildered, confused and angry. I struggled to read and understand the article. I read it in stages and numerous times before I felt my brain had actually understood the article’s premise. In part my own brain fog was to blame but also the article wasn’t particularly informative, fair or balanced. It was in essence a bizarre take on a tiny fringe aspect of ME/CFS.

But in trying to formulate a more detailed and informative response to this article for my post, I hit a brain fog wall. I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t seem to get it out of my head and onto the screen. My head felt foggy and clogged up, almost as if there was lots of fluff blocking where my brain is or lots of liquid sloshing around inside.

I’ve experienced bad brain fog in the past, but nothing as seemingly acute as this. Here I literally felt like I’d run up against a brain fog brick wall. It was an absolute limit. My brain felt like it was straining inside my head in trying to get what I wanted to say out.  So I’ve set aside the article and that post idea for another day down the line, when hopefully I’ll be less fogged.

100% chance of brain fog! Image credit: cafepress.com

100% chance of brain fog! Image credit: cafepress.com (via pinterest)

As I say I’ve experienced brain fog in the past, but thankfully it’s never been one of my most crippling symptoms. I often struggle to find the word I want to say. The word is there inside my head, but just out of reach, I can’t quite get it. I have plenty of ‘blonde’ and confused moments which I put down to brain fog. In a discussion about the news or some other ‘higher’ level topic, I often find it difficult to follow what the other person is saying. I’ll find that I’ve zoned out and lost the thread of the conversation. If I’m reading, especially if it’s a long or more serious article or book, I often zone out or have to reread paragraphs to actually process them. I also forget things and write copious lists to combat this. If there is more than one conversation going on in a room at once, I find it really hard to concentrate on the conversation I’m having with the others going on in the background. Ditto with the radio on in the background.  I’m sure there are more examples I could give of my brain foggyness, but right now I’m struggling to remember them…..

I find brain fog, like so many other ME/CFS symptoms is variable and has it’s own peaks of severity. And I know some of the things I’ve described (forgetfulness for example) affect non-ME/CFS sufferers too. But ME/CFS definitely makes the situation worse.

I have some tips/tools that I use to help combat brain fog:

  • I read magazines and blogs more than books as I find the articles and posts easier to understand and read. They’re more manageable because they’re shorter.
  • I also tend to read ‘lighter’ topics such as yoga, food and health.
  • I find word games such as Bananagrams help ease symptoms by distracting me in a fun and light way. Though on really bad brain fog days, the Bananagram letters scramble on the table in front of my eyes and I find I can’t quite focus on them or form them into legitimate words.
  • I tend to watch episodes of TV dramas rather than films. Self contained episodes are easier to follow than the narrative and thread of a longer film. If I do watch films I only watch them in 40 minute or so chunks at any one time to ease mental fatigue.
  • I learned to play the piano when I was kid. And since I became ill with ME/CFS, even early on in my recovery, I’ve gone back to it. I’ve found playing the piano to be soothing and something I can do on my bad brain days. I only play for 10 minutes or so at a time as it can make the myalgia in my arms worse but I really enjoy it.
  • I loved languages at school, especially French. I also learnt German and Latin. I lived in France for most of my Gap Year at 18. My French is now pretty rusty as I haven’t had much opportunity to use it since then. But with the Michel Thomas method (all audio, no writing, I get the CDs out of my local library) I’ve gone back to languages since becoming ill. I did beginners Spanish last year and now I’ve returned to French. The short (10 mins or so) chapters of talking on the programmes are short enough not to tire me out and the repetitive nature of the techniques means its relatively easy, light work for my poor brain, but keeps my brain agile at the same time. The brain is a muscle after all and needs use to keep fit!
  • I have short ‘higher’ level discussions with my Dad on topical issues and books. This is a designated and paced activity in my daily routine. In short bursts this is helping me extend my mental ability against the crippling fatigue.
  • Most of the time I find blogging soothing too, provided the topic is gentle and not too complicated.
  • And of course pacing helps too. Everything I do, including all of things I’ve talked about here, is paced into short periods of time, that I am (very very) gradually increasing.

These things tend to help me, but it does depend on the day and how bad my brain fog and mental fatigue is.

Do you suffer from brain fog and/or mental fatigue? How does it affect you? What do you do to try and ease its effects?

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19 Responses to “Fog Brain…oops I mean brain fog”

  1. The Chronic Situation June 6, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    Hi, I’ve recently discovered your blog. I’m enjoying it and am impressed by your frequency of blog posts. Very prolific!. My big problem is short term memory, so I am constantly making lists and writing things down, or I will forget them. Lists are a big thing for me.
    Also, if you’re interested, I wrote a blog post about The Sunday Times article, here..
    http://thedamnchronicsituation.blogspot.ie/2013/05/the-sunday-times-article.html

    • myjourneythrume June 6, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

      Thank you for reading and for your kind comment. I think I may push myself too much with the posting, but it’s so addictive! I’ve always been a list person, and with ME even more so. I will definitely check out your blog and the post about the article in particular. I can’t believe the article was published by the Times, so unfair. Did you see the 9 letters in response that they published the next week?

      • The Chronic Situation June 7, 2013 at 9:27 am #

        I saw some of the letters, I imagine they had thousands! The article might actually have a useful unintended consequence if it raises people’s awareness about the condition, and allows people like the ones who wrote in to get their point across. Still, it was a strange piece in The Sunday Times.

  2. Miss P June 6, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    I really struggle with brain fog. Fish oils used to really help me but unfortunately they don’t seem to be as effective for me anymore. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2236698.stm
    Evening primrose oil has also helped me in the past. Personally, I only take low doses though, not the high doses that are usually recommended for ME/CFS. =)

    • myjourneythrume June 6, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

      I take evening primrose too, also only low dose. I should have mentioned this in my post but forgot (durrr brain fog!) about it – I take enadh and that has been proven to help with mental clarity so I suspect the fact my brain fog generally isn’t as bad as it could be is in large part thanks to enadh. That’s what my specialist says anyway. Thanks for the link, that’s interesting about fish oils, I haven’t tried them.

      • The Chronic Situation June 7, 2013 at 9:29 am #

        Interesting about enadh, might think of trying that. I tried fish oils – high strength, VegEPA – for months, and found absolutely no difference. But they do help some people and are probably worth a try.

  3. fairywonderdust June 6, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    I get brain fog quite bad, its one of my worse symptoms. It seems to be aggrevated by sugar and gluten. I am learning to drive and its very clear on my lesson when I havent eaten properly. BTW I have just started my own ME blog at http://fairyaboutme.wordpress.com/ 🙂

    • myjourneythrume June 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

      I definitely think mine is aggravated by diet too, especially sugar and gluten too. I will definitely check out your blog, thanks for the link. good luck with the driving lessons, hope they’re going well 🙂

  4. desdemonad June 10, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    re-pressed it.

  5. Dawn June 11, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    At times like this, when I am in the deep stages of a flareup of symptoms, my brain fog is awful and maddening, third only to pain and fatigue as the most difficult of my symptoms with which to cope. I can relate to so much of what you wrote. We all cope in our own ways. I find it interesting how many of us blog or journal to cope. I do that myself although not yet for public consumption. I think I feel I can be more honest and find more catharsis if I don’t publish what I write, at least not yet. There might be some hurt feelings, and I don’t want that.

    Thanks for your blog. I recently discovered it, and find it a very interesting read.

    • myjourneythrume June 11, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

      Writing is so therapeutic isn’t it? Thank you for your kind comment. I find blogging has really helped me, gets stuff out of my head so to speak. And also I’ve been so reassured by all the people I’ve connected with. This illness can be so isolating so that’s really helped me. If you do decide to publish your writing, I’d love to read it. Thanks for commenting, look forward to hearing from you again soon 🙂

  6. Laina March 21, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    I also have ME/CFS. I really enjoyed this list of ways you combat brain fog. It can be so profoundly debilitating. What I particularly appreciated was that you listed some easy, distracting activities and then you listed more demanding activities that would actually challenge your brain – like playing an instrument, working with languages, and having short high level discussions. I liked the balance. Also – I liked the title. Brings a smile to my lips every time.

    I appreciated this post very much and have linked to it in my own post about combating brain fog. Here is the link if you are interested: http://lainalaughing.blogspot.com/2014/02/energy-economy-10-ways-to-combat.html . My blog is called Laina Laughing and deals with ways to cope with chronic illness in general.

    I am continuing to check out your blog over time. You have a lot of good information here.

  7. Elaine October 31, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Hello! Sorry for commenting on an old post, but I have just found your blog. I get brain fog every few weeks or so. It first started last Christmas when I had a brain fog episode so bad that I thought I had early onset alzheimer’s at the age of 27 (sometimes I still think I do have alzheimer’s. Seriously, it doesn’t help that EVERY article I read on brain fog mentions alzheimer’s. Not good for the hypochondriacs among us). I couldn’t function at all! It was so frightening! I seem to get it a week or so after periods of stress and last the weeks before Christmas were VERY stressful (struggling with a long period of unemployment and other stuff) and since then I have been struggling to cope with stress. It doesn’t help that I haven’t been looking after myself and eating crap for a whole year. WAY too much white bread and pasta. How does brain fog affects me? Well, scares me…A LOT and it is making me even more stressed, which of course makes the brain fog even worse. What I am doing about it? Well, I have decided to go on a gluten and dairy free diet and keep a food diary. I have hashitmoto’s disease (a very mild case, but still) and gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance runs in my family (my aunt has celiac disease and my sister is lactose intolerant). So I shouldn’t have either gluten or lactose. I also have booked a doctor’s appointment for Monday. I want to make sure that I don’t have a yeast infection I my gut due to my poor eating habits. This is a known cause of brain fog. I am also considering taking up yoga for the stress. I will let you know how that goes! 😀

    • myjourneythrume November 18, 2014 at 9:16 am #

      Hi Elaine! Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. I’m sorry I’ve been so slow to reply. I totally understand the fear of early alzheimer’s. I felt like I was losing my mind at times to it and it was very frightening. It’s interesting what you say about eating the wrong foods. All my symptoms, including the brain fog were so much worse when my diet slipped and I ate dairy or eggs or gluten. Did you take up yoga? I love it and can’t recommend it highly enough as an antidote to stress and also muscle pain. I started practicing for literally 5 minutes a day at the beginning and most of it involved me lying down but slowly I built it up and now I practice nearly every day for between 20 and 40 minutes. Meditation has helped me loads too. Especially yoga nidra relaxation tracks (free via podcast apps). I love it! I also take Enadh, a supplement, which my consultant advised me to take for brain fog and that really helps. If you want I can give you the details of it. Hope you are doing okay this week 🙂

      • Elaine November 20, 2014 at 3:43 am #

        That’s alright. I’m glad I am not the only one who had that fear of early alzheimer’s. I felt totally alone in that respect. I thought I was mad! O.O I’m sure it’s not that that now, though. I have no family history of alzheimer’s, early onset or otherwise. Both sides of the family did not have alzheimer’s, even at old age. Which is good. I have tried a gluten free diet for a while until my brain fog cleared up and then I tried having gluten again. I have spoken to my doctor about possible gluten intolerance and she said I should eat gluten again for a few months and then get tested. So I have tried it and I have found that eating gluten doesn’t make any difference. I am beginning to think that it is just the stress and nothing else. Which explains why the brain fog comes and goes even though my diet stays the same. I haven’t tried yoga yet, but I am trying to do a bit of meditation before bed and I am sleeping much better now. I also got a job (YAY!) which is a load off. Unfortunately the first few days were really stressful, because I am not that good at it yet. But I am getting there. 😀

      • myjourneythrume November 20, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

        I think Stress is a huge factor in this illness. I know my symptoms still fluctuate depending on what’s going on and how stressed am I. I am actually planning a post on a flare up in the summer that was purely down to the stress of selling our flat. Really pleased you’ve found a job. That must be a huge relief all round.

      • Elaine December 14, 2014 at 9:40 am #

        Sorry for the late reply. Yes, it was a HUGE relief. I was unemployed for so long that I was beginning to think I was never going to get a job. I was also beginning to doubt my ability to work, I felt totally useless! But now I know that I can work and that I am not useless! YAY!! I got brain fog again though because I was really stressed out in the first couple of weeks due to those anxieties. But it was very mild and didn’t last for very long. 😀

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  1. Fog Brain…oops I mean brain fog « The Wind Blows All Over:Depression, Borderline, CFS and Moi - June 10, 2013

    […] Fog Brain…oops I mean brain fog. […]

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