Brain fog is a symptom that plagues lots of brain injury survivors. No matter how sharp and quick-witted you were before your brain injury, brain fog can still have a dramatic effect on you. Fortunately, for most people, it can lift to give some respite from time to time. However, the saying, “you only miss it when it’s gone”, comes true when your mental agility is hampered. The sheer frustration of not being able to think properly is like torture.
It’s not a medical term, but it’s a widely used description of what it’s like when you are experiencing cognitive difficulties. Struggling to remember where you parked the car, can’t concentrate enough to read a book, overwhelming fatigue where you feel like you could sleep for a week, slowed processing, so conversations are impossible to follow – all brain fog symptoms, but also things that brain injury survivors can experience at any time.
If you Google brain fog, you’ll see there are a number of well-known conditions which can be the cause: Thyroid issues, ADHD, depression etc. But brain injury is quite a way down the list, despite it being one of the most common complaints among survivors.
Social media is full the people issuing advice that you didn’t ask for
I post a lot on Twitter in my attempt to raise awareness and understanding of what it’s really like to live with a brain injury, and overall, it’s well-received. But one day I got a response to a post I wrote about brain fog which took me aback. A “health coach” told me that it was my body’s way of telling me that my diet was not good enough and listed some changes I should make. The individual misunderstood the purpose behind my blog as I was trying to explain why sometimes I’m less “on it” than others.
Don’t get me wrong, diet can influence brain fog in survivors, and some changes may ease it for you. But when you have a physical, organic injury, being made to feel that it’s your own fault that you are experiencing difficulties is not helpful. I don’t see people making comments such as these when they see someone with their leg in a cast. The pain they feel in their leg is it trying to say there is a problem (yep that’ll be because the bone is broken), but that doesn’t prompt people to tell the individual to drink more milk so the calcium can help heal the bone. Yet when it comes it the most complicated organ, the brain, everyone has an opinion.
Empathy is helpful, but don’t assume what helps you with brain fog will solve it for a brain injury survivor
Before my accident, I’d had moments when my brain didn’t want to play ball with me; I think everybody has gone through that. I usually would try to solve it with a brisk walk in fresh air or a strong cup of coffee. But believe me, it’s not that easy when your brain has a physical injury. Take the person in the leg cast again: usually, if I have a pain in my leg, I do some stretches and gentle exercise to help ease it. Whilst that is still important for someone with a broken leg, it’s not going to change that fact that the bone is broken.
Instead, try asking the person what they need. Perhaps a drink of water or a nap will help, but let them tell you what they need. It could be that there is too much sensory stimulation going on for them, and they need to be somewhere quieter. Or the lighting that seems fine to you is making their eyes ache.
Knowing that the answer is in there but not being able to put your figure on it is distressing. Everyone has forgotten what “the thingy” is called, and been annoyed at not being able to think of it whilst realising that they’re not stupid. Well, that’s a daily occurrence for me. I’m no less intelligent than I was before, but I’m sure I don’t come across as so sharp anymore. Between the long pauses and using a smaller vocabulary, I’m sure I don’t give people the best first impression. And believing that can make me feel that I’m on the back foot with people.
But if that person shows me non-judgemental compassion, I can bounce back
A warm smile and patience are often all I need. It lowers my stress and helps me get back into my comfort zone. I still might not be at my best, but I can improve as I relax. So, people can help a survivor through their battle with brain fog, just don’t be tempted to start dishing out unwarranted advice. Your kindness and treating us as the person we are, worthy of your composure, you can help us collect ourselves.
Nothing in this blog should be taken as providing medical advice or recommendations. Please always consult your doctor for medical advice and before taking any medication or supplement. Any opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not CFG Law Limited.