alt=a woman tries to concentrate through brain fog

When the Brain Fog Rolls In

It’s not something I like to talk about but, like many people with rheumatoid arthritis, I get brain fog. These are days when I feel like my thinking is impaired and I just want to roll up into a ball and go to sleep. Unfortunately, life doesn’t go on pause even though my brain may be out to lunch!

I feel fortunate that usually - not always - I have a sense of when I’m experiencing brain fog. Being aware of it can be helpful because it puts me on guard. When I know I’m having a brain fog day, I tell myself to:

  • Minimize activities where there is concentrated thinking required
  • Don’t make any big decisions
  • Take things slowly to minimize silly mistakes

Additionally, telling my spouse that I’m having a brain fog day helps. I ask him to look out for me and to take special care that I don’t do anything I would later regret.

Hesitant to tell people about my RA brain fog

On the flip side, I’m usually hesitant to tell people about my brain fog unless I trust them to understand and have already discussed this experience with them.

First, I think most people don’t have a clue what brain fog is unless they have it explained to them (if even then). Second, it takes a lot of trust to tell people, "Hey, my thinking is impaired today so go easy on me." I just don’t feel comfortable sharing that much and worry about the future impact of the relationship.

For me, brain fog can manifest in a variety of ways.

Having difficulty remembering

This is like the recall button on my brain is broken or stuck. When I feel this way, I forget even essential things (like appointments) or can’t remember things I would usually easily remember.

Thankfully, I’m good at organization, so keeping a calendar and to-do list helps me to manage this issue when it occurs.

Feeling sluggish and slow in my thinking

When I feel this way, it’s like having pea soup in my mind. I can get there, but it will take me a while to do so. The thinking will happen, just in its own time.

On these days, I try to give myself more processing time as the thinking will inevitably get there, it will just take a bit longer than usual. I space things out more and just practice some patience to let my brain catch up.

Not being able to concentrate

This is a tough one because it makes it really hard to do anything when I cannot focus my mind. On these days, I take things really slowly or may even just rest for the day until my brain recovers. Sometimes, starting with little focus activities and then moving on will jump-start things for me.

Running out of energy quickly while thinking

Of course, I think brain fog is definitely tied to fatigue. Often, I will have both together. So, when my brain is working hard to get through the fog, I often find the fatigue will grow from the exhaustion of the effort.

This is another time when I may have to take things slowly and limit my expectations for the day. I just may not be able to get as much accomplished as I would like.

Trouble with critical thinking tasks

On the worst brain fog days, I just have to give my brain a break. No math calculations or weighing big decisions or intensive writing or editing. My body and brain are telling me, "It’s a no-go, lady. Give us a dang break!" So, I have to respect my limits and may have to postpone some deep thinking a day or two.

Sometimes when the brain fog rolls in, all I can do is wait to let it pass. There are ways of organizing myself that help but, sometimes, I have to surrender when the RA is in charge of my brain.

How do these descriptions of brain fog compare to other people’s experiences and what else would they add? Any other thoughts on how to manage the dreaded brain fog?

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