The Heavy Toll of Brain Fog

I was recently sent an article on brain fog from The Atlantic. I tried to skim, but was sucked into the details. I felt like an obsessive-compulsive personality meticulously picking open an old wound–it was one of those situations where you’re staring at a horrific train wreck, but can’t bring yourself to look away.

For seven years I was plagued with what my neurologist labeled mild cognitive impairment. I forgot my parents’ and best friends’ birthdays. I couldn’t recall the instructions my boss had given me five minutes earlier. I constantly misplaced my things and leaving behind a purse, a phone, or a cart full of groceries. I frequently made up words when I couldn’t find the ones I was looking for. As a lifelong thinker and writer, it was excruciating to continually feel lost and confused.

Last year, an AI program quantified the size of various brain regions and spat out a new diagnosis: Alzheimer’s disease, type 3. Based on the objective measures, my 32-year-old brain was assigned a biological age of 73. And, suddenly, a lot of things made sense.

The Atlantic article dives into profiles of several individuals affected by COVID long haul syndrome. While I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid that particular infection, a cocktail of of fungal, bacterial, and viral infections in 2015 had led to similar results and, ultimately, a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The profiles were painful to read because I understand what it feels like to lose friends and family, career progression, physical fitness, and personal aspirations due to an invisible illness and continual gaslighting by disbelieving medical professionals. Even with all of the visibility around long haul COVID, it seems that hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and unable to find help. My heart goes out to every one of them.

Earlier this year, British researchers analyzed MRI scans from the UK Biobank study, which compares brains scans pre- and post-COVID infection. The found the even mild infections can shrink the brain and reduce the thickness of the neuron-rich gray matter. At their worst, these changes were comparable to a decade of aging. These abnormalities were especially pronounced in areas such as the parahippocampal gyrus, which is important for encoding and retrieving memories, and the orbitofrontal cortex, which is important for executive function. They were still apparent in people who hadn’t been hospitalized. And they were accompanied by cognitive problems.

While my NeuroQuant results don’t match the those of the British study, I believe it does evidence that any level of inflammation or atrophy in the brain can manifest as cognitive difficulties.

The blue highlighting signals significant brain swelling, whereas the red signals significant atrophy.

Today, I have just enough focus and recall to bumble confidently through my life and I refuse to take off the rose-colored glasses. I have been largely able to recover. But it has cost us a fortune, literally and figuratively. On top of losing years of career progression and nearly all friendships, my body now requires I adhere to a very strict diet and sleep at least nine hours per night. One-third of my income goes to medical expenses, including multiple medications and supplements that are not covered by insurance. And this doesn’t include periodic financial help from my parents, grandparents, and in-laws. I’ve tested, trimmed, and refined my medical “stack” and this is my cost to achieve basic functionality.

I wish I could help those suffering from the crushing brain fog and debilitating cognitive impairment. What advice can I impart? Do your own research–learn to read medical abstracts on PubMed. You know yourself better than your doctor can–trust yourself. It’s not depression, it’s not anxiety, and you’re not a hypochondriac; your symptoms are real, even if not quantifiable. Request a NeuroQuant MRI. Look into mitochondrial dysfunction. Try an anti-inflammatory diet and see if that improves your symptoms. I’m sure there are nuanced differences from case to case, but there are surely also many similarities we can learn from. The body is resilient and inherently strives for a state of ease. However, we must provide it the tools and resources to achieve such a steady state–rest, micronutrients, and a environment devoid of neurotoxins.

Chronic fatigue and cognitive impairment are a nightmare but believe that, if you’re patient and persistent, it’s possible to eventually wake back up. I’m perhaps still in the lucid dream state, gradually easing out of the painful nightmare, but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope. For me, and for all those suffering.

11 thoughts on “The Heavy Toll of Brain Fog

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  1. It sounds like our paths have been similar in some ways. No symptoms are fun, but to
    go from a semi-intelligent, functioning member of society, to someone who can’t form a coherent thought is very difficult. I’m sorry to hear of what you’ve gone through, but am glad you’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel! Thank you for sharing your journey and providing hope for others who may be dealing with this! Hoping for a full wake-up for you soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear you’ve dealt with similar challenges, and I hope that you are in a good place now or on the path to recovery. My experience was very difficult and, in retrospect, I definitely went through the five stages of grief–denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, before finding acceptance.

      I believe things happen for a reason, though. At that time, I was a Type A super-overachiever; I was working 70+ hours a week between my job and two side gigs, working out 6 days a week and participating in fitness competitions, cooking two meals a day from scratch, involved in multiples clubs and volunteer organizations, and socializing with friends a few times per week. I was extremely healthy, but it was too much of a good thing. I think learning to slow down and *really* listen to my body has been an invaluable lesson for me. Thank you for your kind words and support! 💗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow! I tend to be driven and over-extend myself, but that’s REALLY being driven. 😥Unfortunately, our bodies do have a way of getting our attention, but the fact you listened (and continue to do so) is amazing.

        I may share my story at some point as well, but the road I took was long and windy, and I’m still trying to figure all that out. Whether or not to share, the best way of doing so, etc. One thing’s for sure though. We’re all responsible for our own health, just as you pointed out in your post. I love that while you had to work through the (very real and painful) stages of grief, you did so. Now, through your transparency, you’re making a difference by helping others in similar situations.

        I applaud you for that, and for the hope you’re bringing to others. 🤍

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounds awful. I have nothing to offer, in that all my beliefs will come off as hoodoo to anyone with science under their belt. I do believe there is, however, a great deal Will has to do with things. To say nothing of good care taken of the body, I do think self-belief has a lot to do with it. We’re taught from cradle to grave that we’re products of our environments, and psychologically that underpins and undercurrents everything else. My own cognitive difficulties come from overactive sensorial glands. Called it “sensory integration ” when a kid, their solution was to drug me and scrape me with a cheesecloth. It did nothing except kindle a loathing of cheesecloth. And drugs. And Mouth breathers. And repetitive sounds which given time will make my brain ‘reset’ and cause me to have to regather my thoughts. Other than that, fit as a fiddle. I’m glad you tout not trusting doctors overmuch, too much trust in anyone leads to pain I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m as open to hearing hoodoo theories as anything else. I’ve experienced enough in life to know that there is more at play in this life than just science. I also think our beliefs and will are major factors in our reality. I used to be one of those annoyingly confident, happy-go-lucky types, so I often wonder if there was some deeper belief or desire that drove my body into a state of dis-ease. I agree 100% that too much trust in anyone leads to pain. Tempering one’s expectations is an underrated skill.

      Ah, fascinating about the sensory integration. I had a similar diagnosis as a child… something they called “tactile sensory disorder”. Fortunately, I got away with just wearing my socks inside out, avoiding mushy foods, and complaining about the TV always being too loud. I guess at some point I must have outgrown that, or perhaps it’s a static buzz in the background that I’ve just learned to live with.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nevertheless, I’m sorry to hear it has been a rough patch. Hopefully as you plod along you can find more sustainable ways of mitigating your pains. And that in the coming generations enough of us realise it will never stop until we form bonds and throw off the yokes as peoples and not ineffective lone wolves. (Not to diss the wolf, its better than nothing, just not good enough. )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankfully, I’ve found a good rhythm for myself–lots of sleep, refined nutrition, mild exercise, low stress, and healthy relationships. My grandparents lived on the same street as their parents and siblings in the 60-70s, so my father grew up surrounded by extended family. I would love to see a return to such a multi-generational community, whether family or otherwise. The superficial bonds don’t stand the test of time and, ultimately, cause more heartache than good. Hopefully people wake up to that fact.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good. I hope you’re able to. Multigenerational living is not easy. But neither is naked globalist consumerism, only one has compound interest that you can claim, while the other gives Shylock more than his quotia of flesh.

        I glean the economic resets will force a return to compound Nationalism. But without actively embracing and inviting it, as you are, it will be ruinous for most. As we have seen with the cruel jokes about Boomerang Children and the subsequent hatred of Boomers, which becomes an unproductive trap which the enemy of all self-determination quite handily manipulates.

        One must be an active participant in life. Who choose to live generationally will surely benefit, who have it thrust on the them without ownership will create a legacy of curses

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  4. Thank you for sharing. Like Kendra’s comment…wishing you nothing but continued good progress. I think your encouragement to others to push forward, read the medical journals and advocate for oneself is heartfelt advice and wisdom because you lived it/are living it. No one knows you BETTER than you. Sending hugs! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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