Pandemic brain fog: a real thing

Limbic system

brain fogPreparing the agenda for one of the endless ZOOM meetings I have, someone (no, not me) accidentally inserted an intro from some months earlier, then sent it out in a mass email. I wrote back, “I am confounded.” They said, “pandemic brain.”

Is that a thing? I’m not talking about the fog that people who’ve had COVID sometimes experience. I am thinking of the rest of us. Apparently, it is. From UC Health: Struggling with brain fog? You’re not alone.

“Months of an upside-down routine – or in some cases, lack of a routine altogether – have left our brains in the lurch. ‘People may start forgetting things, wondering, ‘What was I going to do today? I don’t even know.’”

Being Patient notes: “Dr. Majid Fotuhi, a Harvard and John Hopkins trained neurologist and neuroscientist, describes brain fog as an all-inclusive term that encompasses the inability to concentrate, increased absent-mindedness, difficulty recalling or retaining information, fatigue, insomnia, and changes in mood. There is no test or measurement to access brain fog, nor is it considered an official medical diagnosis.”

My mind is already full

As early as June 2020, Penn Medicine reported: “Part of the brain called the limbic system is hyperactive during times of negative emotions and stress, explained Lily Brown, PhD… director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety.

“The limbic system acts as a control center for feelings and reactions. For example, the well-known fight or flight response begins in the limbic system, triggering feelings of anxiety and fear.

“Having trouble thinking, planning, and getting things done recently?… In many cases, when emotions become overblown, parts of the brain in charge of executive function tend to not communicate as well with the emotional parts of the brain — the limbic system is overriding the executive functioning circuit. Brown shared that this can cause people to have trouble focusing or controlling impulses.” Yup.

She recommends some “mindfulness” activities, which you may find useful. What’s helpful to me is the fact that I’m not crazy. Or probably not. I talk to myself a LOT. I don’t go out every day, only to the pharmacy, grocery store or to pick up takeout food. So I say, “My wallet is downstairs,” sometimes aloud, so I don’t forget it. “My keys are in the mail drawer, or maybe in the pants I wore yesterday.”

Checklist

Still, the things I used to do easily are trickier. The last time I went to the grocery, I remembered the bags (doesn’t always happen), the masks (ditto), the wallet, and the keys. And I picked up all of the items on the list.

I remembered to give the cashier the discount card, then I packed up my cart. But I forgot to pick up my credit card. The customer behind me ran to give it to me, which I, in equal measure, appreciated and was mortified.

It’s always stuff like that. I’m PROBABLY not suffering from dementia. Fog brain. I mean brain fog. Yeah, that.

Too soon, Boston Globe, too soon

1861, 1919, 1932, 1968, 2020

too soon

The Boston Globe has attempted to make us feel better about 2020. “The news that the president himself had contracted the coronavirus, just days after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg triggered a high-stakes Supreme Court battle in the middle of a global pandemic that has upended nearly every aspect of modern life…

“‘Is this the most deranged year ever to occur in American history because it certainly feels that way?’ The story was published on October 6. Too soon. There were 12 full weeks of crazy to come, including a sure-to-be-contentious election that won’t be settled on November 4, and maybe not by November 10.

For instance, one of the other contenders is 1861, “the year that the country fractured into the bloody Civil War… The beginning of the war was partly the result of the tumultuous 1860 election… It is encouraging that this year the United States has not plunged into literal war with itself — yet.” Give it time. External war, while still going on, seems less in the forefront than the potential for domestic disturbances.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” The Second Coming by poet William Butler Yeats, 1919 

In 1919, “the country had just emerged from a gruesome global war, and a deadly flu pandemic was killing millions of people around the world. President Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke and became incapacitated…” 2020 pandemic: check.

“In the same year, white citizens led a series of racial pogroms that decimated Black communities, partly in response to Black soldiers’ demands for equality after fighting for American democracy abroad.” A different version of racial strife is taking place this year.

The Great Depression

By 1932, “the Great Depression had reached its peak, with about a quarter of Americans out of work and virtually no federal aid. Families were losing their homes and desperate for food. It was an election year, with Franklin D. Roosevelt running against Herbert Hoover.

“There was also climate disaster happening… In the Dust Bowl, severe drought caused farmlands to literally blow away, killing people and crops and leading to massive migrations.” We have in 2020 record wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the Southeast.

“Against that backdrop, extremism was on the rise worldwide. The Nazi Party became the strongest party in the German government in July elections.” Extremism around the world – we have that in 2020.

And of course, 1968, which featured the Vietnam War raging, including grave atrocities. Student protests erupted across the country. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy dashed the sense of hope.

Here’s the real question

So does this mean that if we get a really sucky year every once in a while we’ll be inoculated for a while? History is mixed. Another year of civil war in 1862. Statistical somewhat less violence against black people plus Women’s suffrage in 1920.

The New Deal started in 1933 under FDR, even as the markers for World War II began to build. And I remember 1969 as nearly as contentious as 1968, with Nixon in the White House rather than LBJ, but we went to the moon.

Tell me that 2021 will be better. Lie if necessary. Oh, and you still have until the end of the month to complete the decennial Census. So do the damn  Census. And vote, FCOL. I’m thinking in-person but early, the week before November 3. 2020 may suck, but I’m trying my best…