I would expect, that even if you aren’t a part of the niche, tight-knit community of CF-related diabetics like me*, you will have experienced brain fog at some point in your professional career. Or cognitive dysfunction, to give it its scientific name.
Maybe it was a critical moment, in a big meeting as you pitched the incredible, life-changing, oh-no-you-just-forgot-what-it-is, to a potential client or investor. Perhaps it was in the middle of an interview for a coveted job.
Or a more mundane, everyday kind of situation. When you forgot something mid-sentence on a phonecall, or forgot your password, fingers hovering over the keys as you tried to remember which dead pet name now makes up part of your obscure login.
We’ve all had it, often at the worst moments and it can be phenomenally irritating. It is also perhaps, a leveller, that makes even the most high-powered businessperson simply human for a moment.
According to Google, people search for all kinds of queries related to brain fog. We want to know what causes it, what it feels like, what foods make it worse (gluten, apparently), what kind of doctor can ‘treat’ it (now that is one kind of doctor I’d love to see), how long it lasts and more.
But is there anything good about brain fog? Perhaps so.
I am particularly intrigued by the phenomenon and that is because I experience a certain, specialist type of brain fog. You might know it as diabetic hypoglycemia, or to give it its common name ‘a hypo’.
A hypo is a little different for everyone with diabetes, but let me tell you how it feels for me: the area around my mouth starts to feel a little numb, my lips tingle. I become very aware that I am trying to remember what it normally feels like in my head. I know something has changed. It goes quiet outside as I concentrate on working out what is happening. I always come to the same conclusion; as if by magic, some little stealth pixie must have stepped into my head and replaced my brain with styrofoam. I start to sweat a little, and then the penny drops. A hypo has hit.
At different times depending on how severe the hypo was, I’ve forgotten what I was saying, or doing, and on one or two occasions I’ve forgotten how to spell my name.
I don’t want to trivialise hypoglycemia as it can lead to life-threatening situations when not controlled. But having developed diabetes aged 21 I can remember life before hypos very clearly. And in pursuit of a silver lining in everything; I can say that the aftermath of a hypo can make me feel more alive.
That sudden absence of everything in my head and the instant switch into survival mode a hypo brings is extraordinary. Life becomes very simple and two dimensional. It gives me such an extreme respect for my brain and my body.
When the hypo is over I feel so grateful to have made it through. That absence of feeling is a reminder of how much is there when my body returns to normal.
In much the same way that brain fog is often just a side-effect of the human body going about its complex, messy, incredible business.
So cheers to that.
*A not well known, but common complication of Cystic Fibrosis in adults is CF-related diabetes. This is a bit of hybrid beast that is neither type 1 or 2, but bears more resemblance to type 1 and is usually treated with insulin.