Brain Fog: More Than Forgetfulness
Do you know what it’s like when your brain is exhausted?
We all have been there. You stay up late to work on a project and you start hearing voices, the words start dancing on the page, and you forget if it is Monday or Tuesday. It’s all too common and that’s when we know it is time to call it quits and go to bed.
You close your eyes, get a few hours, and wake up refreshed and ready to pick up where you left off.
And, if you can do that, consider yourself lucky.
Does ankylosing spondylitis cause brain fog?
While not an actual medical condition, brain fog is a symptom of chronic arthritis conditions like ankylosing spondylitis. Without getting too technical, during an AS symptom flare, signals to and from pain receptors interfere with normal brain function. Meaning, these pain signals literally “fog” up your brain like television static.
There is also belief that when in pain, sleep is not restorative. One’s brain and body are supposed to repair themselves and put memories into long term storage overnight. The pain patient’s does not. Rest is not rejuvenating and events in short term memory are lost.
How brain fog affects us
No matter the science behind brain fog, I'm here to tell you, it totally sucks!
Brain fog is absolutely demoralizing in several ways.
I lose stuff all the time and I hate it! Something will be in my hand one moment and the next it is gone. I look around and it's nowhere to be seen. What did I do with it?! Sometimes I will find it in a box that I don’t remember opening, or hanging on a hook in a room I don’t think I went in. But, sometimes it is lost and gone forever, and I just had it!
I forget kids names at school. I call them “Red shirt kid” and “Unicorn bow girl”. These are not kids I see once in a while, they are the ones in my class. Or, I do that thing where I cycle through every name I know until I hit the right one.
I don’t always realize when I do it, but my wife will point it out. Sometimes I slur my words because I forget what I was saying mid-sentence, or the words just drag out of me. It's embarrassing sounding drunk at 10 AM.
This also happens when I am trying to walk and talk at the same time. Yeah, because of brain fog, I can’t always do that. There seems to only be enough brain cells for one activity at a time.
Brain fog causes me to forget where I am going, or where I am. Sometimes it can be chalked up to “Highway Hypnosis” where my muscle memory takes me to my old house instead of my new house. But, sometimes I will be driving down a road I’ve been on hundreds of times, I “wake up”, and I have no idea where I am. There are plenty of landmarks, yet I need to try to remember what town I'm in.
It’s a morale killer
I am not that old, I graduated with a degree from what I'm told is a very good school, I’m a teacher, and I think I would do pretty well on Jeopardy. So, when I struggle to find things, remember names, and have no idea where I am, it’s demoralizing.
I should not be struggling this way. Thoughts of dementia, Alzheimer's, and a possible stroke cross my mind. Is my brain just giving up? Are the good times at trivia nights over? Will my memory problems only get worse?
No no no! I'm too young for this!
When brain fog slows my mind down, I don’t feel reliable anymore. I don’t think people should ask me questions, expect me to do things, or hand me anything, because chances are, I will forget.
Brain fog takes its mental toll on anyone who experiences it. All we can do is take our meds, go to bed on time, try to rest, and hope for better days ahead. Let’s just hope we remember.
Other than back pain and fatigue, what is the most common symptom that AS patients experience?