OMG! Do I have my keys?

And other embarrassing brain-fog incidents

By Liza Zoellick

One of the most troubling and annoying symptoms of both my Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia is brain-fog. I’ve talked about in a previous post but time and again, as symptoms go, brain-fog comes in at the top for winning the “most annoying,” prize.

We’ve all been there, talking to a friend, significant other, co-worker or worse, boss- and you hit a road block in the midst of a sentence. Your brain suddenly goes into hyper-overdrive, wildly reaching into the mental word bank, trying to figure out what goes in that blank space and in the meanwhile, you’re sweating, embarrassed and feel like a huge idiot. It honestly doesn’t matter the situation or who you are speaking to. Heck, sometimes you’re along, writing, like me, when you stumble into that wall hard. It’s during these times that Google, is my best friend.

It’s not always words that escape me. It’s oh, so many things, such as: “Where did I put my keys?” or “Where did I put my phone?” and “Hey, have you seen where I laid my notebook down? I just had it!” Here’s an excerpt from an actual conversation with one of my kids.

Me (frantic): “I can’t find my cell phone! I just had it.”

Kid: “Did you look in your room?”

Me: “Yes, not there!”

Kid: “Kitchen?”

Me: “Of course I checked there! It’s not there. I swear I just had..” (rolling my eyes, exasperated sigh)

Kid: “You found it mom?”

Me: “’s in my hand.” (huge mental facepalm)

Similar things have happened. My favorite one seems to be with my debit card. It’s happened so often now that my kids don’t even panic when I think I’ve lost it or misplaced it, which always seems to be while I am in the check out lane. We joke around about it at home and I’m grateful I don’t have a typical job where I’d probably lose my mind or embarrass myself 50x a day, but the truth is, it scares me. There are already so many symptoms associated with my immune disorder that are frightening on their own that I would live a perfectly happy life without brain-fog.  But that is not my life. This is my life, with brain-fog and all, which means all I can try to do is laugh, and yeah sometimes get frustrated and cry and rail against the world, “why me?” Then, I go back to laughing about it because it feels better.

Here are a few more examples of my brain-fog moments that might make you laugh or relate:

  • Forgetting doctor appointments even with an appointment card, and setting the reminder on my phone because I’ll lose the card and I’ve typed the reminder on the wrong day. I have shown up to doctor appointments on the wrong day too. That always makes me feel extra embarrassed. Sitting in the waiting room, when they call me up and discreetly whisper, “Ma’am, your appointment is not for two weeks yet.” Walk out with head hanging low and tail between my legs.
  • I tried to keep a symptom/pain journal so that I could try and keep track of any common denominators regarding flare-ups and bad pain days. I started out really well, writing everything down every day. Next thing I know it’s three weeks later and I haven’t written down a thing. Way to go, Liza! People just don’t get it either. I’ve mentioned this particular one to a few people who don’t struggle with chronic illness and I’ve actually been told: “Oh, well maybe you forgot because you were feeling good? If you were feeling badly all the time you’d remember.” Mental cursing ensues with a lot of exaggerated hand gestures. I wish it were because I was feeling so spiffy. But the truth is I just forget.
  • One of my favorites, for the hilarity of it, is word issues. Being a writer, words are rather important and while it is funny, it also seems like a particularly cruel joke to struggle with words. Sometimes I’m great and things flow beautifully. Other times I just face-plant into that proverbial wall. Example: I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out “pin-ball.” I could see it in my head, I could even see myself playing it, but I could not form the word. I ended up going to Google and typing things like: arcade game popular with kids, paddles bounce ball around. Thank you, Google, for understanding me and giving me a list of 100 Pin-ball games.

I do try and take the humorous approach to it most days. There is still the under-current of frustration, sometimes made worse by friends or family saying things like, “Oh, don’t worry about that. I forget things all the time!” Or, “It just comes with getting old. Wait until you’re my age.” I often have to swallow back some colorful comments when I hear that, simply because I know they do not understand. That if I were to tell them some of the scarier times when I’ve forgotten things, like: Coming home from the doctor and not knowing where to go or what turn to take. That it felt like someone had reached into my head and just syphoned out a portion of my memory. I recognized stores but for the life of me could not remember how to get home and it took almost ten minutes, before I got my bearings and made it back home. It makes you feel like you are losing your mind. But I won’t say that out loud. I won’t say it because I’m afraid of how it will be perceived and I’m afraid of scaring people too much. But this is the reality of brain-fog in my life.

Liza is a chronic pain warrior from Houston who has been chronicling her journey through chronic pain and illness on her blog: She is a frequent and valued contributor to the National Pain Report.

For a link to her previous columns, click here.