Speculative fiction writer, translator, and editor

First published as a Twitter thread on May 9, 2023. Photo: Fog rolling through the evergreen hills of Olympic National Park. Photographed by S. Qiouyi Lu.

when you’ve been dealing with brain fog and fatigue for basically ever due to ADHD and suddenly everyone starts experiencing brain fog due to COVID and you’re just like… ah… welcome… here are my maps and signposts and toolkit, there are ways to navigate through fog

first rule of driving thru meteorological fog is to never use your high beams, the assumption is shining brighter will make things more visible but it backfires, the fog scatters the light worse

same with brain fog, you don’t try to work extra hard to compensate, it backfires

you just accept the fog is happening and allow yourself to proceed with caution and eventually landmarks will become visible, and you use a map to help yourself put together the landmarks instead of expecting yourself to be able to synthesize it all as usual

sometimes this means taking notes while you’re doing a task, which doesn’t mean you’re incompetent; in fact, the very act of writing improves memory, and the other person is just gonna be like “oh thank god, they really want to make sure they’re getting this right”

you can’t run from fog, you can’t clear fog by trying to push it back; I grew up in mountains with morning fog and it makes you realize fog is just a low-lying cloud, and there is nothing you can do but wait for the cloud to lift or dissipate

but good news! you can do things while you wait! all time spent beating yourself up for your brain not working could be more productively used resting or doing/thinking about something that makes you feel grounded 🙂

the mountain fog metaphor is also apt because you come to realize that your energy levels are also cyclic: some days it’s foggy the whole day, some days it’s sunny, sometimes for an entire stretch of time the fog descends in the morning, but leaves later in the day…

it’s very important to pick a few things you can use as benchmarks, for example if you’re like “wow I just… can’t math right now” that could be your cue that brain fog is happening and it’s time to take a deep breath and, contrary to your sense of urgency, slow down

remember that your brain needs oxygen! 5 seconds of taking a good, deep breath is gonna do your brain more good than 5 seconds of anxious thoughts and worrying about your brain not working right, or spinning in circles trying to remember your lost train of thought

adapt, be flexible, try new ways of doing things & see what sticks, empower yourself by making your own tools & methods that work for you to reconstruct the structure currently obscured in your brain; if something’s not working, discard it


don’t trust your memory, but DO trust that your brain is still yours! even if your working memory is busted, that doesn’t mean the knowledge and experience in your brain is gone. it means you have to trust your brain’s new distillation speed

another thing abt brain fog as someone who works customer service with it: build in a round of “quality control checks” to your tasks; get used to double-checking things to make sure you got it all. have lists/rubrics in written form so you have a tangible anchor to refer to

e.g. if a customer gives you an order with a whole bunch of things at once, don’t linger on feeling embarrassed that you might have missed something; read the order back to the customer to confirm it, and ask questions. customers will see this as due diligence, not incompetence

now, my theory is that ADHD is comorbid with OCD because the checking can become compulsive if it’s used to compensate for forgetfulness

my technique for nipping compulsive checking due to anxiety, then, is to have some kind of tangible marker that something’s done

don’t try to remember if the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty, have a magnet on the outside that indicates the status. don’t try to remember if you processed a letter, write “PAID” or “REPLIED” with the date on it. etc. etc.

accommodation techniques for me for brain fog usually boil down to, “if a stranger walked in and had to pick up this task or find something in here, could they do it with the existing signs and notes?”

bc with brain fog YOU are the one walking in to tasks like a stranger

and sometimes the best thing to do to jog your memory is to switch gears and do another task. there is truly nothing that makes you remember something you have to do or want to say than that moment when you just got comfortable and ready to do something else

I really want to emphasize this bc we have to remember COVID is a respiratory illness that diminishes your lung capacity, your brain is literally deoxygenated due to your lungs underperforming, so don’t dismiss how important a few moments of breathing is

breathing will ALWAYS be a tool available to you, and something that you can consciously control. here’s a guide on box breathing for regulating your nervous system: healthline.com/health/box-bre… focus on lowering the diaphragm, the shoulders shouldn’t lift as you breathe

remember above all else that this is a PANdemic, which means it has affected ALL of us, worldwide

so to navigate all this, you have to have compassion for yourself, and compassion for others

forgive yourself for forgetting things, for being slower than you usually are, for needing help, for all the hard emotions that come with feeling like you’ve been diminished; let yourself grieve, and don’t expect yourself to just be able to “go back to normal”

there is no such thing as “normal,” because the only constant is change; what was normal for you ten years ago isn’t going to be what’s normal for you now. show yourself the compassion of accepting your reality as it is, so you can take steps to adapt and live more easily in it

instead of getting frustrated because a service worker messed up your order yet again, or because you have to wait a long time to see a provider, or because “shouldn’t they know this already?”, consider that maybe they too are experiencing brain fog, and meet them halfway

preemptively accommodate people. instead of getting mad they fucked up your order again, next time, ask them to read it back so you can help them confirm it. maybe they’re struggling too; maybe they don’t have any idea that communication is a tool you can use to navigate fog

you don’t drive 80 miles per hour through the fog because by the time you can see a hazard, it’s too late. you have to proceed slowly, cautiously, with a strong awareness of possible hazards and how to avoid them

you have to be patient with yourself, purely as a matter of personal safety. and that’s how you’ll get places

also—there are degrees of brain fog, I have had extremely severe brain fog from a combination of bipolar disorder, ADHD, and burnout that led to me staying in bed all day unable to do anything, but these days the fog is a lot lighter. it’s treatable and not always permanent!

what you have to remember is that there’s no *cure*, because it’s not a thing that CAN be cured, it’s a manifestation of a deeper problem. so you have to have coping techniques and frameworks to deal with problems as close to the source as possible

everyone heals at different speeds and the goal is to create an environment and coping mechanisms for yourself that foster healing, which we all can do in our own ways, with little gradual steps and changes that are within our capacities and don’t overtax us

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