Cassie: Welcome to “The Real Life Show: Living with a Chronic Illness.” We are your hosts, Cassie and Chelsea. I’m Cassie, a single mom living with a chronic illness, who is extremely passionate about living a full and happy life.
Chelsea: And I’m Chelsea, a mindset coach that has a passion for helping people learn to put themselves first and be the best version of themselves each and every day.
Cassie: We came together to create Spoonies Unite, an uplifting community that offers resources, guidance, and support so you can live your best life while giving you the space to be yourself, be heard, and feel understood. We hope that by providing education from experts, we help spoonies and their loved ones thrive.
Chelsea: This show is not only for those who live with a chronic illness, but their friends, family, spouses, and just anyone else existing on the Earth. Our goal is to normalizing having a chronic illness by sharing the real stories with real people and show the world how relatable those everyday struggles can be. There’s a little something in here for everyone.
Cassie: And of course, thank you to our patrons for your continued support making this possible. If you love our show and want to get some extra goodies, go to patreon.com/therealspooniesunite. Enjoy the show.
Chelsea: Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode of “The Real Life Show: Living with a Chronic Illness.” Today, Cassie and I are talking all about brain fog. So, for those of you that are unfamiliar with what brain fog is, the internet describes brain fog as being the inability to have a sharp memory or a lack of sharp focus. You really just feel like you’re not yourself and you’re unable to think clearly. You often feel tired, hazy, like you’re sleepwalking through life and you have issues with logic, feeling confused, focusing, and then working effectively. So, that’s a basic definition of what brain fog is. You may or may not have experienced this, or maybe you’ve experienced parts of it, but just know that there’s lots of reasons why this could happen and it’s completely normal.
Cassie: Some common causes of brain fog include vitamin deficiency. Specifically, B vitamins like B9, B12, for example, help to keep your brain healthy. So, if your levels of these essential nutrients are too low, you might experience cognitive problems. Vitamin D deficiency is another one of those that is a common thing that chronically ill people have is a vitamin D deficiency, and that can really make you experience a lot of brain fog, and tiredness, and fatigue. Food sensitivities are another one. They can totally cause brain fog hours or days after you eat those foods. People have reported that the fog lifts after eliminating certain foods from their diet. So, for example, sugar, wheat, gluten, dairy, if you are sensitive to any of those things, or even nightshades, vegetables like eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes. If you find that you eat those and you feel sluggish maybe that afternoon or the next day, they could be contributing to your brain fog, too.
Thyroid disorders are a big one. If your thyroid gland isn’t making enough hormones, a condition called hypothyroidism, which is your underactive thyroid, can develop, and which also is 10 times more common in women than men. And your thyroid has very much to do with all of your hormones. And we all know that when your hormones are out of whack, you feel out of whack. Blood pressure changes can also be another one. Abnormal blood pressure is sometimes responsible for brain fog. The blood supplies oxygen to your brain. So, if you’re not getting adequate blood flow naturally, your mental function is going to be reduced. Mental health conditions, if you notice a lack of mental clarity, mental health conditions like anxiety or depression could be the culprit, or there is the possibility that it could be untreated. ADHD can sometimes be to blame for a brain fog. And again, you’ll want to talk to medical professionals about any of these concerns.
Medication side effects 100% can contribute to brain fog. I definitely have experienced a lot of that. There’s some pretty hardcore drugs out there. And for those of us who are chronically ill and sometimes on and off the medication train, that can 100% affect your brain fog. Heavy metal exposure is another potential cause of brain fog. In some cases, brain fog can be a sign of exposure to toxic heavy metals such as mercury or arsenic, which can trigger confusion, fatigue, or memory loss, depending on your work environment. It may be beneficial to check these levels. Or your house, depending where you live, in the country. There’s a lot of different types you can do even through your naturopath to check for toxic mold, and heavy metals, et cetera.
Health conditions related to brain fog can be depression and anxiety, which we discussed earlier. Stress is a huge one. When you’re stressed and everything is just operating out of whack because you’re not at your top, you’re maybe not sleeping as well, you’re not taking as good care of yourself, when you’re stressed out, you’ve got so many things on your mind, make you feel fatigued and fuzzy.
Anemia is a big one. If you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells, a condition known as anemia may leave you feeling fatigued or depressed. Anemia is often triggered by deficiencies in vitamin B12 or B9, and of course, iron deficiency. Iron deficient anemia can definitely cause fatigue and other symptoms in brain fog. I have noticed that, especially with Crohn’s disease, getting iron-deficient makes me really foggy-minded. And there’s a lot of supplements you can do out there. There’s actually a drink I would recommend called Floradix. You can get it at Whole Foods or Natural Grocers. It’s nice on the stomach and it is full of B vitamins and iron, and it definitely gives me a little lift up when I’m feeling iron deficient, especially during my period, by the way, people, when you’re freaking bleeding to death.
Okay. Fibromyalgia can be another health condition that’s related to brain fog. Fibromyalgia is linked to chronic pain, sleep problems, and mood, and memory issues. Additionally, chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS, is a complex disorder that causes severe ongoing fatigue. It may be linked to infections, immune system problems, hormonal imbalances. And the exhaustion caused by CFS can also impair memory and concentration. So, there is no specialized test for CFS, but bloodwork may help you get an accurate diagnosis.
Dementia of course could be an issue to do with brain fog. Most cases of brain fog are not linked to dementia, but if you’re over 65, report any confusion or disorientation to your healthcare provider right away for sure.
And then, lastly, one of the other health conditions related to brain fog would be a sleep disorder. Even if you log your eight hours of sleep each night, poor sleep quality can still leave you exhausted and unable to focus. So, if you have interrupted sleep, if you wake up often, if you’re extremely light sleeper, if you have trouble sleeping, this can definitely make you just foggy-minded throughout the day. And we did a lot of research across the internet to, the wonderful internet, to get all of this information for you. And some of our favorite resources were on everlywell.com. So, some of the best ways that you can help brain fog are better quality sleep, exercise, eating a healthy diet, ensuring you’re taking the right vitamins and minerals to support your body, check the side effects of your medications, that can be huge, discuss with your doctor if brain fog is a symptom of your disease or something that should be addressed further if you’re really struggling.
And so, all of us, chronically ill people, I’m sure have experienced brain fog at some point in our lives or every day like morning to night. I know that I have some days that I’m better than others. But Chelsea and I really wanted to discuss this and make a whole episode about it because one thing we noticed was even when we’re doing our recording of these episodes, the brain will not fire correctly and we’ll both be sitting there and not saying the things that we were wanting to say, or even simply reading through our notes, it’s like, “What did I write? What am I trying to say?” And so, one day we were like, “We need to make an episode about this.” And Chelsea even typed up brain fod, F-O-D, as what we needed to be talking about.
Chelsea: Which I thought was incredibly ironic and funny.
Cassie: Yeah. It was super funny. So, the struggle is real. And so, that shows that even those of us who don’t have a chronic illness still have issues with brain fog or brain fod. So, Chelsea, tell us about how you experienced brain fog on perhaps a daily or weekly basis, how you’ve noticed things that increase it, and maybe ways that you’ve been able to help your brain fog.
Chelsea: Well, like Cassie said, everyone is susceptible to your brain, not firing in all cylinders. One of my favorite sayings is being on the struggle bus because I just think it’s a funny way of explaining that experience. So, for me, when I have brain fog, I mean, just like we were saying at the beginning is it feels hard to think straight, it’s just hard to concentrate, everything feels like it’s moving a little bit slower. And for me, I feel those symptoms the most often if I haven’t gotten good sleep, or if I may be overindulged in some adult beverages the night before. And not to the point where I’m like, “Oh, it’s because I’m hungover.” It’s just like, “I’m a very proud lightweight. And so, if I have more than one drink, I am not necessarily hungover the next day, but I can feel like my brain is not moving as fast as it could.”
It’s not necessarily exactly brain fog, but when I also get really, really stressed out, it’s hard to focus and think clearly because my thoughts are moving so quickly, like it’s almost like the opposite of brain fog that everything’s moving so fast that I just can’t even think straight. And I feel like when I am in that state for a long time and I’m not able to get out of it, then the end result, because I’m so exhausted, does feel very similar to brain fog then. I for a really long time would beat myself up mentally because about every day between like one and three o’clock, I would just get really tired, really fatigued. I remember when I would be in grad school and I would sit at my desk at work. Just sitting there and being like, “I have no fucking idea how I’m going to get through the rest of today. It’s only the early afternoon. How am I going to make it through? I’m just feeling really, really tired.” And I always attribute it to being like, “Well, maybe I’m just not eating something that’s good for me. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe I’m not getting enough exercise,” which may or may not have been true.
Another thing just to keep in mind if brain fog is something you’re struggling with particularly at certain times of the day is just knowing that you are going to have a pretty natural ebb and flow of your alertness within your body. Now, if you are struggling with a chronic illness, getting a chronic illness under control, there may be some factors with your health that are affecting this ebb and flow, but just know that it’s pretty natural to have moments where you feel more alert and moments when you feel less alert. And I learned about this mostly from this book “The Power of When.” But basically, I think the author is Dr. Michael Brewer? I really hope that I said that right and I’m naming the right person. But within that book, he talked about like the circadian rhythms are ebb and flow of our hormones within our body and has these different calls and chronotypes of types of energy during the day. And for me, I found out that it’s actually completely normal for someone that likes to be better on the time that I do and wake up around the time that I do that this early afternoon time is going to be a dip in energy.
And so, I loved hearing that because it basically told me that I had a biological, physiological reason for why I had more brain fog like symptoms at that time of day. And I mean, it was true normally if I could have worked through that part of my day and I would start to feel more energetic afterwards, and be able to think a little bit clearer afterwards. And so, you may notice that maybe there’s certain times of day that you’re feeling that a little bit more, and just know that that’s probably really, really normal. Now, if you’re feeling like major extremes of that, again that’s probably something you want to talk to your doctor about because a lot of the complicated stuff going on inside your body with chronic illnesses can very, very heavily impact these hormones that help you feel a little bit alert or a little bit more sleepy.
So, that’s my experience with brain fog. It’s something that I know. I feel like everyone can relate to this on some level. I know that sometimes when we’re recording these episodes, as Cassie mentioned, that we’re both kind of like, “Words, words, get out of my mouth.” And I feel like I’m pretty fortunate that I have probably a pretty mild to moderate level of brain fog at any point in time. So, I really feel for those individuals that are experiencing on a much higher level because that’s got to be very, very challenging just to get through your day. So, take care of yourselves.
Cassie: Absolutely. I’m so glad that you mentioned the natural course of things of like when you wake up in the day, when you go to bed at night, and that you may have this natural dip in energy at some point throughout the day because of that, because of just your routine, and that gives you a break. And you do have to just give yourself a break sometimes. If you know that three, four o’clock is a rough time for you, your brain’s not working very well, maybe don’t schedule a meeting at that time if you have that option. You can do little things like that to try and help you notice that, “Oh, I feel my best from eight to noon.” Well, then try to get as much of your quality work done at that point. Just there’s ways that you can pay attention to if there are times that you feel better versus other times. And by better, I mean like more focused or having the ability to focus.
I’ve noticed that within that first hour of when I wake up in the morning, I really need to not really talk to anybody because I’m trying to get my brain in gear. I need some coffee. I need some quiet time. I need to get my brain going. And then, after that hour, I am like on, and I usually feel pretty good, pretty alert, pretty energized anywhere between like two to five hours, and then I do need to chill and maybe lay in bed for a bit, read, watch a show, just shut off for a little while, and then hopefully, that’s enough for me to be able to function in the evening. But again, I don’t like to schedule calls, or recording, or anything like that in the evening. I have to teach one to two evenings a week, and I really have to motivate myself to teach in the evenings. It’s very hard for me. So, naturally, I’ve noticed that morning to midday is when I feel the best. And sometimes I get some weird surge at night, but I’m usually–
Chelsea: Me, too.
Chelsea: It’s 10 or 11 o’clock, but I’m still doing stuff, my brain is like, “Yeah, let’s do this.” I’m like, “But I want to go to bed.”
Cassie: Yeah, exactly. And I may not be as focused at that time, but some part of me on some level is operable. But then in the morning, I won’t remember what I read, what I wrote, what I did during that energized time. So, I try not to do anything of importance late at night, but if I’m feeling a bit creative, then I’ll play around. So, trying to design things in a way as best as you can around those times that you do feel more alert. But I will definitely say that for those of us who experience chronic pain on a regular basis, that really affects brain fog. That wasn’t talked about with the research that we did, but I would like to add in chronic pain to that list of causes because when you are fighting that every day, all day sometimes or all night, it is really hard to be focused the next day. Or if you’ve been in pain throughout the night and you haven’t slept very well, then the next morning, you’re not going to feel alert, you’re not going to feel good. Or if you’ve been having a really rough day with your pain throughout the morning, then whatever tasks you may have lined up in the afternoon, you have to might just say no.
I would encourage you to give yourself a break, too. When you’re in those high-paying times and you know that that’s going to take a toll on you mentally and emotionally, that should have been discussed in there, I think. Again, I said the medication side effects can be a big one. When I was on my Remicade infusions, I had no brain for a week to 10 days after my Remicade infusions. I could hardly focus at all. Even the first day or two or three after my Remicade infusions, driving was a task. And so, Remicade affected me in a really deep, big way. Stelara has been better for me for sure. I still get just a little foggy and it’ll be unable to fully complete my sentences, or I cannot think of a word to save my life, or that name of that actor or something.
I live with my 90-year-old stepfather who multiple times says that my memory is sometimes as bad as his. And he’s like, “You’re too young for that.” I’m 31 right now, people, and it’s like, yeah, but I have brain fog to the max because I have pain every day of my life. I have this illness that I’m fighting. I have symptoms I fight every day, and it’s so much effort sometimes mentally just to get through my day that putting like mental energy or physical energy into focusing at the task at hand is just like a stretch too far. So, I would imagine a lot of our listeners feel the same in that regard, and I would definitely say, just give yourself a break, take care of yourself, give yourself some grace with it. Chelsea said that earlier, which I really liked the way that she put that.
And again, try to notice the times that you do feel like you have more of an ability to focus and notice certain foods that might make you feel more energized. Drinking a lot of water definitely helps for me, or lying down horizontally and fully shutting off, like just turning on a little bit of music. There’s a great playlist on Spotify that we created called “Spoonie Chill Time.” It’s a nice playlist for you to listen to when you’re just chilling. But I have found that those are some of the ways that I can reset a little bit even if I’m lying in bed watching Netflix or watching shows that sometimes isn’t enough to just shut off, but I’m also not very good at napping. So, again I’ll just lie down horizontally, close my eyes, turn on some music and just chill, and try to quiet my mind and let go of things. That has helped immensely.
And yeah, trying to get good quality sleep. Oh, Natural Calm is a great drink that can help with your sleep. It’s got magnesium and it can be really nice for just settling the nervous system and helping you get a little bit deeper quality sleep. CBD products might be good for you. Play around. And we should probably do a whole episode on sleep, by the way, as we’re here. That will be a good–
Chelsea: You should tell us if you want a big episode on sleep because I know it’s something that Cassie and I are both really passionate about in our own lives. So, we love getting feedback from all of you on episode topics, which ones really resonate with you, which ones maybe you’re like, “Ah, that wasn’t as important. We already knew that.” I mean, tell us. So, if you want us to do an episode on sleep and maybe how we wind down for the night, what works for us, what doesn’t work for us, then we would be happy to do it. So, just let us know.
Cassie: Yeah. Let us know. You can email us at email@example.com. We check those emails every day. And then, connecting with us on Instagram and direct messaging or leaving a comment is another great way to connect, which on Instagram, we are @therealspooniesunite. So, yeah, shoot us a DM, shoot us an email. Do you want a sleep episode? Or talk to us about how you cope with brain fog, and tips and tricks that you have found to get through it. And if you’re looking for ways to help get through it, reach out to us also. And that just reminded me that we actually have a great blog up on our website that Chelsea wrote about sleep and how you can get great sleep and resting.
Chelsea: I forgot I wrote that.
Cassie: Yeah. So, you could check that out, too.
Chelsea: Speaking of brain not working properly.
Cassie: Exactly. See? And so, that blog post is also available at our website or on our website, which is therealspooniesunite.com. So, there’s some resources, but as Chelsea said, we want to hear from you. So, reach out to us and have a great unfoggy day, people. Clear skies and sunshine.
Chelsea: And if you are having a foggy day, it’s okay. Do what you need to do for you and it’ll be okay.
Cassie: Oh, my god. And we should also say that today’s episode should be sponsored, it’s not sponsored by, but imaginably, like metaphorically sponsored by the London Fog tea, you know, fog. If you want a really great tea to drink, you should get a London Fog, which is Earl Grey and steamed milk, I like with almond milk or soy milk, and a little bit of vanilla, and that is some tasty shiznits, okay? So, go enjoy a London Fog tea if you’re having a foggy day.
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Chelsea: If you’d like to connect with Cassie and I, you can find us on Instagram, @therealspooniesunite. You can also join our private Facebook community, Spoonies Unite, or you can visit our website, therealspooniesunite.com for all sorts of resources and to stay up to date with our current projects. And don’t worry, you can find all these links in the show notes below.
Cassie: Thank you to our wonderful Spoonie patrons for all your support. And you can become one, too. That’s right. All you have to do is go on over to patreon.com/therealspooniesunite and you can get all sorts of extra goodies like videos of our episodes and more.
Chelsea: Any support is greatly appreciated. It helps enable us to create more content for all of you, as well as make this podcast sound better and better.
Thanks for listening. We can’t wait to be back in your ears soon.