Brain Fog. It’s the nebulous foe of anyone with a chronic illness who enjoys writing…or you know, thinking. You stare at the screen, but the cursor just seems to blink repetitiously among a blank sea of nothingness. Meanwhile, your brain feels like it’s stuffed with cotton balls soaked in gin. So, how do you write with brain fog? I’m listing a not-so-how-to guide on what we can all do when this occurs.

1.) Have grace towards yourself. Sometimes when you’re chronically ill, you can compare yourself to the old you. The you who would have blown the new (and seemingly not so improved) you out of the water in just about every area. But you can’t compete with the old you just like you can’t compete with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author or even your friend who seemingly has a perfect life from all of those perfectly curated photos that you see on Instagram. Such comparison games will throw you into a competition where you will never win. 

My husband the other day encouraged me to do the impossible. Literally. He said those very words. “Your only cap is God, Sarah, and what He tells you to do, do. Even if it’s only God and myself rooting you on, know you have support.”

I would add: Do the impossible imperfectly. Meaning, push yourself, but be okay with some errors. Which leads me to my next point…  

Do the impossible imperfectly. Meaning, push yourself, but be okay with some errors. Click to Tweet

2.) Don’t worry about your flubbs flubs until later This season of illness has seen more grammatical errors from my writing than I would care to admit. I think even my junior high self would be appalled, and frankly, the “me” now is appalled when I catch the errors later. I still have yet to sift through this blog, correcting said errors that were made from a brain suffering from a medicated induced haze and infirmity. We now have Grammarly installed into the computer, so mistakes like writing the word “lever” instead of “clever” won’t happen….at least not a second time.

3.) Copy from your favorite authors…at least sort of. When you have brain fog, it can feel like your word bank has been robbed. When this happens, it can be helpful to open up a book from one of your favorite authors and transfer their words from their book into a notepad. Before you accuse me of encouraging plagiarism, I’ll add that this is only meant to help ignite your brain to process words, not to claim them as your own. 

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This is what I wrote in my journal many months ago when I was trying to write with brain fog. 

 

4.) Stay away from the blinking computer cursor and write in a notepad first. Some of you who have chronic illness also suffer from light sensitivity issues that make it difficult to stare at a computer screen for even a short duration of time. Flux is a free software device that can be installed on your computer to help reduce the harsh light from the screen. (A true God-sent for me!) We’ve found that Blue Light Blocking Computer Glasses can also help with blocking the light from the screen, which can help improve focus and prevent the disruption of your circadian rhythm which can lead to sleepless nights.

That said, it can still be easier to write in a notepad initially and then transfer the words to a computer. The Guardian has an interesting article on why writing longhand is beneficial BEFORE  you type on the keyboard. Now, a good portion of the piece is opinion-driven, but it has some good points to be made…like an author who said: “A blank computer screen makes me want to throw up.” Yes, a blank computer screen can certainly be thoroughly discouraging, especially when you’re halted by brain fog. Besides, you probably have an extra tab up for Pinterest which will only make you entirely forget that you were on a mission to write. Ooo, Joanna Gaines has new paint chips that came out! It’s that easy to steer a brain-fogged individual from their original intentions. 

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5.) Use your mouth to voice your words instead of your hand. We’re all different when it comes to communication styles and the level of energy required for each. When you have brain fog, it can sometimes feel as if it requires more energy to type or write with a pen in hand than if it’s done verbally. If this sounds like you, Dragon Naturally Speaking is a great tool you can use that that will allow you to “write” articles and even a novel by voice command technology. There is a learning curve required, but it is worth the investment if you write regularly and verbalize your thoughts better than you physically write them. 

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6.) Let your struggles bleed onto the page. Yes, brain fog makes it extremely difficult to write, read, do simple math problems, communicate verbally…and think in general, but if we can tap into the frustration that’s inevitably linked to chronic illness, then we have some material that can be re-directed into writing that breathes authenticity. 

You know that favorite movie of yours that you can almost smell, taste, and feel with the character? Little Women is it for me. Before you dog it because of the title, watch the movie Little Women and read the book for yourself.

When the autumn leaves fall to the ground in the story, I can almost smell the scent of earth and dew.

When the festively decked Christmas cake Meg prepares with a dusting of powdered sugar pops onto the screen, I can almost taste the home crafted goodness.

 

And when Beth dies, I feel a palpable pain of loss, especially when the almost breathless words cross her lips before her death, “I know I shall be homesick for you, even in heaven.” (How can you not cry when you see that scene?)

But like every favorite story, it’s packed with subtle lessons like living and writing authentically. After a series of stories and a completed novel from Jo (the leading female protagonist in the story) that was Gothic entrenched with vampires, corpses, and the like, Professor Bhaer confronts Jo, saying there is more to her than what she represents on the page, if she has the courage to dig deeper and write it. Even though you can feel the rejection from Jo with those very words, you see her eventually return to her craft and paint a beautiful multi-layered story that allowed her to confront her own buried corpses. The point? Jo had to delve deeper into her frustrations, grief, and sorrow to create a piece that breathed. Do we dare to apply this with ourselves with chronic illness and other struggles? I can only hope.

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