How Lockdown Ate My Brain
It all began with a simple question: Where did I put my keys? Again! Enough with the Covid brain fog.
I lost my keys. Again.
Hey, you say, I do it all the time. Happens to everyone.
Then I lost my wallet. And not for the first time.
You know what they say: Retrace your last steps. What did you do? Where did you go? Who were you with, and are they trustworthy? You should call them — but then maybe you forgot the phone number.
Retracing my past steps worked. This time. Next time, though, who knows?
More to the point, am I losing my mind? I’m not as young as I used to be. They say one’s brain cells begin to vanish as one grows older, much like one of those tape recordings at the start of every episode of Mission: Impossible in the old days of TV, when broadcast TV used to be good. Or, if not good exactly, tolerable. (If you’re too young to remember the original Mission: Impossible, before the Tom Cruise movies, this Vocal post might not apply to you.)
But then I started to hear about brain fog. The hell?
It turns out the experts — behavioral scientists who shrink heads for a living, figuratively speaking — say that among Covid-19’s many pleasant surprises, from closed stores and lost jobs to “long Covid” (Covid that never ends) and nasty new variants everywhere from South Africa (variant B.1.351) to Brazil (variant P.1) that are more contagious, more dangerous, easier to catch, and (oh joy!) might prevent vaccines from working as well as they should, is a wonderful new twist called brain fog.
It seems sitting at home in lockdown, staying away from other people and spending most of one’s waking hours on Zoom causes “brain fog,” a condition that drains one of mental energy to the extent that just leaving home to shop for much-needed groceries seems like a chore. All one can do is lie in bed all day and watch TV. It can get to the point where it’s hard to have a coherent conversation with a loved one, or write a text message or email that doesn’t end a lifelong friendship.
It’s not a medical term! real clinicians will tell you. This is what people are putting out there!
You know, like Covid. People are putting it out there.
You may have had brain fog without realizing it. Symptoms range from headaches to getting cranky over loud noises, to losing control of one’s emotions.
You know, like working in an office.
Some scientific truths don’t have to be submitted for peer review for real folks — i.e. you and me — to know that they are, in fact, true.
Being locked away in self-isolation over a long period of time, coupled with constant anxiety and lack of sleep, can be wearing on the nerves. Being locked away over along period of time with family members who were already getting on your nerves, even before Covid, can raise the blood pressure to the breaking point. And as we keep being told, constant high blood pressure is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle, let alone being able to tell the Giant Yang-Yang apart from the Creeping Blorch on The Unmasked Singer. You don’t need a peer-reviewed study to tell you that after a year of lockdown it can be hard to think clearly, let alone remember what happened and when. Where did I leave my keys again?
There’s hardly any aspect of our lives brain fog can’t touch. We find ourselves unable to concentrate in meetings — by Zoom, naturally — to read, or to follow intricately plotted TV programs . . . like The Unmasked Singer.
Memory scientists — yes, there is such a thing — will tell you that brain fog doesn’t make you unusual or weird; it’s a perfectly normal reaction to a traumatic experience we’ve all shared over the past 12 months or so. Brain fog affects everything from short- and long-term memory to attention spans to our ability, or inability in my case, to solve problems.
Behavioral psychologists say one work-around is to keep mentally active, counterintuitive as that sounds, to changing one’s immediate surroundings — home reno! redecorating! spring cleaning! — to overcoming what Freud called trägheit, pointy-head speak for "mental sluggishness." The more we do, the experts say, the more we can keep brain fog at bay.
That may sound counterintuitive in a world where one is told to stay home and not mingle with those outside your immediate household — maintain social distancing at all times! — and wear that mask whenever you do venture outside.
Speaking for myself, I’ve found myself writing more.
I’m so glad I made the effort, for example, to write this piece for this wonderful social platform called Local.