They call it ‘brain fog’, but I beg to differ. ‘Fog’ is a curious weather event, a before-sunrise shroud bestowed by Mother Nature. It brings mist and mystery to a tree-lined bike path, leaves verdant and dripping beneath a weighted blanket of cloud. It weaves a touch of magic – a cloak of invisibility for dog walkers, stroller pushers, and joggers silhouetted by hazy beacons as they brave the Antipodean haar. And it brings promise – the inevitability of hope as te Rā punches his way through the murk to emerge, bright and dazzling, into the new day.
Brain fog is also not the fuzzy fug that befalls women of a certain age and stage – like me, a 50-something working mum, for whom the microclimate of menopause messes with my sentences, hides my keys, disrupts my flow, and makes it impossible to name the book I just read, or that actor – you know, the one in all the Marvel movies. My brain, once active and arid – wait, is “arid” the right word? – is a damp squib, a former fizzer that has fizzled due to rain in the brain.
No. The so-called brain fog of Covid is a singular climate system, a weather bomb of smog, of dirty, acrid particulate matter so thick I can taste it. When it hits, it is unstoppable, ravaging a once fecund mind and leaving in its place a boggy swamp of stagnation.
No longer a streamlined site of mental processing, my brain has become a junkyard piled high with rusted-out cogs of cognition. They screech in painful protest, grinding through the daily demands of interpretation, understanding, articulation. Gone is my instinctive call and response of basic communication; in its place, a head that hurts from the strain of thinking.
Indeed, the very act of thinking has become a high-intensity cardio workout: my heart speeds as I struggle to play a game of Solitaire; I don’t have the stamina to read a book. Writing is a marathon I failed to train for. Even now, as I type, my brain is baulking at the load. I imagine my head splitting from forehead to the base of my skull as I seek words that mean what I mean them to mean.
Sometimes, it hurts so much I want to scream, to take an ice cream scoop and extract the goopy mess from inside my head. Sometimes, I weep. I tell myself to be curious, not furious. But soon, I will need a lie-down. I will draw the curtains, close my eyes, and focus on clearing my mind of all thoughts. For 20 minutes, I will Force Quit myself and undertake a full system reboot of body and brain.
So, this is what Covid feels like. I had wondered. For three-plus years, the C-word has been on my radar, the forecasts for sunny skies threatened by its clear and ever-present danger. But when it finally landed a month or so ago – first in my fully-vaxxed teenage son, then two days later in my fully-vaxxed self, I couldn’t have predicted the havoc it would wreak on my formerly fit body and alert mind. It is a physical and mental climate crisis, an environmental catastrophe that causes foundations of the self to rupture, crash, and meltdown.
You say the media hype about the pandemic has given you ‘Covid fatigue’? Please, don’t talk to me about ‘Covid fatigue’ unless you mean the bone-crushing, mind-numbing exhaustion that comes from this almighty germ.
And yet, I know I am lucky – so lucky. I am surrounded by people who understand, support, and are endlessly patient as I struggle to return to good health. Deliveries of fruit, flowers, and cupcakes arrive from my colleagues. A kind neighbour mows my lawn. My mum has appointed herself the Queen of Meals on Wheels and brings dinner most nights. My dad? He’s Head Gardener. My son (who, thankfully, sailed through Covid) bakes me cheese scones without being asked.
Like all ill winds, I remind myself that this, too, shall pass. Although it feels like it has plagued me forever, I refuse to entertain the thought of long Covid. As summer approaches, I know today’s southerly gusts will be tomorrow’s gentle northern breezes; mighty sunflowers will bloom. The fog will lift and the summer sky, like my head, will clear. It fucking better.