The Embarrassment of Brain Fog
Last updated: August 2021
When it comes to frustrating and embarrassing symptoms, multiple sclerosis has the potential to bring on a number of ones that can seem downright humiliating. Problems with my legs (such as weakness, numbness, or foot drop) and balance have caused me to fall or stumble at inopportune times. Bladder issues coupled with khaki pants have definitely made me stand out for all the wrong reasons on more than one occasion. Being unable to work due to a multitude of symptoms has most certainly left me with a face that is pretty red with embarrassment when people simply ask me, “What do you do?”
MS can cause many embarrassing moments
Yep, there are a lot of embarrassing moments when it comes to living with MS. One symptom in particular though hits me really hard. That is, of course, mistakes made because of cognitive issues and brain fog. As someone who has worked hard to educate himself throughout life, cognitive missteps bring the worst form of embarrassment.
I’ve actually written about cognitive issues a bunch. Issues with my memory, attention, and problem solving have had a major impact on my life. These cognitive symptoms are also a huge reason why I was considered disabled at the young age of 36. I worked hard building a career that primarily used my brain and my ability to problem-solve.
My ability to think is inconsistent
As my MS progressed over the years, my cognitive problems started to add up, making my ability to think extremely inconsistent. So, while I still have moments where I can think and remember well, I still have times where I put poop in the trash can or can’t even perform the most basic of problem-solving. My brain's inability to consistently function well has left me jobless and embarrassed.
Making mental mistakes at work
These cognitive issues have made me extremely embarrassed over the years. When you’ve spent so much time getting an education and priding yourself on your memory and ability to figure things out, making mental mistakes feels devastating. Before I eventually had to leave my career, I started making a ton of mistakes. I also started to take significantly longer to accomplish certain tasks. Assignments would be late, or I’d fail to give an answer when asked. All while others were depending on me.
I felt like I was letting people down
I was a senior person with a tremendous amount of experience, I was depended upon, and I kept letting people down. I still feel embarrassed to this day when I think about some of the mistakes I made. Mistakes that I would label as “stupid.” When it was happening, not only was I embarrassed, I was in disbelief. How could I do this? I’m better than this, aren’t I? Eventually, your confidence starts to break and you become afraid to make those mistakes.
By the time I left my career, I thought very poorly of myself. When part of your body fails you, and you can’t walk or can’t do something physically, you still know you are you. When you stop thinking the way you always have, who are you anymore? I used to be very good at math, and suddenly, small problems would trip me up. Even if I was by myself, I was more embarrassed at not solving those problems correctly than those times I had p*ssed my pants in front of other people. That’ll sound odd to some people, but it was my thing, it was part of what made me who I was. At least that’s what I thought. Embarrassment turned to shame and even issues with identity as I started to doubt and really know who I was anymore.
How I try to fight feelings of embarrassment
I still struggle when I forget things or make other cognitive mistakes. I attempt to keep the embarrassment at bay in a couple of ways. For one, I try to educate people as best as possible that these are a symptom of MS. I not only talk about it, but I also send them items like this article to read, as well as sharing things like it on social media. Even if no one goes and reads it, hopefully just consistently seeing things like it in their timeline will subconsciously start to build a little understanding.
Remembering that these mistakes don't define me
When it comes to that internal embarrassment, shame, and the identity issues that come along with it, I try to remember that these mistakes aren’t really me. I still have the knowledge, I still have memory, I can still solve problems, I’m simply having trouble accessing all of that. Like a phone connected with a damaged cord, that phone still works but sometimes, that damaged cord prevents it from connecting. It’s not that I can’t do those things, I just can’t access those abilities when I want. That’s an important thing to remember and helps me when I have these cognitive issues.
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