Brain Fog


I originally posted this as a comment on hackernews in response to a post about this article in The Atlantic. I have briefly shared thoughts in a few contexts about the chronic health conditions that I experience, and wanted to share something here as it was very interesting to me to see brain fog, especially that which has developed post-infectiously, discussed in this forum. I have looked for a community in tech that suffers from chronic health issues, especially outside of my direct company, and not really found one. If you happen to stumble upon this post, and would be interested chatting about it - I’m always open to such discussions.

I am coeliac (en-US: celiac), a condition that I (along with a number of other things) contracted after contracting an infection in 2019. One of the symptoms that many of those that suffer from coeliac disease suffer from is getting brain fog after having ingested gluten (colloquially “getting glutened”). My specialist predicted that there would be a significant uptick of many other post-infectious conditions following the COVID pandemic and I’m sorry to hear that, going by articles like this, that prediction seems to be coming true. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling of not being able to think in this way. I’m a senior software engineer at a large company, I spend much of my time diving into different code bases, and in meetings where I am often unfamiliar with the specifics of a situation and need to quickly reload context. When I am in a state that I have brain fog, I absolutely cannot do these things - I need to sit and prepare for a meeting, and even then I can’t think quickly enough in it to be able to comment on anything in a meaningful way. Creativity is not possible, I can’t think around a problem at all. Understanding unfamiliar code becomes extremely taxing (if not impossible). Whilst I’m not as bad as some of these folks that are described in the article, coherently forming sentences how I would normally (I’m someone that “thinks out-loud” often) is just not possible. It’s debilitating.

For folks that don’t have it, it can be hard to explain. Like someone in this article, I tend to just cancel things when I’m in this state (which can be for days, or weeks – luckily I get to emerge as my body deals with being able to eat again). I just need to sleep - partially because of the emotional toil of the frustration of being cognitively impaired overnight, but also from the physical toll having a flare-up causes my body. I’m not really making this post (and sharing things that I probably usually wouldn’t) for any reason other than to just say to folks, hey - be understanding to your coworkers, these conditions are poorly understood, and difficult to deal with. We all tend to feel guilty for not pulling our weight during the time that we’re sick, so sometimes just knowing that our coworkers are cutting us some slack really helps :-) Thanks!