Cog Fog – Emotional Stress

The other day I had a bit of an emotional/mental breakdown because of my “cog-fog” (cognitive fog). I was in the middle of an emotionally stressful conversation and I was trying to express my feelings the best I could which even under “normal” circumstances can be difficult. I was trying so hard but I could just not put my thoughts into words and it made me feel… “trapped”. My cognitive being had an idea that needed to be expressed but that idea could not vent from my body in the form of words so the pressure just built and built like steam in a metal tank. Eventually the pressure became too much and the tank ruptured.

First let me explain what it’s like to have an idea I want to express but not to be able to express it. I want you to close your eyes and once they are closed clear everything from your mind so that there is nothing but a black, empty, space. Now in this space picture the color red, just a small square of red alone in the dark. Now, think of the color red but do not think of the word “red”. It’s hard isn’t it? As soon as you think of “red” the word “red” flashes through your mind right? (And I don’t mean the letters “R-E-D” I mean your mental concept of what red is.) Well for me, I often have the opposite problem; I can think of only the color “red” but no matter how hard I try, I can’t match the right word to it. This is as simple as I can put it but this concept applies to much more complicated scenarios as well. Sometimes for instance, I can feel a feeling but have no idea how to describe it. The feeling is there, it’s familiar, I have felt it before, but I can’t identify the proper words to match that feeling resulting in an inability to transfer that “information” from my mind into someone else’s. It’s “trapped” inside of me.

Now this happens all the time with all sorts of little things and I have learned to just try to “let things go” and stop thinking about them. Sometimes though, in a conversation like this, you can’t just “let it go”, you have to participate in the conversation, you have to find an “end” to it. The problem here was I was pushed to my limit of emotional stress and that was preventing me from expressing what I needed to express to participate in the conversation. I knew the “concept” of what I wanted to say, I was picturing “the color red”, but I could not find the words to describe the “concept” of what I wanted to say, the words to “describe red”. And let me make something else clear; it’s not like I had some complicated emotions that anyone might have a hard time putting into words, no, my cog-fog was so bad (as a result of my stress) that I was having trouble finding basic words like “cat” or “dog” even though I could picture the animals in my head. When you can’t even think of the basic “building blocks” for sentences it becomes emotionally overwhelming. All I could think was “why can I not talk? What’s wrong with me? I know what I want to say but I just can’t say it”. I felt… stupid…

So like a child frustrated with their inability to complete a task too complex for their youth, I cracked, I broke down, it’s one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced. I felt like “who I was before MS” was stuck in a vegetative body unable to move, shout, or even blink. I could not communicate with anyone outside the walls of my body. This is where I switch over to another analogy; My brain was overheated like an engine that was ran too hard. It overheated from thinking too hard and it shut down, completely useless as it helplessly cooled down. Nothing could help it but time. Even a couple days later, I am still “cooling down” in that, I feel better but I am still finding that I struggle throughout the day to speak my thoughts about anything.  My brain is still “too hot” to run properly…

Many people with Multiple Sclerosis deal with some sort of “cognitive fog”, some more severe than others, and I really don’t think you can understand what it’s truly like unless you have been through it. Sometimes it’s simply as annoying as “I can’t remember where I put my keys” and sometimes it’s emotionally devastating enough to break you down because you can’t even express yourself.

4 thoughts on “Cog Fog – Emotional Stress

  • November 27, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I read this: "completely useless…" and I am trying to figure out if this is any different than normal, day-to-day life. I have come to this conclusion;

    No it's not.

  • November 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Trust me, usually I can function "OK" despite the fact that my brain is "horrible" (and by OK I mean I have learned to live with the new normal) but in a situation like this, I have no idea how to explain it any differently, I was not "OK". If I am usually a 4/10 (10 being normal cognitive function) at this point I was a -8 out of 10…

  • November 30, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Oh WOW, you just explained exactly what I go through,….. exactly. I talked to my neuro about it last week and he completely understood what I was saying. He said to me……sometimes the brain will subconsciously shut down because it is protecting itself, just like when you hurt your back and all the muscles around the pain, become immobile because your muscles want to protect the back.
    So, when I sit quietly in a room of friends and family and want to talk and realize I can't seem to talk like everyone else is I wonder what is WRONG with me. That can't be THAT difficult. Well apparently it is. Neuro reminded me that language and thinking is the absolute hardest thing the brain can do. He said it is so very complex, and thousands of nerves and synapses need to operate properly, just at the right time, or you can just shut down.
    He also repeated to me, a few times, "it is not like you can't DO something" "but often there is a PRICE TO PAY for doing it"
    So after what he talked with me about language and it getting stuck somewhere in our brain….and you explaining it so well….That all helps me to accept the situation more.
    Oh and I liked the link you sent about MEG….very good and very helpful!
    Thanks, Mare

  • November 30, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Yes, that makes perfect sense. That is what it FEELS like but I was trying to simplify it. I never thought of it like a defense mechanism though, just like it was being worked so hard it shut down, but that makes sense as well. sucks either way….


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