Dealing with the effects of brain fog

COVID VIGNETTE GARY SAUNDERS Gary Saunders is a retired forester/ naturalist who writes to learn and to share.



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Feeling groggy? Even when you've had a good night's sleep? Forgetful about stuff you normally remember? Depressed, even? If so, you're one of thousands like me who, though they've tested negative for COVID, have followed the protocols and don't have the flu — nonetheless feel under the weather, not quite ourselves. Such symptoms would be expected had we tested positive. A 2021 Oxford University study of 236,000 POST-COVID patients, mostly American, revealed that 34 per cent suffered neurological and psychiatric complications — including stroke or dementia — up to six months after the initial infection. And the rest had milder symptoms, namely anxiety (17 per cent) and mood disorders (14 per cent). Masud Husain, co-author of the study, pointed out the virus can and does infect the brain. What about the rest of us, supposedly COVID-FREE? Turns out that anxiety itself, given time, can afflict us too. “If your brain feels foggy and you're tired all the time,” said U.S. researcher Rhitu Chatterjee in The Week magazine, “you're not alone.” As early as last May, she says, health-care providers across America were hearing such complaints from uninfected people. “This kind of mental fog is real,” she concluded. Moya Sarner, reporting in, agreed. Boredom alone may explain such fogginess, she said. “The brain is stimulated by the new, the different, and is effectively engineered to shut down when nothing changes … a normal response to an abnormal year.” That made me feel a bit better. So did British neuroscientists Catherine Loveday and Jon Simons, who blamed the ongoing lack of opportunity to socialize normally. As Lovejoy put it, “Our brains wake up in the presence of other people.” Their actual presence, let me add. Because online togetherness via Facebook, Instagram, etc., useful as it is for sharing news and views, just doesn't cut it. In fact, too much Web time is being blamed for recent unhealthy trends among our youth. Said Mitch Prinstein of the American Psychological Association last month, “Social media is the empty calories of social interaction.” So true. I can be feeling down, sleeping too much, skipping my nightly walks under the stars, being grumpy over trifles, procrastinating. Then a good friend shows up unannounced — the best kind — and within minutes we're laughing over something we've heard or read or seen. Suddenly the world looks brighter, life more worthwhile. I often wonder how my parents and their parents kept their mental balance during the Spanish Flu, or, for that matter, during two world wars with the relentless storm of bad news. “It's not crazy to wonder if we will ever be the same,” said Ellen Cushing in, quoted in The Week. “By the tail end of winter, I was forgetting names, forgetting words, even forgetting why I walked into my kitchen.” The positive part of that fogginess is that most of us will also forget COVID-19 if/when it ends. Sure, as with any major trauma we won't recall everything about it. But at least it won't be hovering over us like a thundercloud in an otherwise clear blue sky. “Some Saturday not too long from now,” wrote Cushing, “I will go to a party or a bar or even a wedding. I'll kiss my friends and try their drinks. My synapses will be [healed] by the complicated, strange, utterly novel experience of being alive again, human again. I can't wait.” Nor can you, nor can I. My greatest fear is not Omicron itself, but its 30-plus mutations, one or more of which could undo much or all of what we as a province and country have achieved thus far. Omicron emerged from poverty-ridden, scantily vaccinated southern Africa, proving yet again that until the whole world, developed and less developed, is educated and protected, no one anywhere will feel secure.