Christopher Peruzzi was the creator of Vikar's Rant back in the early 2000s. It was a site for rants and jokes. He has since calmed down.
Superman had his never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way. Green Lantern had his oath through the brightest day and the blackest night. Me? I just have my struggles.
Today, I want to talk about mental fog and how to fight it.
We all know what mental fog is. It’s that ever-so-wonderful feeling of feeling like a concussed duckling doing calculus. It’s when you become aware that something isn’t quite right with your own brain's wiring and you feel your mental processes move with the glacial speed of molasses in the wintertime.
If you’re like me, you hate it. The sad thing is some people stay in the fog so long they don’t even realize they’re in a fog until they’re not. When the fog lifts and people have those moments of epiphany, it’s like removing an anchor from a speeding racecar.
Whoever invented the term “mental fog” was right on the money. It’s easy to misuse the term “confusion” because you appear confused. But that isn’t it. Confusion implies misunderstanding. Mental fog is not making connections to things that are already understood.
It is when not all the cylinders are working, not all the pistons are firing, and someone watered down the gasoline.
Because this happens to practically everyone from one time or another, I think we should discuss and deal with it.
I feel like I’m at a (fill in the blank) Anonymous meeting where new members stand, state their names, and admit their horrible afflictions to the group.
Hi, my name is Christopher and I’m a “foggy”.
I am a fifty-five-year-old man with Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Many leave off the “H” in “ADHD”, they shouldn’t. Overreacting to things is one of the more insidious parts of this condition.
But, I digress.
I have been living with this problem for a long time. I am one of those unfortunate people who came late to the party as most kids and younger adults with ADHD get treatment they are still in school. My road was filled with unforeseen pitfalls. The obstacles I faced seemed insurmountable and were written off by parents and teachers as me being a slacker. As an adult, I can accurately rationalize, articulate, and communicate to others where, as a child, teen, and college student, I could not.
When you take a burrito full of childhood neuroses with an undiagnosed brain disorder then combine them with the physiological and nutritional components that cause brain fog, it makes for a good case of mental indigestion.
And, full disclosure, I am not a doctor or a medical professional. If you suffer from any kind of mental disorder and it impacts your life in a bad way, seek help from proper medical professionals. I am just a geek who survived this stuff with nothing more than books, experience, and the determination to course correct.
This is what works for me. What I propose costs you nothing except time and effort.
I will recommend some books in the last part of this article.
My real story began two years ago when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a horrible wake-up call. However, if you have to have diabetes, type 2 is the one you want.
My blood sugar count was over 400. I was a hundred pounds overweight. My eyesight was bad and my blood pressure was through the roof. All of this forced me to make some dramatic lifestyle changes. My lifestyle would lead me to a permanent stay in a pine box. Plus, it’s never good when the sound of your heartbeat wakes from a dead sleep.
The changes I made for my high blood sugar combined with past strategies worked to clear my foggy mind.
Getting to the Point
I have watched enough of some of these dick teasing videos of medical professionals that have discovered some hidden ways of how the rich and famous have taken a secret fruit only known through Tibetan monks who have taken some kind of mystical oath to the Sorcerer Supreme to never reveal their occult knowledge to the cure to all your ills that will be revealed if you stick around and watch the entire video.
Such people deserve to have the skin flayed from their bodies.
Simply put, the best way to keep a clear head boils down to changes in diet, an increase in exercise, and the practice of regular meditation.
I can hear you all in the cheap seats – “He’s talking out of his ass.”
I’m not talking out of my ass.
I have read dozens of books on this. The common denominators to all of them come to those three things. The experience I’ve had following them led me to better-thought processing. My memory recall has improved and I just think better.
I’ll be honest with you, if I had not been led down this road kicking and screaming, I probably would not have found it. People don't let themselves go, physically, without a reluctance to exercise and eating right. Diabetes made me more aware of how my body processes things.
So, let’s break this down.
The first thing you need to do is…
Cut Out Processed Sugar
You knew this was coming, right? You don’t have to tell me. I know, it sucks. Refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup are two members of The Legion of Doom.
Yes, I love sweet things. Having to give them up was terrible. I won’t sugarcoat this (see what I did there?), but they are addictive.
Processed sugar contributes to brain fog. It affects your mental health, leads to anxiety disorders, and to depression.
Sure, for quick energy and temporary euphoria, it’s great. But when the crash happens and the fuel stops (or is not processed properly), brains will feel it.
Plus, high fructose corn syrup suppressed the "sated" feeling in your body. It leads to overeating and increased blood sugar.
There are great diets out there that help eliminate sugar from your life. I recommend Dr. Robert Agatston’s The South Beach Diet Plan. His good carbs, high protein plan which eliminates sugar was made for heart patients. The side effect was that people were losing weight and weaning themselves off of sugar during its Phase One two-week induction period.
When you start living your life without processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup, you’ll have more natural energy from the consumption of real food. When your body purges that excess sugar out of its system, it will start burning that excess fat.
As your body works better, you’ll find that those foggy periods get less and less.
Cut Down on Coffee and Get More Sleep
I love coffee. The passionate affair I’ve had with coffee can be measured through the love sonnets I’ve written to it. I have worshipped at the altar of Caffeina, Goddess of the Warm Latte.
This is why it hurts me to say this – cut down on it.
Coffee as a whole is not the problem. Coffee in excess will disrupt your sleep patterns. If you’re drinking so much coffee that it keeps you from sleeping properly then you need to drink fewer cups.
Don’t take my word for this, because if I were listening to me, I wouldn’t.
HOWEVER, the good folks at livestrong.com have made a convincing argument that things like chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) will cause brain fog – especially when you’re not getting enough sleep. Part of the problem is when you don’t sleep right, you will suffer from those annoying cognitive lapses that take you from being Einstein and make you into Frankenstein (okay, “Frankenstein’s monster” for all you annoying people that should be bitch-slapped at every opportunity).
Sorry about that; I get cranky from lack of coffee. I am cutting down my intake with a mix of one scoop of real coffee to two scoops of decaf. I hope to eliminate it completely in time.
I have a real coffee addiction.
While in college, I would go through eight large cups of coffee a day. The price tag came later when I couldn’t sleep. The bad sleep pattern became a vicious cycle.
Coffee was part of my inadvertent stimulant self-medication. Those of you who have ADHD know that stimulants have a beneficial effect on our processing. Ritalin is prescribed to most kids for this (with a calming effect for that condition). However, as a whole, too much coffee is not a good thing. If you notice that your sleep patterns are suffering, cut back.
Ten Foods for Mental Sharpness
Jim Kwik writes in his book, Limitless, that there are ten foods that are awesome for the brain. This is part of one of his memory exercises. I’m writing this from memory.
Make the following foods part of your diet to keep mentally sharp:
- Coconut Oil
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Dark Chocolate
Most of these foods are part of an anti-inflammatory diet plan.
Give your brain all the nutrients it needs to work at its best. Fuel it like a car with high octane gas.
Avocados have that potassium and good fat that keep things running smoothly in both your head and your stomach.
Blueberries have all those wonderful antioxidants and fiber that pop your brain into focus.
Broccoli and spinach have that iron that hits your brain like a supercharger. Eggs and salmon get that right type of protein along with walnuts.
Turmeric has great anti-inflammatory qualities that not only work with the brain but also work to keep your other joints in great shape.
Coconut oil breaks down into ketones, which can be used by brain cells for fuel. And dark chocolate (obviously in moderation) helps increase blood flow to the brain.
Fuel your brain right and it won’t let you down.
I recommend Jim Kwik’s book, Limitless, to anyone who wants to take their brain to the next level.
This is common sense. Exercise leads to better health. Get your cardiovascular system out and take it for a spin.
Part of the reason why I fell into diabetes was bad eating habits and lack of exercise. While I was trying to get everything working with my head and my numbers, the one thing I was most resistant to was exercise.
Full disclosure, once upon a time, I was a martial artist. Back in 1981, I started practicing with a friend of mine. Eventually was going to classes five nights a week. I worked out hard. Most nights I came back home with a sweat-soaked gi (karate uniform).
According to the book Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D., a half-hour of intense exercise has the same benefit for an ADHD patient as a four-hour dose of Ritalin.
That’s how I got through high school. When my body was at its peak, I could do a hundred pushups.
As I got older I stopped. Life happens.
My wake-up call to exercise came when my blood pressure wouldn’t go down. I did my research and it all pointed to exercise. And since I did not belong to a gym and as I was in lockdown, I decided to do pushups at home.
I got down and could do a grand total of zero push-ups. I just couldn’t do any. The weight plus my age plus lack of any activity put me in the worst shape of my life.
The next day I started small. After some effort, I did three.
The day after that, I did five. Then I did eight.
The day after that I did thirteen.
Now, I’m up to doing three sets of twelve every morning. I plan on going to sets of thirteen soon.
The side effect was my pulse went down at night and I found that I thought clearer during the business day.
Now, I start my morning by making my bed and then doing my push-ups before I shower. After that, I take my blood sugar numbers and eat a breakfast of eggs with spinach, broccoli, turmeric, and avocado – with a mug of coffee.
As a lot of what I do is at a desk. I try to get out once a day and do some walking.
But the point is, you must keep active.
One of the hardest things for someone with the “H” in ADHD is to sit still. Outside of watching television, it’s really not easy.
If you want to get to that perfect state of mindfulness and clear thinking, you must get your head into that perfect theta state.
Let me back up.
Your brain moves through several states throughout the day. The five main brain wave states are alpha, beta, theta, delta, and gamma – and no, you won’t turn into the Hulk with a gamma wave state.
Most people wake to a beta wave brain state. This is when you’re conscious, awake, and reasoning. It is a state of alertness. However, if you spend too much time in that state, it leads to overthinking, stress, and anxiety. When that happens cortisol levels rise and adrenaline fatigue eventually happens.
This is contrary to the alpha wave state when you are deeply relaxed. Eyes are closed and you’re in a creative, imaginative, and intuitive state. This is when you're most receptive.
Then there is the theta state where your mind goes even deeper when you’re in a light sleep. People when they meditate get into this deeper relaxation mode. They can visualize things and sometimes find insight and new ideas.
The delta brainwave state is when you are asleep and dreaming. This is deep sleep. It is necessary for the brain to heal and subconsciously process information.
Gamma brainwaves come when you are intensely focused. People with ADHD hit this when they hyper-focus and the brain is at peak condition. When people are focused on resolving a problem and are in “the zone”, they are in the gamma state.
When people hit that theta brainwave state of meditation, it is allowing their brain to rest and just be. Meditation is keeping your mind in the present moment and relaxing to let your brain unplug so that it will reset itself.
People who actively meditate for ten to fifteen minutes at a time can improve mental and emotional processing thus giving the brain time to heal. Meditation takes some practice, but with the right tools, anyone can do it.
Essentially, you sit still, close your eyes, and focus on nothing but your breathing. When thoughts wander, pull them back to your breathing. Do this for a few minutes.
I recommend either watching the Headspace Meditation series on Netflix or downloading the app which will guide you on a proper meditation practice if you can’t find a local person to walk you through the basics.
I wrote this article is because I haven’t written anything for a while. As a writer, it’s necessary to recharge and do some deep reading on other things. For me, the exercise was to read widely beyond my comfort zone. Knowing that I needed to expose myself to several different types of writing, I read poetry, essays, short stories, classics, and some of the better self-improvement books I have.
Everyone should read more. After my first COVID shot, I found myself feeling foggy. I decided I’d share my experiences in fighting that horror.
I hate to say this, but it’s not rocket surgery.
I do hope that people lost in mental fog find this article to be a compass. I wish I had this when I was younger. Remember, I am fifty-five. ADHD did not exist yet in that name - it was minimal brain dysfunction. Somewhere out there is a recovering adult who heard nothing but screaming in their childhood. They are tortured by the ghosts of past grammar school teachers who told them to stop daydreaming and pay attention.
The ability to console yourself can be a great blessing.
People in that mental fog are continually embarrassed as others think they're stupid, lazy, or just defective. They need to know that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Brain fog is like being that dog, Ginger, in that old Far Side cartoon. Here's how it goes. A man screams at his dog, Ginger, “GINGER! Look what you did all over the floor! You’re a bad dog, GINGER! How am I going to clean all of this up, GINGER?!” What dogs hear is "GINGER! Blah, blah, blah, GINGER! Blah, blah, blah, GINGER?!”
It’s very much like that.
People’s lips move. We hear the words, but they bounce against our consciousness like rubber balls against a brick wall. However, once things are working properly and we get our minds right, Ginger can be a good dog again.
It’s a horrible thing to know you’re not an idiot, but to be frustrated every single time someone tries to explain something. When that fog is thickest, there is no way to get out of it without a good lighthouse… and the foghorn of exercise and good nutrition is a way out.
The best way to fight this is to be proactive. Get your rest. Yes, I know – we all need to get up for a job that cuts out sleeping time. Yes, I know – sometimes, you don’t have time for a good breakfast. Yes, I know – it can be impossible to find time to exercise.
I know these trials.
I know the consequences of not having a brain that doesn’t work on command. ADHD "hunters" use this analogy. It’s like being at someone else’s house watching television. The host has the remote control and will randomly click through channels. Just when you’re getting used to a program, the host changes the channel again.
It is like that, too.
The good news is that it's more about avoiding things. Avoid the processed food and sugar. When you come home for your dinner, make it – don’t order a pizza or, God forbid, have Burger King or MacDonalds (Do you know how much sugar is in one of those things?).
Make your food from things you trust. Use real vegetables and real meats.
It takes about five minutes to sauté some spinach with garlic with olive oil. Three sets of ten push-ups take about ten minutes before you hit the shower in the morning. Wouldn’t it be great to one good proactive thing before you leave the house? If you can fix your head, you can fix your life.
Think about it.
As I promised, here are some resources and books for you to check out, if you’re interested.
- Delivered from Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D.
- Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life by Jim Kwik
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Old Ones by James Clear
- Out of the Fog: Treatment Options and Coping Strategies for Adult Attention Deficit Disorder by Kevin R. Murphy, PhD.
- Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen, M.D.
- The UltraMind Solution by Mark Hyman, M.D.
- The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston, M.D.
- Magnificent Mind at Any Age by Daniel G. Amen, M.D.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2021 Christopher Peruzzi