My Covid brain fog is debilitating, like walking through a field of glue

The first attempt at this column began: ‘I want to walk like Róisín Ingle.’ It ended there

I am five days into my second Covid isolation. I am re-reading The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock;

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the windowpanes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains…
…Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

To my despair, I am re-writing my column for the fifth time. The first attempt began: “I want to walk like Róisín Ingle.” It ended there. I’m not sure where it was going. The kettle just popped. I get up to make a cup of tea and sit back down.

My mug is still empty and so is the page.


I have always found the term brain fog wholly inadequate. Fog invokes warm childhood memories; a blanket to keep the stars warm at night; the familiar sound of the foghorn honking from Dublin Port, like a giant's snore lulling me to sleep.

My experience of brain fog is debilitating.

When my brother is hungover, he will video call me. ‘I’m feeling dusty,’ he’ll say, pulling his crumpled navy dressing gown closer to his chest. However, once wetted with sufficient liquids and Panadol, the dust washes clear. My brother in blood, our bodies so different.

This Covid fog is lingering. It has licked its way into the corners of my brain. It is dense and wet and hot. Like a Kolkata summer’s day.

Migratory birds

This is not my first experience of brain fog. In fact, one of the more frustrating aspects of migraine, and accompanying medication, is the dulling effect it has on my brain. Everything moves much slower. I am often reminded of migratory birds who travel while one half of their brain sleeps. I work with only half my brain awake.

Fog, by definition, is a cloud of water droplets sufficiently dense to reduce horizontal visibility by a specific degree. Yet brain fog is more visceral an experience than something than merely obscures vision. It resembles something closer to walking through a field of glue. Each time I attempt to lift a thought, I must unstick from the surface beneath.

Sometimes I grasp the word or thought I need, only for it to slip away again. Like a parent helplessly watching their child's balloon blow away in the wind

At times, it feels as though there is a wall in my head. That every time I need to find a word, I must physically climb over this wall, retrieve the word, and carry it back to the front of my brain, where once again, I must carry it across another wall to make sense of it.

Sometimes I grasp the word or thought I need, only for it to slip away again. Like a parent helplessly watching their child’s balloon blow away in the wind. “Come back,” I call. But I am not fast enough. And I do not have the energy to chase it.

One day, I spent five minutes trying to find the word for "shoelace'" on Google. Harder than you may imagine when you can remember neither the word "shoe" nor "lace". "Foot ribbon" I searched. "Knot toe".

Finally, the term “Clarkes”.

On other occasions, my brain fog is the opposite of fog. It a clear sky. Cloudless and star-free. My brain is empty. I have nothing to pick from it. I read the entire page of a book only to reach the end and realise I have no idea what happened. I will return to this page on a better day and have no memory of reading these words before.

When a friend playfully enquires what I’m thinking about, my frequent response, when I eventually find the word, is “nothing”. On those days, “thinking” feels like an out of reach luxury.

Like the fog of Eliot’s master poem, brain fog is yellow. It feels gaseous and unclean. It reminds me of scenes from old movies, where Victorian yellow lamplights line the streets, and beneath them stray dogs empty the trash cans, searching for scraps to eat. The dust in the air highlighted by the light drifting down below. A stray cat in the distance miaows painfully.

I want to wash out my brain.

Thankfully, I am out of isolation now. I couldn’t complete this column in one day or one week. I rarely do. The fog has largely lifted and I own my brain once more. The mug beside me, however, remains empty.