What it’s like to live with Covid brain fog
Varsha Bansal, a contemporary dancer and instructor from Jaipur, used to describe herself as confident and optimistic. That was before she contracted Covid-19 in November.
“It’s almost as if there is a Before and an After version of myself,” she said.
She now describes herself as hopeless and insecure, largely because of the brain fog left behind after three weeks of fighting the virus. “I find it hard to concentrate and remember things. My ability to grasp and process information has diminished,” said the 25-year-old.
Unable to remember choreography as she used to, Bansal quit a six-week virtual dance course with the prestigious Martha Graham Dance Company of New York, 10 days in.
She has stopped conducting classes herself, and no longer promotes her work on social media. “I feel like I’m damaging my career and this makes me sad and anxious. I have thoughts racing through my head and I have trouble sleeping,” Bansal said.
Difficulty concentrating and impaired memory have shown up in study after study, among the after-effects of Covid-19. The umbrella term brain fog is now used to indicate the range of post-Covid cognitive symptoms reported, which include confusion, memory loss, dizziness, and delirium.
“There is no definitive cause for Covid-19-related brain fog. Hypothesis suggests it is caused by the body’s prolonged inflammatory response to the virus,” said Dr Pavan Pai, a neurologist at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai.
Bansal first noticed something was amiss when she couldn’t remember whether or not she had taken her Covid-19 medication while she was still battling the virus. Even more worrying, she couldn’t remember what the medications were.
While reading, she began forgetting the names of characters and confusing plot lines. She still forgets simple errands she’s supposed to run, what she wants to say mid-speech, and says she finds it hard to process conversation if it is between more than three people.
Bansal has decided to take things slow and focus on interests other than dancing. “I’m learning to be kind to myself. I keep reminding myself that even taking a nap, reading or eating healthy are productive activities. This helps me feel less flustered and distraught,” she said.
Hiral Shukla, 28, a public relations executive from Nagpur, is battling something similar. After contracting the virus in November, she says she has become forgetful, has trouble processing information, and is unable to multi-task. She has to read and re-read emails to understand the contents, and now handles only a single client at a time, where she earlier juggled three or four.
“I have to ask people to speak slowly, one at a time,” she said. “I feel less inclined to meet people and I find it hard to make eye-contact when talking to them. I was an outgoing, social person who was great at multi-tasking. My job requires me to be that way. I feel like a very different person now.”
To get through the day, Shukla makes lists, notes and detailed schedules. She has also been meditating to try and improve her concentration.
Her boss and colleagues are supportive. But she feels uncomfortable telling her boss that she can’t do what she used to be able to do, and she feels bad about making mistakes like forgetting to return calls.
Her parents are encouraging her to learn to drive and take up activities that will make her feel good about herself.
“In my experience treating patients with brain fog, I have found that meditation, mild exercise, a healthy sleep-wake cycle, playing memory games and solving puzzles can help,” said Dr Pai. “But what’s most important is acceptance of the condition, by the patient and their family, friends and colleagues. Brain fog is a known phenomenon and it is going to affect the productive population of countries. So, don’t stigmatise it.”
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