Decisions, Decisions

Another up close, in depth, comprehensive look at “cog fog”

I tried to catch some Fog.  I mist.  Anonymous


One of the gazillion frustrations of life with MS is trying to explain “cog fog,” also known as brain fog.

I once had a neurologist tell me that if I can’t explain it, then it must not exist.   Even in the brain fog moment that I happened to be in at the time, this comment didn’t seem to make sense.

Isn’t that the very point of brain fog?  It makes things hard to think.

It makes things hard to describe.

It also makes things hard to decide.


So even though today my brain is the foggiest it’s been in a while, I decided I would take a moment to try to describe “cog fog.”

See what I mean about decisions?

One cognitive difficulty for me is simple math. Math was never my deal, MS or not.

All I remember about my high school math classes is that one teacher was always covered in chalk dust and the other took points off if you turned in a page ripped from your notebook that still had the little squiggly pieces attached from where you ripped it.


I talk about my ongoing math issues more in a former blog post MS Counts.

And I recently talked about how when MS takes over your brain sometimes even the most basic of decisions seem impossible to work out, To Shower or Not To Shower-That is the MS Question

MS can make me easily overwhelmed and every factor imaginable takes over when trying to decide something. Another frustration of “cog fog” is that it can often frustrate others, especially when I need to combine it with numbers and decisions.

Here are some things that my MS brain makes difficult in my life and that are hard to explain to those who find it weird.


Making coffee–   This should not be a big deal as I don’t even drink coffee.  Put some hot water and a tea bag in a mug and I am good to go for the day.

The problem comes when I have to make coffee for someone else.  Many people have tried to show me how to do this and I can never remember the coffee scoops per water ratio.

Sure, I could write it down.  But where?  How will I remember where I have written this information down?

One might suggest that I just read the directions on the back of the coffee container.  But those directions offer variables- for stronger coffee do this, for a larger pot, do that.

How do I know what is a large pot and if my guests want their coffee stronger or weaker?  Why can’t they just drink tea like the rest of the world?


Multiple email addresses–   Whenever someone changes their email, or gives me a second or even third email address, I’m lost.  Not to mention the fact that my email server keeps changing the rules.

So what do I do? If I have to send an email I will send it to all the addresses I have for the person.  This causes them to get several emails and get annoyed with me.  I’ll ask which address to use and they will send a response like, “this one, this one’s the best.”

Well which one is that?  My computer just puts your name in the address bar so I still have no idea which is your preferences.

Or, to get back into the decision thing the person might say “I just use this one for work,” or “I just use this one for fun stuff.”  Now I have to decide if what I am emailing is fun or not and then go back to trying to figure out which email address is which.


Keys– My dad recently picked up my key chain and wanted to know why I had so many keys and what were they all for. I had no idea.

I started to try to figure it out and just got overwhelmed. One clearheaded day I actually started locking and unlocking stuff to try to further investigate.  And then I got confused again.

I went to the hardware store and bought those little color tabs you can put on keys to signify where they go but of course, I can never remember which color is for which lock.  I can write that down but where- on my keys?  That certainly would make it easier for the burglars.


Gratuity– The best example of how brain “cog fog” can mess with an MS’er is tipping.

Generally I’m a nice person who wants to be generous.  I waitressed one miserable summer and even though I was super klutzy and lousy at it, (I choose to blame that on MS even though it was 20 years before my diagnosis,) I appreciated a good tip.  And I’m not cheap.

But if I go to a restaurant with someone the words I dread are “I’ll get this, why don’t you just pick up the tip?”

Why is this tough?  First you have to remember the going tip rate- 18%, 20%, 25%.  Then you have to do math.

Then you may want to account for the variables associated with a range from lousy service to wonderful service.

(I may be nice and I would never stiff a server but if you are rude you are getting the minimum tip: unless of course I screw up which is likely.)


Then, because it’s not cool to leave change, you round the tip off-more math.  And more decisions- should I round up or down?

To help combat this particular frustration I got myself one of those tip cards.  So if I’m in the tip paying position I will pull out my little card.  And it helps, if I can read it in the dim light of the particular establishment I happen to be at.

But often, my companions object to the card.

“You don’t need that to figure out the tip- just round off the bill, take 20% and then lower it slightly.  Oh wait, he was really nice, raise it a bit.  Do you have enough singles?  It’s not cool to leave change, even quarters. Oh wow, that’s a really generous tip, did you mean to leave 40%?”

It’s enough to make someone never want to go out to eat.


But the confusion doesn’t end there.  It pops up again with hairdressers, taxi drivers, delivery people, the kid who pumps your gas, and on and on….. I swear I gave my hairdresser a 60% tip last week.  No wonder she loves me; it has nothing to do with my wavy hair and sparkling personality.

In the grand scheme of life, none of these cognitive difficulties are that big.  And when you put them in the context of the grand scheme of multiple sclerosis, they’re even smaller.

But still, when you need a way to describe what can’t be described, here you have it.

At least, I think this is descriptive…


10 thoughts on “Decisions, Decisions

  1. Very good blog post to give non-MS’ers an idea of how cog fog affects EVERY facet of “simple” daily life to some degree. Thanks! 😀

  2. Don’t feel bad I suck at math so I always start with 10% and then figure what 1/2 of that is to get to 15% … and I almost always ask Joel if thats enough

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