Paulo Coelho — "Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering."
Mind Fog: uncovering the biological purpose of this hypothyroid symptom
The mind fog experienced in hypothyroidism is one of the singular most debilitating and emotionally painful symptoms that I personally experienced with the 20 year dysfunction of my thyroid gland.
When we look at diseases or illnesses in Meta Health, we always look at the individual symptoms that a person is experiencing.
This is because individually our bodies find ways of responding appropriately to our individual situation and thought processes, because we all 'take in' information differently, and we all interpret that information in different ways.
So whilst many of the same symptoms accompany a specific disease, not all people suffer from the same symptoms that are associated with that disease, and not all people always suffer from those same symptoms continuously.
For some people with hypothyroid dysfunction, brain fog will not be an issue, but for others it can affect their lives monumentally. On top of which, it is a very difficult and 'ephemeral' type of symptom that other people just don't understand. One way of helping other people to understand the huge impact of hypothyroid brain fog is to relate it to 'alzheimers', which many people now understand and know about. In Meta Health terms, understanding the underlying causes of our symptoms, it is on the same 'spectrum' as brain fog.
For me the mind fog is one aspect of the last twenty years that really did strip me of my sense of self, my worth and probably worst of all, my memories.
I have spoken previously about how many of the individual memories of my children's early childhood seem to have been taken from my memory. It is also true that at that time I was also barely able to function in a 'normal' way. Most basic cognitive functions seemed often impossible. I found it hard to focus, to think over complex situations or thoughts, to do mental math or other cognitive processes, I found it hard to remember dates and times, or to keep appointments; even reminders that I set for myself 30 minutes or an hour before important meetings or appointments would slip through the net of my mind, as within minutes of turning off any alarm or reminder, my mind had progressed to another thought and 'lost' the time or the need to act in order to get to an appointment on time. Forgetting was normal and it happened frequently and even immediately after I remembered something important.
The aspect of time just slipping away and the loss of focus were huge aspects of the experience of mind fog.
The act of 'getting it' and 'for-getting' it Most people think we forget after an event.
But in fact, the act of forgetting happens BEFORE an event - not after it!
It is only afterwards that we recognise that we have forgotten something - its not where the forgetting actually happened!
When we 'get something', we ultimately "go out into the world and then bring something back into us, our own environment and claim it as our own" - this is true, whether it is getting a thing, or getting a thought - we "get it!"
The process of 'getting it' involves us moving beyond a place that we already exist in - whether physically getting up and going to get something in order to bring it to where we already are; or in terms of our mind, and thinking - we are required to move beyond the understanding that we already have, to expand our thinking and our perspective and move beyond the boundaries of what we are familiar with. At that point we are expanding our possible understanding and how our mind works, and we suddenly reach a point where we 'get it'! We have a new idea, or a new understanding.
In each case we have moved beyond where we started and reached out to gain something new, or something extra in order to bring it back into ourselves and give ourselves something more than we had before we 'got it'!
For my meta health purposes I want to use the word play on 'for-get'.
Thinking about the word for-get - I want us to concentrate on the first part of the word for: as in before something happens before; afore, or in front of something.
I want us to consider the action we do before we 'get it'.
BEFORE we act and go out into the world, moving beyond our current 'safe' place, we must consider our current situation, and the situation that we are considering putting ourselves into in order to go and get what we want. Physically is it safe to get what we want, and the same applies mentally - even to an idea! Ideas are powerful! And moving beyond something we are comfortable knowing and believing, into a strange new possibility can be scary in some situations.
Thinking about what our mind and body considers subconsciously, before we act is an important part of understanding why brain fog is a symptom of hypothyroidism.
It is the pre-frame of 'getting' something that is outside of our normal boundaries (and is therefore strange, scary or unacceptable) that stops us from 'getting' anything (because 'getting it' would potentially be uncomfortable, or dangerous).
It is an action that stops us acting, before we even begin!
Something about the action of going out and getting has become dangerous for us - our body and mind has shut down to such a degree that we are unable to 'think' clearly, because the act of 'thinking' itself - of trying to work out what is safe or unsafe has become unbearable, or potentially dangerous (in case we do "get" a solution).
This is largely an unconscious process, and in many ways may not relate to the individual things that we are forgetting in our daily life. Picking up the kids isn't dangerous, or remembering a dental appointment, or returning library books on time etc. But there will be an underlying ongoing issue that we are unable to chose how to act appropriately on, which will, over time, become the root cause of the brain 'fogging over' every aspect of our life and our memory function becoming impaired.
In this way, its biological function in meta health is to stop action before it begins by disabling our ability to remember or cognitively function and form a plan of action to do something which might otherwise be dangerous to us.
Importantly, the body is doing this as a means of safety - of survival!
Not to cause problems or issues.
The overal biology of the whole being perceives that ACTION itself would be dangerous - and in particular action which is thought about first!
So, we often see that someone who would innately have spent time and effort trying to 'work out' their problems by using a cognitive, intelligent thinking process as a way to overcome their problem or issue, is more likely to suffer from brain fog, than someone who doesn't.
The people who previously sorted their problems by 'thinking' are prone to experience this symptom in hypothyroidism.
This is not about measuring or suggesting that these people are more intelligent, but is representative of the individual persons 'usual' solution to a problem: it identifies that this person may be someone who tries to overcome their issues by thinking vs doing etc.
What happens when we forget?
There are many studies into why we forget - and if the part of our forgetting is connected to short term or long term memory loss. Whether it is permanent or temporary etc.
A great book is "the man who mistook his wife for a hat" - which is full of stories of people who have experienced memory and brain dysfunction.
However, today I would like to just concentrate on what it is like to experience hypothyroid brain fog, and its purpose within the structure of the cause of hypothyroid dysfunction on an energy psychology level.
We are unable to act on anything if our mind is unable to remember what it is we are meant to be doing , or even why we are meant to be doing it.
Biologically in hypothyroidism, the ACT OF FORGETTING means that we are freed from the burden of trying to remember, or trying to 'work out' what we should be doing, when we have already recognised at a much deeper level that we are NOT in a SAFE situation to ACT in any way!
In terms of ACTING in a situation that we perceive as being threatening, the choices we are faced with are either to go into fight or flight, or to go into a 'freeze'.
In any of these situations, it is true that the cognitive function of the brain - intelligent and constructed thinking is switched off in order for the reptilian brain to act on emotion and intuition. When the brain is signalled that a dangerous situation is imminent, it has to work out what it will do to overcome that situation.
When we lived in less complicated social systems, the threats were very obvious and generally came from outside of ourself: a tiger, or a predator of some kind was an obvious danger, and the appropriate solution would be to run if possible first, or to stay and fight, or if action were not appropriate to freeze. Some animals have evolved to always use the freeze as a survival response.
In our world today, the dangers are far less obvious, and they are very specifically perceived by each of us. They may come from outside, but may also be much closer to home, and threats may even come from a person, or persons that we love and care about. What is important to remember is that it is not the outside threat, event or person that is the cause of the problem, but OUR INNER RESPONSE TO THAT THREAT - and the threat is not even necessarily real! It can be a perceived threat or a potential threat that our system has gone into freeze over!!
The 'freeze' is a huge underlying cause of some hypothyroid dysfunction. (To find out more about this please download: "Right Time for Action: An introduction to the root cause of hypothyroid dysfunction: An energy psychology Approach" )
We are not safe to act - to run away from the dangerous situation.
We are not safe to stand and fight in this dangerous situation.
We only have a freeze response left to us, but when it is prolonged over weeks, months or years, we need to continue living day to day - hand to mouth, we are surviving - but we lose that ability to truly LIVE, because we literally have "NO IDEA" about how we are going to act in the world.
Yes we can wash dishes, drive cars, get dressed, make food...we can run on auto pilot - but anything that requires a process of thinking or cognitive thought becomes particularly hard work. Our life becomes automated and the colour of each day and our experiences begins to fade away as we become more disconnected from what is actually happening in our day to day life, and are caught in the 'freeze', which creates a sort of 'greyed out version' of our own life! It is no wonder that many people with hypothyroidism are also therefore diagnosed with depression, which correlates with a depression of our actual ability to act in the world.
Depression IS a depression of ACTION of involvement within the outer world. It is a disconnection from our own ability to make choices in our life, and to live our life fully.
In Samuel Beckett's play "Waiting for Godot", Estragon has a vague and unreliable memory (much like Alzheimers), which is indeed much like the brain fog of hypothyroidism. The other character, Vladimir repeatedly says: "nothing can be done". The whole play is very painful and difficult to sit through and to watch, but holds so many themes that are similar to how it feels to live with this symptom of hypothyroidism, that I wonder if Samuel Beckett wrote it knowingly. He indeed manages to weave in so many themes that are connected to this experience as to make it poignantly appropriate. References include the loss of time (a thyroid theme), the constant 'waiting' (as if in a moment of ongoing, never-ending 'freeze'), the pointless hat swapping (which is, I think a fabulous metaphor for the emotional and logical brain batting the 'event' that causes the situation around from one part of the head, or brain to the other), the inability to complete or remember 'dreams' - which are essential for 'completing' or processing incomplete events...
If you have not seen this play, then sitting through it will give you a 'taste' of the experience of brain fog that is the waking reality of someone living with hypothyroid.
The brain itself has an inbuilt safety mechanism that tags and filters our brains responses to stressful situations - which is basically any situation that involves the release of cortisol and adrenaline into the system.
Any thoughts or memory that is connected to those chemical tags literally gets 'batted back' to the back of the brain, where it remains unable to be processed or categorised in a clear defined and functioning way. We are no longer able to 'look forward' to make future plans or organise or process cognitive functions in the same way. When the brain is overloaded with these types of memories (short or long term) that are occurring, possibly on a daily basis, it shuts down the brains ability to communicate from the frontal cortex to the limbic system, or reptilian brain. The communication system between where intelligent cognitive thinking occurs, and where reptilian aspects of safety (fight, flight or freeze) occur is shut down - neither can access the other - and function is impaired.
Imagine an animal that 'plays dead' and stops moving or functioning. The immobilisation of the brain is actually safeguarding the brain from the extreme overload of the ongoing conflict that is never able to be resolved in the mind. It switches off to protect itself all the while that not 'acting', or remaining immobilised is THE SOLUTION to the problem.
This is a reaction in the mind to an extreme situation of ongoing stress which renders the person unable to act, to become helpless and stuck in a hopeless situation.
This person is utterly incapable of making a decision on what to do, or how to act appropriately.
They are a complete VICTIM to the situation, caught between a rock and a hard place.
Damned if you do and damned if you don't scenarios.
This why 'forgetting' or 'mind fog' as we like to say in hypothyroid circles is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
To learn more about hypothyroidism - its symptoms and the meta meaning behind the disease itself, please register to receive your free download "Right Time for Action: An introduction to the root cause of hypothyroid dysfunction: An energy psychology Approach"