Fuzzy thinking is so severe at times; we could describe it as a ‘syndrome’; rather than just a single symptom of depression. It’s a collection of symptoms such as confusion, forgetfulness, inability to think properly, muddled up thoughts, lack of focus and concentration. The more severe each of these experiences is, whether suffered individually or collectively, the more distressing it can be for the sufferer.
Some people refer to fuzzy thinking as ‘brain fog.’ I call it cotton-wool-head (Other parts of the world may know cotton wool as simply cotton balls.) When I was young, cotton wool didn’t come in the form of balls, it was a packet of one big square, and you pulled off the amount needed. When pulled apart it looked and felt fuzzy. That’s what it feels like inside my brain; the cotton wool in my head is preventing normal functioning and blocking electrical circuits.
There have been various studies, but in one, in particular, they compared women with depression or bipolar disorder against healthy women. Those with depression or bipolar disorder exhibited lower levels of activity than healthy women in the right posterior parietal cortex. Other studies have found lower levels of activity in other parts of the brain too.
The right posterior parietal cortex brain region is responsible for working memory, problem-solving and reasoning, so it’s no wonder we can be so cognitively challenged by fuzzy thinking.
I think fatigue contributes to my experience of fuzzy thinking. The more physically fatigued I feel, the fuzzier the brain tends to be. Sometimes, it seems like my brain is actually buzzing or whirring; it’s quite unpleasant. At times, the only thing I can manage is to sit down and wonder which room I am in, and why I am there, or stand in a room and stare. If I wait long enough, I might remember! I did it this morning – just standing still in the kitchen staring at nothingness, unable to think, but aware I was just standing still. I was unable to think what to do next.
A simple task, such as making a cup of coffee is challenging. My jumbled up thinking means I can’t hold my focus long enough to just ‘make a cup of coffee.’ I have to break the task down into parts and make an effort to focus.
For example, I concentrate on filling the kettle, remembering to switch it on. Then, get a cup out of the cupboard. Next, I try to pay attention as I add a spoonful of coffee and a spoonful of sugar to the cup. (Making sure it is just one of each, not several, as has happened before!) I need to stay by the kettle until it has boiled, or I will forget I am making a drink. I then try to focus on pouring the boiling water into the cup without spilling or overfilling it or burning myself. Next, I need to remember to get milk from the fridge and pour it without spilling it, either. I must do it in that sequence so not to miss something out, and I need to concentrate on each step in the sequence. The only other thing, I need to remember, is to drink it! I am sure many people who want a hot drink, just make it without having to think about the individual steps required.
One day, I poured the boiling water into the sugar tin instead of the cup – destroying the only sugar I had!
Differences in brain activity from that of healthy individuals drive fuzzy thinking. It’s not something within our control or of our making, so it’s not fair to be hard on ourselves because of it. Perhaps we just need to sit down, stop trying to think and give ourselves a little break to drink that diligently made cup of coffee!