Coming out of the Cog Fog

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell avatar

by Jennifer (Jenn) Powell |

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Jennifer Silver Linings

I am watching the computer curser taunt my inability to collect my thoughts. Three days out of chemotherapy, my brain is more fried than usual, the fog thick and dense. For those unfamiliar with cog fog (cognitive fog), it is a clouding of consciousness and thinking ability. This “fog” interferes with high-level brain functions including memory, problem-solving, word association, attention span, organization, and planning.

I am frustrated because finding words was always my forte and, today, it is next to impossible. Each time I focus on a line of thought, my is brain completely void moments later, happy to drift into oblivion. For a writer and self-described word nerd, this is not ideal. For anyone struggling with cognitive problems, this ranges from frustrating and annoying to downright disruptive and debilitating,

I will be honest, when I first heard about cog fog, I shrugged it off. I was not that affected by MS, and I always prided myself on my smarts. Fast-forward seven years and I am humbled. My intellect is no match for the inflammation and lesions that continue to compromise my overall executive functioning. I should clarify: I am still that book-smart girl, but hearing me search for a word mid-sentence or forget the meaning of another gives the perception I am not.

This frustrates me.

The misfiring of myelin-bereft nerves causes the majority of cog fog. However, factors such as fatigue, medication, and depression can also cause and exacerbate cognitive challenges. Chances are you have experienced all three of these if you have MS, so your brain may feel like it is often in low-battery mode.

This is now my baseline. I miss the clarity I once had, yearn for it. I find myself staring at forms awaiting information, rehashing directions repeatedly, and losing my line of thought mid-speak. That said, I do what I can to exercise aspects of processing. Word and number games, speed-solving equations, and repetition are all helpful in sharpening abilities to problem solve.

Perhaps the cruelest hardship I have is my struggle with reading. All my life, I have been a voracious reader, from reference to science, fiction to biographies. I always read at least two books simultaneously. It is now challenging to retain any information I read, let alone entire pages. For years, I kept it an embarrassing secret and went five years without picking up my Kindle. I still bought books I wanted so much to delve into, but they sat idle — until now. Thanks to my inability to leave things be, I began reading again. I am slow and deliberate, and I often have to read the page two or three times, but it feels victorious.

Long ago, I ran home from elementary school in tears, crying to my mother that I was called a horrible name. As my mother braced herself for the worst, she asked what I had been called. Through tears of indignation, I said, “Someone called me a poor reader.” Trying to suppress laughter, she immediately knew. A classmate who had trouble reading accurately assumed I would be devastated by such a moniker (as I was the best in class), so she lashed out. Devastated, I was.

All these years later, I fit that moniker. The difference is I do not mind. My cognition has changed, but change is not bad, it is simply different. I continue to overcome many challenges and I am proud of my choice to persevere.

Call me a poor reader now, and I might just thank you.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.



Marianne Simms avatar

Marianne Simms

Excellent Article! I'm very intelligent too but sometimes question my ability to spell words correctly online or otherwise. However, thanks to the site called "Grammarly" I have mastered that problem. It is a free site to use which is awesome! Likewise, I used to question whether I was saying/writing the appropriate adjective in a sentence. I would then quickly look it up in my enlarged-printed dictionary. Nine out of ten times I would be correct! Therefore, I just quit looking up every word I questioned unless the meaning of the word really stumped me. I must add that I majored in Journalism in college. However, I've always prided myself on knowing the semantics of words. Semantics meaning the dictionary definition of a word versus its slang definition. Unfortunately, I do have problems with my cognitive skills: short-term memory loss, concentration, & comprehension which I find highly frustrating! I was a Senior Technical Editor when I was forced out of my job under the guise of a layoff too. I was even asked if I wanted the job of Publications Manager prior to my last job. Instinctively, I knew something was not right with my editorial & writing capabilities so I turned down the promotion. Soon after, an MRI was performed on my brain & I was devasted to learn I had Multiple Sclerosis! I was only 30 years old at that time & was at the peak of my career. C'est la vie! We all have our own crosses to bear & I'm still ambulatory so I'm very grateful for that. I'm thankful for all the blessings in my life & choose to concentrate on those instead. With MS, we all have our good & bad days. Please try to make the best of all of them! (Cog Fog or not!) I wish everyone love, luck & happiness in life regardless of your situation.

~M.S.~ p.s. These are my initials too!

JD avatar


Great article! For someone with "cog fog" your use of language is amazing, I applaud you! Your story in many ways is mine from school to work to feelings I have now about the changes I have experienced because of the inability to find words or form ideas into something I can put on paper because of MS cog fog-like right now. Funny thing is that over time I do pull things together, it's just a longer process now. Sometimes that is not great especially in a work setting or if you would like to come back with a quick one-liner LOL. I've adjusted to missing those opportunities for a clever comeback, work though is difficult especially when a deadline looms. The important message from your article that I also agree with is ..."My cognition has changed, but change is not bad, it is simply different. I continue to overcome many challenges and I am proud of my choice to persevere." I still have things to say, just takes me a little longer and I am ok with that.

Jonathan Mitchell Elsenbroek avatar

Jonathan Mitchell Elsenbroek

Hello Jennifer, I don’t know where you got that description of cog fog but I love it. I too think this is a great article, thanks for posting. I am a 48 year old male, diagnosed with SPMS in 2012 and navigating life one day at a time. And for you and your troubles I have a song and a video. It is inspired by one of your previous posts of 11-30-17. Your article is accompanied by a photo of a young girl (presumably) holding balloons at a beach. When I was first diagnosed I took to the internet and found MS blogs. Wheelchair Kamikaze was one of the first. Maybe you’ve heard of it. A posting of his from years ago was accompanied by a video and a song, Bobby Womack’s version of California Dreaming. In the video is a young girl holding balloons at a beach. I love this video and the song too. Thanks again for inspiring this MS warrior.


Erin avatar


Your post hit home for me, and I take heart after reading it. I used to be an avid reader, always loving the classics and reading scores of them to my children over the years.

Before I knew I had MS, I began losing interest in reading, but decided it was due to being busy. During and after the relapse, I found it overwhelming to even think about starting a book, and it took me months to finish a short Jerome Jerome book. It was a book I would have normally read in a day or two, since I find the humor so clever.

After reading your post, I’m giving myself permission to relax and read what and when I can. If it takes 2 years to read a book, it doesn’t matter.

Maybe I’ll use those “coupons” I earned by reading to kids and grandkids all those years and have them read to me.

Thanks for your encouragement.


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