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August 2021

Post image for How to Recover from Pandemic-Induced Mind Fog

In the first months of the pandemic, many people suddenly had trouble focusing on work, finishing books, and staying awake during meetings. Others reported instances in which they forgot their own phone numbers, put the clean laundry in the washer, and got into the shower with their glasses on. Ceiling-staring and aimless scrolling reached an all-time high.

It happened to me too – a sort of “mind fog” that made it more difficult to do almost everything. I became slower, drowsier, less motivated, and less focused. (And I wasn’t very focused to begin with.)

Experts in newspaper columns gave us a quick explanation: anxiety. Stress and anxiety can cause this sort of mental haze, and they’re a normal response to such an abnormal situation.

I always found this answer suspicious. It seemed too simple, and it was usually expressed without doubt, despite the “unprecedented” nature of the situation. It particularly made no sense in my case, because by spring 2020 I was experiencing far less anxiety than I had for the previous eighteen months. At that time I had just emerged from dark period of my own, and by April my anxiety had dropped to almost nothing compared to its peak. But the mind fog was new, and it was unmistakable.

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Post image for Nothing Really Has a Name

I always liked those weird exploration games from the 1980s and 90s, like Zork and Myst, where you wake up in a strange environment, with no idea where you are or even who you are. You have to gather the context from the inside out, by wandering around, pushing buttons, peering behind wall paintings, and reading notes left by strangers who were here before you.

I like those games because that’s exactly what it’s to be a human being, if you think about it.

Your life began with a kind of singularity. A personal Big Bang. Without warning, you emerged from unconsciousness into a sea of light, color, smell, faces, feelings, and other completely unexpected phenomena, and there was nothing to do but attempt to navigate it. It was the ultimate “cold open” – no context, no explanation, just things happening.

At this early stage you know nothing about the world except what you feel in each moment. The feelings are new, intense, and definitely real. It’s a torrent that keeps coming, and at some point you realize it isn’t going to subside. This strange condition of being tossed in a sea of sensations, which you will one day call “existence,” or “life,” comes no reference point, just one implicit job: make sense of all this.

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