I’m prone to forgetfulness. I can easily forget that I’ve already seen a given movie or television show, taken my thrice daily medications, and what day it is. Where I’ve left my handbook, shoes, keys, mail, garden clippers, and the dog’s leash are just as likely to slip my mind. They stay slipped, until I search all possible locations.
My lapses in memory grew serious enough last year that my daughters insisted I get my head examined. Terrified that I was developing Alzheimer’s or early Dementia, they escorted me to my doctor’s office, reporting some scary voids in my recollection. Convinced something was malfunctioning in my neural paths, I was referred to Memory and Cognitive specialists at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital.
Four hours of exhaustive tests confirmed I was suffering ‘some’ dysfunction. Thankfully, they were able to diagnose that the source was not my native biology but, rather, biochemical effects of ailments and treatments. “Fibro-Fog” and “Chemo-Brain” covered the majority of my memory impairment. The balance was attributed to known side effects of my medication array.
But interesting to me, much of what I learned in the testing was that I have always lacked effective practices for building memory. The testing revealed I, like many, have never overcome early learning deficiencies. Disguised by vivid recall of my own and other’s histories, I’d never understood or integrated basic keys to and cues for actively memorizing material. The memories that I have, installed themselves; I’ve never been adept at directing the process.
School was difficult, material with dates and numbers nearly impossible to master. I didn’t know how to “Chunk”. I’d never heard of a “Memory Palace” until Masterpiece Mystery offered us Sherlock a few years ago. Basic tricks of learning new data were news to me. Unless I’ve simply forgotten I ever knew them.
My memory has improved. But the experience of forgetting so much hugely altered my mind and thinking.
First, I was confused a lot. When people would say, “You just said that exact thing, word-for-word”, I’d assure them I couldn’t have; I had just, that moment, thought of it. And I was telling the absolute, cross-my-heart Truth.
It was disorienting. Initially, I suspected people ‘correcting’ me were trying to undermine my sanity…then, realizing the absurdity of those motives, I began to believe them. I’d refrain from speaking for fear I’d already said whatever was ‘on my mind’.
It was hard work to remember basics – the day of the week, my birthdate, whether I’d eaten anything. I had to concentrate, actively will my sluggish neurons to connect – “What am I doing right now?” “What do I mean to do?”
I felt terror and real sadness. It was as if I’d lost a common language with which to communicate with the world. I didn’t trust my own mind, not for memory, judgment, projection or prediction. I didn’t dare drive lest I forgot what a red light meant.
I had difficulty differentiating between real-time events and dreams. “Did we go out to breakfast yesterday or did I just dream we did?” I was sure I’d enjoyed phone calls and responded to emails I hadn’t. The translation between thought and action was obliterated.
One day, I forgot my beloved father had died five years prior until I went to make my ‘usual’ 5 pm. call to him. The sudden realization of his passing hit me again with total inconsolable immediacy. The years of reconciling his being gone forgotten.
These and worse are the experiences of our friends, family, community dealing with Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
I will never again be impatient or annoyed by someone’s forgetfulness. I will stay in love and appreciation as they repeat the same stories, ask the same questions, and try to find their way through dreams, realities and memory.
I won’t let Memory or Time be our language. I’ll speak and listen only with Love.