This past Easter weekend I spent 5 hours on Saturday going through a firebox full of old diaries. All my teen years (into my early twenties) memories, thoughts and passions were recorded there in longhand and in pencil.
I'd kept that box for 3 decades, moving it when I moved, reading it when I forgot who I was. See, unknown to me at the time, I had a seizure disorder since birth that exploded after a car accident at 16. I lost all my long term and short term memory, except for about 20 minute's worth. I kept the box so that I wouldn't forget who I was again, or if I did, I could study my "cheat sheet" notes.
The problem with my method was those journals, while covering many years, were a snapshot in time. I was no longer that girl. Whenever my memory failed, it was like taking a computer back to default. All the progress I'd made disappeared and I was left to start over.
This weekend, I was able to see the threads of me in the writings: the connection to nature, animals & moon phases/astrology; the dreams that gave me insight into situations and people, and were often predictive of future events for myself and others; the fear of being "wiped clean" of sense of self and having to start anew, again; the disconnect from society and community, especially when people start conversations with "Who are you?" or "What do you do?" When you don't have an answer, people are dismissive.
I've decided to acknowledge my fill-in-the-blank past and take what lessons I can from it to move forward. Even though I've always thought that holding on to this past (my dark little secret) was necessary, I realized that I must leave the shore for lands unknown. With me, I'll carry the quirky pieces of myself that resurface, whether memory fails me or not.
I've decided to learn all I can from my struggles with identity and recurring memory struggles. I'm going back to my early, post-trauma roots: writing. I'm going to write the book on the struggle with identity for people with memory loss. God willing, I can help someone else find the lessons earlier and live a well-rounded life with more ease. Please send me good thoughts as I write the first draft over the next couple of months.
As a preview of one kind of memory issue I'll be discussing, see this quote from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/12/amnesia-and-the-self-that-remains-when-memory-is-lost/266662/ :
"...retrograde amnesia. This is the kind of amnesia that is most often dredged up as a plot element in bad comedies and cheap mystery stories; so-and-so gets hit on the head and then can't remember who he is anymore, wanders around aimlessly, finding himself in zany predicaments, until he gets hit on the head again and his memory remarkably returns. This almost never occurs in real life. Although retrograde amnesia is real, it's usually the result of a tumor, stroke, or other organic brain trauma. It isn't restored by a knock on the head. Because they can still form new memories, patients with retrograde amnesia are acutely aware that they have a cognitive deficit, are painfully knowledgeable about what they are losing."
If you want to experience my life in some way, watch Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates.
Do you have any amnesia or memory struggles? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.