5 Unexpected Effects Of Having An Inexplicably Awful Memory
I have a ripping, action-filled yarn to tell you. Once upon a time, I was in downtown Toronto at around midnight, probably on the prowl for some tacos, as is my habit. I was set upon by an inebriated fellow with questionable motives who at one point literally put his hand in my pocket. If you know nothing else about me, you know I hate a strange drunk in my pants. He got more handsy, and I returned the favor -- not by putting my hand in his pants, but I did end up punching him after he hit me. I have a scar on the knuckles of my right hand from it.
I know this only because that's what people told me. I wasn't drunk, but I still don't remember it. I sort of remember a dude trying to get my wallet out of my pants, but that's all. I just don't remember things, not even major traumatic events, because there's apparently something wrong with my brain.
You Question Yourself Constantly
Ever heard of mild cognitive impairment? It's often associated with the elderly, and is considered a precursor to something like Alzheimer's disease. It can affect younger people, however, even people in their 20s. The changes in your memory and mental abilities don't generally affect your daily life, and you're aware that there's an issue. It's not full-blown dementia or anything. It's just a super pain in the ass. Do I have that? Ha ha! No! Let me be clear before we proceed that maybe I have this? Or maybe not. Modern medicine is a thrill.
A doctor once told me my memory issues "sounded like" mild cognitive impairment, and then quickly explained it takes too damn much time to diagnose, isn't always possible to diagnose, and can't really be treated anyway, so why bother? Then he kicked back in his hammock and finished his pitcher of margaritas.
I fully get that few of us have a perfect memory and can just rattle off whatever happened on June 13, 2007 with nary a second thought. For most of my life, I assumed my memory issues were everyone's memory issues. Who the hell knows what happened when they were 16? But you can only hear friends and family say "You seriously don't remember that?" so many times before you start to think maybe the problem is in your own head, and not with the utter unrememberability of the reality in which you live.
I can't remember what my cousin, who lives in the same town as me and has for my entire life, looks like. My aunt used to be married, but what was my uncle's name? Or his job? Or anything? I could ask someone, but that's beside the point. I literally don't know. I actually only remembered I don't remember while writing this. I can't definitively tell you if I ever met my uncle. I think he died, but, you know, I don't know. Please savor that as I am currently savoring it. I think, probably, a family member died, but I don't know. I also don't know if I knew him in any way. If he haunts me for saying all of this, the joke will still be on him, because I won't recognize the ghost.
You Seem Awfully Insensitive
Everyone forgets important shit in their lives, because our brains need to make room for Bob's Burgers quotes and fan theories about HBO dramas. You forgot your anniversary, or to pick up the dry-cleaning, or to come home for 13 days. That's normal, I guess. It's hard to explain how this is different, especially since I don't know how other people remember things. But I can remember that your birthday is today, for instance, but then not remember any details of your birthday pretty much at all. Last year, the year before, the year before that. Or Christmas. I know I had Christmas last year, but I'm not sure what we did. Was there a turkey? Probably. But maybe it was a ham. Did I sleep in or get up early? I dunno. What did I get, and what did I get for other people as gifts? Let's just assume the answer to both is rummage-proof pants.
When people are constantly reminding you of things the two of you did together that for them were really significant, and all you can do is shrug, you seem like a real asshole. It's not that I don't want to remember, or didn't think those things were important; I just don't have much choice here. And I do remember a lot of things -- just not some things that others feel are pretty significant. You know, like the existence of uncles. Or all those landmark firsts that movies from the '80s really tried to convince me were a big deal, like a first date or a first kiss. The first time you had a bath with someone who didn't laugh at your junk. I don't remember any of that. I assume all of them happened, though.
You Have Emotions Minus Experience
Have you ever been tooling around on Twitter or Facebook or *Googles "social media site people are using now"* Minecraft and come across a story about noted political pundit Gerald Watson McFuddly, thought "Man, fuck that guy in his floppy ears," and then couldn't remember why you wanted McFuddly fucked in his ears? Me too. All the time. I have to Google my emotional response to things more often than I'd like. Why do I know in my soul that this person is a tool? Why am I pretty sure this movie sucks? Why am I vaguely aroused by Long John Silver's? Google to the rescue!
A weird side effect of this is that I rewatch movies a lot. Like, a lot. I watch movies I like and sometimes ones I don't to recall what it is I like and don't like about them. I'll read books for the same reason. I've read The Eye Of The World by Robert Jordan about ten times, and that's a fat-ass book. But it was also the book that inspired me to start writing, so it bugs me when I can't remember what the hell it's about. So I'll read it again.
They say things like depression can lead to issues with memory, alongside everything from vitamin deficiencies to stress and the excessive multi-tasking associated with technology. Is it possible my beloved internet is partially to blame for my brain being warm porridge? Again, the doctor I talked to figured that diagnosing the issue was going to be time-consuming, so I won't rush to any judgments. And the fact that I haven't been pushed to further delve into this in a serious way means I'm OK with never quite remembering who the hell Justin Whalen is.
You Lose Track of Time
This is different than forgetting, say, what exactly was going on in the news on your 15th birthday, or what exact day of the month it was when you had to go to the hospital because you ate an entire candle. I know that nobody remembers their life as a sequential string of events on a perfect timeline. But for me, my memory is like a diffuse pool where everything in my life maybe happened on the same day or 15 years apart from everything else.
When I was still living with my parents, I had a room in the attic, and you had to climb a ladder to get up there. I remember taking a sofa out of that room by myself by carrying it down the ladder on my head. That thing weighed a damn ton and it was literally the dumbest way to take a sofa out of a room, but hey, I was young. Maybe. I have no idea when it happened. Was I 13? Was I 16? 19? I dunno. I can't remember how old I was when I moved out on my own, either, but clearly it happened sometime.
I need something huge to root a memory to, or it's totally stripped of context. It's similar to how everyone remembers where they were on September 11th, but couldn't tell you what they did the day before. But those people, I'm told, are still able to put their memories into some kind of timeline by relating them to each other ("That would have been just after the dog ran away, but before Uncle Frank got run over by his own tractor"), and I just can't. It's all just a mishmash.
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You Forget That You Forgot
Trying to research an article like this is a puzzle that's a kick in the knackers to solve. What's a funny thing I can tell you that I forgot? I don't know, because I don't remember. I pulled up a couple! But I bet there are a lot more. I remember flipping off my friend's mom once and being banned from ever going to their home. But what led to that? Eh, I dunno. I remember having a deaf white cat that pissed like it was a water balloon rolling through a pin factory. What the hell happened to that cat? Dehydration, I assume. I have been to LA twice in my life, but in my head it's the same trip. How far apart were those? What did I do the other time? Did I buy two luchador masks and get drunk on a rooftop with Adam Tod Brown more than once? Man, I hope so.
I'm not crippled by memory loss on a day-to-day basis. I'm obviously able to write these columns and otherwise function as a member of society. I don't have to tattoo my daily routine on myself, Memento-style. I'd probably have happily lived my life assuming my memory wasn't any particular issue if not for the way other people react to it. That super disappointed look people get after starting off a story you can tell they think is great. "Remember that time we were in Montreal and you married a French schoolteacher after her brother shot you in the leg with a tranquilizer dart meant for horses?" And the answer is no. No, I don't remember that. And then they look at me like I just shot them with a tranquilizer dart meant for horses. And inevitably, the next course of action is to literally say the same thing a second time, but perhaps worded differently. And no, I still don't remember.
I guess it'd be like if you were friends with someone with a superhuman memory who was always saying things like, "You don't remember what you had for lunch on May 13, 2004? Remember, it was a totally unremarkable Thursday and we got those turkey sandwiches from the gas station, and you said yours was OK but not great? And nothing else really happened? Dude, you need to see a doctor."
Articles like this typically end on some kind of optimistic, forward-looking statement about how such a problem can be solved. Well, as far as I can tell, the treatment for mild cognitive impairment is two-pronged. First you need to dedicate yourself to a strict regimen of jack and then a hearty amount of shit, because there's no real treatment available. Vitamin B might help, and of course regular exercise -- you know, the stuff they say can help improve 90% of everything that's wrong with everyone. So it's worth a shot, I guess, as long as I remember to do it.
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