I have a shit memory. A lot of you are probably saying, “Me too!” but I bet you that my memory is shittier than yours. When I was around nineteen or twenty years old, when my brainpan was still gelling its contents, I was hit on the head with a stage light. It dented my skull and caused permanent brain damage. I lost most of my childhood memories and my short-term memory was severely damaged. My ability to turn short-term memories into long-term memories was lost for a while. I couldn’t remember what happened from one moment to the next. I had to drop out of college and quit my job.
I was like a goldfish, swimming from one end of the bowl to the other and forgetting where I had been in-between. Ooh, what’s over here? There’s an over there! What’s over there? Ooh, look shiny. Blurble blurble derp.
It made life challenging. Thankfully, my memory has since gotten better. Because my brain wasn’t done growing when it was smushed, it was fairly easy for it to work around the damage. It put up detour signs and went around the parts that were irretrievably lost. It took some time and my memory still isn’t what it should be, but we’ve adapted. We figured out a system to work with it. We write Post-it® Notes and reminders to ourselves, my brain and I, and we get on with things. I’ve still never been able to go back to school and the brain damage irrevocably changed the course of my life forever, but I’m alive and nearly functional.
While I am thankful that my brain is as competent as it is and didn’t stay in goldfish mode forever, this is a list of things that I hate about my memory.
1. I can’t remember numbers to save my life. If you tell me your phone number, I will recall it for as long as you’re saying the words. As soon as you’re done speaking it, it’s already gone. The only way I have a remote chance of remembering anything is to write it down. I have to hand write it out, and even then, there’s a very good chance that I’ll transpose the digits. If your phone number is 867-5309, I will remember it as 687-9503. With words, I typically only remember the first letter. I find myself saying, “It starts with P or has a P in it,” but when I finally figure out what the word is, half the time, there’s no P at all, but there’s a B or some other similar sounding letter.
2. I can’t remember names or even faces. If you tell me your name, I will recall it for as long as you’re saying the words. As soon as you’re done speaking it, it’s already gone. It’s even worse if I’m introduced to more than one person. I only know about half the names of the people I work with–the half with nameplates. If their cubicle nameplate says “customer service” instead of their name, I have no idea who they are. I say good morning to everyone I pass. I never use anyone’s name though, not even the names I know, because I think it would make it too obvious that I don’t know the other half’s names. I’ve only worked here for two and a half years.
There’s a girl named Katrina. This girl is friends with one of my friends who has a day after Thanksgiving party every year. Katrina and I see each other every year at this party. Some years, we run into each other several times. It took roughly ten years not to walk up and introduce myself to her as a stranger. After ten years of embarrassing myself and telling her about my shitty memory each time, I now know her name is Katrina and I have a vague idea of what she looks like. I might be able to pick her out of a lineup. Maybe.
3. Information is easily lost. I’ll put my car registration with the rest of my important papers. Or at least, that’s what I think I did, because that would be the right thing to do. My brain, when asked what I did with the car registration, will say, “Duh, you put it with the important papers!” So, I’ll go look in the important papers, and guess what, no car registration. Well, brain, now what? I’ll search through the house and find it in the bathroom or in the pantry or somewhere that is not even remotely close to the important papers.
It’s not all bad though. Because I have a bad memory for information, I can read books I’ve already read or watch movies I’ve already seen and I have only the faintest glimmer of recognition.
4. I can’t remember what I was looking for. When I’m looking for that car registration that is not with the important papers, I’ll be searching through a pile of random life debris and spot that phone charger that I thought I lost. Hey, I found the phone charger! I’ll go plug in the phone. Oh, right, I was looking for something that wasn’t the phone charger. What was it? Brain: searching… searching… no results found. Oh. Well, if I can’t remember, it must not be that important. Sometimes, it takes days to remember to look for the car registration again.
5. I constantly get lost. When I first had my accident, I couldn’t drive, not because I couldn’t remember how or anything like that, but because I couldn’t remember where I was going. Immediately after the accident, I had to drive all over town to specialists here and there. I’d get in my car at home, drive to an office and walk in for my appointment. Occasionally, I was correct, but most of the time, the appointment was with another specialist, or it was yesterday or tomorrow. Sometimes, I couldn’t remember where I was going at all, so I’d just drive home again. One day, I walked into the same doctor’s office three times thinking I had an appointment. The receptionist laughed the first time, but by the third time, she felt sorry for me.
I came up with a Post-it Note system for driving. Before I left the house, I would write out where I was going, what day and what time. The day and time were really important. That way, when I was driving along and goldfished, I could look at the note, figure out what day and time it was at the moment, and react accordingly. When I was done with an appointment, if I remembered, I’d put a sticky up that simply said, “HOME.” That system made my life a lot easier.
Even today though, I still absentmindedly drive along and suddenly panic because I don’t know where I am. These days though, the panic only lasts a few seconds until I orient myself.
6. I get confused easily. I have rituals for everything, not because I’m OCD or practice some ritualistic religion, but because if I don’t do the same task the same way, I will miss a step. For example, taking a shower: wash hair, wash face, rinse hair, condition hair, shave, wash body, rinse body, rinse hair. If I don’t do things in precisely that order, I will fuck up taking a shower. I have put conditioner in my hair without rinsing the shampoo. I have put conditioner in my hair without shampooing it. I have walked out of the shower without rinsing my hair. I can’t even do a simple thing like shower properly.
There are certain tasks I do every day, like feed the animals, and some tasks I do once a week, like clean up dog poop in the yard on Sunday. The weekly tasks aren’t a problem so much. I can look in the yard and see if there’s dog poop. If there is, I haven’t done my job yet. It’s the daily tasks that are a problem since they’re so close together. I will very clearly remember feeding the cat this morning, when in actuality, I’m thinking of yesterday morning. There have been days where the cat isn’t fed in the morning because I fed him yesterday morning instead. Fortunately, I feed my animals twice a day so it’s not like they’ll starve to death from missing one meal. The cat is too fat anyway.
7. Interruptions leave me totally helpless. I work with headphones on partly because I love music and it helps me work, but mostly because it keeps me from being distracted. When someone comes into my office and interrupts me with a question, or worse, idle fucking chitchat, I immediately lose my train of thought. Most of the time, I can never get it back again. This happens a lot when I’m writing. I’ll be typing away and my roommate will start blabbing at me about something and I’ll have to stop writing and answer him. Then I go back and I will have completely forgotten where I was going with a post. The reason I have 50 drafts in my drafts folder is because I have been interrupted 50 times.
8. Recovered memories. Some people think repressed memory is bunk. I tend to agree with that assessment as regards traumatic experiences, but when it comes to brain damage, it’s entirely true. I’ve experienced it myself. My brain lost connections to a lot of data, and every once in a while, it will build a new neural pathway to something that was hopelessly lost. Occasionally, I’ll be going about my life, when suddenly, a smell or a sound triggers a memory. It’s always a shock, because when it first comes back, it’s vivid as hell. Every time I remember it after that, it’s just like any old faded memory. From then on, it takes its rightful place in my memory with all the others and I can recall it whenever I choose. As nice as it is to remember again, the shock of it all is sometimes overwhelming.
9. I can’t follow instructions. If they’re written down and I can refer to them again and again, like a recipe, I’m good. However, like the phone number and name problem, if you just tell me to do something, forget about it. Specifically, I will forget about it. That’s the reason that I work best through email. If you email me something I have to do, I will read the message and decide if it’s time sensitive. If it is, I’ll either do it right then or set a reminder. If it’s not time sensitive, I will flag it in my email. Once a week, I sort my email by flagged items, do them, and then un-flag them. It’s a good system and it works. The problem is, you can’t do that with phone calls and conversations. I tell everyone I have to deal with for work to email me, yet some of these people ignore this request and call me instead, jerks. I use email for a reason.
10. I remember things that are incredibly insignificant, but can’t remember important things. I still remember my first address and phone number, but I have no idea what my phone numbers are now. I have to look them up whenever someone asks me. I remember song lyrics for songs I haven’t heard in twenty years, but can’t remember what I ordered for lunch a minute ago. When the waitress brings it to me, it’s a lunch surprise! I can’t remember where I put my car registration, but I know exactly where my sticker book is. I can’t remember what I read on the previous page of a book, but I remember that a character first appeared in the same book roughly a hundred pages back on the lower left of a page. The real problem with my memory is that I can’t choose what to remember. It’s like a sieve.
Some things flow from my short-term memory right on through to my long-term memory without any issues at all. Other memories get stuck on the mesh; only part of them make it through or nothing at all. It’s all completely random and infuriating.