I’ve never had a particularly good memory. I did well in my school and college exams but only because I meticulously learned everything parrot fashion otherwise I couldn’t remember a thing. I’ve always had to make written lists of things I needed to do – relying on remembering stuff would have been disastrous – and wish I’d taken out shares in Post-it Notes because I’d have made a killing. And then along came my meningitis, which turned into severe M.E., and my previously poor memory became dire. Add to that the looming menopause and I honestly feel like an early-onset Alzheimer’s patient. Which sounds dramatic, until you realize my Dad is currently being tested for Alzheimer’s and I’m sitting in on the tests with him, doing them along in my head and often scoring worse than my Dad. I don’t know whether to laugh about it, or be absolutely terrified.
The front door to my parent’s apartment is security coded – you have to punch in a set of numbers before you can open it – but I have to keep the code in my mobile phone because on several occasions over the years I’ve stood by the door and not been able to recall a single digit even though they represent numbers both my parents and I should find easy to remember.
I’ve sat in my automatic car and forgotten how to start it.
I have to have alarms on my mobile phone to tell me to put the dustbin out each week and don’t get me started on the recycling, which is every other week with garden on one day and the household stuff on another – I’d be completely lost without reminders.
I have reminders to tell me to blow the car tyres up and check the oil. Reminders to clip my dog’s toenails. Reminders to do mine and my parents online grocery shop each week. Reminders to charge my mobility scooter battery and, having put in on charge, a reminder to turn the sodding thing off again. Even a reminder to have a bath, otherwise I can go 10 days and forget to wash! There have even been days where I’ve forgotten to eat lunch and it’s gotten to 4pm and I’ve suddenly realized I’m ravenously hungry. FFS.
Another memory issue I’ve always struggled with is recognising people’s faces and, since getting M.E., this has gotten totally out of hand. There’s a woman who lives in my village who I’ve regularly seen to wave to or have a quick chat to over the past 12 years, but I recently saw her in the supermarket and walked straight past her like she didn’t exist. Because she was out of the context of the village I simply didn’t recognise her and now she must think I’m a right snotty cow who only talks to people when she feels like it. Same thing happened at a local country fair the other week. I went with my camera to take some pictures and this man came up to chat to me, also carrying a camera. He obviously knew me and his face looked familiar, so I winged it and decided he must belong to my Camera Club. I’m asking if he’s entering the competitions this season and if he’d been on any of the club trips this summer and could see he was looking slightly puzzled, until 20 minutes into the conversation I twigged that he was indeed a Camera Club member………..just not of my Camera club but one 30 miles up the Motorway! I felt soooo stupid and he must think I’m totally off my rocker. Then there’s the time I asked one of my Club members where he lived and he looked at me like I was mental because I’d actually been to his house to pick him up the week before! And don’t get me started on people’s names.
I’ve become one of those annoying people who says the same thing not once, not twice but often three or four times. Then I see the look of annoyance on people’s faces and the exasperated “yes, I know, you’ve already told me!” and feel really, really dumb.
I’ve now gotten to the stage where I’m honest with everyone. I’m giving a talk at my Camera Club next month on some new software we’ve all been using and am starting with “I live with a mild brain injury, which affects my short-term memory so I really struggle to learn new things …….” and can only hope it will explain some of my strange behaviour and that the members will be more understanding of me in the future.
The one thing my poor memory has given me is compassion for other people, particularly my parents both of whom now struggle with their memories. It’s easy to get irritated with someone who’s told you the same story 10 times, but to them they’re telling it for the first time so I try and listen like it’s the first time I’ve heard it. We laugh about them calling things “wotsit” and play the “guess the item” game when Mum in particular can’t remember the name for something. I guess it won’t be quite so funny though when my Dad forgets my name or the fact I’m even his daughter.
When my brain fog is really bad, and my sensory overload is really bad, and my sound and light sensitivity is really bad, and my memory is really bad, the world outside my quiet, calm, ordered bedroom can seem like a frightening place to be. But I’m trying to put in place strategies to help me function, as I assume things will only get worse as I age. Which is depressing, but I refuse to look into my future with dread or fear. Whatever the future holds is whatever the future holds – I’m not going to start worrying about it now.
I try to be as forgiving of my own brain symptoms as I am of my parents’. I wouldn’t dream of castigating them over their poor memory, so try hard not to beat myself up over my own. Instead of standing there feeling stupid over the things I do I’m going to make a concerted effort to admit to other people that I have difficulties – hopefully I’ll feel less like a nut job and they will learn compassion and understanding and that it’s not just old people who can be forgetful.