Remembering yesterday comes easily for most adults. They can recall events and details about where they were and whom they met with relative ease, even after several days have passed. It is not so with people like me who live with the amnesia that accompanies dissociative identity disorder.
All my life I’ve been painfully aware that I do not remember things like everyone else. There have always been huge gaps in my mind of not just learned knowledge from school, but also personal events, places, and people. At one time, I put these anomalies off to a bad memory, but now I know it is a functional form of amnesia.
I seem to be adept at selecting which things I wish to remember and which I don’t. I do not remember names, but I do remember faces and voices. I do remember odd trivia facts but bless me if I can remember most of my experiences from yesterday, good, or bad.
It is a terrible sinking feeling to get emails from people who are incredibly happy to have met my acquaintance and are asking for information from me from my writing and me not knowing what they are talking about.
In college, I will attend class on Monday and not remember by Wednesday what the subjects were that we had covered.
People around me seem to be unaware of this problem.
That’s because I have become exceptionally good at playing along so that they do not catch on. When I meet someone in a store that obviously knows me, I can continue a nonsense conversation, and they are totally unaware that I just faked my way through.
As one can gather, having any kind of a relationship or friendship is extremely complicated for me. I cannot remember whom I have told what, so people think I’m eccentric or worse, losing my mind. I have been shunned by people who were either hurt or afraid because of amnesia.
As time goes on, I have become increasingly aware of just how this quirk in my cognitive ability plays out. I seem to experience life as a bunch of new beginnings. I tend to push away experiences, good or bad, into a corner of my mind and move forward without giving what just occurred anymore thought.
While this was adaptive as a child experiencing severe and repeated childhood trauma, it has become a severe handicap in my adult life.
I long to remember from one day to the next the important things done the day before. I do have an overarching memory of the basic facts, such as I went to school, and I took an exam, but the details of who was there and sometimes what day it was on are lost. More to the point, I am unable to retrieve them.
I could go into the neuroscience behind this phenomenon, but I’ll spare you that long explanation. Suffice it to say I am not alone in this plight. Many who live with dissociative identity disorder also experience amnesia.
The most crucial tool I have in fighting the debilitating effects of this problem is awareness. I am very aware that I will not remember what is being taught in class, so I take careful notes. Because this form of amnesia is a retrieval problem, not a memory formation problem, if I take careful notes, I can trigger the memories of what was taught in class into the forefront and do well on an exam. This also works to help remember people and events, but who takes notes on every aspect of their life?
I hear people online talking about how fearful they are because they suffer from amnesia related to dissociative identity disorder, but why be afraid? It is a tool that has served me well and is the reason I am sane after the tragedies of my childhood.
Would I like to be aware of my movements and actions from day to day? Sure.
However, I must be patient and understanding with myself. Amnesia served as a way to remain alive and hopeful in a horrifically demanding and ego destroying environment when I was young.
Had I not been given the ability to “forget” the hopelessness and helplessness would have destroyed me. As it was, I did try to kill myself at age six, and being able to push the despair I must have felt to the back burner of my mind helped me to survive.
For now, I am at a loss as to how to change this ingrained and subconscious behavior. So, I have decided to accept amnesia as an annoying yet understandable part of my life’s experience. It is part of who I am, not my identity, and I do find in getting along in life, and that is what matters.
My words of wisdom for anyone who understands what I am speaking of are these:
Don’t be afraid of something that has helped you for so long. Yes, it is exacerbating, but it is not harmful. It’s okay. Really. Fighting against this adaptation is fighting against all the things that have helped you survive.
Instead, learn to use this ability and relax.
Nothing serious ever got better by worrying and complaining about it.
“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh