Long term memory. Short term. Working memory. We depend on memory for everything we do. It’s complex data storage and retrieval, in place since birth. So what happens when the framework gets shook up? For me, things tend to get tricky; I live with schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Since my last breakdown I’ve been struggling to regain my memory. The doctors agreed that I suffered amnesia, due in part to the difficulty I had in regulating my medications while in a psychotic state. In essence, I unintentionally overdosed on psych meds. I didn’t know what day it was. I was hard-pressed to recall schedules and activities. I have virtually no memory of those three months, save for a few fleeting images of pain and frustration. I’ve had to ask people who were there what was going on in my life so that I can have something to hang onto. The stories are scary to me now, mostly because I don’t remember being so off. I was living my life in a blackout.
Recently, I was en route to my weekly therapy session when I passed by a home decor shop with a poster inviting customers to sign up for their bridal registries. I thought to myself, “Yes! That’s perfect! We should register with them!” By the end of the block, my dreams were crushed when I remembered that I wasn’t engaged to be married. I don’t even have a girlfriend. That “we” was from a different era.
I discovered a child’s abandoned toy by the curb. I was tempted to photograph it as evidence of a crime. It didn’t occur to me that a parent was likely walking their baby in a stroller, and the child dropped their toy. No, it had to be something more suspicious. If a toy or a sock or a pacifier had gone missing, then a child had been abducted or worse. Of this I was certain. I would also catalog the photos as evidence of nefarious deeds. Creating proof of these imagined crimes used to be a symptom of my obsessive-compulsive disorder. Meds and therapy have helped me to gain some insight into my behavior.
So why am I experiencing this all over again? Why the toys? Why the registry? I wonder if it’s my mind trying to reboot itself after the break. Perhaps this is the other side of amnesia, a period of accepting fragments into my otherwise linear life.
Still, it’s frustrating. I’m only getting glimpses of my recent past, appearing like Polaroid snapshots underwater, floating up to the surface for a brief peek before sinking into oblivion forever. It’s something I have no control over. The images just come and go. I can’t hold onto anything.
I had fallen repeatedly while on a psychosis-driven walkabout. Three days and nights lost to madness, all of which came to an abrupt halt when I fell face-first into a rockery. An MRI later showed no damage to my brain, but the concussion could still be the hitching post for retrograde amnesia, a loss of memory access to events that happened before an injury.
I may have lost some episodic, explicit memory (the memory of autobiographical events) because of the trauma of my errant intake of medication, but my procedural (implicit or unconscious) memory remains intact, as often happens with retrograde amnesia. Riding a bike, driving a car, playing an instrument—these are examples of procedural memory. Once learned, it’s in there for the long haul; it becomes second nature, reflexive. At some point in my psychotic past I had associated lost toys with egregious goings-on. Later, I became obsessed with those lost toys, and the compulsion to photograph them followed shortly thereafter. It all became One Thing. In my mind I was saving babies by taking photos.
Post-amnesia, my mind may be responding to the lost toy phenomenon as a method by which to reinstate my memory. I had all but forgotten the problem, having worked hard to regard the lost articles—and my response to them—objectively. Now I find myself back in the habit of wanting to photograph them when I find them, but I don’t. I managed to overcome that compulsion. Which is good. It lets me feel more in control of my actions, more mindful. Still, it’s unnerving to feel driven to do something so empty, regardless of the intention. I’m not a super sleuth. I’m not Batman or Sherlock Holmes. No one is going to be saved by my cataloging JPEGs.
I want my life back. All of it. The missing time is maddening to me. I haven’t worked this hard to suffer the indignity of my lizard brain dredging up puzzles from the past. I’ll keep working on this to become whole. I’m determined.