When memory fails

Something interesting happened to me, about 3 weeks ago. It was pretty heavy and it almost threw me for a loop, but I made it through — and I discovered something about myself that I had really underestimated. I’m not exactly sure how to feel about it — there are good aspects and bad, I suppose.

Anyway, several weeks back, I was gearing up for my business trip. I was going to be away for about a week and a half, with very limited access to phone and home. Less than 48 hours before I was to fly out, I got a call from my mother that my father had passed out, had been admitted to the hospital, and was going to have a heart procedure done the next day.

Talk about a fire drill. Not to mention all the other emotions that come up when a parent is ill or in danger. I share powers of attorney with two of my siblings — with one, I share financial responsibilities, with the other I share medical responsibilities. (And I actually have no idea where the paperwork is, come to think of it… I must do something about that)

My mom was pretty freaked out. She and my dad live alone, and although they have friends who are nearby and they are very connected with others, they still don’t have anyone actually living with them, so she was alone, while my dad was in the hospital. The procedure itself wasn’t supposed to be that huge of a deal – something that’s done pretty frequently, but still… they were working on his heart, and he’s had some issues in the past.

I spent a lot of time on the phone with my parents and siblings, up until when I boarded the plane. I had my Plan B ready to go, and I had all the numbers I needed, in case I needed to get down to my parents’ place in a hurry — they live a day’s drive away from me, but I know different ways to get there much faster. I spent a lot of time conveying information and calming folks down and just keeping tabs on everything.

Long story short, my dad came through the procedure with flying colors, which was a huge relief and we’re all so grateful. The doctors also informed him that he was extremely lucky to be alive. Most folks who have the kind of episode he had don’t make it. At minimum they need to be resuscitated, which my mom could not do when he collapsed in front of her, because she didn’t know CPR and she didn’t know what to do, and she wasn’t near anyone who could help.

So, all in all, somebody up there was looking out for him. And now both my parents are on the road back to normalcy.

And I got on the plane and flew to my 10-day business trip, which went pretty well, all things considered.

The weird thing is, when I got back from my trip and met with my neuropsych, and they asked me how things had been since the last time we met, I had no recollection at all of the episode with my father. I talked about work and the business trip, which was minor and paled in comparison to what had gone on with my family just 48 hours before I left. I talked about the everyday stuff, and I ran out of things to say. There was no glimmer of memory that anything out of the ordinary had happened in the meantime.

And I didn’t remember that it was something I should discuss — all the steps involved, all the progress I’ve obviously made because of handling the situation as well as I had — it has completely slipped my mind, as though it had never, ever happened.

On top of that, considering all the emotion and fear and drama and upheaval that was going on, you’d think that I’d have been at least a little impacted by the experience, both during my trip and after. I would think that it would leave at least some “emotional residue” from the experience, to color my world and my sense of life around me.

One would think…

But no, there was no palpable “residue”. There was no lingering upset. No emotional fallout, no drama, no tears after the fact, and no ongoing dread and uncertainty. I guess maybe it happened so fast, that it didn’t make a huge impact on me. That, and I didn’t dwell on it so deeply that it disrupted my life. It was just something that happened and that turned out well, and life went on.

Weird. At least, it seems that way to me. Maybe not weird — but unexpected, in any case.

So, I’ve been really pondering this for some time, now. Why didn’t I remember? Did I block it out because it was so overwhelming to go through it, and I didn’t want to have to relive it? Was it one of those deeply personal things that I don’t like to discuss with anyone, so I instinctively suppressed it? Or am I just able to focus so intently on things in front of me, that I can block out everything else around me and immerse myself 100% only in what is “required” for me to focus on? It might also be my neuropsych’s office, which usually has a fan running that distracts me and puts me a little bit on edge. I’ve noticed that that fan bothers me a great deal, at times, and I have to really work at blocking out the sound of it, so I can think and focus on our sessions. That could have been part of it, too.

I think it could be a combination of all of the above — I really do immerse myself in the present moment, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. I can get so distracted by everything around me, that keeping focused demands everything I have — and everything I can’t spare, I push off to the side, so I can do and think what I need to do and think. I also notice that when I step into my neuropsych’s office, it is like a little bubble that takes me away from the rest of my frustrating, irritating, distracting, exasperating world, so I don’t always want to dig down into the muck. Their office is quiet (aside from the fan) with a door that closes, and the sessions are structured in ways that help me think better than I usually do, and I don’t like to disrupt that with my real-life dramas, most of which seem to be made of nothing and evaporate in thin air at a moment’s notice and hardly seem worth the time and energy to pay attention to them. We’ve wasted a whole lot of time in the past, trying to figure out how to address stupid-ass episodes that have come over me, simply because I was tired and stressed and wasn’t managing my energy and physical state very well. So, I guess I’ve built up a block against discussing emotional subjects with them, because those emotions just come and go on a whim, and I don’t want to waste the time pondering something that’s usually not real to begin with.

I didn’t have my neuropsych appointment this week because of feeling unwell and unable to drive, so I didn’t get the chance to discuss this memory thing with them. Tomorrow I have an appointment, and I’ll have to write it down, so I remember to talk about it. It’s a little unsettling to me, that I flat out didn’t remember that really important piece of my life — like it never existed. It’s not that I want to feel broken up about things – I would just like to be able to remember them and discuss them, especially when they are real. But apparently, my memory is not to be trusted at all times.

It would be nice if I could remember the things that really matter to me… the things that affect my life. I guess I’ll just have to write these things down. Some days, it seems like so much is happening to me that I can’t keep my head on straight, and I suspect that few people would be able to remember everything that happens to me, anyway. Some weeks, I go through more than some people experience in a month — or a year. I can’t keep track of everything, and it’s often difficult for me to figure out which things that happen are really impactful and significant, and which ones are just passing pains in my ass. Maybe I’ll just make a list of things that happen, each week, and have that with me when I go see them. Now I just have to remember to show them the list. I’ve kept lists before, and completely forgot to produce them at the time I should have.

Well, it’s all a process. If I figure out how to manage this type of thing, I’ll definitely let you know – because I’m sure others could benefit from it as well.

So it goes… onward.

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

4 thoughts on “When memory fails”

  1. My son uses sticky notes on his mobile. Oddly enough, his memory is generally excellent, except for short term, less important stuff.. he takes the mickey a lot about my brain injured son having to remind me.. and it is quite true. Yet there are moments that do seem to disappear, without rhyme or reason, as if they wandered up a neural pathway and get sidetracked somehow. He then likens it to a storage and retrieval process in a database.. he can retrieve the memories but needs the right keyword to spark it and see where to look. It can be disconcerting for him, I know.


  2. Interesting – yes, it’s like the info gets put into a folder and you forget where that folder is. But you’re/he’s right – with the right keyword or prompt, it’s back, as though it were there all the time. And yes, it can be disconcerting, especially when the pressure’s on… Ah well…


  3. It makes for an interesting journey sometimes 🙂 Though it is a standing joke that he calls me for information because I’m quicker than Google, yet I have to call him back to ask him what he told me five minutes ago 🙂


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