A memory is not a photograph. It is, in a sense, a revisiting of a moment in your life that captures not only the scene but also the significance of the participants’ relationships, their internal states, and the outcome of their behavior. It is the activation of an adaptive representational network. — Peggy La Cerra & Roger Bingham, The Origin of Minds: Evolution, Uniqueness, and the New Science of the Self
“Let me begin by telling you why you’re here today. You’ve run out of long term memory.”
Wow. I’m not exactly sure what this means but I know this competent and compassionate neuropsychiatrist is speaking the truth.
It’s about 2006 and I’ve been trying to study and process reading material for my Master’s program. Given my current memory-to-effort ratio it’s like writing a thesis with disappearing ink. My husband says, “It’s a Master’s! It’s not supposed to be easy!” But he doesn’t get it. Nobody does, including myself. But this lady, she gets it.
She goes on to explain that my short term or working memory is at about 18%. That is a showstopper! “You mean to tell me that less one in five things that comes into my head ends up going into long term memory?!”
“Yes. And it’s probably a little less than that with anything involving a number: money, dates, times.”
This is the affirmation I need to hear: my mind for numbers is a sieve.
This naturally has all sorts of ramifications, both good and incredibly frustrating. Either way, I’ve been living it for a while and it’s my reality. As well as those with whom I live day-to-day, and anyone who’s been on the other end of one of my no-shows.
And technology? Dr. X continues, “You have difficulty ‘holding’ more than two degrees of instructions at once. Trying to compare things must be getting pretty difficult.”
I just stare at her. She has no idea…oh wait, no, she’s actually measured it.
In a September 2016 article from Psychology Today titled, “Don’t Believe Everything You Remember,” the authors summarize three main reasons why:
People can recall events that never happened
All memories are inaccurate to some degree
Identifying false memories may be next to impossible
In regards to point one, I remember hearing about a study in my Psycho-Spiritual Development class about a family who underwent an experiment to track truth in storytelling. Scientists faked a nearby fire and then asked the different family members about what they had witnessed. Family members’ accounts were contradictory, even those who were standing right next to one another. And their positions regarding the veracity of their individual perceptions only increased with time. Time made them dig their heels more deeply into their own belief.
A favorite author of mine, Mary Karr, writes in The Art of the Memoir, “whatever your deal with the reader, I argue for stating it up front.” I agree. And this is my intention here. While my cognition has improved greatly over time, my memories remain somewhat confused. I’m trying to be completely candid about the darkness in my life, dear reader, but it’s all a big jumble of issues—time, cognition, trauma, memory, exhaustion—and it’s all gift-wrapped in shame.
Jesus tells me that memory is like a kaleidoscope. Wow, what romantic imagery! I’m hypnotized by the visuals of this metaphor. I told you I was half-baked!
He doesn’t really explain it, but what I think this means—at least for me right now—is that we each have a choice. We can pick up the kaleidoscope, and hold it up to the light to enjoy the beauty of what we see through the lens. We can turn it and change it, if we don’t like the view. We can even abandon it, to gather dust. What we actually see is the crystals refracting our own perspective, our own worldview. Looking through the same kaleidoscope, different people will see whatever is meaningful to them.
Between my depression and mania there is a fine line I walk. And when I’m feeling suicidal? Let’s just say that is when I’ve jumped into the deep end of irrationality and that’s not a comfortable thing to watch from the lifeguard stand. To muddy the waters further, I may not remember everything but my subconscious mind sure does, keeping a non-stop recording of e-v-e-r-y-thing. Which, actually, is an amazing intelligence when you let intuition guide you.
These stories I share from my timeline are simply a view through my kaleidoscope. They aren’t always linear. They are just the past, as I see it. I’m sure I’ve got dates wrong, and maybe even conflated a few facts here and there, but the view? That’s coming straight from the heart.