I have a lot of symptoms and I suppose you could say even “side effects” with my mental illness. Paranoia, anxiety, depression, mania, hallucinations; the list goes on and on. A lot of people don’t see these side effects on a day to day basis. They might notice some mood swings, but that’s really the least of it. However, all of my friends and family have caught on quickly to the number one annoyance that has come with having my mental illness; short term memory loss.
Yes, like the lovable, but annoying (sorry Ellen) blue tang from the blockbuster Finding Nemo, I struggle with short term memory loss, and it’s probably at the top of the list of things I dislike about myself (along with my stutter, sweaty hands, and so much more we won’t dive into). It starts with my repeating the same stories; people get annoyed and tell me we’ve heard that Taylor and I laugh it off, because how silly of me. But inside, I’m mortified because I can’t remember ever sharing that story. I forget names, dates, and tasks I have to do. Although I manage throughout the day, I have to check the trash some nights to remember if/what I ate. My memory loss has gotten to the point that sometimes my mind fills in the blanks on what happens.
This can be confusing, because I’m known for being a person with an amazing long term memory. Friends from school still joke about how I can remember songs we learned in 5th grade choir, and I have Shakespearean monologues ready to spew at any given notice (Alas, poor Yoric…). I was a theater and music student for years, and my job was memorizing scripts, and sheet music. I would just shrug off the short term memory loss, and called myself mean names like lazy and stupid.
It wasn’t until recently that I was able to accept that short term memory loss is part of this “lovely” mental illness package. See, I’m not lazy or stupid (I have my moments were I can be both, but that’s really not the case). I have the best intentions. But I forget. Me forgetting even the smallest of tasks (doing the dishes, cleaning the living room etc) isn’t because I’m stupid. It’s because my brain blocks out important things. You see, I suffered with childhood trauma dating up until I was 6-7 and adopted (and even some trauma then, because let’s face it, adoption, although happy, is a major event). My brain makes up for that trauma by blocking out the memories. However, it’s continued to do this, and blocks out memories from twenty minutes ago.
I can’t tell you what I did today. I know a few things, but honestly my day is a blur. I can’t even tell you the events of the past week. And that, to me, is absolutely terrifying.
I have found that it’s helpful to take notes on what I have done throughout the day, through blogging, diaries, and hell, even Facebook posts. It also really helps me when I have a checklist of what I need to get done, and I ask my spouse, best friend, and even my mom to help keep me in line some days, because I lose track of time. I urge my friends to double text me and blow up my phone, because I will forget if we have plans. My therapist texts me to make sure I remember appointments (even with my calendar) and I am working on overcoming this.
It won’t be easy. And I know it’s not easy on others. If you know someone with short term memory loss, know it will be okay. We do have the best intentions, and yes, it is extremely frustrating. It must be like herding cats. Just be patient with us, and we’ll do the best we can to become more organized and try to remember.
I’m not entirely happy about admitting that this is a serious problem for me. And yes, I’m scared. But it’s important to me to remember I mean well, I do my best, and I’m still fighting.