Memory


CN: dissociation, and possibly other MH stuff, memory issues

My favourite thing about the Netflix crime show Marcella has to be how Marcella navigates her memory fog. The fugue phases. Granted in her case, she usually does something extreme or violent and then comes out of it, completely clueless as to what she has actually done, (and considering she’s a cop, this is totally a weird thing to empathise with, I get it. #problematicfaves)

I see her memory fog as a protective layer – maybe a layer that protects her from herself. The weird thing is – she also has an acutely *sharp* memory – for her job. Her read on people due to slight variations of phrasing is intuitive and exact:
“Why did he move the body” says one of the characters, regarding the prime suspect.
“But he knows [the prime suspect],” Marcella says later. “He knows he’s got a bad back. wouldn’t the more natural question be ‘how’? ‘How did he move the body’ not…’why’ he moved it? I mean isn’t that just odd?”
I experience a certain type of memory fog in specific situations – usually relational realities, my experiences with people and shared experiences. I also have an acutely sharp memory when it comes to nearly everything else – random details. Jeopardy style questions. Trivial Pursuit nonsense.  The juxtaposition of these realities often confounds people I am close to – and I don’t blame them; it confounds me too. It’s an intensely jarring sensation to go through – but I’m sure it’s also jarring to witness. These days, unless I’m really rattled, I try to prioritise the feelings of people around me if only because it’s an intensely unforgiving, dismissive sensation to be confronted by a blank look about a shared experience. My ideal way of dealing with this is actually to not even let on that I’ve forgotten something important. I might crack a joke – a clever joke to learn more about what it is I forgot. A clever joke to glean more detail, and then laugh along, and pretend at knowledge. My second most ideal way is to apologise – make it clear that ok I’ve forgotten something, and I’m really sorry about it (because I am), and that I’d like to be reminded of it. I go for a neutral tone. This is an upsetting conversation sometimes – the bigger, more intense, and more obviously resonant the memory, the harder it is to pass off as “forgettable”. “How could you forget that?” is something I’ve been asked in the past. I have no answer to it. I can only say it’s not a question of what I can and cannot do – it’s just something that happens that I can’t really help.
This can range from “Oh haha I completely forgot we got ice cream that day” to the gnawing sensation that I cannot remember if a good friend ever visited my house. It’s an absurd sensation. I know they did. They had to have. There is proof in my calendar. Plans we made. Sometimes a general idea of them arriving. And them leaving. But I may have 0 actual memories of the happening. The “it” that took place. If quizzed about it, I might draw a complete blank. Imagine re-introducing someone to your roommate. Your colleagues. Imagine divulging something personal that you think you haven’t told before – only to have your friend say “yeah, I know – you told me last week” – and have that happen over and over again (until they become a good enough friend to know this is a quirk you have). Imagine being really really good at hiding this so that most people don’t guess. Ever.

Imagine slipping up around someone for the first time – imagine this in the context of intimacy. Imagine forgetting kisses, holding hands. Imagine forgetting the sensation of lying beside someone you love. Imagine forgetting what they smell like. Imagine not being able to remember a hug, but knowing you hugged. Imagine the knowledge of moments stripped entirely of their emotional quality. Imagine forgetting every time this person (or any person) has touched you.   Imagine cracking a thousand jokes while you are busy forgetting conversations entirely.

Imagine a joke resurfacing. And not remembering it at all. Not even the fact that it happened. Not even the context it happened in. Not even the content of the joke. Nothing. Blank slate. No straw to catch. Blank look.

Imagine those moments that are only significant because of their emotional content  – now imagine them being reduced to nothing. Texts are great in this regard. Evidence. Proof. Conversations help. Touch helps, but far less so, and not always. Moments with no conversation, moments that are entirely experiential, moments with no touch, are never there later. Silence is memory death usually. What is a moment where you lock gazes with someone, if it’s gone the next day? Repetition helps. but not always. Kisses happen, happen again. A kiss happened. Another kiss happened. Many kisses happened. This I know. What did they feel like. No idea. Some idea. Vague ideas. A body reality. Surface. My internal landscape is usually grey – there are no highs and there are no lows – until I seriously think about how weird it is that I can’t remember. (Then it feels like a low point in the moment.) There is an intense equivocation between good experiences and bad experiences in my internal landscape. Flatness. A grey beach with grey water under a grey sun in a grey sky.

The worst way to handle it, for me, is to get rattled enough so that it shows on my face how much I’m rattled. I hate conveying how deeply rattled I am that I’ve forgotten something of value. In moments like that, it’s also excruciatingly clear to me how vulnerable I am to someone else shaping my reality – or past realities. Trusting someone to tell me “[Snowfall] happened. We went to [a Christmas party]. After, we tried [watching the Smurfs].” But those blank spots often could be filled with anything and I’d have no idea if it’s true or not. In the example above, something involving more than two people is easier to remember. But even those instances have blank spots. I could tell you who was at a party, but not what… happened. I may be able to share topics of conversation, but virtually nothing about emotional realities of people as it happened – including my own. 

Maybe I’m never totally present in any reality anymore. Maybe that’s why I lose memories – I just fail to make memories in the first place. Nothing lands. Nothing sinks in. What if it’s not an issue with remembering but somehow an issue with just storing an initial experience.

I do remember some memories sometimes though. Actually, the only thing more intense than losing memories is suddenly remembering one – the characters of these memories are never consistent – but there are two broad categories. One is a tunnel vision type of intense recollection. Echoey voices around the corner. Blurred out edges. An intense focus on the immediate foreground – audio and/or visual. I sometimes feel transported when that happens, like a second reality that overlays on top of mine. A reality I am shifting into and out of.  This usually happens when I’m in a geographic space – a location – I’ve been before but wasn’t expecting to be in again, and forgot how to get there to begin with. It feels less like treasure hunting and more like emotional quicksand – I’m suddenly two people in two different timelines – or dead in one, a ghost, and alive suddenly in the past. I’ve always wondered what I look like when that happens. I know I disappear on some level. I know it’s not pleasant to witness. An ex described it as my eyes slipping away. I believe him – in those moments, I lose a sense of the present day. I lose my sense of self too. Everything becomes a fog – past and present together. Me, abstracted. I feel I turn into a blur – an unfocused camera blur. Ghost caught on screen.

The other type of memory is a sharp memory  – usually of an experience – that just suddenly appears. “Hey, we danced that day!” I might suddenly recall. Usually almost everything is there, intact. It’s not painful – just… present. Persistent. Usually my response is “Wow, how could I have forgotten that”, but I don’t feel pulled into the reality of that memory. It’s just a memory, hanging out like memories do, I suppose.

Most of the time, I’m very ok with my particular brand of memory loss/lack of retention.

But these days, I’m increasingly not ok with it. I would like to remember.

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