The Unfortunate Reality of an “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”

“Blessed Are the forgetful for they get the better even of their blunders.”  – Nietzsche

I’m not a detail-oriented person. And by “oriented,” I mean, I can’t remember shit – from the past and sadly, often from the present. It is starting to become a problem.

Now, part of my memory loss is the depression. It blurred life and sometimes even erased it. Blocks of times, details of events, all on the tip of my brain, but unable to reach.

Naturally, ECT for almost two years most likely played a part. ECT is only supposed to effect your short-term memory and I can assure you it does. I have only a few vague memories but most are situations that reoccured often rather than a specific time. Also, when I began ECT, my sense of smell became incredibly strong. And it still is: I’m like a police dog. I mention this because it is an effect that didn’t go away, so maybe there are longer term effects of the ECT that have impacted my cognitive skills. (Note: I still would do it again, even if it has played a role.)

And then there’s the medication that my old, shitty doctor got my body hooked on, whose main side effect is memory loss. (She never mentioned that.) I’ve been on it for over a decade but last time I tried to get off of it, the reaction was so bad, I fell into a frightening depressive episode that I am still recovering from. Still, I need to get off of it soon, especially if it’s impacting my mind.

I used to like the fact that I had a bad memory…or at least I convinced myself I did. I told myself that most of the past decade was full of depression and the bad habits that go with it. Besides, I would tell myself, I am a different person now, starting life new and fresh, so who I was shouldn’t matter.

But in truth, it didn’t make my mind “spotless” and provide me with the “eternal sunshine” Alexander Pope raves about. I might not remember, but the effect of the experiences does not allow me to be set free from my past. There is no reverie to be had.

Now I realize that while I may have lost the bad memories, I also lost the good. And for me, I lost more good than bad. It’s amazing how those bad experiences burrow into your mind, refusing to let you forget. The internal scars, the essence of the memories, they stay within you. You may not remember what happened, but you remember how it felt and in some cases, how it impacts you now. When tired or weak, your mind pulls them out, tempting you to follow the pattern of your past. (Fucking depression.)

But I’ve learned to get by. I have my friends and family to tell me stories (albeit subjective stories,) of things that have happened. (I haven’t quite figured out what to do when I’m on a date, but texting in the bathroom might come to be.) Sometimes I see a photo and I can feel the emotion of the memory even if I don’t remember it. (Does that make sense?) And I try to focus on those feelings; I argue that indeed, that is the most important piece of the memory itself. Not what we ate or the embarrassing thing I did. But rather, it’s the flutter of excitement, the lightness of that moment I can feel even though I couldn’t tell you the year or where it was taken. I remind myself that that is what’s important: when I find myself smiling or laughing at a smorgasbord of tiny, faint memories.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to resent it. After all, it’s not just a night of drinking that I don’t remember; it’s a wedding, a baby shower, helping someone in a crisis. I’m ashamed because I love my friends dearly and I hate that I can’t share memories with them. I hate having to ask who this is or what’s this restaurant even though we have been there more than once. I’ll be talking to someone and say “well I’ve never done that,” and my friend will interrupt with, “yeah you have.” Luckily, I have years of experience playing a dolt, so I can usually save the situation.

And I’m angry. Because now that I want to live, (on most days.) I want to go back to loving people, having experiences, and being someone people can rely on for whatever they need. And friendships are built on the past; the moments we share form together to create the inner heart of the friendship itself.

I always hated pictures. I thought I was so fat and ugly that I avoided them. Often, I would agree and then sneak out just before someone took the shot. And now I regret that. Because even though I know I might look at the photo and think I look disgusting, it would have helped as a marker in my “emotional memory” bank. I was so busy hating myself, I missed a captured moment of love and laughter. Luckily my “regret” bank is open and operational.

I’m getting a neuropsychological test done next month. It just feels like things are getting worse. Mainly, my cognitive skills have slowed. I can’t find words; if I take a breath in a sentence, I forget what I was talking about; I find I can only do one thing at a time in terms of information absorption; the more I try to focus on someone speaking, the less I actually absorb. If I’m driving and you try to give me dates of when you’re visiting, it’s a waste of your time. I’m also slower and my concentration is for shit. That’s probably my meds. It’s annoying, but I can make it work.

Maybe I’m just an airhead – I believe that was one of my “titles” as a child. You take that natural trait and add medication and perfectionism, and maybe you get my situation. But whether I go to school or get a job, life requires memory – both the past and the present. I’m scared that I will go to work, and I won’t be able to remember things. My wit and humor, which I have relied on, can only get me so far before my dumb-founded stare avails my ignorance. If I go to school, I will be with some of the brightest minds in the world. It’s going to be fast and it’s going to be intense. I don’t know if I will have the brain capacity to keep up.

Memories would help.

I feel like I am missing parts of myself. Pieces of me literally blurred out like in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Looking into the past can’t fix the present. But as I am becoming a “new” self without clinical depression, I find myself often asking “Who am I?” And I can’t seem to remember who I was, to help in the formation of who I am.

I miss my memories. I miss my life. Warts and all.

 

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Panic … Where Have YOU Been?

panic

I thought this was rather apropos…

 

Well the panic has hit and my urges to cancel my flight, my Airbnb, and my plans have all come stomping in. Sometimes I’m in the car and I just think: “I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t” and envision myself curling up in a ball and become unresponsive for days. I wrote to my DBT coach letting him know and he suggested a little mini-vacation for my mind via distraction. So breathing and relaxation, listening to music, going to the gym. He’s right –  when I’m busy, especially around other people, I don’t really have time to think about the 18 million things that may go wrong. My rumination goes to catastrophe right away with things like this and distracting my thoughts can help slow the heart rate and anxiety.

It’s amazing how clear and rational ideas are in our head and yet how fucking difficult they are to believe, feel, and do. I know it’s 6 days; I know I only have to do a few things on my list if I really want to; there are no expectations; and going now does not mean I have to attend in the fall. I will be meeting this old friend, and based on some past emails, it seems she still might have some of the same behaviors from our past that I have given up. But I have thought through some avoidance techniques, and just have to remember who I am now and how hard I have worked to become that person, and how much I like her (me) compared to the other one (me a few years ago).

Yesterday, I was just reflecting with socialworkerangela on how weird it can feel when you are having a good day because you feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. It kind of takes away the enjoyment of the good feelings because you are in this state of fear things will eventually go poorly. Yesterday, I spent some time looking around at the challenges I have taken on this past year and the life I have built, as simple as it is. But I am building a foundation, and I think the panic was that I am leaving the safety of it all.

Not that I’m still challenging my fears. Yesterday I tried on sunglasses. Sounds stupidly simple, right? But I have had such a fear of looking at my face in front of other people , I have never gotten sunglasses before. It took me until a year ago to get real glasses so I’ve been driving with a bit of a blur for years. With sunglasses, it was even more embarrassing because those are supposed to be “cool.” In the past, I just took my brothers’ old ones when he broke them. Still, seems such a simple task, right? But like…huge for me.

Things will be ok. I will have options. I can decide my own version of failure and success. I am allowed to make mistakes. I just have to take it a step at a time. And evidently there’s this thing in DBT called “radical acceptance” where you just accept your reality. (It always makes me laugh a little when I think about it. It’s just a ridiculously big fucking ask.)

Okay, so now I just have to actually BELIEVE those statements. I knew there was a catch. ;)

Thank goodness I see my therapist today. I just hope I don’t grab onto her leg and refuse to let it go. That could be a really embarrassing situation.