I have always had a terrible (mostly short-term) memory.   As a child, my mother would tell me I had to complete a certain number of tasks (clean my room, homework, take out trash, etc.) before I could do something I wanted to do (watch TV, play outside, etc.).  She would invariably list these tasks off to me verbally and off I would go to complete them.  Later, she would find me doing the thing I wanted to do and would quiz me whether I had completed X, Y, and Z.  Without fail, there would always be at least one that I forgot and I would say “Oops!” and get up and immediately go do it.  After a few times, my mother would get really mad and argue with me that I was just trying to skip out on my responsibilities, and I would argue that I just genuinely didn’t remember it.

Until one day, we both figured out that I just couldn’t retain that many things over time.  So, she would tell me one thing at a time and I would come back once I was done, or she would write everything down on paper and I could easily check off my “chores.”  (Note: This may be a major contributing factor to my incessant need to check things off a list, even to the point that I will write something down I just did so I can check it off. I know some of you do it too!)

But this memory quirk bleeds over into other areas of my life, not just lists and chores.  Because of my short-term memory challenges, I literally cannot retrace my steps most of the time.  So I have to be really careful where I put things, like my keys, shoes, the remote, parking my car.  Many times I can’t tell you what I did 10 minutes ago, so where I put my keys when I walked in the house last night, forget it.  For a while I thought it was just an absent-minded thing.  And maybe to an extent it is (ever find your remote in the fridge?), but I also can’t remember what someone told me an hour ago, so I always ask to get everything in writing.  (Note: Now I just blame that on my profession as a occupational hazard because people understand that better than I just have a crappy memory.)


So for many years I used to sympathize with the joke that many middle-aged and older people like to espouse.  “I have a case of C.R.S. Can’t Remember Shit.”  And for the most part that is true.  However, I have this really detailed long-term memory.  I can remember things from when I was a very small child.  I can also remember with great detail conversations from a long time ago.  I have a little bit of a photographic memory for numbers, too.

“it’s still there…somewhere”

But one of the weirdest aspects of my memory is that I’ve never actually forgotten most things.  It’s tucked in there somewhere, I just need prompting.  (Note: This has been a major source of frustration for friends and family.)  Ask me about something and I will claim I don’t know what you’re talking about.  But if you keep talking to me about it, eventually something (maybe a visual cue like we were talking outside under the trees, or a certain word or joke that was said) and I will instantly remember everything, sometimes in almost photographic detail.  All it takes is that one thing to trigger my memory.

“everything has a place”

But this is very frustrating, because I can’t trigger my own memory of something when I’m trying to recall where I parked my car or what I did with last year’s swimsuit.  Mostly I’ve solved some of those issues by creating a certain type of order in my life.  Everything that is vital has a place in my house, and as long as I put things back in that place I will (mostly) be able to find it.  You might think I’d be one of those people who gets upset when you “move the cheese” in my house.  If you move a knick knack around I probably won’t notice, or if I do notice, I’ll just think I moved it at some point and don’t remember.  It’s like hanging out at Granny’s house right?  But if you move my keys, my whole world melts down.  I have no idea where to start to find them.

“source of the frustration?”

So recently I was thinking about this weird memory of mine.  It’s one of the most frustrating things in my life that neither I nor anyone else has control over.  On a daily basis it is a major exercise for me to recall the simplest things.  For years I always looked at it like my memory was broken, that it just didn’t work.  But as I think about it, it’s not the memory that’s broken, because I really can remember a lot of things, just not how I want to.  I think it’s the filing mechanism in my brain.  I take in all the information, but I just don’t always file it away in the appropriate spot.  It’s kind of like my brain is like my house.  There is a certain spot where my keys (or conversations with friends, or birthdates) go, and if I don’t put them away in their little “cubby hole” I have a hard time finding them without someone else’s help.  They’re in there somewhere, I just have a drunk child filing them away in inappropriate spots.

So maybe my memory isn’t so bad after all.  

It’s just my filing system that’s out of sorts.


5 Responses

  1. We might be soul sisters. I could have written this post word for word. The most frustrating thing for me is the arguments that occur with my husband – if I had a nickel for every time he said, “We JUST had this conversation!” and I’m there with absolutely no recollection of it AT ALL. And I agree, lists and order are the key. Glad I’m not alone!

    • It’s actually comforting to hear others have the same memory issues too!

  2. I just had to double-check that I didn’t write this myself. But I feel like I could have! I can remember what bolts go where on an engine, but that important life detail a friend told me last week? I’ll need to hear it three more times for it to fix in the usable part of my memory. The nice thing is that the little plastic castle is a surprise every time. (Goldfish memory joke via Ani DiFranco.)

    • Exactly! Now why did I come here to write on this blog???

  3. I have to write everything down. If I walk away without my phone or notepad I come across as an idiot.

    A sexy, sexy idiot.

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