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.