I was talking to someone last night about memories. We were talking about how vivid "good" memories tie us from the past to the future. Through the course of a random conversation he said the word "clambake," and I literally had a flood of memories come back to me from my childhood. I told a 20-minute long story about the clambakes my family used to host, and went into great detail about my childhood home. It is amazing how a random word can cause such a chain reaction when it comes to memory.
This is something I haven't really dealt with since the accident and subsequent falls and medications. The truth is, I don't remember at least a year of my life now, and there are other holes that appear to be missing. I know that seizure medications can cause major problems with memory, and I know that I was taking well over the maximum prescribed dosage. Experimental medications always make me uneasy, and I was on maxed-out dosages of that toxic ick. There were so many chemicals pumped into my body, I imagine I am more preserved than Keith Richards...
I want desperately to remember my past. Even if it was a difficult time, I want that connection to my life. I feel like I woke up one morning and started a new life, and it terrifies me. I was telling someone this last night, and we noticed that the brain has seemed to reset itself. I hear that people have distinct personality changes after accidents--I feel like my mind was definitely affected, but my personality remains intact.
Of course, we have to factor in the divorce. There is obviously going to be a change in personality when I became liberated, so I don't want that confused with recovery. I will say that through all the difficulties I have had over the past six months, and probably even more, I have had an easier time going it alone. I feel like I can really be dependent on myself, and that has proven how resilient I really am.
Back to the memories... I went to the Traumatic Brain Injury Conference a few weeks ago, and it was mentioned that for the most part, people are able to retain a lot of information or their slate is wiped clean. I feel like I recaptured an amazing amount of information, but I do feel like I am lagging behind where I should be. I long ago abandoned the idea that life will be perfect and I would be a high achiever. Right now I just want to be comfortable remembering normal things like names and my grocery list (the people at Kroger think I am crazy as I stare off into space in confusion...). But, with the lack of name recall, I remember most everything from graduate school, and have retained an amazing amount of trivial facts. It really is amazing how much random information I remember, but can't remember basic memories.
I think pictures have helped me out greatly. I do love looking at pictures from years past, especially around the incident. It's strange to look at them and either remember everything about the picture, or remark that the photographer must not have been me (even though I was the only one that could have taken the photo). Either way, I feel that I at least have a link to the past. In time, I will be able to sort through my memories and place information in the correct time slots.
I do feel like my life now is without a filter. I feel like I feel things with more intensity, and notice more random detail. I don't have a lot of comparison other than going off comments of friends and family. They notice that I am very involved in the world, and am embracing the experiences around me. I am not sure if this is typical of a person with a brain injury, or if I am really living a different reality. Either way, I do like it.
Now that the memories have started trickling back, I have to brace myself for the emotions that are connected. I will get these waves of intense memory and emotion like in the clambake episode, and it terrifies me. I can have the most detailed and realistic memories, so much so that it almost feels like a dream. I feel like Alice in Wonderland, where the reality doesn't feel quite real. I wonder if this ordeal will even itself out, or if I will have to hold on for the ride.
I commented last night that I definitely feel like I am on a different level now--I feel like I am not as smart as I used to be. I recall most of the information, but it feels like my processing speed is dramatically decreased. Other people might not notice, but I do feel different. I know I have all of this information in my head, but my body isn't responding as quickly as I like. It is terribly frustrating, and I am not sure what I need to do about this problem. I did become more sensitive in my work with gifted students. A teacher commented today about how one of my gifted students was "one of the best and brightest of the school, so how dare he..." Of course, if we looked at teenage development, his reaction was right on the mark for his age group. To expect intellectually gifted kids to always be superior than their peers is a major problem. And now that I feel like I have "lost" some of my giftedness, I am particularly sensitive to the whole experience of being gifted.
Wow, this whole thing felt like a rant--almost a lucid dream. I guess that is how memories work, and how the mind works in general. The reality is that this miraculous organ called the brain works as hard as it can to make connections. We just hope that the connections it makes are to reality--that these connections can help us rediscover our past, and help us determine our future. If not, it's been one heck of a dream...