Memory, in itself, can become a very complex subject. So, for this blog and for my own sanity- I will keep it as simple as possible. I will talk about 3 different levels of memory in which our brains processes. The intermediate memory is best described as what happens in the moment- a few seconds in time. The brain will take the important intermediate memories and stores them into a life span of minutes all the way to hours (short term memory). Short term memory is then converted into long term memory. At each step of memory, the brain automatically filters or "processes" the memories towards the ending storage area. Some memories, of course, are not kept. Long term memories can be retrieved over our life time - kinda like a filing cabinet that is never really purged. We may have to really dig deep for older memories, but they are stored within the brain. Now I don't know how the brain filters what is important to store and what is not... all I know is - this is the "simpler" way to explain the "memory" process.
People who have brain injuries, will almost always have some form of memory issues. The most common issues are related to intermediate and short term, although some long term memories can also be affected. I have experienced all 3 types of memory losses over the past 2 years. In the beginning, I lived a life of mostly amnesia. I could not remember a lot about what was happening "currently" but I could retrieve some long term memories. Most of my intermediate and short term capabilities were extremely limited- especially during the first 4-5 months. This could be caused by the injury itself and/or with other factors such as fatigue and stress - just to name a few. I would sit in a chair for hours, thinking that I had only been there for minutes at a time. I would go outside just to listen to the birds, feel the warmth of the sun, or watch my dogs play- yet could not tell you how long I had been sitting there. My husband would often ask me if I was OK- and I always stated "yes" - how could I even explain the time loss when I didn't understand the depth in which it was happening. Shall we say- time passed so quickly and I had hardly no memories to show for it. Of course, I also slept most of the days in the beginning. I felt as though during the time when I was awake- I was still asleep. Truly a weird experience.
Now, looking back- I remember having blocks of time missing- I still, to this day, can't tell you what happened during that "missing" time. Perhaps I just stared into space- which I now have learned is the body's way of resting the brain. Other things that I did was leaving the house and totally forgetting that I had something cooking on the stove or started cooking and couldn't remember what time I started. I remember one morning - I had my friend Landa over for breakfast. I was so excited about this "breakfast event". It was going to be "girl time". I was going to make french toast and sausage. Now cooking the sausage wasn't much of a challenge, little did I know that making the french toast would be the challenge. I remember putting butter in the pan and "poof" time was gone- I felt like I had been warped to no man's land and then decided to come back with no recollection of the trip. I looked down and the butter was burnt. My last memory was putting the butter in the pan- then burnt. I didn't feel "how much" time lapse- but I knew that it happened. I just looked at my friend and started crying. Yes, she calmed me down and with her "supervision" the breakfast turned out yummy, but during this time of my injury, it was so difficult for me to understand what it was that I was going through and I certainly had even a harder time trying to explain it. I also had a hard time with "which forgetfulness" was normal and what was not normal. I was also in denial that these things were even happening. I just wanted to be "normal" again- to be able to function at the level that I once had been prior to "the event".
Other memory loss issues that I struggled with would be with the tools that I would use to "help me remember". I would use sticky notes only to get frustrated in not knowing what it was trying to remind me of. I wrote it- it was my hand writing- but I was clueless as to what I was looking at or what that "reminder" meant. I finally learned to keep these notes for only a few days- if the memory did not come to me- I threw the note away. I had too many notes piling up and it actually started creating anxiety that the memories just weren't there. Now most people would say- write more on the note etc. trust me I had notes that were actually 2 stickies long- at times there was no recollection of memory of what those stickies meant. I don't know why the brain kept some memories and tossed the rest of them out. Well, I didn't know then- I have more of an idea now. My brain was injured and my body was trying to heal my brain- memories and functioning in daily activities was just too much for the brain to handle, especially when I was first injured. My brain worked at keeping the essentials going like "Living" and discarded all of the extra work of keeping memories, speaking correctly and other issues. Heck I didn't even have many emotions in the beginning. Mostly numbness and frustration. I learned very quickly that getting angry would put me back in bed for days- so I had to keep this emotion under control. I think of it now as God's way of helping me get through this injury- especially in the beginning. The people that do know me will agree that I worried a lot etc before the injury. Once the injury happened- I was numb to everything- I truly believe that this is what kept my sanity in the beginning and also helps in the present.
I have had a few situations where my long term memory was affected for moments at a time. I would forget how to use the cruise control on my car - that I have had for at least 8 years when the injury occurred. Driving down a road and totally forgetting where I was going or where I was at. Now I am from this area- so this experienced was very frightening for me when I could not recognize anything for moments at a time. Yes - I know - I probably should NOT have been driving during this period, but I am very independent and had such a hard time asking for help. Trust me- I only drove when necessary- mostly to doctor visits etc. Even today, I can still have this happen especially if I have been stressed, doing multiple things or fatigued. Right after the injury, some of my friends would pick me up to go grocery shopping etc. because I would just get so sick and fatigued from shopping - and NO - I didn't want anyone else to do these things, I wanted to do them. :-) I guess I loved the torture-- or was it that I just keep thinking that I am not injured? Denial- it can so kick your butt...
Other things, that mostly dealt with the short term memory, was forgetting conversations with family and friends, repeating what I had already said etc. My family and friends learned quickly to either just listen to the story again- or at least tell me that I had already told them. WOW - that was a feeling too, to be told that "you already told me that" when I soooooo did not remember telling them. Yes- I would forget my meds, to pay bills, friends names and other tasks on hand. Everyone understands what it is like to forget-- but to live like that for months- day in and day out- forgetting almost everything that was going on around you. It was extremely frustration and scary.
Currently, I still have problems with short term memory loss, although not nearly as extreme as it was in the beginning. I have gotten somewhat better about little reminders such as "using" a timer when cooking, counting "steps" when I now make coffee and tea and even trying to re-read those notes when I make them. If I keep repeating something- it tends to stick more and I lose less. Of course, there are times that I still forget that I forget. :-) I will make a grocery list (which I never did prior to the injury) and I will forget to carry it to the store. Needless to say, when this happened I would find myself back at the store- the "next" day of course. I have purchased food items multiple times- not remembering that I had already purchased it. Yes- there are ways to stop these actions- but here again- apart of me is still denying that I still forget. So as time goes on- I will learn new ways to "remind" myself. I am finding that counting steps - like making coffee (a 3 step process for me- add water, add coffee, turn on timer)- etc really helps- but this only works for repeated actions, that I mostly do on a daily basis. I actually have a timer now for my medications. I still have a problem remembering my meds, and I even have to think for a second as to why this timer is going off-- although this is an action that I go through twice a day. It's hard to explain- but this is what I now experience.
I am hoping to be able to get into rehabilitation for the "cognitive and memory" issues that I now have. This rehab would teach me new ways to learn things- to relearn what I have learned over my life time. Trust me- its not as easy as it sounds... Old habits are sometimes hard to break- and that's going to be apart of the learning techniques in order to overcome and compensate for my memory loss. I so pray that the government allows me the chance to get this type of rehabilitation. To be able to compensate for my memory deficiencies so that I can exert less energy on trying to do just regular daily activities. I really want to get back to working, although this may require the assistance of occupational therapy.
So for now, I am very forgetful at times but- I am so ready for the challenge to learn new compensation techniques. To be able to move forward to the next step of my journey of surviving a brain injury.