On Memory

Do you ever have that fantasy, you know, the one about being offered one wish by the good fairy? I’ve spent many happy daydreams working out how to get health, wealth and the body of a model in one wish and picturing the looks on people’s faces when I met them with my new, svelte figure. Of course the fairy never came neither did the wealth or the Twiggy shape. The truth of my life is a whacking mortgage and a figure which owes much to an enthusiasm for extravagant cooking and a gregarious nature.

But as I contemplate the disappearing navel of my middle years the thing I would wish for from that elusive fairy, above anything else, is a good memory. Any memory actually but preferably my husband’s memory. To find in your declining years that your already woolly brain is getting woollier and your new, younger husband can simultaneously watch the telly, read a book, surf the internet and remember everything he’s read and watched, is not only demeaning, it’s also guaranteed to reduce your confidence to the size of a new 5 pence piece, a dull one.

My mental ebb started as soon as I had my first daughter. I ran a delicatessen at the time with shelves full of exotic foodstuffs. Indian pickles rubbed shoulders with Italian sun dried tomatoes, a truly multi-racial assembly. If you were to ask me the location of any item I would go to it without wavering. I would identify missing items instantaneously.

I got through my pregnancy without too much trouble, apart from a weekend in hospital when my blood pressure rose after heaving sacks of potatoes up stairs to the stock room all morning. Then I had the baby. I remember standing in front of those shelves, staring at a jar-sized space and thinking “What the hell was in that gap?” It was such a measurable change that I felt it must have been something to do with the hormonal variations during pregnancy and birth.

Years went by and I got used to my new, less useful, brain, it may even have got a bit better over time. I had lapses of recall on a regular monthly basis and still put the whole thing down to hormones.

I moved to a fairly responsible job in I.T. This involved such things as chairing meetings and managing projects. I needed my memory for this job but copious notes had to suffice. My boss soon learned of my disability and took great advantage of it. She told me once that she regularly pretended that she had said something to me which I had forgotten.

I decided on a visit to a specialist with the aid of my new private health care. This man, with about as much personality as a haddock, induced in me an artificial menopause. Well, it certainly got rid of the monthly memory lapses but boy, those flushes. At work now, wherever I went I carried with me my faithful fan – not the enthusiastic, supporting type but the black and red Spanish flamenco dancer’s type. To the undoubted puzzlement of my fellow workers, and with absolutely no explanation from me, I would whip out my fan and flap it vigorously during meetings, in the staff restaurant and at my desk. The consultant denied that my brain failure could have been caused by childbirth.

I don’t remember what happened next but I do know that things got no better, far from it. The next worrying turn of events came when I noticed that I couldn’t remember things I had always known. I would go to telephone a friend and stand by the ‘phone for several minutes trying to remember her number. Nope, not accessible. I’d look it up and as soon as I saw it, I knew it. It was in there you see, locked in my brain, I just couldn’t find it.

Another visit to a consultant ensued. A lady this time, who said that she also had a busy life and regularly forgot things and that I was worrying about nothing. No it was nothing to do with having had a baby.

I’ve given quite a lot of thought to memory. You could say that I’m preoccupied with it. I have an IQ of 137, not Mensa standard, but not bad, and if I had a memory, wow! I could conquer the world! I have studied my own memory and as far as possible, that of my whizz kid husband and I am convinced that the main problem is one of storage.

I know that some things in my brain are stored in groups, that’s why I call my daughters by each others’ names or even by my younger sister’s name. I think I find the section where young, female, family names are stored and then, because I’m preoccupied with something, I just pluck a name at random. BUT in other parts of my memory, things are not categorised so clearly. I think they are in ALPHABETICAL ORDER. If I want to remember the name of a town, I don’t think about it’s county, what it’s famous for, the name of the river running through it. No. I think “It begins with H, I believe, and there may be an F in it” so I’m quite likely to come up with Hertford or Halifax instead of Huddersfield.

My husband on the other hand has a Mind Map inside his brain. For those of you unfamiliar with modern ‘methodologies’ a mind map is a way of recording facts. Imagine you were at a lecture about, say, running an efficient home (blimey, that would be a useful one!) You would take a blank sheet of paper and a pen and start to write headings in random places as they cropped up. You might have ‘Cleaning’ in the top right corner and ‘Cooking’ near the bottom centre and so on. As interesting facts crop up you write them under the appropriate heading and where there is a connection between a fact in one category and one in another such as washing up which is related to cleaning and dirty dishes which are related to cooking, you draw a line between them. Eventually you end up with all the information in an organised form which would be completely useless to me but works like a dream for my husband whose whole brain is full of facts, linked to each other in an extremely untidy, unfiled and entirely accessible manner.

At a dinner party he is unstoppable, stories and interesting facts abound as he entertains his fellow diners, whereas I am more likely to start telling a story and realise half way through that I don’t know (can’t find) the end. Half of the time I have heard his stories before but until he tells the punch line, I don’t know it.

Fortunately, I had unaccountably forgotten the extreme affect that childbirth had had on my memory, when I suggested to my afore mentioned, younger husband that if we were to have children we should get a move on as I was already in my 40s. I did give warning that I would go slightly loopy for a while but really, I was more concerned about whether I wanted my wings clipped again, my older daughter being about 10 at the time and becoming more independent. Love has a lot to answer for.

I was therefore entirely unprepared for the affect this pregnancy and birth would have on my brain. I now have black holes where once there were memories. I have developed the ability to Spoonerise words more effectively than their eponymous inventor. My most outstanding announcements have been: “Don’t make me laugh when I’m huffing on my impaler” and “You know, that Page Three Girl: Lucinda Lardy.” Followed closely by “If you want some luck, look for a four loafed cleaver” and, very recently ‘Port Mierion potery is made in Stroke on Tent’. I have also started reversing letters in words and numbers when dialling on the telephone, something I have never had trouble with before.

I thought (and still do sometimes) that I was going barking mad. My husband and older daughter regularly looked at me with worried expressions on their faces and even my new baby seemed to be running mental rings around me.

Another visit to the doctor seemed sensible – if I could remember to make the appointment and, even more difficult, turn up at the allotted time. Having succeeded in both these feats I was referred to a psychiatrist who carried out some preliminary tests, chatted to me for a while and booked me a brain scan. Having been through all this I returned to hear the results. He began by complimenting me on the youthful and unblemished nature of my lobes “A lovely pair” apparently. He went on to tell me that I had a fairly rare and recently recognised condition which was, in layman’s terms, Brain Damage Caused by Child Birth!

His answer to my problems: “Discuss contraception with your GP

Oh, and by the way, it will get worse with the menopause”.

I’m 49 now, I think…….

0 thoughts on “On Memory”

  1. Sue, from later posts, you have had a lovely trip so far. On this, however, which I found because I just noticed and searched for a cause for my disappear navel, it appears that you have a visual, a.k.a, photographic memory. You are eidetic if you have unlimited film for your camera. Actually this is the best kind of memory if you want to go back and review the facts as they really were, rather than relying on some verbal interpretation that your own mind made before storing them in your brain.

    Your child probably just wiped out access to these high storage volume items. Know that a child would have done the same to me, and regret deeply not having the experience.

    Once went to the store in the 80’s with a distinct picture in my mind of what I needed. It was grey, flat, winding, and had a distinct line down the middle. I cursed, wondering why I needed to buy an asphalt 2-land road. What I actually needed was a telephone extension cord, also flat, grey, winding, with a line down the center, but on a much smaller scale.

    I use this type of memory to my extreme advantage in my work, and am considered gifted. But it really does require more gigabytes. Nothing is stored compressed, like JPG vs. TIFF. In order for me to work, I really do have to be isolated in my ivory tower. Or maybe like the Lady of Shallot, who was probably deformed and saved from ridicule as long as she stayed put.

    Do not regret you seeming memory loss. I doubt it was really like that, particularly after reading more of your lovely life.

  2. Hi Mara,

    Thanks for your attempt at comfort.

    If you were to tell Whizz that I have a photographic memory he would bellow with laughter. He says, and I can’t deny it, that I am the most unobservant person he has ever met! I live mostly in my head and hours can pass by when I see nothing that is going on around me. When I AM looking, my eyes bypass the mundane and look for the art.

    I hope you have found your navel!

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