I went to a Thai restaurant last week and they gave us fortune cookies at the end of the meal. I opened mine up and was really disappointed: it was no good for the “in bed” game and seemed to imply that I’ll be developing Alzheimer’s Disease when I get older. It wasn’t until a couple days later during a long walk that I wished I had kept the fortune instead of leaving it on the table when we left. It said something along these lines:
Share your stories with others so they can remind you when you forget.
“Great, I’m going to forget everything when I’m old.”
But during that long walk is when it occurred to me how poignant that fortune actually was, given how much of my past I’ve already forgotten.
I know I’ve probably talked about this before and also probably mentioned that it makes me a little uncomfortable, but I’m sharing nonetheless. This may be intriguing, it may be relatable, it may be nonsensical. I may be sharing it with you, I may be sharing it with others, I may be sharing it with “The Cloud”. (Given that the Internet is forever, that’ll help me remember just as well as telling other people.)
Anyway! The shortest and most likely explanation for the lack of memories is because of drugs. More specifically, medications to prevent epileptic seizures. And as a reminder, epileptic seizures are caused by excess brain activity, like neurons shooting sparks all over the place so that other neurons can’t fire properly.
As great as technology has become over the years, there are a lot of things we don’t know about brains and brain chemistry. Thus, when the doctors weren’t sure exactly what was causing my seizures (I’ve had CAT scans done on my head that show a very pleasant and non-damaged-looking brain), they tried a handful of different medications to see what would work.
I honestly don’t know how many we tried. I’d guess five, but that’s just a guess. One thing I do remember is that I was taking toxic doses of a medication at one time, but the doctor thought it’d be okay because I was “a big guy.” Turned out that wasn’t the winning combination for preventing seizures, so we moved on to a different kind from there.
Lots of different chemicals plus lots of brain cells, stir up the pot, see what kind of mixture we get and the result was a hack job on my long-term memory pre-2002. (I spent about a week and a half in the United Hospital epilepsy ward with a bunch of wires glued to my head and we were trying to induce seizures, figure out where the excess activity was originating. It worked well enough that we found two medications—lamictal and depakote—that have kept me seizure-free since April of 2002.)
As a side-note, if any of you has ever wondered why I don’t attend any of my high school (’95) or college (’99) reunions… there’s a reason.
Someone once tried to tell me that my problem wasn’t out of the ordinary, that a lot of people forget stuff from their high school and college years when they get older. I think an apt comparison to that conversation would be to tell someone with depression, “Hey, everyone gets sad once in a while.” Not at all offensive and trivializing, right?
I actually kept a journal for a while in high school. I found it in my desk one afternoon, opened it up and read what might as well have been someone else’s autobiography. Aside from my handwriting, there was nothing familiar about it.
When I was eating my lunch one day during law school, someone snuck up to my table and sat down. She was a sophomore at Blake (high school) when I was a senior and we were on the verge of being an item at one point. We talked for a couple minutes and at one point, she asked for my forgiveness. Apparently, she had done some really shitty things to me that year. As it turns out, it’s really easy to forgive someone for something when you have no idea what it was. (Conversely, it can make other people really pissed off when they ask for an explanation about something and you have no idea what they’re talking about.)
Will my memories ever come back? I doubt it, but like with any problem, you accept that it happened and move forward from there. Share the few stories I remember, share the new stories I’m experiencing… this could be like writing a new version of my autobiography. Except this time, I’ll be starting in the middle of Chapter 12.