Scrambled Hippocampus – Doubting Yourself


Memory loss is not entertaining (like you see on tv dramas) or glamorous or straightforward. It is not complete nor does it make sense. It is confusing and frustrating. My memory is scrambled, fuzzy, blurry. It has holes. Some things from the past have slipped away forever I think. Some events now fail to make it into my memory, or make it in such a temporary, non-distinct, or out of order way that I am left doubting myself daily.

I used to have an iron clad, nearly photographic memory. It allowed me to capture info and details and excel at staying organized, taking tests, being efficient. I can no longer rely on my brain. Instead I have lists, calendars, notes, spreadsheets, alarms. I keep my phone with me and enter everything there to sound alarms throughout the day, for picking up my kids to taking my meds. Some days I set a reminder to take a shower if too many days have passed with me forgetting this basic task. I pin EVERYTHING up on a large bulletin board in the hallway, so that I only have one place to look for things, and it is always out in my face as a visual reminder. Sometimes I stare at this board endlessly, double checking my calendars and alarms, convinced I have overlooked something, that nagging feeling always with me.

I keep discovering the scrambles and holes. I will find myself in photos with people I don’t recognize, places I swear I have never been. People will reminisce about something and laugh about a shared event, and I have no reaction, because it doesn’t feel like I was there, but they all say I was. It is an odd, twilight zone sort of feeling, and it happens daily. I suppose I have gotten used to it and accepted it now, as part of my new normal.

Memory is a complex job. You need to pay attention, then each sense and emotion gets filed away, along with the visuals and dialogues. Some memories are more emotional, some are more about language, some are more routine. The hippocampus is involved with all of them, along with several other parts of the brain depending on the event being processed and recalled. – “Since the early neurological work of Karl Lashley and Wilder Penfield in the 1950s and 1960s, it has become clear that long-term memories are not stored in just one part of the brain, but are widely distributed throughout the cortex. After consolidation, long-term memories are stored throughout the brain as groups of neurons that are primed to fire together in the same pattern that created the original experience, and each component of a memory is stored in the brain area that initiated it (e.g. groups of neurons in the visual cortex store a sight, neurons in the amygdala store the associated emotion, etc). Indeed, it seems that they may even be encoded redundantly, several times, in various parts of the cortex, so that, if one engram (or memory trace) is wiped out, there are duplicates, or alternative pathways, elsewhere, through which the memory may still be retrieved.

Therefore, contrary to the popular notion, memories are not stored in our brains like books on library shelves, but must be actively reconstructed from elements scattered throughout various areas of the brain by the encoding process. Memory storage is therefore an ongoing process of reclassification resulting from continuous changes in our neural pathways, and parallel processing of information in our brains.

The indications are that, in the absence of disorders due to trauma or neurological disease, the human brain has the capacity to store almost unlimited amounts of information indefinitely. Forgetting, therefore, is more likely to be result from incorrectly or incompletely encoded memories, and/or problems with the recall/retrieval process. It is a common experience that we may try to remember something one time and fail, but then remember that same item later. The information is therefore clearly still there in storage, but there may have been some kind of a mismatch between retrieval cues and the original encoding of the information. “

I often have issues with time and sequencing, almost like my brain time travels and suffers a paradox. I actually hold two thoughts that don’t make sense at once, and it now takes embarrassingly long to notice. An example, one day I remembered my daughter asking me to call and invite her Grandma to her school recital. So I reminded my husband to do this. He looked confused, because, not only had we already invited her, but we had all attended the recital last week. He tells me she already had her final recital and that we all went. My mind is blank, and searching for a memory. He starts describing the event and details of that day. As he tells me more and more, I start to form a fuzzy memory, and then I think I recall it for myself. I ask him to confirm the conversations, where we sat, the songs we heard, etc. I can still recall going to this event now. I have no idea why it slipped my mind, how an entire evening had escaped me and my brain looped back to the previous week. But this is not uncommon for me now. I have to work to keep my memories intact or risk getting lost in the swirl of confusion. Did I misplace that memory? Were the neurons not firing properly the day of the event or the day of the forgotten memory – or both?

It is exhausting. It is hard work. Every day.


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