5 Challenges I Face Because of My Poor Short-Term Memory


It can be hard living with a poor short-term memory. For me it can feel a lot like you’re riding in a car down a long dark tunnel. You know you have things you need to be doing, but it can be hard to keep them at the front of your thoughts for long enough for you to be able to finish them. You look out the window and see a car pass yours, but in the dark its headlights look like just a streak of light. As it passes you it’s the center of your attention, and while it’s going past, you’re entirely focused on it, but then it passes you and disappears back into the black again. For me that passing light is something I need to remember to do, and how long it takes to streak past me is how long I will be able to focus my attention on it. Once it slips past me and goes back into the fog of my brain, that’s it – it’s gone. I’ve forgotten what it was. All I can do is wait and see if it will go past me again.

Here is a list of five things I struggle with due to my poor short-term memory:

1. I’m terrible at remembering names and faces.

I’ve always had a terrible time remembering names and faces. I’m not sure what the problem is. It might have something to do with how often I interact with a person. If I see you every day and we often bump into each other in the office kitchen, chances are at some point I’ll catch on to what your name is and will begin to cobble together an idea of who you are as a person through our conversations. What bugs me is when people come up to me at work and know who I am but I have no idea who they are, and they always start off a conversation with me like we’re old friends. It’s one of the perils of working in an office building with hundreds of people in it.

“Hi Marisa! How are you?” they will usually say to me.

“Good,” I’ll answer slowly, my brain doing mental backflips, thinking to myself “And you are?”

And then to make matters worse, the person might know personal things about me.

“And how’s your little girl?”

My smile will usually then stretch into an awkward grimace. “Good, good, thanks. You know how 3-year-olds are!”

At that point I typically make an excuse to get out of the room before the other person might realize I have no idea who they are. The weird thing about these situations is I can never remember telling this person personal details before so I always wonder, how do they know so much about me? Office gossip? And quite often I’m too embarrassed to simply ask them their name or even someone else who they are so, just like out of a scene in “Seinfeld,” I just smile and nod until the conversation reaches a close so I can leave.

2. When I forget something, I go completely blank.  

I can get easily distracted and instantly forget what it was that I was just doing. It happens a lot to me in the shower. After rinsing and washing my hair I’ll bend over to put the shampoo bottle down and then I’ll straighten back up and immediately think to myself, “Did I just wash my hair?” Yep, it really does happen that fast. It’s like having your brain be consumed with fog. And when I try to think back to what I’d just been doing, what do I find? A blank spot in my mind. The memory is gone. It’s like it never happened. The first few times this happened to me I got pretty upset. I couldn’t understand how I could forget something that fast. It’s happened to me so many times now I’m just used to it. All I do is search the shower floor for soap suds, and if I find some I’ll get the answer to my question. Yep. I washed my hair. Good to know.

Why am I like this? I have no idea. It can be a little distressing when it happens. I have to really focus when I’m doing things like taking medication because if I stop for just a second and let my thoughts drift I’ll lose my concentration and then be left wondering, “Did I just take four puffs of my asthma medication or three?” And when your brain just shrugs and goes “I dunno!” it can be pretty damn stressful.

3. I’m too scared to get my driver’s license. 

When I was growing up I just assumed one day I would learn how to drive. It’s a rite of passage, right? Everyone should want to do it, right? It’s supposed to be a big part of being an adult. But as I got older I started to think about it more and realized with my low attention span and poor focus maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea if I got behind the wheel of a car.

Did I want to be more independent? Sure. But I know myself pretty well. I have a habit of losing focus and tuning out and drifting off “into my own little world” sometimes, so why would I get behind the wheel of a car? The other thing that concerns me is I have poor depth perception. I sometimes think things are closer than they actually are, and I don’t handle stress very well. I hate the idea of being responsible for other people in the car as well. What if I get confused about something and lose focus for a second and accidentally run a red light?

A lot of people with dyspraxia struggle with driving, but not all of them give up on it completely like I did. I don’t regret my choice. I don’t consider it giving up or failing at being an adult. I’m just being honest with myself. I would not be a good driver.

4. I need a routine to get me through the day. 

When you have a poor short-term memory it can sometimes feel like you’re running in a race against your own brain. You have to always stay a step ahead of it because if you let your guard down for a moment it will run past you and you’ll be left wondering what the heck happened. I depend on a routine to get me through my days because if I stay organized it helps me forget things less. If I get lazy and don’t follow my routine it can be bad for me – real bad. I like to go to the gym a few nights a week. I take a back pack and a bottle of water with me each time I go. My gym routine is to take some things out of my handbag and put them into my backpack. I’ll bring my phone, my iPod, my iPad, my keys and my gym pass. When I get home from the gym I have to unpack my backpack immediately and take those things out of my backpack and back into my handbag because if I don’t I will leave them in there and forget. I hate it when I do that. And when I do unpack my backpack I have to make sure I remember to take every single thing out. I have to search every part of the bag to make sure I have everything because sometimes I might miss something if it’s under a towel or in a zipped pocket.

I’ve come home from the gym in the past and unpacked my backpack and then grabbed my handbag to go out thinking I had everything on me only to find out later I’d left my purse at home in my backpack. I get very mad at myself when I forget things. It ruins my day and can reduce me to tears. But it also makes me more determined to try and develop a better routine so it doesn’t happen again.

5. Multi-tasking can be difficult sometimes.

If you’re someone like me you might find multi-tasking difficult. When I’m having a busy day and have a lot of things on my mind it often feels like my brain is trying to juggle half a dozen things at once. I can’t stop to relax. I can’t stop to think. I have to keep going because I’m afraid if I slow down for just a second I’ll lose my focus and something will slip through my fingers and – whoops. I’ll drop an egg on the carpet.

How do I cope with multi-tasking? Notes help. I tell people to put instructions into writing for me. I flag important emails or keep them full screen on my computer screen to remind me that I need to deal with it. When I’m finished with an email I’ll archive it in Outlook. I also write a lot of notes to myself. I keep digital Post-it notes on my desktop and keep lists to remind me of things I need to know. I also have to write down every single password and pin I need to know because if I had to depend on my brain for those things I’ll never be able to log into anything ever again.

In conclusion it’s not fun living with short-term memory problems, but it’s not all bad either. It’s made me a more organized person and forced me to find creative solutions to deal with my problems.

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Thinkstock photo by wildpixel


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