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When Depression Makes You a Forgetful Person

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I came across the term “brain fog” only recently. I had never quite thought of depression this way, but the metaphor seems fitting. When you are depressed there’s something that seems to obstruct your interaction with other people. It isn’t a physical barrier. It’s some sort of foggy, misty sort of apparition I can only assume comes from some of the cognitive symptoms associated with depression.

The first fogginess I remember experiencing is impaired memory. It was so frustrating to realize I could no longer hold assignments and documentation deadlines in my head. In the past, I could remember the dates and times of appointments and major due dates for a month or more without a planner. I used to write things down in order to have something to refer back to, but rarely needed to. More often than not, I just checked to satisfy my anxious and perfectionistic tendencies. When I realized how significantly my memory had changed, it chipped away at my previous identity. I panicked when I realized I couldn’t study and remember information the way I used to.

I have been told “well, you were above average before, now you’re just ‘normal.’” I do recognize I was blessed to be able to complete an intensive grad school program with moderate to severe major depressive disorder. With good grades, no less.

But I still feel significant loss when I can’t even keep a simple to-do list in my head for one day. I feel worthless when I mistake the hour of a meeting with a supervisor and arrive 30 minutes late. We all learn to use our strengths to compensate for our weaknesses, but what happens when a strength is no longer a strength? Even if I got an average score on a memory test, I would feel angry and sad at the change. I don’t feel like me.

The depression consumes my creativity and impairs my problem-solving. As an introvert, I have spent a lot of time in my own head. My thoughts feel rich with creativity and full of intricate connections. Problem-solving and connecting new information to old information came easy. Instead of these things, my mind lies to me about reality, inundates me with feelings of hopelessness and whispers thoughts of death and escape. There is no room left for my complex inner world. Depression also slows my mental processing. My work requires me to be with people and communicate effectively for most of my day.

Trying to keep up with what other people are saying challenges me, especially when I’m tired (which is pretty much always). Trying to immediately evaluate a client’s performance and give feedback requires extreme focus and significant effort. Even in more informal social situations, maintaining a conversation can be difficult, especially if the pace is fast. I am tired of having to work this hard and feel ashamed about social blunders, both real and imagined.

As painful as these hits to my memory, creativity and processing can be, I can point out one positive result. I am slightly less perfectionistic and still working on it. Instead of saying “should,” I am learning to identify the difference between ideal and realistic.

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Originally published: February 6, 2017
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