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When Trauma Eats Your Memories

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­I used to have a spectacular memory.

When I was in the first grade, I was the first person in my class to memorize my address, postal code and phone number. I remembered everybody’s birthdays and could recite all of my friends’ phone numbers without hesitation. You know, back before we all had smartphones. Even back before people having cell phones in general was the norm. I had a good memory. I had good focus and good concentration.

• What is PTSD?

Somewhere along the way, something started to eat my memories. Not just the memories I already had, but my ability to remember as well. And if the memories didn’t disappear, I wasn’t sure if they were even real.

You know that feeling when you wake up from a dream and it’s so vivid and you’re convinced it happened? And then years later something reminds you of it and you almost wonder if it really was a memory instead of a dream? That’s what it’s like.

I never realized until consistently going to therapy how much of a problem my memory has come to be. Because of repeated and constant trauma, I barely remember anything that happened between the ages 9 and 16. I remember a few things here and there. I remember a few big things that happened in school and with my friends. But that’s it.

Not long ago in therapy, my therapist and I discussed my father. I brought up a memory that I wasn’t even sure was real — I asked my mom after that session and she confirmed it. Out of curiosity, I dug up an old poetry account from my teen years. Miraculously, I guessed the password. That night I went through about three hundred poems of varying lengths and topics. I mention several people — some I remember. Some I don’t. There’s not even any kind of vague recollection. My therapist suspects they’re “lost” memories or “locked” — I suspect they’re lost.

It’s like I swept so many memories, so much trauma, under the rug inside my mind that I can’t find them anymore. And it’s like there’s not much room for new memories.

I was an avid reader and I haven’t sat down and read a book in at least two years because I can’t concentrate. It’ll take me three hours to read one paragraph because I simply can’t focus. That’s the depression. That’s not being able to turn my mind off. I take photos of everything. I have a good 20,000 photos on my phone. Different angles of the same photo. Duplicates. Photos of experiences I’m terrified of forgetting. I take photos to help me remember. To help me trust what I know happened.

It’s scary to not know your own mind. It’s terrifying to know there’s a chunk of my life I can’t remember — and probably never will. All I can do is make sure I remember what’s worth remembering from here on out.

Unsplash photo via Andras Kovacs

Originally published: October 17, 2018
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