Remembering what never happened


Because of the way the human brain stores and recalls memories, the strangest things can trigger a memory. Sometimes, things that have nothing to do with a particular memory can trigger you to think about it, perhaps because it is in some way tangentally conected. It is a very abstract process and one of the things that both science and psychology continue to investigate.

One of the more interesting things that I have recently learned is that you can have a memory that you can visualise so clearly that it might have happened only a few hours past, but that doesn’t mean that that memory is real. Your brain can actually ‘remember’ things that have never happened. There’s a fabulous word to describe the process – Confabulation. Ther’s an article here on Cracked that words it much better than I can.

As the Cracked article states, many people who have uncovered ‘repressed’ memories of events from their past (this most often seems to be related to some kind of early childhood abuse) have actually just made up (or confabulated) those memories. However, I don’t think that this totally debunks all of Freud’s theories. As much as I hate the majority of what I’ve ever learned about Freud, I have to acquiesce that some of his ideas were, and remain, incredibly insightful (not that all theories come from him, but he was the first major proponent of them).

I do believe that some people genuinelly repress memories, but only because it is apparently something I have done. According to my mother, the first Christmas after she and my father seperated, my paternal grandmother came up with a scheme that involved my brother and I decieving my mum and lying to her, so that we could spend Christmas day with our dad. This deciet and deception resulted in my brother and I coping in markedly different ways. He became even more easily angered and aggressive than he usually was, and I became something of a nervous wreck, especially whenever my mum began enthusing about Christmas, what she was going to be cooking, presents, our maternal gran joining us, boardgames we could play. and other things. The stress of the situation was only exacerbated by the fact that neither Lewis nor myself really wanted to lie to my mother in a way that we must have known would hurt her terribly. Eventually, my mum got the details of my grandmother’s scheme from one of us (it was a very simple plan, really – it would just involve us going to her place on Christmas eve, as already planned, but instead of going home to our mother at six o’clock, we’d just phone her and say we wouldn’t be coming back until boxing day).

Now, as horrible as that story sounds (or so I’ve been told), there is something very odd about it. I don’t remember it at all. When my mum brought it up a few years ago (I think I was asking her why the relationship between her and my paternal gran was so much more acerbic than that of other ex-mother-in-law-relationships) she was shocked that I didn’t know which ‘awful Christmas thing’ she was talking about, and I was shocked to learn that my gran could do something like that (though having had several years to mull it over, I’m aware that my shock was misplaced).. But I can’t remember it at all, even after really straining my memory to breaking point, there isn’t a single thing about that Christmas that I can remember. Incidentally, my brother can’t remember this either but he admits to being unable to remember very much at all before he was about fourteen.

The only indication of this having impacted on me in any way is the sense of dread foreboding I often get when going out somewhere. I used to get it when going to a friend’s sleepover for example, this feeling that I should have stayed home with my family instead. I get it these days if I’m leaving my friends to do something else or see someone different, that I should just be staying where it’s safe and comfortable. It makes me want to get on the very next train home, or to cut my visit short somehow. Even when I know I’ll enjoy what I’m doing.

What I’m trying to point out is that memory is an incredibly unreliable source. It’s possible to completely forget something that really should have been very important, with quite a large impact on one aspect of my family life. On the other hand, it is equally possible to ‘remember’ something that is not true at all. It’s such an odd concept, being completely able to ‘remember’ something that never happened.

They say that the human brain is the least understood thing in the world, but I think that if the brain was simple enough for us to understand it, we would be too simple to want to.

 

Added:

It occurs to me that this blog entry came about of me wanting to write about something that hasn’t made an appearence at all, so I’ll write about it here, because it is related to memory.

In the bathroom in my house, there is a cupboard on the wall that is shared between myself and my two housemates. It’s made of stained pine, I think, and must be a fairly new addition to the house, as you can still smell the wood when you are stood near it. When you open the door, the wood smell gets blown out at you, along with the scent of a housemate’s aftershave, Old Spice. There is something about the combination of these two scents washing over me that makes my knees weak. I want to bottle that smell and carry it around with me. It is simultaneously relaxing and arousing, and highly evocative.

However, I don’t know what it’s evoking. It clouds up on the edges and in the corners of my memory, tantalizing me with the promise of reliving some divine moment. Unfortunately, that memory is out of reach, blocked off, or perhaps not even real. There is just something about the combination of the woody, natural smell of the cupboard, and the intoxicationg scent of Old Spice aftershave that makes me want to go and make love with my boyfriend, or have a barbeque with my friends, or go running through a field with my old dog. I just don’t know why.

This is the story so far.


So, it’s been nearly a week since term ended, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time here at theglaivemaster’s house where it is warm and I am guarenteed interesting and engaging company. I’ve been worrying about people (well, a certain person mainly, but others too.) However, I can’t help but feel I should be worrying about myself rather than anyone else at the moment, given that since term ended my general mood has slipped and I’ve had more down days than up days.

I’ve been contemplating on the subject of depression, anxiety and mental illness quite a lot recently. It’s not really something I’ve ever given much consideration to, until sixthform where I studied psychology at A level. When we covered depression and anxiety, I couldn’t help but think that they seemed awfully familiar, but more or less told myself to stop being so silly and put it out of my mind.

Then when I got to university, at the beginning of the second term last year I started seeing Matt. Matt is a depression sufferer, and I convinced him to go along to the doctors and get help. He went for councilling. But I still ignored my own problems, despite his insistence that I needed to get help. I told him he was being silly and overreacting and that I was fine.

I did however, begin to give it a bit more thought, when Matt was diagnosed, and realiseed how hard it must be for someone with no idea of these problems to understand how someone with them was feeling and what they were going through. I certainly felt that I couldn’t quite understand what Matt must have been going through (because, of course, I was just feeling a bit down and of course there was nothing actually wrong with me.)

So for ten months (or there abouts) I supported Matt through his problems and he unknowlingly held me up when I felt like falling down. And then that all went away. I’d forgotten how to deal with all of this stuff on my own and for a while I tried to ignore it again. That lasted a few weeks of me kidding myself and everyone else that I was fine and coping with everything really well. But it wasn’t long before I started to fade around the edges.

It was a couple of weeks after my life fell apart that I acknowledged what had happened and really stared to feel and miss what I’d lost – the man that I loved, the man that I cared about more than anything in the world, the man that I could see myself with in ten years time. The man that was propping me up. It was the sudden realisation that I could very easily wipe myself off the face of the planet. Everything became a potential way of hurting (or worse, killing) myself, and that was terrifying. I don’t really want to hurt myself, and I know that life is worth living, if even for the beauty of the sunset, or the view you get on a clear day when walking into town from Bowerham (you can see the lake district, it’s incredible). There are so many things that makes this life, the life of Alice Rees an interesting and wonderful thing that the idea of ending it was the thing that finally pushed me into getting some help.

So I did. I went to the doctors, and you know what? He diagnosed me with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder and put me straight on Citalopram and into councilling. He thinks I’ve been suffering from these conditions for quite some time and that the liekly thing is that the massive trauma of losing Matt was what pushed me into the critical catagory of needing to be on suicide watch.

So I’ve been thinking a lot recently about mental illness, depression especially. I’ve really been feeling it this week and so I’ve decided to make this long post for you people to read. I know how hard it is to imagine yourself in the shoes of a problem you have no experience with, so here are some of my views on it.

Depression is an illness of loss:

* Appetite
* Sleeping pattern
* Sex drive
* Focus and concentration
* Sense of self
* Grip on reality
* Ability to choose
* Desire to partake in activities, even enjoyable ones

The list goes on. Being without these most basic things is…an awful thing. I used to be a person who enjoyed to eat. People make jokes that I’m ‘Fat Alice’ despite the fact that I’m a tiny size 8 because I eat like a horse. The fact that I’ve now lost my desire to eat is weird as hell I’ve lost weight, not something I needed to do. I miss eating all the things that I like, but I really just don’t feel like it anymore. The idea of eating makes me nauseous sometimes and it’s just distressing. Being hungry but not wanting to eat, or even worse, just not feeling hungry and having to force myself to eat so as not to pass out is just not fun.

Same goes for sleeping to a certain extent. No matter how much or how little sleep I get, I’m continually tired, so going to bed has become a chore because there is nothing to distract me from my demons when I’m just laying in bed trying and failing to fall asleep. Being able to fall asleep is never something I’ve found easy, but it’s become nigh-on impossible lately.

Losing my libido is another very strange thing for me, because (and I know my mum reads this journal, but she’s old enough to realise that I’m old enough to be saying stuff like this – and besides, it’s my blog!) I’ve always been quite an erotically charged person, someone who enjoys physical pleasures for what they are. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there is nothing wrong with enjoying sex for the sheer physical thrill that comes from it. Losing my motivation to seek out this pleasure and relief is a disconcerting thing indeed.

There is something quite cathartic about this. I’m not enjoying thinking about all of this, but I’m liking pouring these thoughts onto your screens from my (or rather Sam’s) keyboard.

I’ve never been good at making decisions, especially when it involves other people. I’m always worried about making the ‘wrong’ decision and disappointing people. This has found its way to a whole new level lately though, so much that I can’t even decide what to fill my time with. The idea of angering or upsetting the people around me is one that doesn’t bear thinking about – the last thing I want to do is alienate the people who are helping me to get through this. Sadly, though, I feel that my indecision is just frustrating them instead. This makes me want to hide away so I don’t have to make any choices. I can’t focus on anything either, so I’m having to make choices more often than usual, which is very frustrating. I’ll pick up a book and read a few lines then loose my focus. Turn on the playstation and play one level of a game and then turn it off. Go into town and after one shop wish I was at home again. All very rubbishy.

I feel like I’ve spent the last few weeks in a kind of daze, watching myself through a two way mirror. A friend saw me walking through town the other day and said I looked like I was stoned. Maybe if I was, this would be a lot easier. That’s another thing – I can’t drink while I’m taking these tablets. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, being drunk is one way of bringing one’s emotions to the forefront when they are already feeling exposed and raw. On the other, it’s a way of loosening up and maybe having a good time for the evening. One definate benefit is it’s saving me money.

I’m really looking forward to going home and seeing my brother and the rest of my family. I’ve not seen tjem since September and there have been several times recently where I’ve found myself thinking ‘wow, I want to see my mum, she’d be able to make things better.’ I miss my cats, too, and the crazy ball of fur we call a dog. I’m worried that I’ll find it hard to leave Ferryside once I’m there though, being looked after (in a way) by my family. Even when my mum and stepdad are both at work and my brother is at his girlfriend’s house, the newsagent is never empty, thanks to the animals.

This has been a post of fairly epic proportions so I’ll leave it there for now. Kudos to anyone who knows the song in my subject line.