If you were hit by amnesia today, what would you remember?
If you were hit by an episode of amnesia right now, what would you remember? Which shades of your past/present self would you be?
Specifically, I’m talking about transient global amnesia, where you can remember the big picture of your life, like the people closest to you and the pivotal events that have shaped your life, but have no memory of recent details — details we often get caught up in — like where you are, how you got there, or where you’re traveling next. Apparently, during the episode, you’re in a pleasant but confused state of being where short-term memories simply don’t exist or form for several hours.
On New Years Eve, my dad woke up with amnesia and for five hours didn’t remember where he was or why he was there. This episode has stuck with me long since my mom called to say my dad had recovered and asked her to smuggle champagne into the hospital.
Who would you be if your memory of the recent past was suddenly erased?
I just passed the five-month mark of living in San Francisco. In July, I gave my friends, family, and firm one-month’s notice of my move and on August 1st, uprooted my life to move across the country.
So you can see why the possibility of not remembering anything from my recent past would be especially daunting. Over the past five months, I’ve settled into a new apartment, gotten familiar with my neighborhood and those surrounding Hayes Valley, and begun to feel the seeds of real connections to a small handful of new people. While I still get pangs of loneliness when I think of my best friends and tightknit family on the East Coast, even the barebones promise of my potential new life on the West Coast has been enough to keep me engaged in the new relationships I’m building, thorough in examining myself to understand my motivations, and slowly but surely learning to trust my instincts enough to give into my curiosity to try out new perspectives and experiences. Back to amnesia.
My initial reaction was one of horror.
I imagined myself walking through the streets of San Francisco alone, as I often do to explore new parts of the city and to avoid taking the packed public buses. What if I forgot where I live? Would I even remember that I had moved to a new city, or would I be hopelessly trying to navigate the streets of DC? I imagine I’d call my mom and when she told me about my move, I’d begin panicking, because my fear of suddenly realizing that I’ve been neglecting or overlooking a piece of my life’s puzzle is the root cause of many wake-up-sweating nightmares.
My second reaction — after a day of worrying, contemplating the symptoms on WebMD, then forgetting in the chaos of everyday life — is that this would be a clarifying experience.
Since moving, I’ve practiced and read a lot about meditation and mindfulness, and to be freed from the pressure of constantly needing to achieve, produce, and demonstrate growth — to exist and experience the presence — seems like a pretty blissful state of being. Instead of worrying about how I was going to get home on time for my next work call or rushing through my run to get to my next social engagement, maybe I would slow down when I caught a glimpse of the bridge over the water. Maybe instead of worrying about my mile-per-hour average during a run, I would turn down an unfamiliar path in the park. If I happened to be writing at the moment amnesia struck, maybe I’d forget to second guess the syntax and structure and look up to discover an unconscious thought on my screen. If I happened to be with another person, be it acquaintance, client, or friend, maybe I would drop my preconceptions and walls and empathize instead of analyze and we’d connect on a deeper level.
Whether or not you and I will wake up one day without a sense of surrounding, place, or time is unpredictable, and it’s not something we can outwork, outrun, or outsmart. Though part of me will always miss my parents, siblings, and close friends when I am apart from them, this was a good reminder to keep a fierce appreciation for who, and where, I am right now.