Picture and words by author

On Memory

And anxiety’s affect on it

Akshay Gajria
6 min readMay 30, 2024

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Hello!

For me, this is how ideas start: words arriving in the blank spaces in time. Usually, they arrive when I’m sitting staring into space. I do this quite often.

Some time this month, while I sat and stared, the words that could have been the perfect introduction to this month’s newsletter appeared. Not an inkling but words in a proper sequence telling an incident in my unique storytelling voice I’ve honed over the years. I was so thrilled. But in that moment, I decided that I will remember it — so strong, so vivid — and in that momentary arrogance, I forgot how easy it is to forget.

The above is not that introduction but it works — not as effectively — to show you some part of my mostly (dys)functional brain.

On an afternoon in early 2023, my partner, who’d lived with me by then for a few months, asked me if I have ADHD. I was telling her about how I forgotten something, again, and it seemed like the most natural question. No one had ever asked me that before. I didn’t know what ADHD is, so I googled it and that’s when my spiral began.

Much of ADHD brain functions are similar to how my brain works. Hyper focus, getting lost in day dreams, my own special relationship with time. And more. The deeper I went down this rabbit hole, the more convinced I grew. Time frames do not work for me. Procrastination is part of the process. My unflinching sense of discipline. I was convinced, I did have ADHD. For most of 2023, I worked with that assumption until I finally met a therapist. After conversations with two separate therapists, I concluded I do not have ADHD. What I do have is a lot of anxiety which has shaped my brain in certain way similar to those ADHD traits.

And one of the biggest is memory. It is quite a mess — if an object is not in front of me, I forget about it. Unless in a very time bound manner, it is useful to me in my present, my now. This stretches to people as well and in most cases when someone is not around me often enough, I tend to forget about them — much to their hurt sentiments. It makes keeping in touch with me rather difficult.

(As I write this, the song If by Pink Floyd comes on. If I were a good man, I’d talk with you more often than I do. Apt.)

But beyond the outside world this also affects my relationship with myself. I often forget who I was in favour of who I am or hoping to become. This comes out strongly, whenever I go through a change, a big life change. Forgetting all that I have done, forgetting who I was makes the new me feel like he is starting from scratch. A babe, fresh out of the womb.

(I fear I am making it sound worse than it is. Thankfully, it doesn’t stretch all the way to learning how to walk. Think more in tune with the virtual image of yourself, the way you view yourself in your brain.)

I faced this quite harshly when I started applying for jobs in the UK after graduating. I started at the bottom. The last ten years of living in Bombay, writing, growing Tall Tales, ghostwriting three books, building a community who silently cheers me on are not around me. I’ve won prizes, been asked to judge, felicitate workshops, teach kids and adults alike. All those accomplishments don’t rise in my brain. Those were me but not the me in this now. So I forget. I forget.

Forgetting makes not only that hard work feel in vain but my confidence during takes a nose dive. While applying for jobs, it showed in the cover letters I wrote, in the subliminal messaging behind the words we choose to write.

“How many times, he wonders, must a person relearn everything he knows, rediscovering it over and over, and how many coverings must be torn away before he’s finally able to truly grasp things, to understand them to the bone? Is a human lifetime long enough? His lifetime, or anyone else’s?”

- Jenny Erpenbeck, Go Went Gone, 2015

These life changes are of the pleasant kind and help. But I’m still redefining what it means to be me. It’s been a frustrating process but I hope by the end, it’ll be worth it. I’m in a better place now, for sure. But while in the deep end, I’ve found certain activities that helped me centre myself, especially when I feel most lost. I’m sharing those with you.

  1. Music: I love listening to music, it’s been a steady companion over all my years. Over time, my playlists have merged with what others have recommended, what they love, what they’ve shared, and what I’ve eventually fallen in love with as well. But there is a choice selection of songs, songs that have helped me process my youth, words that helped me understand myself in times of absolute solitude. I’ve added all of it into a playlist and whenever I feel at a loss of who I am, I listen to that playlist and remember. It’s called OG AG — an homage to who I was with a dash of who I’m becoming. My centre when the world feels too much.
  2. Reading old writing: In some sense, all that I have written are missives from my old self to me now, and to all the “me”s I’ll be in the future. A trail of breadcrumbs in a maze, a tricky maze at that. I’m often lost within them. Many people say: writing saved their life. It has mine. Writing has, in the past, helped me understand and get out of tricky situations. But only now do I understand, just how much what I’ve written continues to save me.

In lieu of that, did you know that I had started an Instagram channel with typerwriter poetry? It’s called Verbsmith and I started it many years ago. That typewriter belonged to an ex-girlfriend. Since we broke up, I never touched it. It felt wrong. But the poems and account remain. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been re-reading some of that poetry to recall that old ambition burning in me to keep on keepin’ on.

Here are a few I still like:

Until next month,

Remember,

Akshay

You’re reading Missives from an Island a newsletter by Akshay Gajria. This newsletter is delivered to your inbox on the 30th of every month. You can also find Akshay on Twitter (X), Instagram, and Medium. If you enjoyed reading, consider tipping him by buying a cup of tea (or three) here or buying his ebook (linked below). You can discover his work at akshaygajria.com

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