Lights are out down memory lane (part 1)
Take a moment to think back to your childhood… picture a memory… describe it in as much detail as you can… How vivid is it? Can you feel how you felt then? Did it feel like you were actually there? Do you now feel the emotion? Maybe childhood is a little far back… how about a memory from another time in your past… try again.
That song that pops up that sends you back to your teenage years maybe?
First album you bought?
First concert you went to?
I’ll give you a moment more to do this…
So, a large number of you probably found this relatively easy and are wondering where this is going… another portion of you might have struggled a little more, particularly with your childhood, but could start to describe some memory, and place yourself in it, feeling the emotions that you felt at the time… I have none of that… I have very few memories of my past at all. I don’t mean of the distant past, I mean any of my past. The few “memories” I do have I almost wouldn’t describe as memories. I can talk about some factual aspects of experiences I’ve had, or things I’ve been told/ learnt/ read about, but I can’t actually re-live a particular memory, experience the emotions of it.
I’m certainly generally restrained in expressing emotion but I do experience a range of them during everyday life, so it’s not that I don’t have any to recall in the first place. Having said that, I’m not sure whether the “problem” is not being able to fully store the memories, or an inability to retrieve them. However, this is probably more of a philosophical question and not so relevant for this discussion.
I remember things, I have very few memories.
I am very good at remembering faces, but not names, which might be related to more of a pattern matching based memory, and may also explain my strength at maths.
I use to just think I had a bad memory, it took me until a few years ago to realise it’s much more nuanced than this. I’ve always been quite self-reflective and so I’ve gradually been reflecting on how this affects many aspects of my life; from relationships in general, my perception of time, living day to day and the appreciation of “now”, moving on from past events (both happy & sad), and social situations.
I should add that I still see myself as what society thinks of as a highly functioning human… I did well at school/ uni, have a good job as a software developer for a great company (I’m currently using gold cards & blog days at the company to blog about this), was a regional level swimmer and county level tennis player, have good interactions and relationships with others, have travelled etc. Granted, I also appreciate that I’ve been very privileged in my upbringing and the journey I’ve taken up until this point: a white heterosexual male from a middle class family with parents that gave me the freedom to pursue my interests and then offer a healthy amount of pushing to improve. Similar neural quirks may have a more detrimental affect for someone in less of a privileged position, an appreciation of which will hopefully become more obvious as I go in to details in later posts.
This rings more and more true the more I’ve come to understand how many social norms are based on the most prevalent lens through which the world is viewed, or the lens that is most prevalently thought of as the “correct” lens (subtle difference between the two), and this has a disproportionate affect on anyone that is already viewed as a minority in a particular situation. Which is why an appreciation of these different lenses is so important for a genuinely open view to the many aspects of diversity; this could be, and may well end up being, a whole other post.
This first post is meant more as an introduction and then in the next one I’ll go in to a little more detail for some of the areas of life I’ve found it to affect.
A few aims of these posts in rough order of intention:
- To help myself think about and understand how my memory works/ affects aspects of my life; help to minimise any downsides, make use of any upsides
- Give people I know a better understanding of how it affects things I do and how I react to situations; particularly things that could be misinterpreted
- Raise an awareness for anyone reading this who thinks “Ah, that’s how I perceive things as well”
- Make people pause and think of others in their lives whose memory might work in a similar way, or the other end of the spectrum and how this might affect things
- More broadly, that most traits for how people think/ experience things are a spectrum and that people you interact with are likely to live somewhere different on this spectrum to you
Following on from last point, it isn’t just that their personality trait might be different, they may experience the same event/ interaction in a completely different way, and it may be functionally impossible for them to fundamentally change this. Viewing their actions through your lens of how you experience life, instead of theirs, can result in a large amount of misunderstanding and unnecessary friction. On the flip side, it’s important to understand how your own actions might be perceived by others when they view it through a different lens. This can be extended to other innate traits and cultural/ nurture factors, that influence this lens. This isn’t just an empathy/ it’s not nice to offend people’s point of view, it’s also useful from a selfish point of view; we interact with ever increasing numbers of people, in both our professional and personal lives, and if you want someone to do something for you, they are much more likely if you frame it in a way that makes sense through their lens.
As I’ve gradually become more and more aware of how the way that my memory operates affects things, I’ve mentioned it to more and more people. It’s been an interesting mix of reactions: fascination that lack of episodic memory is a thing and how it affects how I experience life (both from sympathetic and an almost jealous point of view!), and sudden light bulb moments of them realising others in their lives might experience things in a similar way. I also only ever really viewed this as a negative trait, but I’ve come to appreciate that as with most things in life, it’s just different; it has its positives and negatives. I only have access to my perception of things so I’m unsure how unusual it is, or how much I’m talking about is related to my memory vs other personality traits of mine vs more generally how everyone operates. I imagine, as with most things, it’s a mixture of all of these. So, feel free to ask questions (I’m pretty open about it all), or relate similar experiences.
Read about the more specific situations I’ve found it to affect here.