by Sam Black
Memory is something that I did not give much thought to in my “before the accident” life. I relied on it in my career as a social worker. I cherished it in my pastime of creating Scrapbooks and journaling. I mastered it as a busy mom of five. And yet consciously, it never occurred to me that in the blink of an eye, it would not be there.
There are two particular moments that come to me about how damaged my memory was, after my TBI, and how my ability to access memories were directly related to the identity that I had created for myself. They are two moments of many where I have felt robbed and as though I did not quite know myself at all, two among many moments that inspired me to heal.
“Very nice, Sam, now can you count backwards by 7s from 100?”
Of course, I can… I am a certified teacher, I have taught my grade one’s to do this exact thing.
“Starting from where?” I asked.
“100. Count by 7s backwards from 100. Just do your very best.”
“100… 100… 100…” With each repetition, my mind becoming blank, the lump in my throat growing, and tears in my eyes welling up, getting ready to burst, I said, “I do know how to do this. I am a certified teacher. I did this with my grade one’s.”
But why can’t I do it… this is so easy… what is wrong with me?
My very well-meaning friend, who had driven me to the appointment, smiled and said that she could not do it either.
But I can do it… or at least I could do it… before.
My ego was bruised that day. My identity as a well-educated, honor-roll student, professional in the community… that representation that I had manufactured no longer applied… That Sam no longer existed, at least not consciously.
Another chilly winter day, my memory, or lack of it, provided a good laugh for my family; however, I felt the Earth shattering. My mind has let it go; however, emotional journal entries allow me insight of that time. I must have been looking through our camera and saw a picture of my oldest son blowing out his birthday candles. I knew that it was after the accident had taken place, because the accident happened on his 16th birthday. He was in Toronto at the time. I was delighted that someone had taken the time to get him a cake and make him feel special, even though I was unconscious much of that time.
“Babe! I love this! I love that you guys still celebrated Tristan’s birthday and we have this picture! Who took it so that I can thank them?”
“Sam, you took the picture. You got me to run out and get a cake because you weren’t able to bake. You took that picture.”
Nothing. Aside from the photo, there is nothing. No memory. Nothing for me to access on my own. Even now, years later, if not for the photo on Facebook and a journal entry, I remember nothing of that day. I am left to wonder, is it like the tree question—if an event happens and you don’t remember it, did it really happen?
And just like that, I felt I had failed again, only this time it cut deeper into my ego. This was about my baby boy, about me being a Mom. What kind of mom forgets her son’s birthday?
Memory is something that allows us to recall information. Short-term, long-term, consciously or unconsciously. Memories are like little gifts, some on display and some up in the attic, hidden away for a special moment or when they are needed. It works much like a jigsaw puzzle, linking to other pieces to give explanation to who we are, what we know, who we love and more. And because no two brain injuries are identical, we all experience TBI differently.
For me, memory loss was among the most traumatic. It felt so personal, as though I did something wrong or I was simply not doing enough to access it. Because I could recall some events and not others, it was also a challenge to express to others what I was going through with this invisible injury.
And yet, I found healing… and I found myself waiting patiently behind the negative self-talk and the limits that I had put on myself in efforts to protect my ego.
- I kept a picture of a brain in my journal. When I felt frustration and betrayal by not remembering, I looked at the picture and, at times, took out our body atlas. My brain is healing. My prefrontal cortex is healing. My hippocampus is healing. I am healing. Thank you for healing, I told my brain. This allowed me to move into the present. Into a state of kindness and understanding.
- I took a little extra time in the shower each morning. I used soapsuds from my shampoo and wrote on the shower wall “100… 93… 86… 72… 65… 58… 51… 44… 37… 30… 23… 16… 9… 2…” Every morning I practiced… and every morning I retrained my brain to recognize the sequence.
- Reframing negative self-talk. Being unable to recall what feels important is difficult… trying to recall while verbally beating yourself up is a setup for failure. What started as “What kind of Mom forgets her son’s birthday?” shifted to “I am healing. My brain is healing. Even though I do not remember this, I do remember how much I deeply love my children.
- “Communication with those around me was a lifesaver! The things that my family struggled with most (and still do at times) was that I repeated myself often, that I had Post-it notes everywhere and that I “nagged”. Being able to express that I was afraid that I would forget and that was the purpose of the nagging and the Post-it notes, helped them to remind me that they heard me and have understanding that it was important to me. Aside from a few “Dory” jokes now and then, they are much more compassionate about the repetition and I am more gentle with myself and them, when things get missed.
- Be kind. You are healing. Your loved ones are healing. You are still you. Our memories are a gift. We too, all of us, are gifts.
Sam Black is an International Psychic Medium and Master Coach, with a passion for helping others find the gems inside them so that they can shine to the world! www.samblack.ca