Tuesday, 16 June 2020

I don't remember, I can't recall.....

One topic I haven't touched upon yet is memory. Probably because I've forgotten. (Ha, ha.) People with depression have notoriously poor memories.  Furthermore, it's not just a question of remembering silly things like where you've put the car keys but more serious issues like how we make and store long-term memories.


Storing good memories is very imortant for our well-being. Memories are pictures of the world that we carry around with us in our heads. That holiday in Spain, that walk with the dog by the sea, that party with our friends. If we can store good memories like these then we have something to fall back upon during hard times. In fact, good memories are like a Harry Potter Patronus Charm; they protect is from encroaching darkness. However, if you're depressed and have been for a long time then you may have problems making and remembering good memories.

Depression has a habit of changing our landscape. What may once have been a beautiful sunlit alpine valley can soon become a flat, featureless, field. If  your world is constantly like the Fens on a rainy afternoon in November - then you may be less likely to think of it as memorable. Black Dog days can become indistinguisable from each other. The eskimos may have had 50 words for snow but how many people have 50 words for fog? As a result you tend to remember less. The less positive things you can remember then more likely you are to become depressed and then the more depressed you become the less you can remember. This then becomes a vicious circle. Depressed people can also suffer from brain fog and/or cognitive impairment - which also negatively impacts upon the creation of memories.

I've always been mildly depressed so my past is a bit of a blur - but when I became seriously ill I lost track of  days, weeks and even months. Over the last 5 years I struggle to remember where I've been and what I've done. This is not age-related forgetfulness; this is the black dog screwing with my memory.

We also know that anxiety and depression can reduce our sense of being in the present. Anxiety often make us worry about the future and depression makes us ruminate about the past. As such, less of our brain is actually available for being in the present - of engaging with the world around us. This lack of grounding in the here and now also prevents us from making and storing memories. It's like we're a computer but the RAM is already taken up running other programmes.

But depression also affects short term memory. I am constantly forgetting where my glasses are or where my cup of tea is or where my wallet is. I know that I am 57 - but my forgetfulness is more than just getting old. In her book Out of the Blue Jan Wong describes how she kept forgetting to attend meetings that were booked. She also kept mislaying her purse. I've never missed an appointment in my life but when I was ill I missed dental appointments. Even now I sometimes can't remember the day of the week, the date or even the month. As for the year, well.......

PS Happy Birthday Beth and Jo.

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