A Trick of the Mind
I’ve been writing this for some time and kinda getting around to posting it, but it kept slipping my mind – for reasons that may become apparent. There’s a very good chance that there are gaps in the account below. Don’t bother asking me about them.
Jan 26th 2014:
I woke up this morning and couldn’t remember what day it was. Or what month or year. I also couldn’t remember yesterday at all. I’ve had bits of it recounted to me by my wife but I still don’t have anything like a memory of any of it.
Everything was apparently fine until early Saturday afternoon in Tesco when I was emptying the shopping onto the conveyor belt and I just stopped while bent over the trolley. After a moment I stood up and a customer at the next till caught me as I was about to fall over. Staff got me a chair and, after five minutes, I asked why I was sitting down, stood up and finished at the till.
I loaded the car, drove home, watched TV and ate a curry, I’m told, but I was a bit of a zombie. No memory. It seems that I forgot I’d quit smoking and I wasn’t sure if my parents were still alive (they are).
Early July 2014:
One week before my holiday in a hostel in Athens (which was NOT as described!), I was emptying stuff from the trolley onto the conveyor belt in Tesco (notice the common theme here?) and the next thing I knew I was sat in the back of an ambulance-car on the way to hospital. Apparently I hadn’t passed out this time but I had been spaced-out and was talking nonsense and muttering something about Davros (Tom Baker era Doctor Who) and I was clearly disconnected.
I spent all afternoon in hospital feeling very vague while they ran various tests including further blood tests. Nothing came up. Disturbingly, I couldn’t remember lots of recent history (like having changed jobs in January).
At six forty-five I was released and I got a cab back to Tesco with my wife (who’d been with me all afternoon), picked up the shopping (which had been stored in a trolley fridge!) and went home.
Late July 2014:
I woke up on a Wednesday with no memory of where I worked or who I worked with, which was decidedly odd. I checked my emails in order to refresh my memory of the company and then I started to walk to the train, during which time I recalled where the office was situated and who my colleagues were.
Sept 18th 2014:
Yesterday I completed a series of cardiology tests (24-hour heart monitor, twice, ECG, other stuff) and nothing appears to be wrong with my heart – which is great news, because who ever dies of a brain attack? Next up, neurological tests in a month.
Right, well, I’ve had the results of my heart and brain scans and apparently they were unable to find anything (no surprise there, some might say). The best guess seems to be that I suffered incidents of transient global amnesia, for which there is no known cause or cure but at least it’s got a name.
Arguably this is better than a stroke or a seizure but it has now happened to me five times in just over a year. It’s quite terrifying while it’s happening. It might have been caused by stress. Anyway, it’s been fine for several months now and there’s nothing else that they can test for so that appears to be that. On the upside, I’ve been thoroughly tested and my heart and brain seem to be fine; on the downside, I’m now all out of excuses…
Dec 21st 2014
Damn, I’ve just woken up like this again. I was fine all day yesterday but when I woke up this morning I couldn’t remember the day or the month or that I’d changed jobs (again). I still have no memory of where I work even as I type this. Frankly, it’s terrifying – but what can I do? They’ve given me scans and run all the tests and found nothing. I’m fine again now, by the way – it only lasted for a couple of hours.
So anyway, having suffered the fourth of my deeply-unsettling episodes, I thought to myself: “You know what? A night without any alcohol probably wouldn’t do me any harm at all.”
Then again, why take the risk? [Shortly after this, I did actually stop drinking on work nights. It’s done nothing for my memory but has done wonders for my body weight. Having also quit smoking several years ago, I now have so few vices that sometimes I wonder if any of this is even worth the bother.]
5th Dec 2015
That’s a bit of a downer: my last “incident” of waking up with no memory was July 31st (undocumented here but insignificant, so far as I recall) so I had rather hoped that it was all over – and then I had it again this morning. Still, that’s over four months, so they’re certainly getting further apart. The worst thing about it now is the crushing sense of disappointment that I suffer as all the details of my life gradually come back to me.
11th January 2016
And again today – which is a lot closer together again. The weird thing is that, as the episode passes, over the next few days I’ll get memories popping into my head that I haven’t recalled for years, and they’ll be really vivid – almost as though I’ve been revitalised as a direct consequence of the incident. On the other hand, I do seem to struggle during this period to form any new memories or learn new processes, and I also forget the names of colleagues. It’s as if my memory is fragmented. There are a few areas of my memory which I have no recollection of but which I can be prompted into: someone will begin to relate an incident to me and, while I cannot remember the event itself, I can recall the anecdote, as though it had been related to me rather than being my own. Watching TV, I will forget who characters are between scenes and often have no recollection of what the plot is. I have largely given up trying to read books for the same reason. Occasionally I find myself getting confused over simple things and I have a quick temper as a consequence of this. I forget big things, too: the other night my wife was talking to me about the holiday we had in Yorkshire and I couldn’t remember ever going there. I checked for photos on my PC and there were dozens. We went in 2013 – less than three years ago. I recognise the images but they don’t feel like my memories.
Obviously I have mentioned this to a few colleagues, in case an episode occurs while I am at work but, perhaps surprisingly, the issue has never arisen in the office. Indeed, the incidents all seem to have happened in situations which demand little or no attention, when I have effectively been mentally parked – although both supermarket episodes occurred after I had spent a couple of hours exercising in the gym.
20th March Ultrasounds appointment.
23rd May Neurology appointment.
4th June 2016
I was given a second MRI to see if there were any differences from my December 2014 scan. I’ll get the results when I get back from holiday.
13th June 2016
I woke with no memory while on holiday in Madeira. “This isn’t our bedroom! Where are we? Where am I?” Once again, somewhat unsettling since I had no idea where I was. Luckily the missus was able to set me straight and I was back to what passes for normal quite quickly.
18th June 2016
“The gentleman’s repeat MR brain scan showed no significant abnormalities.”
No significant abnormalities? Well, ain’t that rubbing salt in the wound! Presumably this might relate to the damage I suffered in my teens (when I was run over and suffered a fractured skull, resulting in a twenty-five day coma and then had to learn to speak again. Yes, I know: what a mistake that was!).
18th July 2016
Blood taken to test for neurosyphilis (who knew?). Some of the symptoms are: abnormal gait, sudden personality changes, changes in mental stability, dementia, depression, irritability, memory problems, mood disturbances, poor concentration. Yeah, I know, I know…
21st July 2016
Woke up in the night and my wife wasn’t with me (she was away, visiting family) so I searched the house for her. Twice. When I woke properly, this was followed by a significant memory episode and a day in which I was, once again, virtually unable to form any new memories. For a couple of days afterwards, I notice – not for the first time – I have a significantly heightened sense of smell.
12th September 2016
Another episode. “Fortunately, transient global amnesia is rare, seemingly harmless and unlikely to happen again. Episodes are usually short-lived, and afterward your memory is fine.” Pah.
You might think the worst thing about TGA is feeling utterly displaced in the world, with no sense of the present or my place in it, but actually it’s the crushing disappointment as the reality of who I am and where I am are revealed to me afresh.
29th January 2017 Woke with no memory. Eleventh episode in three years. And my memory has holes in it but when I ask people questions they just ridicule me so I sit stewing and I withdraw from communication and start to despise everyone around me. Maybe trying to look on the funny side should help but all I’m feeling is isolated.
Curiously, just recently I’ve been getting long-ago memories popping-up fresh in my mind again, so now it seems that they’re a prelude (rather than a postlude) to the event.
1st April 2017
Well, it seems that my brain at least has a sense of humour, deciding to screw with me on All Fools’ Day. I woke up feeling displaced from time, unaware of the year or my age or my job (but at least it was on the weekend this time) or my place in the world. Once again, I struggled to form new memories during the day – though I went to see a play in the evening which I can recollect just fine). Because I am, at least, always able to recognise these incidents now, I am also able to explain to people that my behaviour may seem a little out of sorts because of the phenomenon that I am experiencing. Alas, by the next day (which is when I am writing this), I have no recollection of who these people were. I suspect that it may have been an inappropriate level of over-sharing (although that’s actually quite normal for me anyway – mental conditions really are wasted on me, I swear).
I noticed, once again, a strange chemical smell seemed to pervade everything – and I haven’t had any chemicals up my nose for years now*. [* footnote to parental units: this references the industrial cleaning job I had at Waldens in the summer of ‘86] Additionally, I seem to be very emotionally laid bare; certainly I don’t recall ever crying while watching Superman before – not even back in 1978.
30th April 2017
And today I woke with it again. I’ve been ill for a few days, which didn’t help, but I awoke with no idea of where I work or who with. Or the date, or the year. The thing about it is, it actually seems quite trivial in retrospect – I imagine that reading it is getting quite tedious – but I can envisage how this is going to leave me neglected in a home at some point, patching together seemingly random, disconnected days while waiting for death. On the other hand, this is the thirteenth episode but I haven’t bothered reporting them since last summer because each one seems less severe. Once again I note that I am emotionally fragile – especially as, looking back, I recall how everything once seemed possible and now I can see how that’s worked out.
There used to be hope. That’s what I miss about being young: the belief that there was another world out there to be discovered. I suppose that’s how religion works too: allowing people to believe in possibilities. I miss the illusions. Without that pretence, there’s nothing.
1st July 2017
I’ve decided to post this now because I haven’t had an episode in absolutely ages. Except I have, of course: it’s just that I didn’t recall that until I re-read the whole blog just now. Whatever, I’m done with sitting on it.