“It’s just old age” I kept getting told. “You’re just having a bad day”. Something had changed and I just couldn’t remember what it was.
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It is National Stress Awareness Day today (7th November), and I felt I couldn’t let this one slip by. Being in this situation of having chronic short term memory loss due to stress and anxiety I felt I needed to share my story as I know I am not alone. I know there are others out there. They maybe just don’t know they are all linked and it isn’t just old age as everyone thinks.
You know that feeling you get, when you walk into a room and can’t remember what you went in their for?!
Welcome to my world. Constantly.
After a particularly unprecedented and relentlessly stressful 18 months last year I succumbed to the second breakdown I have had in my life. For a very different reason and for a very different set of circumstances my body gave up and stopped sending me all the warning signs and the hints something needed to change. Instead, it drastically informed me that I couldn’t go on.
You associate stress generally with work, and yes most people will experience it in the workplace, but it isn’t the only contributing factor. Stress is a multi-faceted heavy dense ball of pressure that you are constantly carrying with you. Mine was heavy, very very heavy. And as I look back now, my pressure ball wasn’t just mine, I had grabbed stress from an impressive amount of people and places.
Stress IS a choice. But it is also not something to blame yourself for. If you look at it like a Long Term Condition like Asthma or Diabetes, you need to look at how to adapt your lifestyle and self worth to cope with it.
Before August last year, I prided myself on detail. I was the one who could list off detailed conversations and action points from my meetings, I could regale you with anecdotal stories and lists from what I had done and how I had done it. My family, friends and colleagues all relied on this talent I had. The assurance and value I felt every time I could help someone remember something was second to none. I felt worthy, and useful. Needed and wanted.
Then came August. The breakdown. Let me also let you know as I have experienced two ‘events’ now. They couldn’t have been more different. The signs were different and the incidents were different, so I just was blind. I couldn’t have seen the warning signs even if I had tried. I won’t give you the full story here. If you want to read about it, I did decide to share my story on a blog a few months back after my friend experienced something similar.
The few days after the ‘event’ I could barely pack a dishwasher, 13 months on, and thankfully my logic and precise dishwasher skills are back, but my ability to retain a conversation I have just had 10 minutes ago with my partner or manager have completely disappeared.
My psychiatrist prescribed me a course of intense Vitamin B-12 to help curb the memory loss in the early days of my breakdown treatment, but apart from that and recommending I take Omega-3 there was nothing I could do. My psychologist, however, was of another opinion:
What if I told you that this is the future and you won’t get your memory back?
My jaw drops. I am floored by this information. She carried on with, what if you need to now adapt to this new way of life and accept that you can’t be who you used to be? For someone who is very comfortable talking about areas of self improvement, this wiped me clean. I’m 36 are you kidding????? How can I? This can’t be real. Surely I can recover, it is just part of the treatment process after my breakdown. My psychologist shrugged her shoulders and calmly says “maybe not, we don’t know”.
I know now she was right. The past 13 months have not been easy. If anything they have been an uphill struggle every day. Battling with the knowledge that although I feel I have overcome the acute anxiety and stress that came with my breakdown last year, I just don’t have control over my memory anymore. I have had my choice taken away from me. I can’t choose whether I want to retain information or not. It just goes. Disappears. Poof! Gone!
What I have had to learn the hard way is that stress IS a choice. I choose whether to be stressed or not. It’s what I do, that allows stress to infiltrate my inner wellbeing. Being in a high pressure environment personally or professionally will put you under significant amounts of stress, but it is how you deal with it. And this is no easy task! It doesn’t come easy and sometimes you will succumb and others you will defy logic and cope marvellously.
Adapting to not remembering everything is hard. Really hard. When you are used to have all the information at hand. You now face the task of finely balancing your notes and recording systems with what you think you need to remember. I am not coping well with this. Trying to make an instant decision on whether I need to record a piece of information just in case I need it in the future is currently a problem. I am scared. I want to record everything. Online project management systems, planners, post it notes, calendars, notice boards, I have them all. But it is becoming its own area of stress.
“Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys”
Have you heard that phrase before? I hadn’t until last year. Now I live by it. My stress and anxiety I had was down to not only myself but other people and circumstances. I absorbed other problems as I was constantly emotionally distraught seeing people in distress. I took it all in the hope it would help them. It never did. And it didn’t help me either.
“Can you do anything about it right now?”
The other side of my stress and anxiety came from trying to fix everything right away. I wanted to jump on every issue I came across and try and resolve it there and then. I would get so bogged down in the details, but then get distracted by the next issue. This didn’t help, as I would realise that I had 101 different issues I hadn’t fixed so would then scorn myself that I hadn’t helped and I was just a waste of space. Now….I am constantly asking myself what I can do right then in that moment. The diagram below is basically what I live my life by!
Hmmm. Jury is still out. The reality is that stress is something that we all face. And how we deal with it is a completely different matter. It IS a choice. Time and training area key to helping you combat your stress. You aren’t going to learn something over night, and you aren’t going to change your lifestyle overnight. So don’t kick yourself when you succumb. But at the same time realise you can make a difference. You can change the way you think.
Taking a step back is so important. Ask yourself some inner monologue questions…. Are these my monkeys? Is this my circus? Should I get involved or should I just let it go? I wanted to fix everyone’s problems. I wanted to make everyone’s lives more efficient. I have only learned recently I can’t. It is their life not mine. Their choices not mine. I need to focus on my circus and my monkeys. If I realise I am holding someone else’s monkeys. I pass them on now. Sometimes willingly and sometimes reluctantly. But it is working.
National Stress Awareness Day is so important. I am glad we are starting to talk about it more. In the UK we are luckier than most in that we have access to the support to help us. But people barely know the tools are there, and workplaces are reluctant to give their workforce the space to develop their wellbeing. Luckily I work in an organisation which recognises the need for wellbeing support in the workplace. But we still have such a way to go. It is still something that is so stigmatised but at the same time, people abuse the terms and just stick a label of stress/anxiety or depression on anything.
It is up to us to change our culture and environments to be more aware. Support one another and know the signs.
So I hope this article has helped. Have you thought about your monkeys yet?!
Till next time x
This post was written for Medium.com. I have reposted it on here. The original post is here: https://medium.com/@tiggeroo1981/how-i-lost-my-short-term-memory-4dc796418847