How My Memory was Affected
When it came to my memory, I was really lucky. I remembered everything in the lead up to my accident as well as what unfolded afterwards… As well as anybody with a bad concussion could anyway!
My only struggle was with some short-term memory loss, in that if you gave me 5 words to remember and ask me to repeat them 5-10 minutes later I’d probably be able to remember 1 or 2 of them, if I was lucky. I’d try so hard to remember, but it would just hurt my head and bring on that oh so familiar feeling of nausea. Obviously, that isn’t a good example of how it would affect me in day-to-day life so below are some real life examples of the difficulties I encountered and how I managed them.
Tying My Shoe Laces
One of the first things I remember forgetting (if that makes sense?) was how to tie my shoe laces. I was sitting there with my laces in hand, just looking at them. I knew I needed to tie them and my hands were moving, trying to tie a knot, but it just wasn’t working out for me. “Why am I struggling with this? Just tie your lace Linda!” Eventually, I gave up and I tucked them into the side of my shoe. I was in a rush for a doctor’s appointment, so I’d worry about it later.
The next day I went to tie my shoelaces again… And my hands still couldn’t figure out how to do it. The effort it took me to try to tie them would wear me out and I would be left feeling nauseous, dizzy and with an excruciating pain in my head. It was so frsutrating! How could I not remember this really simple thing?
What’s weird is that sometimes I remembered how to do it straight away, I didn’t even have to think about it. Other times, I simply could not do it.
Each time this happened, I would sit there trying to remember just a little bit of what was required. Something that should take 30 seconds was taking me 20 minutes to even get half way there. But half way was better than nowhere.
I began to realise that the pain it caused probably wasn’t worth it. So, if on my first attempt I couldn’t remember then I would either go for lace free shoes of some sort, or just tuck them in. I realised it was usually when I was tired or having a bad day that this occurred. So on my good days I would practice tying my laces. I’d sit there and open my laces and tie them again. I’d do it maybe 3 or 4 times just to familiarise my brain with the activity.
It was just one of those blind spots for me at the beginning. But, I was determined to overcome it so I practiced on my good days and tried to avoid it on my bad days. Eventually, it became second nature to me again.
I struggled quite a bit when it came to remembering numbers. In particular, my locker number at the gym. I kept forgetting it and each time would have to go around and try all of the lockers one-by-one, until eventually I found my one. Sometimes I would get really annoyed at myself and begin to panic, but then I would remind myself to keep my focus, “It’s definitely here, I just need to be patient and I’ll find it”.
After this happening on a number of occasions I decided I was only going to use locker number 15. Then I only ever had to remember one number. Brilliant.
Until the day that locker 15 was already in use! Now what do I do?? It was back to going around and trying all of the lockers again… I needed a back up plan. That’s when I started to take a picture on my phone! Then all I had to do was look at my phone for a reminder. Problem solved!
I slowly began to challenge myself, in that I would try to remember the locker number, but always had the backup of the picture on my phone if I needed it. I took it slowly though. If I couldn’t remember it, I didn’t force it. I’d just look at my phone. Eventually, I trained my brain to remember the locker numbers.
General Memory Loss
I also struggled to remember other things like phone numbers, addresses, appointment times, etc. There wasn’t much I could do with this other than write everything down and make sure that I had them to hand when, or if, I need them.
My Notes App on my mobile phone became my most utilised App! I was constantly writing things down to be able to reference them. And it wasn’t just numbers and times. I also used it for writing down my shopping list, my ‘To-Do’ list, anything that I needed to remember. It made my life so much easier. I didn’t have to force my head to remember anything. I could just look at my phone.
[Note: This didn’t mean I could stay on my phone scrolling through all forms of social media too! I reduced the use of my phone significantly during my recovery, as all of the scrolling/ movement in front of my eyes wasn’t good for me. This was particularly important at night-time before bed.]
I also began to challenge myself on these memories. For example, when I felt confident, I would leave just one item off of my shopping list (usually a not so important item so that if I forgot it then it was no big deal) and when I was in the shop I would try to remember it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Gradually I saw an improvement in my memory and so I would leave 2 items off the list, and so on.
It’s all about starting off small and getting those wins under your belt. It makes you much more positive about your recovery as you begin to see improvements in yourself, all be it small ones, and you gain more confidence.
Now, I still make a list when I’m going to the shop and I still make a crazy amount of ‘To-Do’ lists, but my memory is no longer a problem. Yes I still forget things sometimes, but everybody does! That’s just human nature!
It’s important to remember that not everything you do or don’t do is attributed to your brain injury – even the best people in the world forget to pick up milk when they do the grocery shopping, or forget to call back a client who left a message for you! You need to learn to take a step back and think “OK, I forgot something, but would I have forgotten that anyway?” before spiralling into a depression, or bad mood, or negative attitude towards your recovery. I learned this the hard way, but hopefully this will help you realise, these things can happen to anyone!
You need to think logically (which I know can be the biggest challenge of all at times!), be practical and take it easy on yourself. I’m finally confident enough to know that if I forget something, it’s normal. Yes, it’s annoying, but it could happen to anybody! I don’t let it stress me out anymore.
This is the same for all elements of your recovery. Don’t beat yourself up about every single little thing.
Sometimes you could be tired, just because you’re tired. Everybody gets tired!
At times you could have a pain in your head from a loud noise, but so too does everybody else in the room, because it’s actually just a really loud, annoying noise.
Other times you may feel confused about what’s going on, but so too do the other people in the room, because the person speaking just makes no sense about what they’re saying! (Sorry person!)
So be kind to yourself. Remember how far you have come. Set yourself small goals and slowly achieve them. Take your victories and celebrate them! They may seem small to others but they are huge to us! Stay positive. Remain patient.