Memories are Made of This

What’s your earliest memory? I think mine is an incident in the lift on our way up to Granny and Granda’s flat. I was about four years old and was holding out my hands filled with coins that I’d been saving in my piggybank. It might have added up to around £3.96 or so. Mum tried to give me a five pound note in exchange and I howled the place down. I was very put out that she was giving me ONE thing in exchange for LOADS of things. Hardly fair was it?

Now I wonder if that memory is strong because Mum tells the story all the time? Family legends follow us around and even slightly tall tales can become embedded in our life stories until we completely believe they happened. 

Memory is a complex mechanism and one that some psychologists have given their entire professional life to understand. The beginnings of discovery in 1953 of the hippocampus region in the brain came about (as these things tend to do) quite by accident. Surgeons had removed a section of H.M.’s brain in an attempt to help reduce epileptic fits. But when he woke up he was no longer able to form new memories. Each day was brand new and each loved one was a stranger. 

Image: https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/inside-out-review/

Our brains work very hard to encode, store and then retrieve memories. I keep picturing the amazing Pixar film Inside Out when I imagine what’s going on in my head – all those lovely memories being filed and moved and coloured in a particular way. And the message that sad memories simply join happy ones is profound. They both make us who we are. They also provide us with a reservoir to dip into when required.

At the dentist last week (root canal work, I don’t want to talk about it) I purposely closed my eyes and skipped through wonderful memories of The Big Trip. I did the same thing in the claustrophobic confines of an MRI scanner last year. And the escape from reality worked. So well, in fact, that I wondered if the radiologist would look at the images on the screen and see my brain’s memory and sensory regions light up.

Like many of us I sometimes feel afraid about losing my memory (MS is an uncertain disease) because I know who I am, I know who I love and I remember, most of all, the happiest and the saddest of days that have made me the person I am. The brain is holding it all for me. They’re beyond precious, those memories. And I’ll treasure them. 

Two Little Letters

Is January over yet? So far 2022 has involved peeking at the world through the half-closed eyes of a sick person. Boy, whatever bug arrived at our door at the end of December was a big one. We had negative Covid test results every other day, though, so I presume it was just a good old fashioned flu – the kind that leaps on top of you when you least expect it and wrestles you to the ground. It’s not fun being sick. 

And for me it’s always a painful reminder of my time in hospital in 2010. (The short version? I had a blood clot in the brain then slowly got better). It’s a reminder, too, that both of us have a serious neurological condition that normally simmers under the surface, but now and then (by which I mean now) it makes its presence felt.

Over a decade ago we were both diagnosed in the same week with the same condition. A ‘medical marvel’ apparently (it’s not marvellous, incidentally). Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the brain and spinal cord, where all our actions, thoughts, even personality, are hidden. So when something goes wrong here, it affects people in completely different ways. Those two little letters – M and S – are random, frightening and unpredictable.

We’ve pottered on since diagnosis, trying to get our heads round it, but mostly just getting on with life. For years, those two little letters have attached themselves to our bodies, merely flapping around like a price tag, otherwise not noticeable. Like all such labels, of course, the time comes when the price needs to be paid.

Relapse. A simple word full of fear and frustration. It’s the word we’re living these days and I’m so proud of Chris for producing this video to talk about his new scary symptom that affects his speech. Courageous vulnerability in action. Plus giggles and smiles, of course.

We carry on. I’m off to cuddle some kittens and drink tea. All shall be well.