Brain injury: What is it you've just said again?
Updated: Sep 4, 2019
I like to think that I had such a sharp memory. Actually at times way too sharp for the likes of my partner. A few of my close friends will also be able to vouch for me when I say that I used to have a thing about remembering people’s birth dates...it was actually quite impressive.
Since I’ve had encephalitis, I’ve found that my long term memory is still pretty good ie. I can recall information of just about anything that happened prior to the infection pretty well. However, my short term memory can be shocking at times, particularly if I’m tired. It has improved a great deal since the initial recovery stage but some days I wonder if I’ve been sitting in the same room as everyone else.
Although it's frustrating as hell at times, I must admit that there has been quite a few funny stories on the back of my new memory skills post brain injury.
In the early stages of recovery, I had to write everything down else I would forget as fast as a thought had crossed my mind. So I started writing things that I HAD TO REMEMBER on pieces of paper. I thought my new way of accommodating was really clever. I wasn’t going to forget and if it did, all I’d have to do is to pull my piece of paper right...that brain of mine wasn't going to get the best of me this time. But see, I initially wasn’t putting my very helpful pieces of paper in the same place and then I’d forget where the heck I had actually put them. I’d eventually find them...and as you can guess in the most unusual/unlikely places and way past their use by date. So my initial plan wasn’t so clever after all...that’s when I flashed out on a couple of 2$ note pads which I tried my best to keep in the same spots...all the time. Then I started to win.
Memory and speech post encephalitis
Because my speech was so slow, I used to get really frustrated when trying to put my thoughts across. By the time I’d get to the core of what I was trying to say, I would often have forgotten all about the point that I was hoping to put across. So those poor people listening to me would have been as patient as one can be to end up with, "oh sorry, I can’t remember where I was going with this". No one truly minded I’m sure, but it did make me feel pretty dumb. The other thing that I struggled with lots was finding the right words...so there has been lots of: “you know that thing; the thing that hangs from that blue thing; pointing at stuff ; recalling a word but in a different language”. I’m a native French Canadian living in beautiful NZ so I have a very good hold of both French and English so recalling a word to a person in the wrong language has also got me a few funny looks...and laughs. I think the brain just used whatever would be readily available at the time without over thinking it.
Memory, reading and making sense of stuff
In the early stages of recovery, I’d read something and by something I literally mean something. I’d read words, sentences but I would get to the end of a sentence and could not remember, at all, what it was I had just read. I could make up the words, but the combinations of words would result in a very complex puzzle. Don’t ask me what the words were all about I would have had NO CLUE. Then after a while, I started to unscramble the puzzles but it required extreme concentration which drained the brain of the very little energy it already had. So that’s when highlighters became my best friends, that’s when writing in the margins of a document and/or adding comments in electronic documents to summarise what it was I had just read became ways to look back and remember at a quick glance the important stuff. Let’s face it, most of the time you look back and realise that it wasn’t stuff that was that important to start with but I found these techniques useful to make the most of my newly acquired memory skills. To this day, cross reading or skim reading remains impossible. I have to read slowly and really pay attention for the content to keep adding up to something that make sense.
Memory is all fun and games aye?
Even the average Joe Bloke has to keep challenging their memory skills, particularly as you get older. So as part of my recovery, I included memory games to help challenge status quo. There are quite a few good apps around to help with this and I really found them useful. You have to gauge how much you do because it does use a lot of brain energy, but I found them very good to notice any sort of progress. I've got three young boys, so every now and again, we pull the memory game out. Not only are they good to work on my memory skills but it's a fun way to spend quality time with the boys. My boys love playing memory games with me now. They think that I go easy on them...if only they knew! A down side for them is that they sometime bring up stuff I promised we'd do together but I have no recollection of it so they end up missing out. Kids are pretty clever though, so I like to think that this can also be part of one of their master plans to trick me into doing things I would have never put forward in first place. I pay attention at their cheeky smiles and I generally manage to figure that one out...they are very clever but luckily for me they aren't the best liars.
Where to next?
So if I learnt your birth date before encephalitis, you are actually okay and you should receive a greeting on the day...but if I’ve met you after "e", chances are I’ll have to rely on Facebook or someone else to remind me of your special day. Not a big deal I agree but just different right. Don't be surprised if i ask you the same thing 2-3 times, that's just how things go now. I generally try to check-in and find out if I've previously mentioned something (people tend to go quiet when I have), but if I don't check-in and you've heard the story before, please do stop me and let me know that we've already discussed. It generally brings up a bit of a laugh and I use these moments to try to remember the where/when and it sometimes helps me connect the dots further. Also, you stopping me allows me to keep some of my brain energy for getting into other lovely topics with you. Yep, you may also watch the same movie or TV series twice, but don't we all love to watch a good movie again? Oh also, devices and smart phone are definitely one of the little wonders of this world for brain injury survivors...don't be shy to overuse their calendars and alerts, they can definitely save you some embarrassments...take my word for it!