Depression and Brain Fog: Where Did All My Memory Go?
More than the anxiety attacks and persistent sadness, the memory loss side of depression has rendered me helpless.
(On Mental Health Awareness Day, we are bringing you stories of those who are living with Mental illness and how they battle with issues every day)
Initiating a dialogue on mental health and other conditions related to it is quite strenuous for people battling depression. Especially at a time when 'mental health' & 'depression' have just become labels thrown loosely on social media platforms. Topics that should ideally be dealt with utmost sensitivity are dealt with in the most uncaring manner.
As for me, it hasn’t been easy either. More than the anxiety attacks, persistent sadness, loss of interest, it has been the memory loss side of depression, that has rendered me helpless. Where did the significant chunks of my memory go?
It’s distressing and staggering at the same time, more so, because people don’t people talk about it like they talk about the other aspects of depression.
I'll be honest. It was not easy for me to write this though I had thought of penning down about the depression-related brain fog for a long time now. Apart from taking ample time to write this due to my inability to think clearly, it also means, reliving the memories that I never want to experience again. But, writing is the only way to communicate and seek answers to this overlooked part of depression. Also, accepting that it's a medical condition and not what I thought was a gross embarrassment.
I have been battling depression for two years now. But it took me over a year to recognise this cognitive dysfunction. Till then, it was fazing, more than one can imagine.
I don't know how many can resonate with me.
The memory loss has turned out to be the most debilitating aspect of depression that has left me to flounder. As if the constant hopelessness, anxiety, numbness was not enough, memory loss just added to the woes.
Initially, it drove me nuts; friends and family talked about past events, and I didn't remember a bit of it, as if it never happened. But as I gradually understood that depression and memory loss were intertwined, I made peace with it. At least, I seemed to have made peace with it.
What followed later was not irritability from not being able to recall but helplessness, sheer helplessness.
It’s not just the short term memory that has been affected, but also the long term memory (episodic memory mostly). All those beautiful moments of life that we recall and cherish are gone. All wiped clean. And how, I have no idea.
Equally tiring is my desperate attempt to retrieve them.
The trouble is not when you are going somewhere, and you forget the destination. It's when the very moment the realisation sinks that loss of memory is hindering you from doing the smallest of chores, run an errand. At that moment, suddenly the heart rates increase, you start sweating, and in an iota of a second, you go blank. By the time you can do anything about it, darkness descends.
I have broken down mostly in such moments- in crowded spaces, amid friends and when no one's around. In my room and washrooms, I have bawled like a child, clueless about how to come out of it. Nobody is prepared to find their cognition slipping in their early twenties. Forget about taking big decisions in life or applying for a job. Here you are just worried about getting away from the fiendish fangs of memory loss.
Supportive friends who are aware of your mental illness, try their best to cheer you up and remind you of the happy moments. But what they don't understand is I don't remember their "remember this", "remember that". There is no happy memory as such, and even if there is one, I can't find it. All my efforts to recall the memories go in vain, leaving me tired and teary-eyed. And no amount of Bhramari or Yoga has helped me deal with it.
There’s no hiding now. What I never told my friends is I don’t avoid them purposefully, I don’t leave that conversation unanswered intentionally.
Deep down, I feel terrible for not being able to frame that one small sentence, recall that particular word, reply in one word. ‘Terrible’ is a mere adjective that can’t describe how it feels when you forget the conversation with your friend hardly a minute after getting into it. My ‘self’ is not used to handle situations like this. And so connecting with friends and a conversation in general with anyone is nothing but a burden.
Worst of all, I have realised you are vulnerable to being gaslighted by people in such situations. You are already in a bad state, and you can't figure out if they are deliberately doing it. Your mind is in knots, but you know specific aspects of yourself well. So when someone is almost making it believable that you were bad to someone, abused someone on a particular occasion, you can't believe the thought of doing so to someone. It just leaves you confused for hours because you are made to think that what you know to be true is not true. It takes time for the realisation to dawn that you are being gaslighted.
Healing is weird, and there is no definitive time frame. For me, it has been more than two years now. On certain days I am happy about the little progress I made; on other days, I feel ripped from within looking at the number of reminders I write for myself.
Not being able to seek professional help amidst a pandemic adds to the guilt. I try to strike a balance, but I fail mostly. My desire to fix everything, desperate attempt to recall those memories, this word, that name, has only put me in an endless loop of confusion. I accept the condition as it is. Maybe this is the only way I can try to unpretzel my mind for now.
(Uttirna is an Odisha based journalist and artist. You can reach her @uttirna96 on twitter and Instagram.)
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