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I am chalking it up to exhaustion.

At my last guitar lesson, my teacher opened the book to a new page and asked me to sight read the new piece.  A pretty common occurrence with guitar class and one that doesn’t usually phase me.  I don’t think reading sheet music is one of my strengths — I tend to play by ear — but I can certainly do it.  The week before, he had similarly turned the page and asked me to sight read a new piece and I had breezed through it.

But at my last lesson, I just stared at the notes, suddenly unable to read… any of them.  It was like looking at Japanese: you know it’s a language, but you can’t actually discern what it says (unless you are my cousin and read Japanese).  I not only couldn’t tell which was a “G” and which was a “C,” but I suddenly didn’t know any of the string names or which fret created which note on the guitar.

So I started to laugh.  For the duration of this incident, I kept emitting this nervous, embarrassed laugh.  I tried to explain that I literally couldn’t process any of it.  I don’t think he understood what I meant or took me seriously (maybe because I was laughing?) because he gave me a strange look and suggested that I start with the top note (I was playing triads).  But that was the thing — I could identify that the dot on the top was what he meant by “the first note” and knew from placement that it would be found on one of the higher strings, but I couldn’t identify the string or fret, nor was it any better when he said, “play B.”

I struggled for a few minutes with it, thinking that this was a passing brain cloud — a spot of grey in the sky and it would soon float past — but when my thoughts still remained grey and murky, and when my teacher was thoroughly confused by my inexplicable inability to do a task that I have literally performed several dozen times since last winter, he moved into a completely different exercise, one using tablature instead of sheet music.

I went home and told Josh about it who responded with, “that’s strange.”  And that was the end of it.

Until I couldn’t remember what year it was.

I was looking at an expiration date, wondering if it was coming up this November or if it had already passed last November.  I literally didn’t know if it was 2011 or 2012.  I had at least narrowed it down to one of those two years.  Josh gave me the same look that my guitar teacher gave me, one a mixture of disbelief and wonder if this was the set up to a joke.  Except it wasn’t a joke.  I didn’t know the year.

So we went to bed early that night.

At this point, I am chalking up my forgetfulness to lack of sleep.  But it was strange and upsetting, an anxiety-laugh-inducing situation to not be able to recall information that I know that I know.  It was different from forgetting a person’s name or where I put the keys.  Those are moments of forgetfulness that happen to everyone.  We all forget temporary things: where we parked or information we just heard.

It is different to forget something that you know so deeply that it is part of your very being.   I have been reading sheet music since I was five years old.  It is ingrained in my brain by this point in the same way that reading words doesn’t require much of a mental strain.  While time is fleeting, the year is a constant that repeats as a part of the date daily.  It too becomes ingrained a few weeks into each year.  Forgetting the year in January is understandable.  Forgetting it in September is less so.

I was bothered by the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, when I first saw it.  It’s about a couple who pay to have the relationship erased from their brains.  The title comes from an Alexander Pope poem about vestal virgins — they shut out the world and in turn are forgotten by the world.  And they just sit there daily, without experiences tarnishing their memories and weighing them down — their sole focus is to pray.  They have nothing to remember, and therefore, nothing to forget.

Having nothing to remember doesn’t sound at all pleasant to me.  In fact, it sounds like an extremely painful way to live.  I love experiencing things.  Of course, I prefer the good experiences to the bad ones, but that is life — you can’t really pick and choose what you get.  But having is all sounds better to me than having nothing at all.

In that poem, forgetting is presented as preferable to being in emotional pain, but forgetting wouldn’t bring me comfort AT ALL.  In fact, it would probably disturb me more than the bad memory itself. (Of course, this scenario counts on the person being dimly aware that a thought is missing vs. being completely oblivious to the fact that they have forgotten something.)

There are plenty of events or people I’ve encountered in my life that continue to bring me emotional (albeit dulled) pain.  But even in the throes of that pain, I wouldn’t have requested to forget those events or people.  I wouldn’t even forget my drive or goals — even if they’re thwarted by my own ill-functioning ovaries — in order to live in peaceful bliss, unaware that I even want to build my family.  I think — though I can’t know for certain being that I’ve never been in this situation — if I had been to war and had PTSD, I would still find it preferable to suffer than to forget.

Forgetting is one of my biggest fears.

Would you do the procedure, erase bad memories, people you don’t want to remember, or your desires so you could be released from them?  Or is that emotional pain preferable to the idea of forgetting?


1 April { 09.18.11 at 7:59 am }

There is no doubt for me at all. If I could forever forget the events that caused my PTSD I would. In a heartbeat. Maybe one day that will change, but it’s only been just over two years. Two years and six days. I only have one qualification, which negates the whole option. I would want my life to go on as it is now. I’m constantly surrounded by reminders large and small. Some things wouldn’t require a second thought, but others would demand explanation. As hard as it is, I can’t live the life I have now without what happened. I wish I could, but I must be too afraid to trade up comfortable familiarity for peace of mind.

2 KnottedFingers { 09.18.11 at 8:19 am }

I wouldn’t want to forget any of the events that have caused me PTSD or Pain. My biggest fear is forgetting my child I lost, so if I have to remember pain to remember what little I had of her I would happily take it and worse just so that I can hold onto her.

3 BigP's Heather { 09.18.11 at 8:39 am }

There are a few things I would erase…a fight with my Mom, something BigP did that hurt my feelings. Little things. Not the big, bad experiences that taught me things and changed me forever. But some of the small hurts. Ones that didn’t change my core but hurt me.

4 NotTheMama { 09.18.11 at 9:23 am }

Hhhmm… I’ll have to be awake a little longer before answering! 😉
Just wanted to let you know I did the exact same thing at work! I pulled a drug off the shelf and asked the pharmacist whether we should dispense it or not – after all, it expires in November… Of 2012!!! I got a strange look, and it took a good 15-20 minutes for me to realize the person would probably use those tablets before 2012.

5 Audrey { 09.18.11 at 10:20 am }

I’m not sure I’d want to purposefully forget. Give me the opportunity to Sam Beckett it, go back and set right what once went wrong, and I’d probably jump on it. But not having a chance to do that, it’s best to remember so you have that experience to fall back on.

I used to have a near flawless memory of various events in my childhood/adolescence..could picture the accessories to the scene and word for word exchanges..which my mother in particular found unfavorable..but these days I’ve noticed those memories have faded to blurs I can no longer pull to front. Which is sad, but probably for the best. Time to make room for new memories, I suppose, more important ones. Like my daughter playing the kazoo at age 9 months or my son’s first attempt at doing the YMCA at nearly 3 years old. Much more important.

6 Tigger { 09.18.11 at 12:42 pm }

I don’t think I would. It’s not just good experiences that shape us and guide us on our life paths. If I erased the bad memories, I wouldn’t have them to warn me of certain things or decisions. It’s the bad experiences I’ve been through that led me to the life I have now and I wouldn’t change that. Think of it like ripples in a pond – if you go back and change one thing, just one, even if it’s little, you could change the entire course of your life. If you forget the lessons you have learned, you will make the same mistakes over and over. So no, while on the surface I’d love to be able to say “Oh hells yes, take the bad away”, I know that I must hold on to them.

7 Mary { 09.18.11 at 12:54 pm }

I wouldn’t, only because my PTSD comes from an emergency c section that I barely remember and wish I did. But Mel, you need to have this checked out, especially if it happens again. I just had a mini-stroke a few weekends ago, and couldn’t speak properly for about 20 minutes. This sounds like it could be something similar. Sorry it
I sound alarmist, but a blood clot could cause more than a moment of forgetfulness, and you’re too precious not to protect
your brain.

8 a { 09.18.11 at 2:44 pm }

I have had these moments of confusion, where I know I should understand something, or know a word, and I just don’t. It’s annoying and frightening and disturbing. But it’s part of aging, I suppose. Although, for me, it started after age 40n so maybe checking it out would be in order.

Would I want memories erased? Not really – most of life is so intertwined that I think I’d be experiencing these moments more often.

9 JustHeather { 09.18.11 at 3:46 pm }

I giggle too when I’m nervous or stressed or even tired (and sometimes when something is just plain not that funny, but I find it funny and hubby says I’m tired, when I’m not).

I would not want any of my memories erased. They make me who I am today. Sure, there are some I would like to not have, but I am happy with me, for the most part. 🙂

10 Battynurse { 09.18.11 at 9:02 pm }

I wouldn’t want to forget either. Like a couple others said I wouldn’t mind a redo of a few things but not forgetting completely. As far as the experience you had, it likely was just being tired but if it happened again I would say it’s a good idea to see a doctor. Sorry the nurse in me talking.

11 Quiet Dreams { 09.18.11 at 9:49 pm }

I would not want to forget. I’ve lived enough of my life in an emotional fog–I’m hoping for more clarity, not less.

12 Roccie { 09.18.11 at 10:02 pm }


13 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 09.18.11 at 10:11 pm }

No erasure.

I agree with Mary and battynurse — if you see any hint of anything unusual again, get thee to a doctor immediately. There are quite a few things it could be, and some are not as big a deal and are fixable and some are a very big deal, but you need to know what’s what.

Also, sleep!

Email or call if you want to talk.

14 celia { 09.18.11 at 11:24 pm }

While I would not choose to forget our first pregnancy,I would choose to forget how we found out there was a problem. Oh yes. Even five years later we are traumatized from it. It is THE most horrible memory I have and marks our marriage to this day.

I agree that if anything else funky happens you need to get to a doctor STRAIGHT AWAY.

15 Hope { 09.18.11 at 11:54 pm }

First, I agree with everyone who posted before me–talk to a doctor if this happens again.

Second, about the forgetting thing, you’ve really gotten me thinking. I’m in therapy for PTSD, and what’s interesting is that in order to ease the pain, part of the process is to remember things I’ve blocked out. I’ve suppressed most of my childhood memories because they are so painful. My therapist has been using EMDR to help me process the memories, so that the pain of them recedes into the past. Forgetting didn’t stop the pain. It just pushed it underground and caused it to erupt at unexpected times.

I have tried and tried to erase my childhood, even to the extent of legally changing my name and cutting ties with all my peers who knew me before collage. It didn’t stop the PTSD from manifesting in very destructive ways, so now I am trying this new way, and amazingly it seems to be working. I can remember without hurting so much, and the old hurts are less likely to influence my present. But I still don’t dwell on it.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve tried, in my own way, to forget the past, and it didn’t have the desired result: the emotional pain continued. I think I’d agree live with the memory gaps only if I got a guarantee that the pain would go away, too.

16 Devon { 09.19.11 at 11:09 am }

I’m with everyone else-Get yourself to a doctor-but don’t wait until it happens again-make an appt today! It’s probably nothing but you never know.

So many small things i’d love to forget, but the big things-bad and good make me who I am, I’ll have to keep those. I would love to be able to remember more from my childhood though, I have the worst long term memory-

17 loribeth { 09.19.11 at 11:59 am }

I sometimes forget what year it is too. :p And the older I get, the more my memory seems to slip — names will suddenly escape me, & I’ll walk into a room & forget why I came, lol. And I’m someone who is known for her ironclad memory. I think stress, multitasking, lack of sleep, & aging/perimenopausal hormones all play a role.

But I’m with the others, if this is really bothering you, or if you’ve noticed it happening more frequently lately, see your dr. It’s probably nothing serious, but wouldn’t you rather be (a) reassured or (b) find out what’s going on?

18 Erica { 09.19.11 at 12:30 pm }

Forgetting is one of my worst fears, too. Two of my grandparents suffered from Alzheimer’s before they died, and while it was hard to watch, I hated to think of what it must have been like for them – it’s hard for my brain to dwell on it for long. And now, well, all I really have to hold onto of Teddy are my memories of him (and there aren’t enough of those). I cling to each one with a death grip, even to the hardest ones.

However, I did forget how old I was for an entire year. It worked out well – I’m younger than I thought! – but it also made me feel very strange, realizing I’d been unmoored from reality for so long without noticing.

19 B { 09.19.11 at 1:18 pm }

Most all of the crappy things that have happened in my life have molded me into who I am today. They have made me stronger and more aware of others around me and I appreciate those harder times because of this.

The only thing I wish could be permanently removed from my memory is being raped. No amount of therapy (and there has been a lot) or journaling or even confronting my attacker has been able to make my inner self be okay with it. I unhealthily often wonder who I would be had it never happened and 21 years later still honestly believe I lost more good parts of myself than I gained that night. I would give up this “memory” in a heartbeat if I could.

20 Bea { 09.20.11 at 10:15 am }

I don’t have much I would erase, really. In fact, I can’t think of anything. But I hope it doesn’t happen to you again once you get a good night’s sleep (or more). I forget a lot more things than I’d like as it is, and that would really freak me out.


21 Brandy { 09.22.11 at 1:10 pm }

I’ve done a shit-ton of therapy to process traumatic experiences, most related to infertility, so no way would I want to forget!

This reminds me of a conversation DH and I had when we recently finally saw the first movie of the last book of Harry Potter (still haven’t seen the final one). During the part where Hermione erases herself from her parents’ memories, we thought, what about everyone else? Her parents won’t remember her, but surely they have friends and relatives who will. Will they then think that the parents are insane for totally forgetting their daughter? Will people think that they killed her and arrest them? Maybe I just think too much.

If there were a way to forget bad memories, it seems like there would still be things around in your world that would relate to those memories and you would just end up confused in the end.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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