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Can't Remember... What was it Again? Wednesday May 13, 2015

The conversation goes something like this:

"Have you left me a review of my book?"

"Well, of course I've left you a review! I beta-read that book for you. I got a copy on its release day. I came to your release party. Of course I've left you a review. I said... I said...(pause) I didn't leave you a review, did I?"


(Knock, knock.) "Hello?"

"Uh, hi. Have I come to the right house? You are expecting me? I have a consultation at 10am... (Blank horrified stare from me.) Oh, you weren't expecting me, were you?"


"You did send that document off to the tax people, didn't you?"

"Yes, yes. I'm sure I did."

"So this envelope I've just found addressed to the tax people and clearly not posted has nothing to do with that..."

For me this is the scariest thing about my depressive episodes. Not the withdrawal from human contact, not the days sat shaking on the sofa, too weak to walk further than to the kitchen or bathroom, but the memory gaps. Or even worse, the false memories. Tasks undone or forgotten lie like landmines all over my personal and professional life. They frighten me.

There's a very good clinical reason for these memory gaps. During depression, the part of the brain connected with memory shrinks. It's as if part of the filing system has been thrown out. I can only assume that my false memories occur because the creative part of the brain (at least in my case) is unaffected and just makes up what I think must have occurred, rather than remembering what did actually occur.

Now, I would be the first to admit that admin is not my strong point. If you want five hundred words on the inside of a ping pong ball by five o'clock then I'm your woman. If you need an impromptu ten minute speech on the importance of leg-warmers in popular Eighties culture, then just ask. But organising and keeping a filing system up to date... best look elsewhere for that one.

Even so, I like to keep my promises. I like to be professionally reliable. I like to be a responsible citizen who files tax returns on time.

So my challenge is to create, while well, robust and simple systems that will still work when I'm ill. I need visual reminders of what I need to do when. Even down to "System to follow when a client books an appointment." I need a promise book.

I don't know that these reminders will be infallible. I think I will still need people around me to exercise a lot of tolerance and forgiveness when yet another of those landmines explodes. But, by being responsible about it, I should at least minimize the casualties.

A Moodscope member.

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Paul Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 6:41am

Hi Mary
Great post as always I'm so glad you wrote about this as I get really worried about the exact same thing. I really think at times I am getting dementia as memory gets so bad it is really frightening. You have gave me some relief and I less thing to worry about. Just hope I remember I sent this reply ha ha.

Amy Rose Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 7:33am

Hi Mary,

Wow as Paul says, great post. I feel exactly the same and this has hit the nail on the head for what worries and ails me most when my depression occurs. I berate myself for not being a perfectly functioning human being like my friends and cannot understand how I fail to keep up on personal and professional tasks. The days after a depressive episode are hardest when I feel I am cleaning up the mess of land mines that have exploded in its wake…"sorry for not responding to your email earlier"…"apologies for not phoning earlier". "Hows everything going?…Oh you know me, great"…"Where have you been?"…"I've been around, doing work etc…". There are only so many times I can inform a client that I've had a sick day, and I fear that sending them an email saying "My apologies for not sending this file over yesterday, I just didn't feel like doing your work" wouldn't cut it. I was crying about this last night, always feeling like I could do so much better, if I just tried, and then when I am feeling a bit better and feel like I'm winning, BAM, I realise I still haven't sent my friends birthday cards which are now over two weeks late. xxx

crafty wee midden Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 7:55am

Thank you....this helped me. I'm extremely forgetful/absentminded( part of which is the after effect from the stroke) and it scares me. Im by nature untidy, but it's (mostly) an organised chaos: if I don't have things visible, I forget I have them(I've found that it's better to leave the kitchen wall cupboards with doors open) I do tend to tread a very thin tightrope between clutter and chaos....sometimes I have a "tidy up"....but then can find NOTHING. Sorry, rambling, just wanted to say thanks.

Hopeful One Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 7:57am

Hi Mary- brill blog.I mentioned in response to Lex's post a couple of days ago how the loss of my memory and my concentration made me feel depressed until I found out that it was the depression itself that was causing it. The shrinkage of the hippocampus can be seen on a brain scan but other memory regions are involved as well but to a lesser extent.And the reason for that hippocampus shrinkage is the sustained release of cortisol (stress hormone) to which the hippocampus is very sensitive .This in turn due to excessive sustained stimulation of the amgdala (our flight and fright response center) usually due to anxiety and stress.That is why anxiety and depression go hand in hand.As I have said before depression is largely a reaction to past losses and anxiety is a reaction to future losses both stimulate the amgdala. The secret is to break this cycle somewhere.I am afraid each of us in depression will have to find their own tool as the circuit breaker as there is no 'one size fits all'. As soon as I understood the biological basis of my memory and concentration I ceased to worry about it.Yes- you guessed it that was my circuit breaker! As soon as I stopped worrying my anxiety level dropped , the amgdala less stimulated, cortisol fell ,hippocampus got a chance to recover There is another effect that depression has on memory and it is this.It makes our memory very selective giving great emphasis to negative thought patterns a hall mark of depression.Mindfulness/ meditation is a great way of correcting these anomalies if one is willing to spend the time to learn the technique.Its definitely worth it for any depressive without a shadow of doubt in my mind.

Anonymous Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 8:16am

Ummm interesting I am guessing this is the same cause or similar when you have had a massive shock. My family and were useless after my dad died, no short term memory at all or concentration span. I have lost so many items and done silly things... This has been a long term worry for me with depression regarding driving, I fear that I may just blank out as I seem to do in life and there may be disastrous consequences, I find my memory blanks particularly bad with PMS which again is connected with stress. Eve

Sally Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 8:48am

I do this too! I soooo identify with the memory lapses, and thinking something has been posted when it hasn't! My other half goes spare at how unreliable I become. As someone who prides herself on having that quality ( usually) it further demoralises me when I " fail" to carry out a task to its final stage, or miss an appointment/ forget someone is coming. Through gritted teeth, I admit I was wrong/ careless/ disorganised/ untidy......but deep down, I KNOW that in healthier times, I have no such problem, or at least, on a much, much reduced scale... Best wishes, and lots of sympathy, Mary. I recognise myself strongly in your piece.

Leah Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 9:13am

My problem is my memory is going when I am not depressed. Maybe old age or maybe medication. W!ho knows!!! Sometimes I forget how I was going to end a sentence. Words are my life, so the thought I maybe losing them is worrying!! I just keep on smiling and hoping!!!! I think one needs a sense of humour as the more I worry about my failing memory the more I forget!!!
Thanks for your blog.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 9:23am

I'm sure you sent it Paul. I just hope I remember seeing it up here!

Mary Blackhurst Hill Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 9:42am

And - my very dear Hopeful One - from where do you think I got the inspiration to write this??? (We writers are just cannibals, you know.) So many, many thanks. This valuable information has just helped a lot of people feel a lot better about themselves. It definitely helped me - even if I didn't use the word hippocampus (wonderful word that it is though....)

Anonymous Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 10:29am

Hi Mary, not only have you given us a clear insight into what you must deal with in depression, you allow us to compare our own depression memory to yours which leads to greater self understanding. My heart goes out to you. I'm not quite as afflicted as you in this regard but every single thing that people mention today in their comments, i can relate to. I become zombified and infinitely apologetic. To-do lists become life rafts. Thanks for the insight. susan xx

Anonymous Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 10:43am

Hi Hopeful One, this is such a short and concise explanation for the complicated things that go on 'in there' and i truly appreciate it. Have printed it out already for the stress/anxiety - amygdala - cortisol - hippocampus - memory connection. Thank goodness the hippo bounces back. Thanks very much. susan xx

Hopeful One Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 11:15am

Hi Anon 10.43- glad you found it helpful. Love your sense of humour. As it happens hippocampus means a " sea horse " in Greek because that what it looks like in a brain slice at that point.

Hopeful One Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 11:21am

Hi Anon 8.16 am yes , an acute shock would do the same. Fortunately for us the hippocampus is one region of the brain where the neurones are able to multiply and so the hippocampus changes are largely reversible once the noxious stimulus is removed.

Anonymous Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 3:58pm

So me. Possibly the single thing that makes me feel even worse when I'm down is the amount of stuff that I forget. Being super-organised is the only way to overcome this. So I totally get your challenge to create robust systems when you are well. I have to do that, too. I can't assume when I'm well that I'm not going to go into a black hole at some other time in the future.?

Anonymous Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 6:02pm

This is very accurate - especially the false memories. I do this a lot. My techniques are 1) don't beat myself up about it. These things happen. 2) Have an A5 diary with me everywhere and write my to do list and appointments in it. Tick them off when done. Refer to it every day 3) cut out all the superfluous stuff, unsubscribe from emails, schedule only what can be done in a day (half of what you think), pursue only a few well chosen goals.

Anonymous Wed, May 13th 2015 @ 9:20pm

Hi Mary, fuddled head...yes! I'm grateful to you for this! I too believed I was simply a big failure in the concentration department. Ruby Wax wrote an interesting book on depression. I read it when depressed and so need to read it again but she described the hippocampus, and how to grow it again, very well. Much like Hopeful One has done! I agree with him that meditation goes a long way to helping. I'm still trying to make it a daily practice but I'm getting there and after a learning curve I feel I'm getting it now.
Thank you Mary, love from the room above the garage x.

Hopeful One Thu, May 14th 2015 @ 12:04am

Hi Anon 6.02pm - your stategy has much to commend it.

Sara Preston Thu, May 14th 2015 @ 12:06am

About two months ago, I received a letter in the mail stating my license was suspended because of a ticket I received back in October. I looked at my husband, I looked at the letter, I said "I dealt with that. I swear I called them and sent in a copy of the registration of the truck." Evidently, I didn't (either that or the office of the courts lost it). We renewed our plates two days after I received the ticket, so I'm positive I would have sent in the paperwork -- or did I? I don't think I'll ever know. I had to go before the judge in order to get my license reinstated. It is now and it didn't cost me anything except for about five hours of my time, but it's now dealt with. My father in law was sick most of November and then died in early December. Could I have missed something? Probably -- I was depressed. So, I have an idea of what you're talking about.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Thu, May 14th 2015 @ 9:43am

Wise words indeed - although I think you are optimistic when you say we can get half of what we think we can do actually done. I think it's about a third!

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