Tuesday, 22 July 2014

How memory difficulties cause vulnerability- and what to do about it

I just happened to catch Witness, the BBC News programme investigating past events from the perspective of those who were there. Today's show featured an aging woman who escaped the Nazi death camps because she was too young. It is- as many WWII survivor stories are- a harrowing account of ethnic cleansing from a war that genuinely shaped today's world.

It got me thinking about a conversation I had with someone in early 2008- something I've been chewing over for years. I used to be mates with PK- we'd go for drinks at the weekend in the local dodgy bars, and I'd find myself wondering why I was there, considering I didn't like the area and I didn't particularly like him either. An employment support mentor had not long ago dropped the bombshell that I'd been living with an inaccurate diagnosis of dyslexia for 9 years, and that the problem I had been dealing with was a short-term memory issue. I quickly realised why I'd been struggling for so long- with academia, with employment, with day-to-day tasks like remembering where I parked the car- and I was still trying to figure out what I should do with my life, how I should behave, and what I wanted. I was pretty directionless. So if someone invited me out for a drink, I'd go without thinking do I actually want to do this?

The first time I went out with PK we couldn't get into Envy because the doorman recognised him and were sure they'd already barred him. He claimed not to know what that was about. I was suspicious, and made a mental note that he could be a bit of a toerag.

But I forgot.

I saw him cheat on numerous girlfriends, and he frequently got caught and people got angry with him. I made a mental note not to get typecast like him and to encourage him to go somewhere better than Oldham.

But I forgot.

I lent him money which he didn't pay back, despite coming out with me after that and getting drunk. I realised this was a pisstake, and I needed to confront him.

I wasn't- and still aren't- the confrontational type, though. And I forgot.

I eventually distanced myself from him. I got an apology not long after that- probably brought on by some hard-done-to girlfriend who was trying to set him right, and we occasionally went out for drinks in the same shit bars. I blocked him after one of his psycho exes was mithering me on Facebook to get him to unblock her. Instead of doing what she wanted, I blocked her too. And all of his mates. And all of her mates. My life has been so much more peaceful since that Facebook clearout.

But there was one other conversation that I'd had with PK, an incident that slipped my mind for many years, and the Witness programme brought back that memory. We were staggering back from Oldham at 3AM one Sunday morning when we started talking about politics and war, for some reason.

PK said, “If you think about it, Hitler had the right idea.”

I just stared at him.

No, listen. Right. Hitler's idea was that we should all be the same. He wanted everyone to have blonde hair, blue eyes and the same thoughts. That way there'd be no wars.”

Another pause.

“Aw, don't be looking at me like that.”

I was too busy computing how retarded that statement was to offer any argument to it. I didn't tell him that the war involved a lot of politics, which differs to religion or physical appearance, and that-essentially- without these particular differences, we'd just find something else to fight over, like land or resources. Like we are doing anyway.

When we got to the turnoff for his road, we just went our separate ways without a fallout- no argument, no discussion.

And guess what? I went home, fell asleep and forgot about it for YEARS. I carried on being friends despite further problems. People were understandably disappointed in me just for being around him. So why was I entertaining this mug?

It's frequently easy for me to forget things if they're problematic- a fallout means difficult conversations, and it means disappointing mutual friends and having to explain myself to people I do like over issues involving people I don't. I don't know whether I suppress these memories or whether they just fade to the back of my mind until I remember them, by which time it's too late to just bring up and start arguing about. Therein lies the problem. When you have a disagreement, you need to be able to back up your perspective with examples. You need to be able to say, “this is what I'm not happy with.” When you can't remember the solid examples, the temptation is to back down from the argument in case you fall short and look like an idiot. Having memory difficulties makes you constantly doubt yourself. So what do you do about it?

You need to make a record. Make details of what happened. Download the Colornotes app from the Play Store on your phone. Using this you can tap in whatever text you want, and as far as anyone around you knows, you'll be sending a text. If you remember anything else later, add it to the note. (If needs be, use the “checklist” option to keep all related incidents on one page.)

Having done that, you need to make the decision: will you speak to them about it? If so, you will need to back up your argument with examples of what it is you're not happy about. The chances are you won't be able to reel them all of one after the other- you'll be cut off, the subject will change, you'll go off on a tangent and you won't get to say what you want to. Not to mention, you'll forget most of it without the prompts in front of you. So the challenge will be to steer the conversation back to the points you want to raise. If needs be, be completely upfront about your need to make notes about their behaviour. If you're discussing it face-to-face, you'll have to as they'll see the notes on the phone.

A Facebook conversation can be helpful in this way- everything you write between each other stays on the screen so you can always break and come back, or review the conversation to avoid repeating yourself. You can have your notes in front of you as you discuss the situation.

Of course, you can always just tell them you're busy and distance yourself that way. If you're not comfortable with confrontations, this could be the easiest option. But the important thing is that you make the records for yourself, and then act on them. Cut out negative people and do not concern yourself with what mutual friends think. Don't worry about further fall-outs. Fall-outs are normal, whether you have memory difficulties or not.

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