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Brain injury blog by survivor

Brain injury blog by survivor



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Brain injury blog by survivor

Brain injury blog by survivor



Can hidden memories after a brain injury be good?

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Post traumatic amnesia is common following a brain injury, with the short term and working memory being the most highly affected. So this can mean you can’t remember what you were talking about, constantly lose things, and jobs remain incomplete. But what can be harder to monitor is how many of your long term memories have been lost. I thought mine weren’t too bad, but you don’t know how much you don’t know.

Let me explain…..

As both my parents have passed away since my car accident, I don’t have someone to bounce off when talking about my childhood. You know, those conversations when someone says “Remember when….”, and the scenario you thought you’d forgotten comes flooding back. But as I don’t have huge gaps in the timeline of my long term memories, I assumed nothing much was missing.

Recently I visited my Dads first wife. They had remained best friends even through their divorce, and were very close right up to the end. So she has always been a big part of my life and she is very important to me.

I drove to her house, which hasn’t changed very much in the 30 odd years she has lived there. Although I have seen her regularly in recent years, I haven’t been to her house for about a year. It still had that familiar homely feel I remember it always had. In fact she told me the first time I visited that house after she moved there, I confidently announced “I like this house, it’s a proper home.” So I think that was my 5 year old brain trying to describe the homely feeling I got from being there.

As we chatted, I gazed at her well maintained little back garden. I recognised that a hedge was missing, so you could now see the fence at the end, and a new stone bird table sat proudly the the middle of the lawn. To the left sat a shed. Clearly it wasn’t brand new, but was still in good order. So I asked her when she had got the shed. “It’s been there around 30 years, as I got it soon after I moved in.”

Will I ever know how much has gone?

I didn’t want to dwell on it, after all, it’s just a shed. The conversation moved on and we had a lovely time. But I still found my gaze was drawn to the shed, as I tried to have that “penny drops” moment.  No matter what angle I looked at it from, I couldn’t reconcile that shed. I had no memories of it at all.

That got me thinking about my parents. How many treasured memories of them was my brain injury hiding? As after your loved ones are gone, memories are all we have to keep them close. I do have lots of memories of them, and photos too so it’s not that I’m drawing a blank. But I hate to think how many gems I’ve lost.


Following my brain injury there are bound to be memories that appear to be lost. But perhaps this is part of the recovery process to help me continue to learn, and they are still there after all...

But working hard to recall memories can mean something good is happening!

Did you know that in order to learn we have to forget?! (I know, it sounds so ridiculous that you couldn’t make it up.)

Our memory works by having to reconstruct the event – the people, the environment, sounds, smells etc. I doesn’t just record it like when you play back a home video. Have you ever noticed that sometimes you will remember parts of an event which another person has forgotten, but they can recall something else?That’s because each time you recall that memory, you alter it slightly. (Stay with me on this, it will make sense….. I think.)

Every time you recall a particular element of a memory you make it stronger. You have told your brain to prioritise that one over others that you haven’t requested for ages. Think about the shed I couldn’t remember. As it was to the left edge of the garden, there are many more angles that you can’t see it from. In fact as a child I used to always sit in a particular position where you wouldn’t see it until you stood up. So although I must have always known it was there, it didn’t rank highly when I was recalling memories. As you reconstruct memories in their parts, the parts that that you recall more often rank higher and come back quicker. So because the shed didn’t feature in the scenes I was reconstructing, it’s very existence became of little importance to my brain. But someone who was sat in a position where the shed was always visible probably would remember it being there.

This prioritisation of the elements of memory happens so you can learn. We need to discard less important things to be able to focus and learn the important things. For example, on average we see 5,000 logos a day, but I bet you couldn’t list that many right now.  You would be able to tell me the ones that are important to you – like your mobile phone manufacturer and network, car insurance company, bank etc. But you might struggle to think of the logo of a glow stick maker (unless you are a crazy raver, in which case, RESPECT!) But any element that you have to work hard to recall, and eventually succeed, is how we learn!

And the most interesting part is those lost memories aren’t necessarily gone. It could that they aren’t ranking well and our brain thinks they are irrelevant. So perhaps it is possible to still retrieve them. Don’t believe me? You can read about how some research suggests that even in many cases of brain injury it’s recall which is at fault, not memory itself here. Therefore it might be possible in the future artificially reignite these memories.

So I can say with certainty, Mum, Dad, I will never forget you. I just might not recall…….

Do you struggle with long term memories following your brain injury? Have you found anything such as hypnosis, which helped?


7 replies on “Can hidden memories after a brain injury be good?”

Made me think of Sherlock Holmes quote…

I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

So the shed never made it to the brain -attic , you kept it free for more lovely memories ,also maybe some things are just stored in boxes in the corner at the back waiting to be opened when your ready …but other things are freely visible …..

My brain often feels like a dusty, draughty attic! ? But at least it’s doing the right thing by being roomy enough to be draughty. Perhaps if I get my feather duster out I will discover some little gems in there.

I have realised that memories eventually turn up. Sometimes in a matter of hours and even days later. They just pop into my head and have me thinking why did I want to know that. Knowing this takes pressure off me. Lynlee

Yes Lynlee, I can be like that too. I hate those moments when I want to reply when having a conversation but I can’t put my finger on it. I have a sense about what I want to say but I can’t even begin to imagine where it’s coming from. And then long after the moment has passed the memory pops back into my head and then I know how to express what I was feeling. But as the conversation is over it’s not relevant anymore.

I saw a photo of me when I was about 6 some years ago and it triggered a memory of me meeting a well-known pedo. I remember it like it was yesterday. Vividly. Luckily, I was not a victim or a survivor but a lucky escape. I thi k the difference is TBI should allow you to recall older memories easier than say what you had for breakfast? Cheers,H

Helen I’m so pleased that individual didn’t harm you. I try to have an open mind about most things, but sexually assaulting children I absolutely cannot understand at all.

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