Memory: The Last Frontier

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I have had no symptoms of PTSD since December 2019. Today we are in August 2023. One thing that I continue to struggle with is memory. Unfortunately, I don’t really know whether I struggle because of age or because of having had PTSD.

Memory problems are a sequela of PTSD. It’s something that commonly occurs but it’s not listed as a symptom of PTSD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). I hereby propose a new diagnosis: Post-PTSD Memory Loss. Wouldn’t that qualify me for disability rights?

The first time poor memory became apparently problematic to me was when my friend moved out from our home. She had my electric violin in her hand and I asked, “Why are you taking that?” Apparently, I had gifted it to her some years before and I forgot. I had no recollection at that moment, and it took some time to conjure a vague memory of the gift. I tried to give it to her again, but she was so hurt by my not remembering, she refused to take it. I have since wavered between wanting to keep the thing sentimentally, or get rid of it and then wonder later what happened to it. Come to think of it, I am not 100% sure whether I still have it.

Most recently — a few minutes ago — I vaguely remembered doing a radio interview in 2021. The only reason I remember it happened at all is because I found a dated transcript on my computer of a video I made moments before the radio interview. The transcript said I was about to be on live radio.

Here’s part of the transcript copied from a captions file:

00:02:55,520 –> 00:03:04,320
So that was somatic quieting: allowing the 
body to heal itself, to reconnect pathways from  

00:03:05,840 –> 00:03:11,920
our body’s memory of something that happened 
in the past that is causing this… these  

00:03:11,920 –> 00:03:21,280
uncomfortable feelings and reconnecting them to my 
prefrontal frontal cortex so that I can just be, 

00:03:21,280 –> 00:03:28,960
and live, and have a great interview. I will post 
details about the interview in the future but I am  

00:03:28,960 –> 00:03:38,480
being interviewed for The Alarmist radio podcast 
that’s on Apple, Spotify… uh, someplace else…

If someone had asked me before today if I had ever been live on the radio, I probably would have said during college or when I promoted my first book back in 2009ish. I would not have remembered doing an interview in 2021. Isn’t that something one would remember because of the excitement live radio produces? I was excited; so excited I needed to calm myself beforehand. And I was still excited during the show. So why does it not come to the forefront of my mind? I don’t remember whether I told anyone about the show.

There are many important memories that easily slip away as a result of extreme stress on the brain.

What happens with PTSD

When trauma happens, the hippocampi become hypothetically overloaded causing the dendrites off the hippocampi to shrivel and lose connection. Trauma leads to momentary lost consciousness. Yet, whatever sensory information that the body took in at that moment remains locked in the body’s memory via supposed engrams in the brain. These engrams then come alive when a reminder of the traumatic event, a trigger so-to-say, stimulates the nervous system to recall the engrams and signal to the body, “HEY! REMEMBER THIS MOMENT? YOU WERE FREAKING OUT! AND YOU FELT IT HERE AND HERE AND HERE IN YOUR BODY!” This is how PTSD works.

Though lots of therapy, especially the somatic kind, can help heal PTSD. Unfortunately, while PTSD can go away, the memory loss may remain. I wonder if the same is true of depression. Anyway, because the dendrites in my hippocampi shriveled up on the night of 9/11 while on the phone with the President of Fuji Bank, I have memory problems.

Improve Memory

I try to improve my memory by taking supplements of lion’s mane, eating as many mushrooms as is palatable (and I very much like mushrooms), exercising daily as much as I can get off this computer, and learning.

I’m working on a research project now, a randomized-controlled trial of the intervention that helped me heal from PTSD. In December 2020 I got my master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. Today I am less than 1,000 work-hours away from qualifying for a license to practice psychotherapy in the State of California. I’ve noticed that when I am writing and reading lots of scientific articles in a day and take a walk the same day, the next day I am able to remember more. Those memory moments (actually I can only think of one) go something like this:

It’s 10am and I washed my face, took my CoQ-10, had my one cup of coffee during my morning reading time, brought my partner a cup, applied my skincare product, put on sunscreen, and I am ready for the rest of the day!

Most days around 10am — like today — it’s, “Did I wash my face;” “Did I apply product,” while touching my face; “Do I have clients today,” and I don’t. Incidentally, I forgot my CoQ-10 this morning. I never forget coffee. Ah, I also forgot the lion’s mane. It’s 5pm.

A lot has happened since starting this blog. I haven’t made much headway on my book, Oblivion. Though instead of the original intent of the book, to highlight what it’s like to have PTSD, now I struggle to even remember what it was like. Except the memory issues. That hasn’t changed much. I don’t think.

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