k2head1.jpgWhat would you give to have a brand new life? Your job, your money, your home, your friends? I did. It wasn’t anything I asked for, but it happened anyway. Here’s the story; rest assured, it has a happy ending:

Five years ago I worked as an instructional designer for a large bio-tech company. I wrote manuals, designed web pages, championed new technologies, and was the golden boy of the department. Then my life started to change.

I was having trouble finishing deadlines, something that had never happened before. I had trouble remembering things and couldn’t do the tasks I had done so well for years. I eventually became so frustrated with my job, I had a small nervous breakdown at work and went on disability. I thought the respite would be beneficial, instead, I just got worse. I became withdrawn; I wasn’t reading my mail, ignoring my friends and family, and not answering phone calls. I stopped leaving my apartment and had my groceries delivered. The world had become a gray and confusing place for me. I eventually lost my apartment. My friends, frustrated with the way I was acting, distanced themselves from me. Having nowhere else to go and not knowing what to do, I moved back to Reno and began living with my parents.

I thought the whole thing was because I was depressed. Other than that, I didn’t think anything was wrong. However, my parents recognized something was seriously wrong. My memory had gotten so bad, that I would have to be told several times a day what day of the week it was. They took me to a doctor. He diagnosed a slow moving inflammation of the lining of my brain which was slowly destroying it. See, the thing about losing your mind, is you don’t know your losing your mind. There was no pain, no physical symptoms, no clues. I got the meds I needed, and quickly got better. However, the disease had done its damage.

images-6.jpegAlthough I regained my short-term memory, and never lost my long-term memory, the memories of the last ten years or so are sketchy with huge holes, a bit like swiss cheese. People will tell me of things I did, and I have no recollection of what they’re talking about. It sounds like their telling wonderful stories about someone they know, but I don’t. It’s a little sad, but then again, it’s nice to think that I had all these great times, even if I don’t remember them.

Or, maybe I do. I’ve done some studies on memory, and I don’t believe I’ve forgotten what’s happened to me, I think I’ve just forgotten where the memories are stored in my brain. The way memory works is (roughly) first it goes to a short-term area and later, the brain moves it to a long-term storage area, but keeps track of where it put it. These storage locations have been damaged in my brain. However, if someone talks about an incident from my past long enough, I can sometimes find and remember it. These moments are a very satisfying eureka.

Here’s the best part of it all: before the disease I was kind of introverted and didn’t display much emotion or express my feelings. Now, I’m outgoing, I laugh all the time, cry all the time, and tell people what’s on my mind. I’m a much happier, well-adjusted person. Why is this? My theory comes from Oliver Sacks book, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Coat Rack.” He tells the story of an elderly woman with tertiary syphilis which destroyed a part of her brain dealing with inhibitions. Her symptoms are the same as mine. (I’ve been tested for syphilis; No, I don’t have it.) For both of us, once we received the right medication, the deterioration stopped, but the “damage” remained.

I am thankful for what has happened. I’m a much happier person, my friends–now glad to see their old friend returned–call me Lazarus, I’ve discovered I love my family with a fierce devotion, and I have restarted a deep relationship with a long-lost love.

There was an old me, he’s forgotten. The new me looks forward to creating many years of new, wonderful memories.