When Having a Bad Memory Can Be a Blessing

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • At times, I like to share my personal stories and experiences here at ADHDcentral.com because I hope that others might recognize themselves in similar situations and (hopefully) not feel so isolated, embarrassed or damaged.

     

    Much is written about the challenges of having ADHD and how it affects us in so many ways: relationships, self-esteem, academics, workplace issues, parenting, and much more. We learn strategies on how to tame the symptoms; we read books and articles to gain a better understanding of them. We take medications, go to therapy, hire a coach and/or a professional organizer....

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    But two weeks ago, I realized that having a bad memory might actually be a good thing at times. The light went on shortly after I heard my vet's dark diagnosis: "Your dog is horribly ill. She has a cardiac tumor and will not survive much longer; it's a fatal disease."

     

    Annie, my beloved 14 year old Portuguese Water Dog, received this horrific prognosis after I'd taken her in thinking she simply had a stomach bug. The vet continued:

    "She will get weaker and weaker and if she doesn't die suddenly from a heart attack, she'll only suffer a slow and steady death. You should consider euthanizing her."

     

    I was simply stunned. This dog, who never left my side these past 14 years, was deathly ill and I would lose her. And soon.

     

    Grieving is often preceded by denial and that is exactly what happened in my case.  I couldn't believe the news that had just slammed into my consciousness. Surely the vet was wrong! But slowly it began to sink in. With a lump in my throat and tears burning my eyes, I began to think of all the wonderful times I'd shared over the years with this fuzzy, deep eyed loyal and gentle creature.

     

    Slowly but surely, the reality of the news hit me. And hard. I tried to think back to what she was like as a puppy and drew mostly blanks. There were vague memories of her being insanely hyperactive; her heel - nipping and boundless energy. But not much more than that. I became horrified that this sweet dog, who was like a part - an extension- of my own body, would soon become a faded memory, like so many of the other past experiences in my life.

     

    On the one hand, I knew that the details of the awful days ahead would soon be long gone from my memory. I'd gratefully forget the sad bloodshot eyes, the symptoms of cancer reeking havoc on her organs. The sick feeling in my stomach when I had to make the final decision to put her down. I'd forget the look on her face as the vet injected her with a fatal dose of morphine.

     

    And so it dawned on me that sometimes having a bad memory could be a blessing. I tried to bring up memories of other sad times in my life but found that I couldn't conjure up the details. Instead, I could recall things in general: my father dying when I was a child and basically not remembering much of anything about him- almost as if he never was in my life to begin with.

     

    But it wasn't just the bad things; I couldn't remember the wonderful milestones, either! I have little memory of my own wedding! The excitement of moving into our first home. The funny little antics of watching my babies growing up. Which one liked peaches? Which one favored pears?

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    So in grieving over my dog's impending death and knowing I would soon forget many details about her, I began to write. For I knew that the only way I'd remember life with Annie, would be to read the passages I wrote- how she looked and acted. How she'd knock the phones off the hook whenever I'd leave the house without her. How she cocked her head when I called her name.

     

    I think writing is not only therapeutic; for those with ADHD, it can be a wonderful tool to help us remember important things in our lives. How I wish I had kept up with my baby diaries for my two girls. I realize now why it's so hard to throw certain items away; they serve as memory keepers. For example, I'm unable to toss out photographs. I know that they serve as reminders of events, both major and minor that I don't want to forget.

     

    It's been six days since Annie died. I've planted a small memorial garden in the backyard in her honor. I'm looking over old photographs which I'll someday put into an album. And then there's my blog that I'm writing, filled with all the memories I can bring up to consciousness while I still can. For soon, they will all be gone.

     

    How has your ADHD helped or hindered you in remembering or forgetting important life events?

Published On: June 12, 2008