Reflections on Losing My Mind

Louisa Leontiades On Writing, On Writing-General

An old man reads his wife the story of their life and love. Sometimes, it gives her a way to remember who she is. The Notebook is a love story, or for those who prefer to watch the film, a way to gawk at Ryan Gosling’s torso. But for me it is a story of losing your life, yourself and finding it again it in the pages of a story. It is the story of my life, but I’m not old. I’m just forty one. 

I forgot to go to the doctor’s yesterday. Ironically it was to discuss my increasingly disruptive memory loss. I had a note with an alarm in my calendar and everything. The other day, I forgot how old my daughter was (she’s six). You’d think I’d remember that, because after all it was a marking event, not least for the episiotomy. Sometimes my memory loss results in more serious consequences. Like the time I forgot the meatballs on the stove. Fortunately amid the screaming of the smoke alarms nobody died and nothing was destroyed, apart from the frying pan. 

For a period of years now, and especially during the months following emotional trauma triggers–otherwise known as Christmas with the family—I lose my ability to remember and it’s getting worse. Conversations for example. For my partner of ten years that makes me a good listener, because he can make the same jokes, tell the same stories and I’ll laugh with new delight. For my other partner of three years, that makes me a bad listener because he tires of having to repeat himself. For most my memory loss is just viewed as stupidity. But I’m not stupid, even if just yesterday I looked in the mirror and saw a stranger.

I had forgotten what I looked like.

I’m a memoirist, a semi-professional one (if three published books are anything to go by). Even before they were published, I wrote a lot. Too much and too personally for many. They felt insulted that I was documenting my life in a blog. I wrote about sex, polyamory, childhood and abuse. A few overcame their repulsion to wonder what drove me to write so honestly and so intimately. In the same breath they called me selfish, vain and self-obssessed. They told me that I over thought things. 

That people don’t know me, don’t care to find out why and denigrate me according to their own judgements is something I’ve had to learn to live with. Because for me writing is the way I remember my life and my purpose. It’s a vital part of my self-care and my self-identity. I need to write myself down because otherwise I would forget who I am. 

Memory loss is one of the symptoms of living with high anxiety, which in itself is one of the symptoms of complex trauma. It also makes my memories potentially more unreliable than some other people’s. This might be viewed as a problem for a memoirist…. yet I’m able to write memoirs that I know are more or less accurate because at the time I wrote the events and conversations down whilst they were still fresh in my mind, which usually can be no more than 24 hours, maybe less before they drain out of my head like water. There are of course many more things I don’t write down, and in this case I must recreate them, through the extensive practice of analysis and narrative. This is my first and most important technique for ‘remembering’, although it’s not remembering. Like piecing together the puzzle of a crime, it’s reconstruction.

So like Hercule Poirot, even without concrete evidence but taking into account the characters of the people involved, there can finally only be one psychological truth from my perspective of how events came to be. Even so, I don’t always get it right. But as I study more, analyse more, my reconstructions are becoming ‘righter’. Because I remember emotions. I remember the starting emotion and the end emotion. Then with the deep and painstakingly learned knowledge I have of myself, of psychology, and of humanity in general, I must create the path with the help of fragments to get myself from point A to point B. I uncover the emotional and psychological truth. When it seems to fit, I might send my writing out for verification to others who were there, or cross reference it with other writing. That could be my older writing. It could be the correspondance I’ve kept for nearly twenty years in the boxes under my bed (from back in the day when people used to write letters to each other). Writing about the glimpses I retained from my childhood and cross referencing them with letters, is how I came to realise that my childhood was abusive. It explained a lot about why I later got into an abusive relationship, although I had to write about that relationship in order to realise it.

So my articles and my books are an archive. They are me. They are where I store my past, because my head does not. They are fragments of memory, evidence, hearsay, metaphor and reconstruction. They help me remember and learn from the past. Without my memory, I would wander this earth mindless, selfless and timeless. But I also suspect given the ever growing number of mindless incidents, that not too far in the distant future this will happen on a more permanent basis; after all there are plenty of studies which document the link between anxiety and dementia. And if it does–hopefully after a period of living in ignorance I hope will be blissful–I will be reading my own memoirs to remind myself of who I once loved and who I once was.