Before I came on the Dr. Phil show, I never talked about my amnesia. Trust me, talk about amnesia, and you lose eye contact and stop conversations cold. People think you’re looking for pity, psychological help or nutritional advice.
I was invited as a guest on the Dr. Phil show to talk to a man suffering from amnesia. My job was to give him advice, since I’ve been able to keep a positive attitude of acceptance surrounding my medical issues. During my show, Dr. Phil suggested I talk about my amnesia story with friends. After all, it was a major part of my life. He offered me treatment at the PNP Center in Lewisville, Texas, with the possibility that new treatments could open pathways to my brain in the areas of my visual memory and amnesia.
Really, free treatment? I jumped at the chance and went about a month later.
Dr. Lawlis and Dr. Peavey did brain mapping, memory testing, hyperbaric chamber sessions, sensory treatments, biofeedback breathing techniques and other therapies.
In the end, the doctors gave me a look at my brain map. I was shown centers that were working too hard, and centers that weren’t working at all. I learned how to use my senses to connect parts of my brain, and also was given a BAUD noise machine, which increased brain activity in the zones of my brain that were inactive.
They also gave me tips on dealing with the visual memory: ‘Let’s believe that you’ll remember things you need to remember.’ Several techniques they recommended for my continued homework included taking piano lessons, so I might tap into some of the piano skills from my childhood, work on drumming, use an Em-Wave machine, continue breathing exercises, and to remember the importance of optimism in healing.
That old adage, ‘Two steps forward, one step backward’ held true for me, as often happens when healing is occurring. Unfortunately, my sense of taste disappeared during my treatments, perhaps because my interesting brain wasn’t used to spinning quite so fast. All food became bland, tasteless. I’ve learned to find enjoyment in the smells and textures of food. Now I crave Indian food for the smell of the curry and the texture of the saag. I’ve just started regaining the sense of sour, and bitter seems to be on its way back. What this means is that I can eat a key lime pie, but all I taste is the intense lime flavor. Hey, it’s a start, a beautiful citrus start.
I did have a new memory emerge from my visit, which is a major gem in my life. Imagine going from having only two memories from the first 19 years of your life to having three memories. That’s a gift more valuable than I could ever express.
“I can now remember riding my bicycle on the dead-end road in front of my parent’s house when I was about 7 years old. This memory came with a feeling, my first memory feeling: freedom. Riding the bike brought a sense of freedom. I’ve always wondered how I felt as a child, and I’ve been given this beautiful glimpse. For at least one moment while riding my bicycle, I felt as free as an adult driving a car. It’s a beautiful, cherished memory.
After I went on the show to talk about my amnesia, several friends confided their own experiences with amnesia. One had a car accident; the other two had medical complications from surgery that left them without memory for days at a time. Dr. Phil was right, discussing my amnesia with my friends helped them talk about their own stories.
Most people don’t understand how haunting having amnesia can be: it’s not like waking in a different room when sleep-walking, or forgetting events from your birthday party last year. It’s more like you woke up this morning, only to find many years had passed, but not like the fictional Rip Van Winkle who slept for 40 years. When you’re suffering from amnesia, you’ve lived a rich life, but at most can only remember occasional, if any, patches.
My mom says that as a child I had a leather alligator, and as a teen I was accomplished at karate. Really? These stories feel more like a deliberate brain-washing conspiracy than my truth. I had a life-sized leather alligator as a kid? Are you sure? I don’t particularly like alligators now. Alligators and karate? Was I bullied, trying to find symbols of security? Did I want to defend myself against five playful siblings? Was I drawn to the community of karate, the uniform, the spirituality or something else? Where does someone buy a leather alligator, anyway?
If you, dear reader, want a fraction of a feeling of what it’s like to have my specific brand of amnesia, let me tell you that you were accomplished at karate and that you, too, had a pet alligator as a child. Don’t you remember? Please, try to remember. What do these memories feel like in your body? Please describe the feeling. Stop saying nothing. It must feel like something. These memories are inside of you. Connect to them. Why aren’t you trying to remember? OK. I feel I must say there may be a psychological reason you are blocking these memories. What do you think of when I say alligator? Food? OK, never mind that you ate grilled alligator last year and loved it. Forget that memory. Try to remember your childhood. Try, right now. Remember that alligator. Feel it in your body. Imagine what color the memory is. Nothing? There must be a color, something. Try harder. Why aren’t you trying? Why are you telling me to stop, don’t you want to remember? You might tell me to stop, but know that you’re going to spend the next 25 years wondering about the alligator-karate connection to your childhood and also know it was only one very small part of who you were. We’ll talk about some other memories that other people have of your life the next time we get together.
Thank you, Dr. Phil, for taking an interest in my case. I am so lucky to have received your suggestions and the treatment. I’m glad you suggested I start talking about my amnesia, and I appreciate having the chance to write about it. I have no visual memory yet. I have complete and total amnesia before the age of 19. Well, except for these three beautiful memories that I bask in from time to time.
When it comes to those living with amnesia, I can only offer my own advice that I still follow: