One of my earliest post-accident memories is being told I had this thing called a ‘brain injury’. I’d never heard of a brain injury before, let alone knew anything about one. Sometimes I felt strange but other times I felt okay and occasionally, because I like to challenge authority, I would try and prove my consultant neuro-surgeon wrong by showing that there was nothing wrong with my brain by proving how good my memory was! My theory was this: in the days before mobile phones I would ring all my school mates on a Saturday morning, I knew all their phone numbers off by heart then and I could still recall them 10 years later! There was further proof with F878 DVF and L679 CRJ, they were the number plates of the cars my parents had when I was at school – now that is going back 15 years! How could I know such things from so long ago if I had a brain injury so severe that I had to stay in hospital? I was fine and they should let me go home!
I was of course at the time thinking with a brain fresh out of a massive shock! And it turns out that memory is a lot more of a complex subject than I first thought. Through my time spent being a client as well as doing voluntary work at The Brain And Spinal Injury Center in Salford (BASIC) over the last 18 months, I have had the opportunity to talk with many of the brain-injured clients there and this is something that both myself and the majority of the clients agree on. That is that they could remember things in their childhood far better than that they could remember what they had done earlier this week. In fact if they were to write an autobiography, then the section before their brain injury would be a heck of a lot longer than the section on their life afterwards. I say I would easily have enough content to fill a book on pre 2007 yet struggle to fill a pamphlet on life after, despite the years after potentially making the more interesting story (my accident was in May 2007). The difference is that those memories that are seemingly so plentiful are in the long-term memory and they were memories that were made when our brains were perfectly healthy. The memories since have been made with a damaged brain. Let me explain:
To remember anything you must first transfer it from your short term (memory that lasts just seconds) to your long-term memory (memory that can last forever). Short term memories are like feathers, what I mean is they can be in your mind one second but easily blown away (or forgotten) the next. To stay in the mind they need to be pinned down with something like an emotion to stop them floating away. For example Anton is unlikely to remember running a mile especially as running is a regular humdrum activity for him. However if that memory is tagged with the emotion of fear, for example, fear of being chased by an axe murderer then the Anton will remember that. (Unless of course axe murderers are a regular feature in his life!) For anyone who liked the smartphone analogy from my first blog then here’s another:
For you to remember any piece of information for longer than a couple of minutes you have to transfer it to your Long Term Memory. To transfer a piece of information to your Long Term Memory requires concentration! It requires that you pay attention to that piece of information when you are told it or when you read it. Think of transferring information in your memory like fixing post-it notes to your fridge using magnets where the fridge is your long term memory and the strength of the magnet is the strength of your concentration. If you have a child named Charlie who needs picking up from his after school homework club at 6pm then you might leave a note stuck to the fridge for your other half to read when they get home from work. The note reads ‘PICK CHARLIE UP FROM AFTER SCHOOL CLUB AT 6pm!’. Now if you stick that to the fridge using an expensive good quality really powerful magnet then the note will stay fixed to the fridge, your other half comes home and sees it, Charlie gets picked up at 6 and everybody is happy! WooHoo! However! If you write a note and stick it to the fridge with a really low quality weak magnet that you bought in a pack of 20 from the pound shop, then the magnet may not stick, the note falls, nobody reads it and Charlie is still stood outside school at 7pm! So before the brain injury, you used to buy good quality magnets and afterwards you buy your fridge magnets from the pound shop! (kind of!)
That is like concentration where strength of concentration is strength of magnetism. Let me give you an example if you are watching a documentary about Henry 8th and you are concentrating on what is being said in the program the whole way through then there is a much better chance of you remembering the facts when it comes up in the history round of the pub quiz a week later. If however when you are watching the program there are others in the room talking loudly (most probably women! Haha) then there is a good chance that you are not able to concentrate. Your mind was occupied and you weren’t concentrating on the part about Anne Boleyn, you cant remember whether Anne was divorced, beheaded or she survived. You put the wrong answer and miss out on the pub grand quiz prize of a years supply of lager! Instead you win nothing and have to spend the rest of the year begrudgingly paying at the bar!
Even now (but especially back then) I don’t take information in the first time that is explained to me or that I read it. These days (almost 8 years post TBI) I follow what I call ‘The Rule Of Three’. Take a page in a book, I read it Once and think – what the hell was that about? Read it Twice and find that I understand a bit but not all of it. Then after the Third time I’m left thinking ‘why didn’t I understand that in the first place?!’ That happens every time! I just have to put more effort in to get things to transfer into my long term memory. If you like, I have to use 3 of the cheap magnets I now use to stick the info to my fridge (memory). If there’s other stimulus in the room then its just not happening. Often after a brain injury there is not a problem with the survivor’s intelligence, but more specifically their ability to transfer information to their long term memory or their ability to access their knowledge.
Thanks again for reading folks and as they say on TV, if you’ve been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this blog then please let me know by commenting. Look forward to reading them!