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I Feel Like I Don’t Have Memories

Retrieving my experiences is extremely difficult for me.

created by author using Midjourney

Originally published here at Medium

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[Trigger Warning: Discussion of self-harm]

I know I’ve done a lot of cool things in my past. I’ve done presentations, written amazing papers, gone through West Point, jumped off a 6 meter diving board three times, done the slide for life, been a special education assistant, gone abroad, and a million other things. The problem is, I know I’ve done these things, but I can’t remember them clearly, if at all. I’m currently reading The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk (M.D.). He talks a lot about how the body holds trauma even when we don’t mentally keep it present. It makes me wonder, is my faulty memory a result of trauma? Namely, the trauma of having undiagnosed bipolar disorder for twenty-two years? I know I’ve struggled with my mental health forever. As a child, I would punish myself for doing something wrong by beating my head into a wall. As a middle-schooler, I started by burning myself. I progressed to cutting until suddenly, in junior year, I just didn’t need to anymore. I was mentally stable when I went into West Point. I was reviewed by a psychiatrist during my Cadet Basic Training (CBT) to make sure of it. That all went down the drain as soon as CBT was over. I started cutting again my first semester at West Point, and I didn’t stop until my return from Ukraine in March of 2018. My self-harm got the worst while I was abroad. I have pictures of the wounds, freshly carved, on my phone. I look at them from time to time and wonder how I could have done that to myself. Side note — I’m working on a tattoo with my favorite (and only) artist to incorporate those scars into a crane tattoo based on one of my all-time favorite books, The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness. It’s a story about loving and understanding someone despite the things you know and don’t know about them. Highly recommend it. I do distinctly remember cutting myself. When I’m having bouts of depression, the urge to do it again is very strong because of the mental relief it brings. I wonder if my depression could be considered trauma? One thing mentioned in The Body Keeps The Score is that trauma survivors lack imagination (page 17, if you have the book). Their brains are trapped in reliving the past and can’t do anything else. Is that what’s happening to me? Except, instead of remembering a traumatic event over and over, I remember nothing at all? Another thing mentioned in The Body Keeps The Score is the difficulty people who live with trauma have in making new relationships (page 13). I know I have this trouble and I am so grateful to my partner for his understanding, compassion, and patience. I do wonder if there’s a point to bringing all this up. Will it help me? Will it help someone else? I know it matters because the past shapes us. But if I can’t remember the past, how can I determine how to forge my future? The road to recovery is a long one, but it’s worth it.

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