Friday, March 23, 2012

I Realize Now This Needs To Be Defined

If you have amnesia, how do you remember so much, all of a sudden? ~ Mike (commented on "Everything Happens for a Reason")
If you have "amnesia", how long did it take you to recall all these details? ~ Mike (same post, same person)

Same person, same question. I think it was rephrased to not come across as rude or hurtful (if that was the case, thank you. Very kind. If that wasn't the case, well thank you anyway because that's the way I choose to interpret it. I'm happier that way.)

I guess, based on the fact that someone needed to ask this question that amnesia needs to be defined.  I am left with the definite impression, due to this (these?) questions and other comments people have made to me, that some people are left with the impression that if you have amnesia, you have it forever. Also, people tend to believe you only "have amnesia" until you start to remember things again. Then you no longer have amnesia, even if you still have gaps in your memory, no matter how big. Well, those are incorrect assumptions. This is going to be a rather boring post, just warning all those who care to know.

First, I'm going to give you the Webster's Dictionary definition of amnesia:

1 : loss of memory due usually to brain injury, shock, fatigue, repression, or illness
2 : a gap in one's memory
3 : the selective overlooking or ignoring of events or acts that are not favorable or useful to one's purpose or position

I don't know if I agree with definition number three. That sounds more like denial than amnesia to me, but I'm not here to change the facts I find, just to honestly "report" them.

There are many types of amnesia, just as there are many types of cancer or diabetes. Just because you have amnesia doesn't mean you're going to fit into one category of "amnesiac". Also, definitions of amnesia are necessarily vague. It is a very personal illness. It effects everyone differently and recovery rates vary from case to case.  The two I was diagnosed with were the initial case of Dissociative Amnesia and Transient Global Amnesia.  

I think, when people think of amnesia, they think of something more episodic that you either "recover" from or you don't. There is really not much of an in between because you are missing a specific event. Once that event is remembered you have "gotten over" your amnesia.  This is usually directly related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This is not what I suffer from.

There are permanent types of amnesia. They aren't always permanent, but are the least likely to see recovery from the condition. These are Retrograde Amnesia (no recall of the past, occasionally reversible, caused by physical brain damage) and Anterograde Amnesia (poor short term memory, occasionally reversible, unable to form new long term memory or that ability severely damaged, also usually caused by physical brain damage.) Neither of these are something I suffer from.

The reason I give two distinct forms of amnesia is because this all started with the Dissociative Fugue. I dissociated from my personality and life and disappeared for several weeks. This type of amnesia is almost always a stress related episodic amnesia. The length of the fugue is a case by case issue. There is no set pattern to these incidents. Total amnesia after an episode like this is normal. The length of that lack of long term recall varies from patient to patient. Recovery is complete when the patient's personality reasserts itself.  I have "recovered" from this type of amnesia as of May of last year. The chances of an episode occurring again in a patient is no greater than it happening in an individual who has never had an episode, even less if the cause of the episode is identified and treated appropriately.

This leads directly into the second type of amnesia I was diagnosed with, Transient Global Amnesia. This is a total loss of long term memory, although other cognition (mental abilities and quite often personality) remains intact. Anterograde amnesia was initially present (those first few days in the hospital are way more than a little fuzzy), but that was a temporary side effect from the Dissociative Fugue. Confusion and anxiety often accompany the reversal of an episode like that in patients. TGA can last anywhere from a few hours to several years. "Recovery" can be sudden, gradual, or somewhere in between. Once recovered, re-occurance is very rare. Especially if it is caused by psychological factors that are identified and treated rather than physical factors that we as humans have no true control over.

In my case, my memories are coming back to me and have been coming back to me all year. However, they come in spurts. Many of them extremely overwhelming and difficult to process. It's like living several years of your life in a few days. Exhaustion is a natural extension of these recalls. I do feel that most of my memories have returned in the last five weeks. Still, I don't feel "recovered".

I put recovered in quotation marks because there is always more to recovery than memory recall. First, I always feel there is a lot I don't remember. I often wonder if I will always feel this way. Will I always wonder what I don't remember? Probably. Nobody remembers everything, and that's okay. In fact it's completely normal, but for me there is a fear of not remembering something due to continued amnesia rather than natural human tendencies. Recovery is not as simple as getting memories back anyway. Having had amnesia will always affect a person. People think, "Oh, she has her memory back. We're all good now. She needs to just move on with life as 'normal' and just not worry that this happened in the first place." That's okay. They need to move on with their lives. I, on the other hand, cannot walk away from the reality of what has happened to me anymore than someone who has "recovered" from cancer can just not worry about it ever again. You have to continue testing and treatments to be aware if issues start to arise again.

I hope this helps you all to understand. Just because I have amnesia doesn't mean that I don't remember anything. Just because I remember stuff doesn't mean I don't have amnesia. Recovery is gradual and painful, not quick and mostly painless, like pulling out a splinter to make the pressure go away. There is no black and white in this. There is no "Now she has amnesia" then "Memories starting to return, crisis over." It's ongoing and something I will never "no longer have" because I have to live with this for the rest of my life.

There. Defined.

No comments:

Post a Comment

GROUP HUG!!!! Friends make everything better.

GROUP HUG!!!! Friends make everything better.