Since my very first days of life, I have had a very strong preoccupation with experiences of my past. In fact to this day I would only ever think about and live my life in the present moment and future around 5% of the time.
That is no exaggeration! Having always lived life like this, it doesn’t seem too unusual for me (that’s not to say that it is always easy for me emotionally). So if this was a more typical way of living life and I wasn’t constantly told that this is unusual, it would be possible to live in a way that feels very normal. Always bear in mind that normal doesn’t in any way mean stress free 100% of the time! We all know that daily stress in equivalent ways for different people is indeed perfectly normal!
However going back to the opening topic of this particular blog I only realise how unusual it is to live almost completely in my past is when other people in my life express that to me. As soon as I could both speak in sentences and ask questions (on and around my third birthday) I would always discuss events with my mum that had happened months or years before. It was extremely unusual if I thought or spoke about the future or events in the present moment.
I would do this so often that mum would always query me about it, and I constantly heard the phrase “I don’t know Becky, it was a long time ago”. Yet despite that I still felt much more content to live in, ponder over and talk about my past. The unknown events of the future scared me to even think about, and the present moment just slipped by too quickly. Whereas the past was always known, familiar, unchangeable and full of lessons to learn from. As a three year old I was firmly aware of that, and there was a time when I was sat on my bed and replied to my mother “But one day right now will become a long time ago” when I was again told to talk about things of the “now” instead of the past.
As I grew older this way of living my life didn’t change. All through my school years fellow classmates and teachers asked the same questions that my mother did, and many even wondered about how my recollections went back so far into my earliest days. They were astounded in both positive and negative ways, depending on how each individual person thought of me overall.
Neither myself, my family, therapists or others who knew me had a very clear understanding as to why I was so intensely fixated on my past. We assumed that it was in relation to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, autism and general anxiety challenges. That assumption was relatable to some extent, yet there were still many unanswered questions.
Those unanswered questions about what exactly was wrong with me brought an even greater amount of anxiety. My self-esteem was extremely low, and I was very reluctant to talk about these inner concerns because I strongly felt that they would merely sound like self-pity.
Up until my early twenties I kept those feelings to myself, until my parents and I (at the time of writing this the 23rd of January, 2011 was exactly a decade ago) saw a 60 Minutes segment about a newly discovered and very rare condition called HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory). It’s a condition which makes a person unable to forget the vast majority of their past experiences, and they also have an unusually strong emotional connection to their recollections.
We strongly felt that I too had HSAM and my parents asked me if it would be okay for them to send an email to the neuropsychologists who were studying the six people featured on the news segment. After saying that they could, I strongly doubted that we would get a reply back. I knew that we would be one of millions of people calling in expressing how we felt that we (or someone we knew) had HSAM. We also live on the other side of the world to California, and in my mind those two things closed the case.
Two weeks later though I was very surprised to hear that the McGaugh lab were interested in giving me tests for HSAM after my mum’s description of my characteristics. Those tests and a brain scan led to a diagnosis a few years later.
Many people (especially at the very beginning) did question me about why it was so important to do all of those tests, and to get up in the middle of the night (in my timezone) to do all of those Zoom and Skype calls. Yet the main thing that was (and still is to this day) very important is that I’m learning so much about myself along the way, and that means that I have greater access to my own psychology. The work that I do helps me so much with understanding what I need to both know and do to reduce my daily anxiety. Less anxiety creates a much happier and healthier life. Also, just knowing the exact cause of my worries tends to ease a lot of the pain (when it comes to those recollections and/or concerns that are negative).
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