Thursday, 12 March 2015

My Working Memory has Retired Without a Pension

What was I saying?  Oh yes, this is a post about memory, maxi skirts, spoken word performance and resting bitch face. 

One of the symptoms of ME is that there are cognitive troubles, and they involve memory.   Short term memory loss is often something the elderly experience and it an creep up on us, so those of us over forty experience it at times.  It's that moment of going blank on what you were about to do next that is usually well assisted by retracing your steps.  Why did I just walk into this room?  I can't remember but if I go back to where I just came from I probably will remember.  With ME, my short term memory troubles flare up at times and recede.  I am not constantly afflicted so much as frequently and in varying degrees.  It makes writing difficult because as quickly as sentences form in my head I lose them. It makes reading difficult because I cannot take in and retain what I have just read.  It sometimes makes speaking difficult for the same reason.  It makes seemingly simply tasks such as following procedures and steps, filling out forms, nearly impossible at times.  It makes reading something new and responding to it an arduous task. 

Given that I so frequently cannot really remember what I just read or what I was going to say, watching the ideas move steadily away from me like a news crawler and I am unable to hold onto them, I am sometimes amazed that I made it through school.  Having such a cognitive dysfunction requires making an extra effort but in making that extra effort I wore myself out frequently.   Even when I was not actually in a relapse, when I was physically active and seemingly healthy, I was constantly fighting an inexplicable and persistent fatigue and what felt like brain fog.  I had no diagnosis at the time, and perhaps there is something that came from not knowing: I did not give up.  I persisted.  The downside of not knowing was frequently exhausting myself and feeling stupid.  However the rest of the world may define me, I defined myself by my intelligence, whatever degree I had of it, and could not imagine a life in which I did not pursue my academic interests, in which I did not read, think about and discuss what I had read.  Sometimes I would like to pat myself on the back for having achieved what I did with this handicap working against me though it is often tempting to think, could I be smarter if I did not have this disease?  Is the 'real' me smarter?

Certain forms of writer's block are familiar to me.  I have seen students sit in front of a blank piece of paper, knowing that they are tasked with writing something but finding themselves with no ideas forming.   I have read of novelists struggling and agonising over each word or phrase or sentence, re-writing just the smallest parts over and over until they achieve that aesthetic perfection they are seeking.  What I experience myself, no matter what I may be writing, whether it is a grocery list, a blog comment, my own fiction or an essay, is knowing what I want to say, having pleasing sentences forming in my head but then in the time it takes me to pick up a pen or type three words I lose it all.  I see them going, my words on the bus pulling away from the curb as I run from a block away, trying to catch up and already knowing the futility of my efforts, watching my vanishing words wave at me from the back window of the bus.

It is much easier for me to write about my own opinions and experiences, the thoughts I have formed and held and stored in my long term memory so this is what I do.  It is easier for me to type than to use my handwriting, although a pen, notebook and my own cursive appeals to me more.  With writing I have to remember how to form the letters and the words and that remembering interferes with finding the ideas I want to write about and forming the sentences to express them.  With typing I have only to let my fingers automatically hit the right keys so long as I can remember how to spell the words.  The spelling of the words is in my long term memory as is how to hit the right keys with the right fingers.  The ideas are in my long term memory also most of the time so all I have to do is apply my working memory to arranging them into sentences.  I am fascinated by neuroscience, psychology and the brain in general so I study my own.  It is the most ethical way to proceed.  I read much on the subject as well but as I have just explained, I have enormous difficulty taking it in and retaining it.  When people suggest that learning something only takes motivation I get as frustrated as I do when they suggest graded exercise is the cure for ME.  Motivation and interest abound in me for a variety of topics which I struggle to learn about.  Interest is definitely what keeps me going, but my acquired knowledge won't earn me any degrees, despite my having a library that makes it look like I should have several of them.


Fortunately I don't require a highly functioning working memory in order to get dressed. I am off to see a spoken word performance by Ivan Coyote and Sheila is picking me up.  Warm, comfortable and blue seems like a good idea today.  Leggings under a jersey maxi-skirt do the job.  I look pissed off, but am just tired.  My resting bitch face is so in need of rest the door frame is holding it up.

                                  Ivan Coyote:  Dear Younger Self

The term working memory was coined by Baddely and Hitch in 1974 and is now used as a synonym for short term memory.  What differences there are between the two depends on what source you read but my reading has lead me to conclude that the term working memory is a replacement for the term short term memory, along with a better understanding of the actual process.  Short term memory is an expression still popularly used by many lay people so the existence of two terms for essentially the same thing can be a bit confusing.  The link above goes to a great site for anyone interested in this subject and who thinks psychology textbooks fascinating reading.  Surely I am not the only one.


  1. I love reading about psychology, but sometimes I overanalyze myself…there are days when reading is a struggle for me,no matter how much I usually enjoy it...and writing almost always is...sometimes it is hard to out a line between what we are and what we suffer from because suffering determines us…perhaps without health problems I would be less driven,but what I would not give for a day without the constant pain!

  2. Darling Shawna. You're not apparently showing RBF from my spot here in the cheap seats, and I'm not reading your expression as tired. You may well be pooped, but mostly you just look soulful. And like a deeply poetic lady. Very PreRaphaelite, in fact. I think your skirt and sweater are perfectly suited to a spoken word performance ... very elegant and nerdy-intellectual. It's pretty on you, as well!
    I see why painting is such a great experience for you. Watercolors are nothing if not immediate. Thanks for writing more about your experience with ME. No expert like someone who knows a condition first hand.
    Happy to see your face, lady!

  3. This makes me laugh. I just learned the RBF thing this week from a young co-worker. How did I miss that? I think I have it a lot, accidentally though.
    I hope you enjoyed the spoken word outing. I'm always inspired going to things like that.

  4. ha - i would feel blessed if i could write such text!
    you have very high expectations for yourself. for your intellect and for your looks. but let me say - you are not as bad as you believe. your writing, posting and commenting proofs this every time. and who says one have to grin in every pic like the cheshire cat??? be kind to you - in words too. words work.
    your pretty skirt reminds me on a common folk art here - printing with wax on linen and then dying it with indigo - the process is like magic and the resulting fabric is very beautiful!
    hope you had fun with sheila at the performance! and that they offered you a seat there :-) xxxxxxx

  5. You look elegant and cool in your maxi skirt and over the shoulder bag, hope you had a great night out.
    I've just spent an hour in Dad's dementia unit trying to coax him out of the linen cupboard while a lady in a nightdress clutching a teddy bear stroked me exclaiming "What a whopper", that's enough psychology for one day. x

  6. Well you are a whopper! Watching our loved ones suffer dementia can be so heartbreaking and I am sure it is so emotionally draining for you. I hope your Dad has good care where he is. xoxo

  7. Once again my friend we coincide. I find myself scrolling back and forth trying to remember the post I've just read so I can comment to the point ( there is a word there I've had to work around because I can't remember it)! I differ in that I seem to be losing my spelling ability which has never been a difficulty for me. If there are two words that sound the same with different spellings (another word there) I have to sit and think which spelling is correct. Sometimes I worry I might have serious issues. But mostly I've always been this way. If I'm too overloaded the words can be heard individually, but no sense made of them!
    RBF is such a great older lady term. Not sure you're there yet, but you certainly have the guts it suggests, heading out to a performance when so tired.
    So jealous, love Ivan Coyote, and S. Bear Burgman! Bear's writing helped me gain a greater sense of myself and gave me guts to start being more out...again.
    Love you! Jazzy Jack

  8. You found a good spot in your apartment for photography - the light is good, and the warm colors of the walls make a nice background to your cool colored outfits. And it just looks interesting and three dimensional - not flat. Inviting. Beautiful skirt, Shawna, and blue suits you! I'm glad that you went out and had some fun!

    Much love xxxxx

  9. You look long and lean and lovely in your blue ensemble, Shawna. I hope you enjoyed your evening out.
    Memory is such a huge part of our identity, isn't it? And when it doesn't function well, it hits hard. I used to pride myself on my organisational skills, based on excellent short term memory, and those skills are definitely fading. I'm just hoping there is some compensation going on, and I'm somehow getting wiser, or funnier, or cooler instead! xxx

  10. Speaking of memory, I don't remember have I answered to your comment on my blog...yes, both the jeans and the coat I have decorated (painted) on with textile's something I do quite often and it is quite possible that at some time in the future almost all of my clothes will be transformed into canvases...after all, clothes are much cheaper than a regular canvas and I'm running out of walls to hang my paintings on. The price of textile paints is somewhat lower than the oil ones so that's another factor:)

    In the past, many of my paintings ended up in the trash because I had to clear space so this might not be a bad solution at all:)

    I really do like your outfit...the brown shoes and tiny bag...and that lovely maxi. I always loved maxi feminine and so comfy.

    I hope you have a lovely day!

  11. You look wonderful Shawna - I rather like RBF, it's a 'take no crap' look, one of my favourites :-) - I hope you had a great night!
    Memory is important, we have our lives in there, I know I find it incredibly frustrating if I can't remember things. For the record, I think you are super smart x x x


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