Bipolar [bp] Magazine: Bipolar Disorder & Missing Memories: I Did What?

Once, outside of a Taco Bell, I offered a homeless man my bank account information when all he wanted was a burrito. I only know this because my mother was a witness and happened to mention it to me months later. She assumed I would remember it. I didn’t. In fact, there’s a lot I don’t remember from the land of mania, on account of mania.

When I returned home from the hospital after my first manic episode, I found a whole host of my favorite belongings missing. Jewelry, an adorable Hello Kitty alarm clock, paintings, and more—all gone. Turns out, I had given them away. Apparently, I was determined to live a Gandhiesque life, free from “stuff.” While I recognize the wisdom there, I also miss my earrings and alarm clock. With all due respect to the Mahatma, I’m not cut out to live like him. I enjoy hot showers, spa treatments, and nice hotels far too much for that.

Of course, it’s common to engage in out-of-character behaviors while manic. I accept that. However, it’s much more difficult for me to accept the fact that I have absolutely no recollection of performing so many of these actions. I suspect there’s a lot more I don’t remember from that time period, as even five years later, I keep learning new things. I can’t tell you how many times my husband has said to me: “Do you remember when …” and I don’t.

It’s as though someone has stolen my memories, and I don’t like the idea that such a thing is even possible. Memories aren’t like alarm clocks or artwork—you can’t just replace them.

Coping with the reality of losing so much time and having done so many things (often highly embarrassing things) of which I have zero recall hasn’t been easy for me. I recognize that myamnesia may well be my mind’s way of protecting me from myself, from reliving painful events, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Getting robbed will make anyone feel violated. It doesn’t matter if the thief is doing it for the victim’s own good. It’s still a violation.

In my case, and in the case of many others who experience similar amnesia as a result of maniaand psychosis—where perpetrator and victim are one and the same— coping can seem downright impossible. It’s as if every time I feel like I have the whole story down, I learn something new.

There’s a lot I don’t remember from the land of mania, on account of mania.

It took me years to even begin to cope with this loss, and I still can’t say I’ve gotten over it. I’m not sure I ever will. But I am beginning to accept it. Gandhi said, “Nobody can hurt me unless I give them permission.” I’m not sure I fully believe him here, but once again, I do appreciate the wisdom. Likewise I appreciate the beauty behind such an idea, as well as the value in striving to realize it.

So I’ve tried to give my mind less permission to hurt me, and in doing so, more permission to heal. In effect, I’ve tried to be gentle with my mind, to treat it not as a cold hard criminal, but rather as a contrite, small-time offender with good (albeit misguided) intentions who is capable of rehabilitation.

Furthermore, I’ve reassessed the role and value of memory. Is it disconcerting to forget some of my most unusual and ill-advised actions to date? Of course. Is my life significantly less fulfilling or less meaningful as a result of having forgotten so many of the strange things I did while in the grips of mania and psychosis? No.

My parents haven’t disowned me. My husband hasn’t left me. In fact, despite remembering what they do and what I don’t about the most traumatizing and humiliating era of my life, they still love me.

Conscious of it or not, I never did anything unforgivable in their eyes.

So taking a cue from my family, I’m attempting to forgive my mind for stealing my memories and to show it some compassion and gratitude for trying to spare me the pain that comes with remembering. It hasn’t been easy by any stretch, but it has drastically restricted my mind’s ability to hurt me, and thereby helped me cope with—and at times even appreciate— forgetting.