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Drawing a Blank
June 12, 2012 4:51 PM   Subscribe

How much do you remember your teen years and, if not a lot, then when did you start to lose those memories?

There are big blanks in my recollection of my years growing up. I know that as you get older it is common to forget things but I've always struggled with this. A year out of high school and I would have people coming up to me to talk who I had no idea who they were. According to them we hung out at school and talked every day or went to parties together. To me they look vaguely familiar like the way I recognize my bank teller.

I'm 37 now and it is still happening but now people are telling me things I did in high school. Things like pushing people down stairs and hitting them on a regular basis. People that I consider good friends. They say that they just chalked it up to me being an angry teen and laughed it off. I have absolutely no memory of doing these things and only barely remember interactions with them.

How much memory loss is normal as you age? Is it normal to be missing years so soon as 1 year after?

No tough love please. I already feel horrible that apparently I was this mean angry person who hurt people and this worries me a lot.
posted by kanata to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not tough love™. I suspect you're dealing not so much with memory loss as with simple, garden-variety selective memory. Our autobiographies are almost always more storytelling than remembering. If some past episodes of your life are no longer part of your own narrative of who you are, you will rarely revisit them mentally and they will be eclipsed by the memories of other episodes that are a better fit with your own idea of who you are. It's rare to believe or remember being very different compared to who you are now. We usually think we've always been the same, even as our personalities and behavior change. So we tend to suppress memories of "out of character" behavior.

An example: I remember being a nice, caring, polite six-year-old. People tell me that I used to come up on adults from behind and bite them. Who's to say?
posted by Nomyte at 5:03 PM on June 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


You say you were angry. Do you think you might have been depressed? I have almost no memories from the years of my adolescence when I was most depressed.
posted by katemonster at 5:12 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm in my 40s and remember pretty much all of high school. I'm sure there are details I've forgotten, but I can orient myself in those years by thinking about certain occasions and mapping things from there.

Your inability to even really recognize people you knew well enough to hang out with a lot (assuming their recollections are accurate) a year afterward seems really non-typical to me. Is this how things work for you currently, as well? Like, if you had a good friend for several years who moved out of town a year ago, would you not remember being friends or doing stuff with them if you ran into them in the street tomorrow? Because if so, I might see a doctor about that.
posted by rtha at 5:20 PM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I remember a lot from my high school years. But I also do not remember a lot. I realized how much I remembered and how much I forgot when a friend from high school contacted me via facebook. She had found most of our class and was linking us up via facebook. I was surprised how many people I did not remember, remembered me. I was also surprised how the memories returned.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 5:24 PM on June 12, 2012


I'm your age. I remember how I felt more than specific things that actually happened. I can't remember that Cathy puked at Bob's party or that Jim slept with Sarah. I don't remember my (high school) graduation day at all. I remember spending a lot of time with a few specific people, but I couldn't tell you all that much about what we did together. I did keep a journal (that I still have) and I think that made a big difference in cementing various people's relationships to me in my mind.

I'm memorable to other people because I have a very visible birth defect. I usually don't remember them when they approach me. Remember, everyone's 20 years older and has gained weight and changed their hair. Do you have something "different" about you that would make you stand out in someone's memory - you're very tall, bright red hair, etc?

About the anger - was your home life abusive? I can see how you could selectively block that out.
posted by desjardins at 5:30 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whenever I have a super intense episode in my life that causes me to obsessively think about something (a passionate love affair I had in college, for example, or the traumatic landlord drama I had that set off my depression in 2010), I find that it's much more difficult for me to access relatively distant memories.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:39 PM on June 12, 2012


Not tough love™ but not quite sure how to say it...

There are big blanks in my recollection of my years growing up. I know that as you get older it is common to forget things but I've always struggled with this.

Have you always struggled with it, or do you just think you have? (This is the beginning ;) )

A year out of high school and I would have people coming up to me to talk who I had no idea who they were.

Your current memory of 17 years ago is that people from the years prior would come up to you, remembering who you were. (That's a lot of memory going on)

According to them we hung out at school and talked every day or went to parties together. To me they look vaguely familiar like the way I recognize my bank teller.

Again, according to your 17 year old memory, remembering between one and five years after some random occurrence, they remembered something better than you. (Any possibility that memories aren't entirely accurate? If so, what would be result of multiplying inaccurate memories together?)

I'm 37 now and it is still happening but now people are telling me things I did in high school. Things like pushing people down stairs and hitting them on a regular basis.

So they have a memory of you that is different from your memory of you. It's a tricky subject. If you want to play a cruel joke on someone, get a group of people to demand they stop denying something that never happened. They will start doubting their very sanity itself as it shakes the confidence to not remember something that seems quite important.

People that I consider good friends. They say that they just chalked it up to me being an angry teen and laughed it off. I have absolutely no memory of doing these things and only barely remember interactions with them.

A further problem is that you are looking back through your memory with the value system that you have now. You might assume you would remember doing these things, however you do not. I would propose there are two processes going on, which if you accept, will put your mind at ease.

The first is that your memory is minimising these interactions and occurrences. If you can remember other things from the same time – significant events – with clarity and connection, but not these events, one possibility is that they simply weren't that important to you.

The second thing is that if you were an angry kid who bashed people around a bit, chances are they will remember it in greater detail and clarity, for it made sense to remember, as, after all, you were a threat in some ways.

If you were angry, you were angry about something. Chances are your mind was on whatever you were angry about, rather than who you were knocking out of the way.

The real test will be if all your memories from that time are blank. If you literally can't remember a thing. But if you can remember heaps of things except that? I wouldn't worry.

More likely you sound a bit embarrassed by that behaviour, and if you can't remember it, than you can neither justify nor deny it. Thus when your mate says "remember when you used to bash me around?", the best you can say is "no". Which may seem callous, but that is your 37 year old value system processing it.

Two other things about memory briefly.

The first is how memory actually works. When you store something in the memory, you story different bits and pieces of it. Unless you are super duper, you don't store an image, rather you store different elements that are reassembled later. This is for efficiency as many elements will be reused. It makes little sense to store the colour brown each time you see it. Thus, you have a memory of brown, and then other concepts link to that. A brown chocolate bar you ate once. A brown car you once saw sitting outside someone's house. Those memory elements then in turn link into other memory elements.

Thus, when you recall memories, you are not recalling the exact image of the memory, rather you are reconstructing it for various bits that were stored at the time.

You can recall things by following the chains; literally revisiting them in your mind. If you wanted to remember the name of someone tangentially in your social circle but you can't. Close your eyes and start thinking of all the people that you can remember. Think about them in all the detail possible. Strengthen those memories, and you will start to strengthen the memories associated with those memories. If you really want to go back to that time, spend some time in meditation focusing on bringing those elements up, and finding them.

Also, memory is shared. This is one of the reasons breakups are so difficult, because you're losing your memories. And memory is key to self identity, thus when you lose your memories, your losing yourself.

Thankfully, you have people around who can be physically present with you and recreate those memories with you. If you're keen, sit with them and actively seek out the memories. Do it as lovers would describe the time they met. What the details looked like, what the temperature of the air was, etc.

The second point is that sometimes, it's not a good idea to remember things.

@Katemonster really hit it with her comment. If memory is part of identity, then in order to change identity, you must change memory. It's actually a growing problem in society, as we were not designed to remember so much – to be so accountable for our pasts. Too much memory in essence locks us into an identity.

If you had the choice of either remembering every good thing that ever happened to you, or every bad thing that happened to you, which would it be? Because that will determine your experience moving forward. Perhaps in some way, the fact that you cannot remember these interactions indicates that you're not supposed to. It's not helpful for you to remember them. You are no longer that angry aggressive person they remember.

As mentioned about the fragments that make up memories, emotions present are a key part. If at the time, you felt frustrated and angry, yet today you rarely feel frustrated or angry, you may well have lost access to that set of memories as they don't serve you.

Further, memory is like a muscle. Memories you exercise are more easily accessible; memories you don't exercise are less easily accessible. Because, like everything else in the body, if you don't use it, there's no reason to feed it.

On a side note, this is one of the roots of depression, a focus on bad memories. As the brain reinforces bad memories over and over and over again, they become so strong, they dominant the entire lens. One of the best coping strategies for depression is to keep pushing forward and making new memories to eventually displace these old memories.

So, no, you're not supposed to remember everything. The fact that you can't remember these things is a sign either 1) that it wasn't that important to you as you are a different person now, or 2) it's better if you don't.

How much memory loss is normal as you age? Is it normal to be missing years so soon as 1 year after?

You only remember not remembering those years. And you're currently concerned about your memory, so what are you going to focus on remembering? What you did not remember. If you focus on everything that you do remember, chances are there will be much more evidence in that direction.

No tough love please. I already feel horrible that apparently I was this mean angry person who hurt people and this worries me a lot.

The short answer is to just apologise to yourself to the person you were at a previous point in time. You didn't kill anyone. It's okay that you were a different person before. You have learned and grown and you wouldn't make the same choices now. It's not a matter of memory really, but of coming to peace with who you are.

As mentioned if you really want to remember, you probably can dredge up some things if you focus on them. But the fact that you can't, maybe you weren't meant to, yeah?
posted by nickrussell at 5:41 PM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Emotion modulates memory storage and retrieval - I'm not a very emotional person (not depressed - within "normal" human variation) and I have some of the same issues. Not quite as bad as you, apparently, but it's very easy for autobiographical things (as opposed to facts or skills) to slide out of my memory because I just don't attach any particularly strong emotion to the events.

Depression can make this even worse, as someone mentioned above.
posted by clerestory at 5:48 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hmm..lot to think about. I was very depressed at the time (still am) and my home life was less than great. I'm not sure if that plays into memory loss or not.

I understand that people would see me differently than myself and I get that if I did these horrible things to them they would remember me. I remember those who hurt me. So I sort of understand what you are saying nickrussell. I don't get that how in college I could completely forget and not recognize someone I was apparently friends with just a year before. But I guess just don't worry about it?

It just makes me worry about what else I did during times I blocked out. I literally can't remember a thing from 16 but I mean, I know I existed as I have a driver's licence and I went to college so I assume I graduated.

This happens a bit with periods after that. A good friend could move away and then if I ran into them 1-2 years later I would recgonize them as my friend but not really recall things we did together. Friends have commented on that. Like at a bridal shower I went to last year where everyone stood up and said how they met the bride and I said I had just met her that year but she told me we met in school and had talked every day and rode the bus together. Is that normal?

I guess the question boils down to how much memory loss is abnormal and if I should just forget it.
posted by kanata at 5:59 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like at a bridal shower I went to last year where everyone stood up and said how they met the bride and I said I had just met her that year but she told me we met in school and had talked every day and rode the bus together. Is that normal?

I am really not a doctor at all, but no, that doesn't sound typical.
posted by rtha at 6:01 PM on June 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Some people peak in high school, cherishing every day, every memory. These people set up Facebook groups and try to get the gang back together.

For others, it was just a boring journey from one place to another, fraught with occasional peril and minor annoyances, and a single peak once a year or so. Especially if other circumstances were taking precedence.

What you might have thought of as normal horseplay can easily be interpreted by others as bullying or psychopathic behavior - it's all a matter of degrees. People either lighten up, toughen up or lawyer up. Or they retaliate years later by telling you you were a horrible person, when in fact you actually were not. Take no heed of that crap. It's their interpretation, not bona fide fact, and they need to work on letting go of it, not you. If it had been that big a deal, the time to deal with it was then, not now. That was just vengeful, and not constructive in any way.

Think about teachers and how many you actually remember from the same time period. Some you can probably name, either because you liked/hated them or they were weird. The others just kind of fade into semi-oblivion. Multiply that by 30 or 35 people in every class, on the bus, or in the cafeteria and it's easy to see how it would all just kind of blur together, especially if you feel you were depressed.

They call it the "fog of depression" for a reason. The human coping mechanism is to block it all out. Talk to a doctor and see what they think.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:25 PM on June 12, 2012


See a doc just in case. I wonder if you might be dealing with some disassociation.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:44 PM on June 12, 2012


My mom died when I was seven and I have very few memories of my childhood, although in my case the fog lifts at around age 13-14 and I have a pretty fair memory of my teens (and I'm older than you are). This is purely anecdotal but I know of one other person through a friend who lost her mother at an similar age and also has memory loss surrounding that period. So my question is did something traumatic happen to you as a teen or pre-teen? You mention being depressed; maybe that's enough of a trauma to explain the memory loss. However since it concerns you, you might want to mention it to your doctor.
posted by kaybdc at 7:14 PM on June 12, 2012


Hmm..lot to think about. I was very depressed at the time (still am) and my home life was less than great. I'm not sure if that plays into memory loss or not.

It totally does. I was hospitalised for depression as a teen. I have excellent, almost film-like recollection of my growing up years, from the age of 3, but I remember virtually nothing of that year. For decades I was pissed at a friend for not ever visiting me while I was in the hospital, until she told me she had and reminded me she'd brought me a gift I did suddenly remember.

I woud see if you could get hold of a couple of yearbooks or flip through some FB photos and see if you are able to jog your own memory.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:19 PM on June 12, 2012


Just a data point but I'm 25, really enjoyed highschool, but barely remember huge chunks of it. Names of teachers, names of classmates. All my close friends I remember, but acquaintances, other well-known students...no clue. *shrug* I'm not too worried about it. Live in the moment and all that. Although I realized recently that I spend very little time thinking about my day and the things I've done/people I've met in a given day...and that probably contributes to how quickly things pass out of my memory.

(I should add that text memorization isn't a problem at all...I do that for my work regularly with no issue. I tend to immediately forget the text after I don't need it anymore, however)
posted by stray at 7:27 PM on June 12, 2012


People remember things different ways. I remember every tree in the city park near where I grew up. My sister who is five years older than I am is doubtful that she would recognize the park at all without wandering around and reading the names of the streets beside it. This is despite the fact that the park has a serpentine lake, a quaint bridge, a brick vespasienne, two cannons, a fountain, four waterfalls, an island, a playground, a library, tennis courts, a foot ball field and a dozen other landmarks that might stick in someone's memory. But my sister doesn't do visual memories. When she tried to picture a house where we had lived when she was in her late teens and early twenties the only thing she could retreive was the sensation of the dip in the sidewalk cause by the driveway at the side of the house.

Meanwhile, I never did manage to learn the names of the streets in our neighbourhood although I was an excessively literate kid. I know there was a Kitchener Avenue, but I'll be darned if I know which one it was, and at this instant that's the only street I can recall at all.

And yet, I've essentially completely lost a neighbourhood where I lived for four or five years while in my twenties. I never went back or thought about it for the next ten years and now I can't retrieve it. It was just a place I lived while I did other stuff. But I've thought about my park a ga-zillion times, and I dream about it sometimes, and about the streets in the neighbourhood, so I expect if I ever come down with dementia they will find me somewhere shuffling along in my slippers in the snow looking for the ornamental arched bridge so that I can play Pooh-sticks

My son, poor fellow, has told me that he also has the landscape of his earliest free roaming territory burned into his memory that he can never forget. In his case it's the landscape in Spyro that he played for hours learning to use is PlayStation...

What kind of memory do you have? Kinetic? Auditory? Social? What kind of culture do you come from? My small time Maritime husband has an extensive memory bank of geneology and will pore over his high school year book and can probably tell me what most of the people ended up doing. Meanwhile, I went to four or five different high schools and would have to work at remembering the names of the schools let alone the teachers I had classes with. I never saw or heard from any of them after I left any of those schools. He comes from a village. I come from a large comopolitain city.

Mind you, I do not remember names or faces well. I have a fair touch of face-blindness (prosopagnasia (sp?)). Beyond the embarrassing slip ups where I fail to recognize people I've seen many times, this means that I can more easily forget the face of someone I used to be able to reliably recognize. I am probably close to the end of the easily-forgets-people spectrum. If I worked with you ten or fifteen years ago I'm likely to have lost you entirely. If I remember you it will be because I used to seek you out for yourself, and not because you were assigned to the same team as me in the office Christmas decorating contest, or because we both got our lunch break at 12:30 and tended to hit the cafeteria at the same time so we sat together. On the other hand if I had a couple of interesting conversations with you and discovered that you had a DeviantArt account I probably will remember you.... once we start talking about DeviantArt again. Did you have any close friends while you were in high school? Was there anyone who you thought of as being your posse, any bonds that made you feel you had a tribe? Have you forgotten those tribe members, as opposed to forgetting that kid in physics who used to bum pencils off you?

A lot of teenagers are experiencing some major neurological growth. If your brain is frantically learning all the kinetic skills necessary to drive, for example, it can easily put other processing tasks on the back burner. If you are taking drugs, the same thing can happen. If you were sick or healing from any kind of trauma, the memory is likely to be suboptimal. How much sleep did you get in those days? If you were wandering around short on sleep and depressed and doing some drinking, and maybe in a state of misery, it's more than likely that your brain had a lot better things to do than to carefully file memories of every conversation you were forced to have because you had to be at school instead of where you needed to be, curled up in bed safely sleeping.

For some people high school is a wonderful time when suddenly every thing was rich and new and exciting, first love, first driving lesson, first time they had money and did things without parents. I am guessing that people who experienced high school that way will remember it better than somebody who wandered around with their nose in a book, jigged class whenever they could and never got up the nerve to speak to that kid they liked because they knew they weren't cool enough and were just trying to avoid being noticed.


Now, if part of the problem is that you didn't think you were a dick when you were in high school and now people are coming out and saying that they remember you as this prize dick, I would suggest that you accept it as quite likely true and let it go. If you were a dick, and many teenagers are, you probably had plenty of stuff going on to trigger that kind of behaviour, not to mention plenty of horrible examples modeling that behaviour for you. Let's say someone told you that you pushed this kid down the stairs on purpose and this kid got quite hurt and you could have killed him if he hadn't caught the railing. You don't remember this at all, and yet... it's not entirely implausible.

Here's the thing. If you didn't think at all before you shoved the kid you have almost nothing to link the memory to. And teenagers in stressful situations often do not think before they act. Someone crowds them and they punch or they push. Words blurt out without being rehearsed. Teenagers even can rehearse things - I won't do that- and then when someone crowds them and jeers -WHAM! They do it anyway.

So it is reasonable to accept that yes, you might have done some dickish things as a teenager that you don't remember now. In fact, it is probable that you did quite a few dickish things as a teenager that you don't remember now, because most of us did and unless you were a meek little rabbit, the odds are good that at times you were a complete lout.

Being ashamed of what you did as a teenager is like being ashamed of not being toilet trained before you were two. Developmentally normal things are no cause for guilt. What you can reasonably look at is where you are now and what you are doing now with the resources you have.

The kind of things that result in poor memory: being sick, hung over, depressed, short of sleep, afraid, short of breath, stressed, angry etc. also result in poor impulse control. They go together. That's another reason why I suggest that it is not something to worry about. You know that you were depressed. You may also have been this horrible mean person. But you mentioned that your friends laughed it off. If your old high school friends are telling you that you used to be jerk but they still love you, don't miss the fact that they are telling you that they still love you. I think you can rely on the fact that they saw you as more than just an angry impulsive teen and were friends with you then and are friends with you now.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:40 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am a few years older than you. I had some really rotten shit happen to me when I was in high school. I do remember the general stuff, but a lot of things are either a blur, or nearly entirely missing. I have had people add me on facebook in the last few years who apparently have a lot of memories of time we spent together, like we were friends in high school, . A few of them I don't remember at all, or just barely. I've always figured the trauma of the shit that was happening had messed with my memory of that time in general. I don't know if it's normal or not, but it has seemed like MY normal.
posted by upatree at 7:55 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not just that the OP doesn't remember stuff from high school. It's that presently, right now, the OP is not remembering things that happened recently. Not remembering that you've known the bride since school, and instead thinking you just met her this year? That seems atypical.
posted by rtha at 8:15 PM on June 12, 2012


My memory has always sucked. People, dates, places, conversations, movies, etc. I could watch a movie and not remember 90% of it 48 hours later. High school - I remember my friends but couldnt tell you any teachers or anything that happened except a few times I was beaten up.
I'm 32 now.
I had a doctor diagnose me with psuedo dementia once and the two doctors after that said it was most likely because of my life long depression and sleepiness (tested and diagnosed with narcolepsy at 25).
posted by KogeLiz at 8:47 PM on June 12, 2012


I remembered a lot about high school for a long time, and then at some point I turned a corner and much of it faded quite swiftly. Now I have a sort of snapshot memory of high school and even college. Intense flashes of very vivid clarity, a general idea of the atmosphere, but a lot of the stories are pretty blurry at this point.
posted by desuetude at 10:54 PM on June 12, 2012


I remember quite a bit about the people in one senior high school class...I was, and am, fond of nearly everyone in that class, and can name and picture most of them to this day. Other classes, not so much, and, interestingly, I couldn't really tell you which of my fondly remembered English compatriots I shared other classes with. What has stayed with me in an impression of that class, not too many specific incidents or word-for-word memories.

I go through my high school annuals once every couple of years, and am shocked with how few folks I can recall. We had about 1200 people in our high school, and senior year I knew every senior, at least half the juniors, and some of the sophomores by name, to say hi to or whatever. I doubt I can recall more than 50 by name, 30 years later.

(I changed schools a lot. Thinking about it, if I had to recall every classmate from K-12, we're talking about thousands of people.)

All that said, I have had similar experiences to you; shortly after high school I would be approached by someone saying "hey maxwelton, how's it going" and not, for the life of me, remembering who they were, despite apparently hanging out with them just a few years prior.

Memory is a weird beast, and while yours sounds a bit worse than many, if you can function on a day-to-day basis and it doesn't seem to be getting worse (ie, you now find you can't remember your office mates or current acquaintances), I'd just chalk it up to aging being a total shit.
posted by maxwelton at 1:26 AM on June 13, 2012


This happens a bit with periods after that. A good friend could move away and then if I ran into them 1-2 years later I would recgonize them as my friend but not really recall things we did together. Friends have commented on that. Like at a bridal shower I went to last year where everyone stood up and said how they met the bride and I said I had just met her that year but she told me we met in school and had talked every day and rode the bus together. Is that normal?
Hard to say if it's normal. I know people with razor-sharp memories, as well as people who seem not to remember anything. My own experience has been that memory is highly-selective. I can remember some things in incredible detail. For example, when I was in Shanghai in 2010 for the World Expo, and was sitting in a park by the river. I can remember every detail of the moment and vividly see it today. Bugs on leaves, the smell in the air, the graduations of haze across the river itself.

Yet, I ran into a business contact last week, someone who I have known for 5 years, at an event and literally did not recognise them. They came up and said hello, and I was completely bewildered as to who they were. They mentioned that they really liked my shirt, remembered I was wearing it a year ago, and how much they liked it, and the story behind it (the company was started by two mutual friends of ours). I was at a complete loss as to who this person was, despite the fact of having seen them quite often. Then, they mentioned a project they were working on that we had discussed at length and it all came back to me.

Point being, that everyone's memory works a bit differently. And also that memory is an active pursuit. The reason they could remember what I was wearing was because they took the time to make those memories. They use their memory very actively to remember specifics about people – they're in sales.

I tend to remember experiences – especially landscapes as mentioned. I could run you through a hundred landscapes seen over the past 20 years. Yet, I struggle to remember the details of significant others that I spent a year or three with.

Thus, everyone's memory is different. There is a known interaction between memory and depression in that people who are depressed tend to remember generalities more than specifics. If you have a google. Not sure of the mechanisms of action and whatnot.

My intuition (IANAD) is that if you are not remembering things, you may not be focusing on them. There are two facets to memory, formation and recall. As mentioned, if you can remember a lot of things in great detail but there are gaps and holes here and there, it's probably more to do with formation. In depression for example, people are distracted by themselves, paying constant attention to how they feel, what things mean – in essence endless scanning the environment for threats. Thus, they are paying more attention to their internal experience than to what is actually going on around them. In that case, they are forming less memories. Not sure if that applies to you, maybe it does, maybe not. If you think it does, perhaps it's something you want to explore with a professional.

Part of psychotherapy – of endlessly retracting the past – is to reassemble a full picture of what occurred, so that one may put to rest inaccurate beliefs. With children, they often feel responsible for things that they were not responsible for. Thus, guilt complexes. Through revisiting those situations over and over again, the goal is to assemble a real picture of what happened – and probably illustrate to the person that there is no way they could have caused the job loss of the parent or whatnot. They held that belief because they remembered it, yet their recall of that time was neither accurate nor complete.

You can certainly do memory exercises. I feel you, it's weird to not remember things, for then you do wonder what else you don't remember. And it can develop a fair amount of anxiety, for you start doubting your own faculties and organism. Perhaps writing a journal of what you do remember from high school. Nothing intense, just start with what you can remember. Don't force it, allow things to come naturally. Make it a sustained practice, and see if there's just a bit of cobweb going on.

If exercising the memory doesn't help, it is probably worth chatting with a professional about. Perhaps even a few sessions on the couch even. A friend of mine was stuck in a job, couldn't progress, didn't know why. All these things just seemed to keep happening to him. He went in to therapy to sort it out, and it turned out, he had a whole raft of repressed memories about his parents. Beliefs he had long held – that were indeed engrained – that simply were not true. They walked through a lot of his past life as I recall and it really changed his attitude completely. It was as if he was freed from something.

Apologies that there aren't better answers specifically for you here, but please take heed that everyone's memory and experience of memory is different. I would try exercising yours a bit and see where you get to. If it still concerns you after that, it can't do any harm to go speak to someone about it.
posted by nickrussell at 2:28 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm about the same age as you are, and don't recognize a Bunch of the people from high school who friended me on Facebook. I also kept a journal in high school, and in rereading them a few years ago I was Astounded by the way my mental history had changed events or entirely forgotten things that would seem Important. So while the depression may certainly be aggravating the problem, know that even the people who think they remember most of high school may be remembering things differently from how they happened.
posted by ldthomps at 7:34 AM on June 13, 2012


Maybe I'm weird, but with the exception of a lifelong poor memory for names (I'm pretty good with faces), I remember perhaps way too MUCH of my entire 56 years. Big events, small ones, and all the stuff inbetween, including some things I'd be *happy* to forget.
posted by easily confused at 7:51 AM on June 13, 2012


It just makes me worry about what else I did during times I blocked out. I literally can't remember a thing from 16 but I mean, I know I existed as I have a driver's licence and I went to college so I assume I graduated.

Literally literally nothing? Don't worry about remembering faces (some people are bad at this) or mundane day-to-day events (some people are bad at this too). Do you remember any songs that were on the radio that year? Any events that were in the local news? Do you remember where you lived? Do you remember any classes you took? (Or any skills you would have learned in those classes?) Whether you went on vacation with your family at all? Whether you had an after-school job or not? Whether you had a car? How you liked to dress? Could you name one person you were friends with that year?

I don't know whether there's a hard line between "normal" and "not normal" here. But the more "no"s you've got to those questions, the more worried I'd be inclined to be.

Also: I have trouble remembering stuff from that far back until I come up with one solid memory, and then a lot of other stuff comes along attached to it. ("Oh, yeah, I remember that bike I used to have. And, oh man! There was this time when I was like thirteen than I fell off it and I didn't have a helmet on and my parents were so pissed off! I'd forgotten all about that! And then there was this time....")
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:04 AM on June 13, 2012


I’m late 40’s and I have only very vague memories of anything from my childhood and teens. Just recently my brother was talking about and looking up people from High School. I could only remember one or two names, my best friends from then. I thought that couldn’t be right, so we got out yearbooks, and even after looking through the name and picture of everyone in my class I could only really recognize 5 or 6 people, and only a couple with a positive "yes I remember them".

I know I graduated early, but the details of when and how are lost to me. Again, this just came up recently in a family discussion and there was debate about it.

If you tell me I owe you money I will just pay you, I have no way of knowing if it’s true or not.
posted by bongo_x at 10:50 AM on June 13, 2012


I remember a lot of high school quite vividly, and other bits of it were gone out my head in a couple of years.

I had a beer with some h.s. friends when I was about 35, and a couple of guys came up to say hi who I literally could not recall, even though I knew intellectually (read: "once someone told me their name") that we had been casual friends for four years.

On Facebook now I see classmates and, while their names ring a bell, the faces are a total blank in my mind. *shrug* I live 1500 miles away and rarely see the ones I like, so the ones I can't recall are just...gone, I guess.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2012


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