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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Amnesia: Loss of Self and Stress

 by Pat Boardman


Someone who has experienced first-hand the realization that your mind can’t recognize anything or anyone around you will tell you that fear doesn’t come into play one bit. The amnesiac has far too many other things to sort out, and confusion reigns supreme between the unfortunate ears that hear no sounds from the past nor names rolling from the tongue, not even his own. There’s nothing concrete to act as a basis of fear - no thought to compare to another. To put it metaphorically, a man in a lifeboat can only experience fear when he knows that there are other boats that could save him, or that somewhere land exists that could shelter him. A state of amnesia completely erases the markers of familiarity that draw the portrait of your life’s events and make up your identity. When the sum total of all your experiences is gone, you no longer have an identity. You have no one to be afraid for. The feeling I got walking outside later was one of gratitude that I was alive after my breathing nearly stopped forever. Luckily, the fire station was only three blocks away and I was brought back from the brink. I was asked my name and address but I after several minutes it was clear that I couldn’t answer.

There should be something in there I thought; the exquisite computer of the human brain had gone and crashed on me. Upon leaving the hospital I tried to resume activities, and I found that I could still work at the office without much difficulty, for my general knowledge was intact. I had to pretend I knew people, and I’m sure I failed to recognize and greet friends or said hello to people on the street that looked in my direction. An account of the confusion in the mind and the bizarre surroundings of the amnesiac is described vividly in the novel The Golden Blues that chronicles the damage to the emotions that I discovered first-hand. Short-term memory loss is financially damaging as well: I would regularly leave bags of groceries and shopping bags wherever I set them down on the subway. I would wander off, losing hundreds of dollars at the time when I needed it most. Along the way I learned that I was an aspiring songwriter and I would have to memorize my music all over again. It makes sense that there are other levels of amnesia just as there are various types of epileptic seizures. In my case I started doing crossword puzzles and I watched television game shows for ten months before my memory started coming back. It’s impossible to say whether my method of thinking through trivia and puzzles would be the cure for other amnesiacs. There really aren’t many in the same predicament walking around at any one time; even if there were enough for an experiment, many of them might not have been the crossword puzzle types in the first place.

There was one trade-off for gaining back the precious ego however. The stress of past memories will come back as strong as ever. Stress, in the context of past events, is the long-term damage to the nervous system caused by the buildup of grief over unsavory mistakes and unresolved disappointments of early life, magnified by quirks in each child’s psychological profile. You have heard of people who were like bombs ready to go off from the physical and mental strain of unreleased stress. When the mind is an open door with no memories to deal with, there are no worries over the past. Amnesia is a stress-free environment because the person without a past keeps busy thanking every star in the sky that he has a heartbeat and two eyes to see this new world that he is eager to explore. It’s almost like reincarnating back to your same life, if that’s really you in those wedding photos.

Pat Boardman is a Canadian songwriter and author. He played as a traveling folksinger for ten years and writes songs in the Blues and Acoustic Rock genres also. In 2006 he completed his first novel, The Golden Blues, and in 2009 signed with Razors Edge Records as head songwriter and visitors can listen to samples of his music and download MP3 tracks.


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