3 Magical Things I Learned from Losing my Memory

by Caroline van Kimmenade

I don’t talk about this often, but for a while, my short-term memory was completely shot. This was back sometime around 2010.

Quick context: In 2009 I burned out to the point where I couldn’t work, and I could barely get through my day. The short of it is: it was not fun.

I don’t remember exactly when I lost my memory (haha), but I do remember the problem persisted for many months. It was so bad that when someone told me something, anything, 5 minutes later I would have forgotten what it was and I’d forgotten they had told me anything in the first place.

Yeah, it was confusing. I made myself write down everything that was important. I carried around a big paper planner and when there was something I needed to do or take care of, I’d write it down right away.

Now, if you’ve never lost your short-term memory like this, it probably sounds like a terrifying experience. But there are 3 big unexpected and magical things I learned.


1. I needed to forget more

I used to have such a good memory. So good that I’d know what friends had for lunch (I’d remember because it’s important to know what your friends like to eat, right?)

Yet, as a result of this excellent memory, my brain had gotten stuffed. Every nook and cranny was crowded with information. I think my mind just had enough of my info-hoarding tendencies one day and snapped.

By not allowing me to remember things, I had to get comfi with not knowing.

Wow, I never knew before how freeing it is to not know things! I had so much space in my brain all of a sudden!

When you’re the kind of person who believes everything is important, it’s hard to do an info-cleanse on your own. So my body stepped in and just did a brain reset for me.

2. I needed to trust more, and think less

I’ll admit, the idea of not remembering what you did an hour ago, can be upsetting. It can create panic even, when you let it. But… when your mind is pretty empty, your thinking also tends to get clearer. It’s a lot less cluttered up there. In short, with less to think about, you end up doing a lot less thinking!

With less to think about (what’s the point of thinking, when you forget right away anyway?) you start relying on other parts of yourself.

It’s a really magical experience to notice that even though you don’t remember what you did earlier today, let alone yesterday, you still exist just fine!

Even though I was constantly forgetting things, I still functioned o.k. I didn’t turn into a semi-translucent hologram just because my mind was on strike!

In a way, it was liberating to experience how life went on, and somehow I still functioned, even though I could barely remember anything.

I couldn’t remember much about myself short-term, yet “I” still existed!

3. I needed to rest more

Thoughts seem so tiny and innocent, right? But did you know that your thoughts can make you really, really tired? Especially when you run through a long to-do list in your head, over and over!

In the bigger scheme of my health and recovery, my ability to think a lot of thoughts really wasn’t that useful. No wonder my body decided to shut down most of the power in that area!

I really believe your body is smart and not randomly making anything malfunction.

When you have very little energy to spend, it makes sense to have a strict “budget”. My body was allocating the little resources I had, to where they were needed most.

How did my life change?

I did get my memory back. Yet, I use it differently now. I am much more comfortable with not remembering things. In fact, I’ve adopted practices to help me forget the information I don’t really need.

I am much more comfortable navigating the world without “knowing” every step. I also don’t feel the need to have a clear story about who I am: hey, regardless of whether I can describe who I am and what I do… I still exist anyway! So why would I worry about mentally “figuring out” my identity? I live my life, and that’s who I am.

I have a much better sense of how much energy thinking can take, so I take care to limit it and balance it with non-thinking activities. The old me had her thinking hat on all the time. The new me knows that is completely unnessary.

How I got my memory back

Reading this article you may wonder: O.k. Caroline but how did you eventually get your memory back?

I think there are two main parts to the process I went through. Do note though that if you can get medical support, obviously that comes first! In my case, both regular and alternative doctors proved to be of no help, so I was stuck dealing with this on my own. Below are – what I believe to be – the basic building blocks of my recovery process:

  1. Embrace and learn from what it’s like to have a shoddy memory.

Instead of treating it like a horrible problem, find a practical coping mechanism (e.g. write things down) and explore what the benefits are of not remembering much.

What if this is not happening to you, but actually happening for you?

In which ways were the old ways of doing life perhaps not really sustainable?

What new possibilities is your body showing you? What are you forced to let go of?

2. Treat this like a general exhaustion problem.

Your body has limited resources and needed to cut the memory power to preserve resources. How can you take down your stress levels and rest up? (Think: long-term strategy! A quick fix won’t help.)

Need more? I know what it’s like to be on your own with stressful symptoms. My philosophy is, if you can’t get adequate medical diagnosis and support for whatever reason, it’s worth treating the problem as an overall stress and exhaustion issue. Lowering your stress levels gives your body the best possible shot at putting its own healing abilities to work. (That is also true alongside adequate medical care by the way)

For a step by step, guided process on getting your energy back in this way, take a look at my Happy Sensitive Foundations Programme. In it, I personally teach you the ins and outs of sensitive stress management and healthy boundaries from the inside out.

Happy Sensitive Foundations is the process I developed and used to get myself out of my debilitating burn out. (Put simply, burning out happens when you are spending more energy than you have. To reverse it, you have to reverse your energy habits. That’s what we do in this customised 1-on-1 programme.).

Or, start by taking a look at these quick-to-do self-study courses: “How to Build Energy when You’re Depleted” and “How to Get Your Mojo Back” inside the Happy Sensitive Library.

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