My daughter and I both have memory problems, and I believe they are directly related to bipolar disorder. We were talking about this recently, and she said she has forgotten lots of things, but it also feels like she never made the memories at the time; there is simply nothing there to remember. I never thought about it that way, but when she said that, it completely made sense.
I’ve given this more thought since that conversation. Looking back at what I remember and what I’ve forgotten, it seems like my ability to make and retain memories correlates to how severe my bipolar mood swings were at the time, and the depressive moods in particular.
I remember some of the depression “highlights” over the years, but during the times I was severely depressed there seem to be large blank spaces in my mind. School happenings, kids’ milestones, and my own work life just blend into a grey fog. I also have some memorable manic or mixed moments, but I seem to remember mental images from those times rather than the context of what was happening on either side. These memory snapshots don’t do anything to help me remember the life events surrounding the moments I do remember.
The memory loss feels strange, but just as odd is my ability to retain many events from times when I was alone. For example, I can remember locations I delivered or picked up from while I was a truck driver. I can remember places I’ve been hiking or exploring or just driving around by myself. I can remember vivid details about places I visited many years ago. In addition, I can remember lots of useless information and trivia (people always told me I should try out for Jeopardy, but I never wanted to).
My memories are often triggered by something else, whether it is music, a photo, or a geographic location. If I can associate a moment in time with a particular song, I will remember it for many years. For example, I recently listened to some music by Wham! for the first time in a long time, and it triggered a memory of driving through the Sierras in the dark when I was 18. A Hall & Oates song reminds me of a railroad crossing on a main boulevard in San Jose. A Tears For Fears song reminds me of a girl I liked in 9th grade, but also specifically of one part of a highway in Sacramento when we were on a school trip together.
I guess the part that bothers me is that I don’t know what is normal and what is not in my bipolar-addled brain. I think most people make memory associations from photos or music. I realize that normal people don’t remember everything about their lives, and usually just the highlights are what they remember. But I don’t think people typically have long years of time where they forget virtually everything. People have told me I had a great memory because I can tell them obscure details from events long ago, but I feel like my memory is getting worse all the time. I don’t know if it is caused by bipolar brain chemistry, long-term effects of psychotropic drugs, or early dementia coming on.