Friday, September 28, 2007

I Don't Recall

If you were called to testify in a criminal or civil case, your attorney might counsel you to say, "I don't recall." It's a good tactic, if you want to avoid divulging potentially incriminating information, because no one can prove that you do indeed have memory of an event or conversation. Of course, if you do recall and it's proven, then you might find yourself subject to charges of perjury.

I could truly not recall where I parked my car on Tuesday. When I came out of the library, I remembered that I had parked near the side door, but my car wasn't in the space I remembered. I walked up one row and down another and back up the third row. There were only three. I was sure that I had parked on the first row. Now I was beginning to worry that someone had stolen my car. I wondered, though, why anyone would be dumb enough to steal a 2002 Saturn. As I continued my search, I happened to look at my hand, and I saw then that I was holding the keys to my Nissan.

That's when I recalled that I had not driven the Saturn, but had instead driven the Nissan Versa. What a relief!! You say, "Why, everybody has done that." If that was the only problem that I had with my memory, then I wouldn't be concerned. The truth is, I frequently have problems remembering things, like my anniversary, to zip my pants, my supervisor's name. My short-term memory is awful, my intermediate is bad, and my long-term memory is best. I can easily recall how my wife used to serve me coffee in bed when we were newly-weds, even though I'm no longer pampered that way. I can't remember exactly when she stopped loving me, but it was probably within a month or so after we married. Now I have to make my own coffee.

One of the symptoms of depression is difficulty remembering things. You can't remember when your dentist appointment is, so you write it on the calendar, and then you forget to look at the calendar. Did you take your medicine or not? A pill box might help you to keep track of your medications, if only you could remember to put your pills in the box. You might forget to check to see what's in the pill container. You ask, "Did I pay those bills? Did I remember to write the check down in the check book? Did I put a stamp on the envelope?"

As I said, my long-term memory is actually pretty good. I not only remember faces, but I also remember the way people walk, even years later. I remember that I was in Gulfport, Mississippi in 1968 when I first heard Otis Redding sing "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay." I haven't forgotten the many stories that my Dad told me as a child. I can recall the teacher who gave me a spanking in the fifth grade. I can name all of the girls I've ever kissed. Both of them.

Sadly and embarrassingly, I forget names. It only takes me about 60 seconds. I do remember a preacher admitting to having the same problem. He might have been depressed. Unfortunately, when his elderly mother would bring him face-to-face with a former acquaintance, she would tell them, "He doesn't remember you." And of course he didn't, so he would stand there with a blazing red face.

The number of things that I forget would bog down Craig's List. Now I know why. According to an article by Daniel Pendick, "Depression leaves few corners of the mind unscathed. Among the more conspicuous of the casualties is memory. Memory is but one of a suite of higher or "executive" brain functions hobbled by depression. In addition to being forgetful, a person suffering from major depression may have trouble initiating tasks, making decisions, planning future actions, or organizing thoughts." To those of us who struggle with chronic depression, all of that sounds distinctly familiar.

Dr. Constantine Lyketsos, director of neuropsychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, explains that due to ongoing depression there is a "loss of coordination between working, short-term, and long-term memory." The forms of memory act as a series of bins. According to Lyketsos, the working memory bin keeps track of events (like eating a cookie) as they happen, but only for a very brief time. An exciting or more important event might be passed from the working memory into the short-term memory bin, where we store memories for minutes or hours. Over time, some items in that bin will be transferred on to the long-term memory, where they will reside for a lifetime.

Dr. Lyketsos states that a depressed person may be too inattentive and unfocused to file passing events into short-term memory. That explains my almost immediate loss of names. He believes that it isn't so much that the depressed person has forgotten, but that the memory was never stored in the first place. There is some scientific evidence, though, that treating depression with medication and/or therapy, can help reduce memory problems.

Therefore, we can safely conclude that a good treatment plan can address many of the difficulties we experience with depression, including poor memory function.

Through the years, my wife has frequently complained about my poor memory, especially when I forget what she said to me or don't remember to complete an important task. My only defense has been to say, "Honey, I just didn't recall."

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]


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