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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

All the Things I’ve Forgotten as an Autistic

It’s weird acknowledging something that I don’t even know exists: forgotten memories. How do I point to something that isn’t there?


And yet, there is some proof.


Whenever my sister says, “I was there with you. How can you not remember that?”


When my husband tells me, “Jackie, we talked about that last week.”


When my brother recounts a story that I do not recall.


When I look back at the college classes I took and barely remember anything.


When I read my journals and completely forgot that some of the people I write about ever existed.


When I can see someone’s face in my mind, but cannot remember their name.


I’ve always had a poor memory. I’ve known since I was a kid that there seemed to be a lot that I forgot.


It always confused me because there were also things that I remembered VERY well in painstaking detail. I could close my eyes and replay the entire incident. I could also remember random songs and trivial facts.


Turns out that autism might have something to do with that.


Given the obscene amount of thoughts and emotions coursing through an autistic mind, the brain has difficulty discerning which are important to remember, and which are not.


Furthermore, the brain goes through a continual pruning process, letting go of unnecessary things to make way for all of the important things. Even if my autistic brain did manage to encode a memory, I bet my pruning process quickly swept it away.


Illustration by Jackie Schuld

Most autistics find that they remember things in two categories - things tied to their special interests and highly emotional events. It’s likely that the brain sees these things as important. It’s also theorized that high emotions cause the body to be flooded with hormones, and those hormones cause memories to be encoded more. It kinda sucks because it means you’re more likely to remember upsetting or traumatic events more.


All of the science isn’t quite there yet for a full or accurate explanation. Whatever is happening though, it’s clear there’s a lot I don’t remember.


While I may remember in painful detail a time I was bullied, I have difficulty remembering the day-to-day of my life as a kid. It’s hard to know what was there and what wasn’t.


As I get older, I find the same thing for passing decades. I can remember the big events of my 20s, like when I moved to a new country or started a new educational program, but I don’t remember much of my day-to-day life.


I do remember feeling sad a lot though. I was quite lost back then. I didn’t know I was autistic and I was trying to make sense of myself and the world.


I’m still trying to make sense of it all, except now I have some key information: I’m autistic. That’s unlocked the door to so many things, like understanding why I can’t remember much.


Who knows what I will remember from my 30s, but I know I will remember they felt far better than my 20s. And that my 30s were when I finally learned the key to myself: that I’m autistic.

 

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