Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I was going to do a post on music and art, and probably will next time, but my roomate Jill and I had a really cool conversation that I've been thinking about a lot recently, so I'm going to talk about that instead. It's not directly art/design related, so sorry if that's what you read the blog for (because I totally have lots of followers, ha ha), but hopefully it's still pretty interesting.

Jill, as mentioned, is my roomate- she's a year older than me, she's awesome to hang out with, and she's a psych major. She's also maybe one of the most intelligent and intuitive people I know. Apparently one of her classes has been focusing on memory a lot recently, especially repression and recovery of memories after traumatic events.

Jill was saying that she's been learning a lot about flashbacks  recently. Hopefully I can do justice to this idea, because I just learned about it this afternoon. Flashbacks are more than just a literary device, they're what you get when a memory suddenly "flashes" into your mind. These are very common symptoms of people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder (what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder). Apparently these memories feel real, to the point where people who get flashbacks often feel like they're back in the situation that traumatized them. They don't always see or hear what was happening in the memory, sometimes it's just sensation, but usually the memories were either repressed or ignored, and brought to the surface suddenly.

The thing is, repressed memories could be dangerous. Not because they shouldn't be brought out into the open, necessarily, but because memory is suggestible. Jill mentioned a study where people were asked to remember events that happened during their childhood, which were described by older relatives. Two of the memories were true, and one, that the person had been lost in a shopping mall as a child, was false. They had 3 sessions of this and by the 3rd session, 25% of the participants believed they had in fact been lost in the mall. Memories can be suggested, and they can be inaccurate, and they can be just plain wrong.

I suppose the upshot of this is that I've been questioning a lot of my memories. For example, I distinctly remember, as a child, getting a few stitches in my left foot when I stepped on broken glass in our driveway. The stitches were real, the cut was real- I have photographic evidence, and my mom and stepdad both tell the story of how scared they were when I ran in leaving bloody footprints behind.
The part I'm questioning is my memory of getting the stitches taken out- as I recall, it was done without anaesthetic. I remember screaming in pain and the doctor holding my foot, but not doing anything to take the pain away. But that's impossible- I also remember my mom being in the room, and she wouldn't have let something like that happen. What's more likely is that I was given localized anaesthetic, but the fear of seeing someone pull thread out of my body made me think I was actually in pain. It's a little unnerving to think that something that feels so real is in fact at least partially false.

There's also the stuff I can't remember at all- my mom and aunt Caroline, who we lived with for a while after Mom and Dad got divorced, have told me about how I used to get lost all the time when I was little and we lived on the outskirts of Flagstaff, AZ. They'd tell me that I'd disappear for hours when I was five or six years old, and reappear out of the woods after they'd both gotten worried sick. The weird part is, I don't remember a lot of those times- I just remember coming out of the woods to find them both panicking, not what I did in the woods or why I went there in the first place. I was definately old enough to have lasting memories at that age, although most of my memories from before about age 12 are a bit hazy. Jill says she had similar memory lapses from around that age, so it's probably not that big of a deal- it's probably common, in fact- but it's still strange to think that there's a chunk of my life that I'll never know about. Not because anything traumatic happened and I'm repressing it, but just because for whatever reason, my brain didn't deem it worth saving.

Looking back over this post, it's not one of my best (although out of 3 posts, it's not like there's a lot to compare it too), and it sort of doesn't have a point. But I find it pretty interesting, and I'd love to hear if anyone out there has similar thoughts about memory, or would be able to explain some theories on why we remember some things and not others.

Relevant links:
The wikipedia entry for flashbacks (as a psychological phenomenon)
A helplist for dealing with flashbacks from PTSD
A really good article on suggesting false memories, from the woman who did the study I mentioned above.

Next time I'll get back to art and music, unless of course Jill catches my interest again.

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