50 going on 15

15 08 2011

While driving to work I heard a most remarkable true life story about a woman who went to bed aged 32 and woke up aged 15.

To explain, her physical body was still 32 years old but she had lost every single memory that she’d had from the age of 15 years onwards. So she felt 15. In her head she was 15. In the mirror she was 32.

What must that be like. Part of your life would have been stolen. As we work our way through life we gather memories that create a coherent narrative. This story builds as our bodies age. Both occur in parallel but with memory lost the body reflects the passage of time but the mind does not.

When I look in the mirror I see a middle aged woman, which is OK because that is what I am, with 50 years of memories. When I can’t see myself, when I do not see my 50 year old body I still feel the same as I always did. Or at least I don’t think of myself as an old person. I’m not aware of any changes in the way I think and feel. I’m sure that there must be some changes but they are not as obvious to me as the physical changes.

It is only when people I know and think of as being old turn out to be the same age as me that I am confronted with the fact that I must look just like them and people looking at me would see me as being like them, old!

Inside I am timeless but imagine being a teenager looking out on your adult self.

What dreams, hopes, expectations did you have?

Would you be a disappointment to yourself?

Would you be able to look yourself in the eye and smile?

Once the woman in the story had come to terms with what had happened to her, had accepted that she had lost 15 years of memeories, she used it as an opportunity to change her life.

She could see, and not just physically, what she had become. From the behaviours of those around her she could see that, in her own words, she had become ” a bit of a martyr “. She would always be at the beck and call of everyone else, always trying to keep everyone happy. This was not what she had planned and wasn’t something that the 15 year old in her was prepared to accept. So she changed the way that she interacted with others in her life in order to redress the balance between what she had wanted to be and what she had become.

But we do not have to undergo a traumatic meory loss to make these changes. We can recreate the scenario.

Imagine being a teenager looking out on your adult self

What would your 15 year old self think of you now? If there is anything that the teenage you wouldn’t be happy about, change it.

For your information, the woman in the true life story suffered this memory loss for around 8 weeks and her memories of being between 15 and 32 have now returned … but she is no longer a doormat.

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