Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Curse of Memory

To begin this post, as I have with so many, I have to say the most important line in my opinion you should know about the autism spectrum and that is, "if you've met one person you've only met one person" which means that the topic I'm about to may apply to the next person, or may not be valid at all.

In the past month I've been told on numerous occasions, "Aaron, your memory is phenomenal!" The reasons for saying this vary as I had a presentation in Springfield on June 14th where this came up and many times over the past two weeks I've been told this by varying people I've encountered at the races. This may seem like an amazing trait to have, and perhaps it is, but there are many times I wish I could turn it off, or perhaps tone it back by about 50%.

Why is having such a good memory bad? The first thing is on how many arguments it can get me in. When traveling with the racing staff I'll mention that, as we pass an exit, that we, "stayed at that hotel three years ago" to which someone will disagree and then I give nothing short of a dissertation on all the events that happened. Having Asperger's, I have the, "I'm always mentality" (it's because I am) and I won't stop until I'm satisfied that everyone has agreed that I am right so I go above and beyond to tell enough of the events to try and jog everyone's memory. This, I'm sure, makes me come across has arrogant or a "know-it-all" but things need to be right. Things have to be right all the time therefore I'm not trying to tell anyone that they don't know what they are talking about it's just that they're wrong and things need to be right.

The second curse about having a stellar memory (quick side note; I may be talking about my memory, but this is long-term memory. If you were to read off ten numbers to me and then asked me to repeat them I probably would be unable to after the third number. My short-term memory is as bad as my long term memory is good) is that I know what to expect when a situation is repeated. This could play out many ways whether I expect us to eat at a certain restaurant because we did so the first time we went through a certain place, or maybe I expect us to take the same roads as before, or perhaps I have a certain routine in my mind of how events should play out because they did so the first time. With these expectations can come a high level of frustration because others usually don't put the same stock as I do in having sameness and this goes back to the things mention in the first thing mentioned in the prior paragraph. Others, usually, aren't chained to sameness the way I am nor will they take notice. I do. I do take notice in sequences and order and to me they are of the utmost importance. Furthermore, this sameness creates an extremely high level of security within me because I am normally tense and a bit stressed with my surroundings but if I know what's going to happen in the order that it is going to happen this is alleviated. This is why, when I was younger (and maybe now, still) I would ask and re-ask the same question to make sure what had happened was going to happen again in the order that it was going happen.

The last aspect, and potentially the hardest to deal with, in this curse of a good memory is the inability to forget and to move on. When an event happens it stays with me. I've said many times that, "I believe the concept of time can be different for those on the autism spectrum" because for myself it's as if everything in my life happened in the past five minutes. This means everything is fresh. One metaphor I used was this, "Imagine time as if you were in a car driving down the road. As time progresses it would be like a tree you passed on the side of the road slowly disappearing in the rear view mirror until it is out of sight. For myself, it's like everything I've ever passed remains right there, clear as day, in the mirror with no progression ever taking place."

To make matters worse is the fact that my memory works against me because, since I remember so much, my memories are tied together like a spider web which means I can see a place that will remind me of a time was I there and when I was first there I had a thought which reminded me of a person which reminded me of a fun time I had at recess in 1993. This may not seem like a bad situation at all because, well, don't most people like recalling favorite childhood memories? However, I have to deal with this over and over and over each day. And, after recalling the good memory, I then think of the school year, moving to Saint Louis later that year, then I'll jump ahead to a bad event and get stuck on that.

This post isn't being written to create a grim look on being on the spectrum, but it is something a person could deal with and unless you deal with this I doubt you can at all appreciate the intensity of it all. Having a memory like this isn't a choice and there is no off switch. If you want to know why I hate change and fear the future the info is in this concept; if things stay the same and if there's no change then I won't have to deal with the thoughts of what was. The reason why I say, "change is bad" is because with change comes memories and memories can be downright crippling. A person once told me, in regards to this event which happened in 1999 and was a chapter in Finding Kansas, was that I was, "stuck in the past." To them I was but to me it wasn't the past, it was now and there's a phrase that, "time heals all wounds" but if you don't experience time because your memory keeps everything in the present how then can one move on?


  1. I myself feel trapped because of a great long term memory. I also have a poor short term memory. I think of people places or events from 10-20-30 even 40 years ago with such clarity that it might of well be 2 days ago. People that have hurt me years ago or a job I lost 10 years ago seems like a few days ago. This is all preventing me from moving on with my life. Feels like I am trapped in a mental orison. I have even wondered if I might me in coma and just dreaming everything. It all blends together. I do have some fond long term memories but they too cause me pain. I want to connect 100 percent to the past but I am just a tad not close enough. This causes me to collect everything from my past as far as old toys, photos. collectables that I used to have. This is costly and takes up much space. I even subjected my Family to a bad neighborhood because I had too many memories from a home that I owned for 22 years and since it seemed like I only owned the home for a few years I felt no need to sell so soon. My life seems to be going by at such a rapid rate.. Ten years seems like one. Glad I am not alone in this Hell.

  2. It is not a curse. Use it for good. I used to think I was crazy, too. I just met another gentleman last night with the same gift. It is very hard to explain to others.

    Our greatest gift is to be of help to others. Do so and you will be rewarded in ways you cannot believe.

  3. It is not a curse. It is a gift of the greatest proportions. Use this gift to be of service to others for that is our true purpose for being here.