I have kept a written diary for around ten years now. Sometimes I look back through it. Lots in there, of course, many things to remember. In there is the confusion of the initial diagnosis of MS, the long series of tests that suggested something was not right. One night I was struggling to write the word ‘tuna’ from a recipe I had used that night. There it is, a few squiggles, Then progressively bigger block capitals. The fear was turning to anger. The last attempt – ‘FUCKING TUNA!!!’.
I don’t think I was describing a subspecies of the fish…. A small moment where the memories that are put to paper are not the nicest.
There are lots of good memories, though. Holidays, personal achievements, nice glasses of wine, concerts, time with friends. They are all there. And it is good to have those moments written down because one of the side-effects of MS is that my memory is not as good as it was. In fact, I am getting quite forgetful. I used to have a good memory for facts and events, built through revision for exams for school and expanded through the need to memorise operational processes from work. Not perfect but very good.
Now? Well, there are frequent blanks. People’s names are constantly, and not deliberately, discarded. There is amused tolerance when I frequently refer to someone as ‘Oh, you know, s/he was over a couple of weeks ago and spoke about……’ Of course, I have forgotten what it was that they spoke about! Then there is forgetting what I am talking about, sometimes mid-sentence. Again, amused tolerance as I do the verbal equivalent of wandering around the streets until I’ve found the right address. The embodiment of the mind or cog (short for cognitive) fog that so many with MS have to deal with.
These issues need to be held in perspective. This is not crippling. Like my concentration and speech, it is possible to overcome these issues with little tricks. Some are the result of sessions at the oft mentioned Revalidation Clinic. Others are personal tricks that I have developed for myself.
Writing and Drawing
One of those has simply been to write down everything that I think is relevant. At work through constant note taking, especially of meetings. Reams of notes but, in the modern age, well within the capabilities of a single computer.
For personal things? Well, that diary comes in. Setting what has happened in the day down on paper helps the memory in two ways. Obviously, the memory is now in hard copy and can be found, somewhere on the bookshelf, either to seek out deliberately or stumble across whilst wandering through the pages. That’s the first way and perhaps fairly obvious.
The second way, for me, comes through the action of going back through my mind, selecting what to write up and reinforcing the memory by putting it to paper. As cycling keeps me physically fit, the action of writing the diary exercises my mind and flexes the muscles of memory. Writing something down makes sure that what has occurred is a little more imprinted in my mind. Not hard and fast and perhaps not the whole thing but a small component.
Sometimes, though, I need something more. To remember a scene, an image that has struck me. Yes, I can take a picture. But that is passive. A photograph is taken and forgotten. To actually remember, I think, needs activity. Mental activity. Writing up a scene can help. Then, a couple of years ago, I tried another method.
Sketches. Attempts at least. They are hopeless. The example at the head , for example, is Mont Ventoux from the garden of the premises where we were staying. It looks nothing like it, I know that. A modern art masterpiece?
The Role of Drawing
That’s not the point, though, for me at least. It’s more important as part of a personal process to lay a foundation in my mind, building a memory. By drawing what I see I implants more of the scene before me in my memory. The drawing is always black and white (or blue and white or red and white, depending on the biro to hand) but the action also helps me to remember the colours of the scene. The drawing may look nothing like what I see but….. it helps the memory to stick.
Looking through my diary I have found an orange sunset over a vineyard in France, a rocky outcrop receiving a light covering of rain in Majorca, a balcony against golden Autumn leaves in New England, a street in Vietnam illuminated by lanterns of so many colours…..
Through the action of making a very bad drawing, the colours and sounds come back to me. The sketch will mean absolutely nothing to anyone looking at it and, frankly, I think calling any of these random lines a sketch is, perhaps, optimistic. But they help me to remember a moment and represent one of the tricks I have learnt or been taught to deal with issues that result from MS.