I always thought that amnesia affected only victims of severe head trauma and that you would need years of intense therapy to get back to normal. Yet that isn't what happened to me.
On April 30, I went to bed an ordinary 32-year-old mother of one, living in Manchester and studying psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.
The next morning, I woke into a nightmare. I was convinced I was my 15-year-old self. Distressed and confused, I wondered why I wasn't in my comfy lower bunk bed, covered in a pink Marilyn Monroe bedspread, sharing a room with my sister. As far as I was concerned, it was 1992 - GCSEs, Inspiral Carpets, Stone Roses and illegal raves.
Yet here I was in a two-bedroom council house with a room full of books, a cat and an 11-year-old son I didn't recognise. In those first hours, I paced my bedroom convinced I was going mad. I can remember looking in the bathroom mirror and starting to scream. Through the eyes of a 15-year-old, what I saw was horrifying; who was this ageing woman with crow's-feet, spots and bags under her eyes?
I ran to the telephone, a number going over and over in my head, even though I had no idea whose it was. I called and it was Kerry, a close friend who lives nearby.
Kerry and my sister came round and looked after me. For the first day or two we were all hoping that I'd go to bed and wake up as if nothing had happened. But if anything, it got worse. As the weekend passed, I grew more shocked and petrified; I didn't understand the outside world, what I was reading and seeing around me.
The only Bush I'd heard of was George senior and the Gulf war. My sister painstakingly had to explain the horrors of 9/11, and 7/7.
I'd fallen asleep dreaming of a world full of endless possibilities and woken up into a world I could never have envisioned as a teenager: email, Big Brother, Facebook - I had no concept of 21st-century culture and technology. At night, I would start to worry about brain tumours. I would fall asleep longing for the only life I knew: school, best friends, sneaky cigarettes and cider in the park with the bad boys.
A few days after the initial memory loss, I went to my doctor. He told me I had transient global amnesia, brought on by a combination of events. Just before I lost my memory, I was extremely stressed. I was anxious about my third-year exams. I had also just split up with a boyfriend, and I'd had a nasty stomach virus followed by tonsillitis. I felt physically and emotionally overwhelmed. The doctor explained that my body could no longer handle the strain, so my brain had closed down its "episodic" part, which is linked to emotional memories, times and events.
The semantic part of my memory, relating to knowledge rather than specific experiences, was still intact. So even though I didn't recognise my son and had no memory of being pregnant or giving birth, I could remember my pin number and knew how to drive.
It can take anything from four weeks to eight months for episodic memory to return. For me, it took six to seven weeks - now I can remember almost everything. I was blessed with a great doctor who early on allayed most of my fears. He told me that many people around the world had suffered a similar type of amnesia, even though it wasn't one that was widely known about. The best cure was to rest and give my body time to repair itself - and not force myself to remember too much. Salvation came in the form of talking each week to my doctor about what I was going through.
Fortunately, I had kept 20 years of diaries - at first it was like reading a stranger's journal. Gradually all the pieces began to fit together. Flashes, rather than whole memories, would return and with them the emotional connections I felt at the time. I would hear a song and ask my sister, "That's to do with your graduation - why?" She'd reply, "Yes, we went out that night and danced to it, and had such a laugh. Do you remember?" Incredibly, I did.
As scary as it was, I don't regret anything that happened. I feel privileged to have seen the world through different eyes. It helped me to re-evaluate and put my life back together in a different, but definitely better, way.
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