I certainly feel lucky because following a rather severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) my long-term memory is still intact for the most part. I usually have the ability to remember random and oftentimes meaningless information from the distant past. My short term memory, however, is a much different story and this has been one of the most frustrating things I’ve had to deal with. The difficulty I have with remembering what I just heard or things that just happened has been discouraging, to say the least. This dramatic difference between the strength of my short-term and long-term memory is still difficult for myself, as well as for many others, to understand.
However, I’ve learned to accept this is my new reality and have developed several rather simple coping strategies to help me deal with my new-found forgetfulness.¹ For example, I am now taking a lot of more notes than I used to, making lists and placing many reminders on my phone, relying heavily on a daily to-do-list, trying to stick to a routine or schedule on most days, and becoming comfortable in having people repeat themselves which both helps me remember what they said and to make sure I heard them correctly. I have found that when I am consistent in using these types of strategies that I can function quite well. I will definitely still forget things - but not nearly as much as I would if I depended solely on my previous memory skills.
It is true that I often times get frustrated with having to consistently use these tools and this frustration can lead to me failing to do so. However, I recognize this as being lazy and unacceptable and that I need to be more dedicated to practicing them.
¹ I really can't overestimate the importance of these short-term memory strategies in allowing me to return to practicing medicine, something I was able to do just five short months after I suffered my TBI. This was much less time than what my doctors thought it would take to get back, and this was if I ever did at all. Unfortunately, the strategies I was using along with several other factors were not sustainable long term in a medical office setting. Because of this, I was forced to retire early in the year of 2016. This was very disheartening but I now know that it wasn't even close to being the end!
The end of my medical career was the beginning of a new chapter in my life, a new chapter where I made a very important decision soon after my early exit from doctoring. It’s a decision I believe is imperative for anyone who is trying to move on and find their purpose after a brain injury. It was the decision to let go of the old strengths that I no longer possess so I could start using my time and energy finding and using my new strengths in a lasting, meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling way.