As a writer and a person, I draw a lot on my memories. I suffer from ‘fibro fog’ and so often I forget words or recent events but my long-term memory is sharp and vivid, sparked by smells and songs and photos.
I read an article today on how looking at Facebook photos on your timeline can lift your mood, as they remind you that you have had good times in your life.
I also read a suggestion online somewhere last week (see I’ve already forgotten where) that at the beginning of the year you should write down every good thing that happens in your life, however small or seemingly insignificant, and put them in a jar. Then at the end of the year you take them all out and read them and there is the evidence in black and white of how many good things have happened.
In January 2012 I reached an all time low. I lost a few hours of my life and, in the days after this, with help from the mental health crisis team and my therapist, I began the road to recovery. I was advised to carry photos of my children with me at all times so if I felt low and vulnerable I would remember that there are people counting on me and who love me. Photos trigger memories. Memories shape who we are. Memories are what make us human.
I love nostalgia. I love reminiscing. My first novel, The Generation Game, is full of details from the 70s, 80s and 90s. The ‘smallness’ of domestic life and the ‘bigness’ of national events. Music, telly programmes, clothes, sweets. The Silver Jubilee, the miners’ strike, Diana’s death. There’s even a time capsule thrown in, Blue Peter style. I had great fun writing this novel as it meant I could spend time back in my childhood, which was mostly a very happy place to be.
Sadly, our memory can fail us. I don’t mean forgetfulness. I mean dementia. Alzheimer’s. Nicholas Sparks’ quote from The Notebook sums up the tragedy of this condition. ‘It is a barren disease, as empty and lifeless as a desert. It is a thief of hearts and souls and memories.’ My step-father had Alzheimer’s and it was the saddest thing watching him lose his memory over several years. But even towards the end of his life, when he was in a nursing home, he would smile with happiness when my mum walked in the room and say ‘That’s my wife!’ And if you mentioned the word ‘Canada’, the place he was born and lived for the first ten years of his life, his eyes would light up with recognition.
Even when we are at our lowest, we must remember all the good things we have had and all the important people who have crossed our paths. I’m not an advocate of telling others to count their blessings. That doesn’t work when you are depressed. I just mean that focusing on a photo of a loved one can bring us back to a better place.
Looking at the family photo at the top of this post is tinged with some sadness as four of the people sharing that Christmas dinner are no longer here. However, it was a happy day in our huge house with lots of family members staying. It reminds me of good times. And although sad things lay ahead, I don’t have to let those wipe away what went before.
So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good. Helen Keller.