Thursday, 12 January 2017

Five years

The end of the year 2016 means I now have five complete years where I can remember every single day that has passed.

I review these days in a new routine to refresh the memory tags pinned to my mental calendar. 

Initially, I reviewed two or three days of each month, corresponding to today's date. So on January 12, I would briefly recall the images for, say, 11, 12 and 13 of each month. Every day, I moved the window along one day. As the days piled up, I switched to a two-day window, then I dropped the overlap, instead giving myself both the 12 and 13th to run through all the months so far accumulated in this process.

Now, I give myself two or three weeks to complete the review by using a far bigger window. At present, I am recalling the images for days 7 - 21 of each month. Two weeks. The longer run of days makes it far easier to recall the memory tags, compared to dipping in to find just an isolated pair. I'm part way through 2012 at the moment. I have until January 21 to cover all the month until 2017.

Then I'll start again, with a window from 21 - 7, that is, covering the end of the month and moving a week into the next. The day on which I finish orientates me for the start of the next window, as it is exactly two weeks later - the same day of the week.

This is for my long review. I also review the past month completely at the end of the day. Most days, I will run a two-day window over each week of the past 6 months, as has been part of my routine from early on.

The turn of the year is always a little disorientating. The completed year still seems so fresh, but now it is done and dusted. I have to identify a theme for the year as a whole to help me identify it among the other completed years.

The more distant years are well known to me from so many reviews. But I still gain insights roaming over them. The present gives everything a new context. 

I've still not lost a day, but with over 1800 memory tags, I can sometimes confuse a sequence of days across the years. At more mundane times, I may differentiate the days by capturing some minor details I want to remember, such as what I did for lunch. This is not remarkable, but serves to remind me of the places in my routine of the time, some of which have since closed or changed. Sometimes I stray into a sequence from a different year and have to correct when I run up against a day alerts me to the fact.

This process gives a profound measure of time. People have been born or have died. I have progressed with running, from my first 5 km race in 2012, to marathons and my first trophy. Today I looked at the light fitting above the bed and remembered it was four years to the day that I replaced it.

So much happens in a year. So much more in five. Events in the years before also come to mind, but however clear the memories, they are generally unanchored.

I have no reason to stop.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Remembering the Olympics

The Rio 2016 Olympics finished on Sunday. There is a four-year wait until the next edition in Tokyo.

I know what four years is like now, taken one day at a time, as the images on my mental calendar cover every day back to the London 2012 Olympics - and beyond.

I don't remember everything about the 2012 Olympics, but several key events are recorded in the memory tags for days during that period.

The opening ceremony took place on 27 July 2012. We watched it at gathering in a church, after the "All the Bells" ringing across the UK that morning. Much of the ceremony is memorable enough not to be specifically coded in my memory tag. The Queen and James Bond. Mr Bean. The Olympic Flame. The Olympic Rings in flames above the stadium.

We were in the UK to see some of the events. On 29 July 2012, Brazil beat Belarus 3-1 in the men's football. The team included Neymar, a star already, but qualifying under the under-23 rule nonetheless. Neymar scored the winning penalty in the shootout in the final against Germany on 20 August 2016 (revenge for the 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup in 2014, coded in my memory tag for Tuesday 8 July 2014).

We had a few days holiday in Scotland after Brazil's game in 2012 and my memory tags capture the people and places visited on that trip. The Olympics is background with no key events recorded on my mental calendar until 5 August 2012. We were driving to our next destination listening to commentary of Andy Murray in the tennis final at Wimbledon. We arrived in time to watch the end of the match, which he won, and then go on to play in the mixed doubles final, which he and his partner lost.

The men's single final this time around was also on Sunday - 14 August 2016. Murray won again. Memorably, the BBC interviewer congratulated him on being the first person to win a second gold medal in tennis and, to his credit and acclaim, he responded that Venus and Serena Williams had already won four gold medals each. His victory is included in the image on my mental calendar.

Back to 2012. We went to Hyde Park to watch the Olympics on big screens on 8 August and returned for the women's open-water swimming the following morning. In Rio, this took place off Copacabana on 15 August, memorable because the Brazilian swimmer, Poliana, dragged from the Serpentine with hypothermia in 2012, won Bronze after a French swimmer two places before her was disqualified for obstruction.

That day in 2012, we also went to watch volleyball at Earls Court and the women's football final at Wembley (USA v Japan, 2 - 1). The defeat of the Brazilian women's team on 16 August 2016 to Sweden is in my memory tag for that day.

Super Saturday in 2012, when three Golds were won by Team GB, took place on 4 August 2012, but I had to look that up, because it was not in my memory tag. We were actually travelling that day to Glasgow on our return south. The details of that journey and the hotel where we stayed are pinned to my calendar and have been refreshed in a fraction of a second when I have run through these date in periodic reviews. But in those reviews, I've never recalled it was Super Saturday as well. Stopping to think now, my memory of watching the wins of Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah, is distinctly vague.

But I remember the emotion and pride afterwards the British population had in the GB athletes - and in itself for celebrating their victory so enthusiastically. Even the right-wing, xenophobic tabloid The Sun was full of praise and repeated a joke doing the rounds on Twitter: "A Muslim, a mixed race lass & a ginger bloke walk into a bar. And everyone gets them a drink." Usually minorities would be the target of the punchline - now the punchline was they were accepted as heroes in modern Britain.

Of course, my calendar since then has the vote to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016, following xenophobic scaremongering and followed by a rise in hate crimes against minorities.

All the same, the three GB athletes deserved a drink once more with Super Saturday mark 2, on 13 August 2016, taking Bronze (Rutherford - long jump), Silver (Ennis-Hill - heptathlon) and Gold (Farah - 10,000 metres). I was there to see it in person this time, as we visited Rio to follow the Olympics. Elaine Thompson took Gold in the women's 100 m in the same session and Thiago Bras, who went on to win men's pole vault, qualified for the final. Most of our tickets were for cheaper qualifying rounds, but we gladly paid for the tickets to see history being made on this day.

Mo Farah also won the 5,000 metres in London 2012. I don't have it in a memory tag, but this time I do remember watching the race, particularly the commentator saying it was slow. I've checked and it was on 11 August 2012, so I've now added into my image for that day, which reminded me of a bike ride.

Is it cheating to modify an image so long after the event?

Seeing as I make the rules, no.

I avoid making false memories, creating an image for something that must have happened, but for which I have no memory. In this case, I remember the event, but didn't recall the date. Sticking a pin in it is allowed. I've decided.

It also provides a symmetry to remembering Rio 2016. My image for Saturday 20 August 2016 includes Mo Farah winning the 5,000 metres for the second time. In both cases, this was a week on from his 10,000 metres win. Patterns like this help me.

The remainder of the London Olympics pass in the background. My memory tags are about other trips and visits or work I was doing. That is, until 22 August 2012 and the closing ceremony. My tag is cycling to where we are staying, knowing it is on that evening. The ceremony itself is not in my image as my conventional memory serves up details of it.

I followed Rio 2016 more closely and spent more days attending events and this is reflected in the memory tags.

Now I have two Olympic Games in this period of remembering every day that passes. Four years to Tokyo. I will be filling the days until then.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Refresh technique for coping with over four years

I have been following this process of remembering every day that passes for four and a half years now, still without losing a day.

But every now and then I've had to change how I refresh the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags. A month ago I made a major change as I was becoming overwhelmed again. I had been recalling two days from every month for the years 2011 - 2013 on one day and then for the period 2014 - present on the next day. It was proving too difficult to complete, so I stopped.

The method I am using now is to recall images from one year only. But not just two days. Eight days.

At the moment, I've been running through the days 8 - 15 of each month. This is very relaxed because I have 5 years to cover and 8 days to do them in. I can have a day off, or take a couple of days to cover a year.

Once I've orientated myself on my mental calendar, it doesn't really take much longer to remember the 8-day window than the two-day window. 

I have chosen 8 days because it helps in navigating as I imagine I am walking over the calendar.

For example, the 8th January 2015 was a Thursday, I remember. Running through to the 15th takes me to Thursday again. Finishing on the same day means I automatically know the day for the start of the window.

I learnt the patterns long ago to find the same day in the next month. 

January has 31 days, so I move three days along and a month back to find 8 February is a Sunday. 15 February is also Sunday, of course. 

The 8th and 15th March are Sundays (2015 wasn't a leap year). 

March has 31 days, so I move three days on again to take me to Wednesday for 8 and 15 April. April has 30 days, so two days on to Friday for 8 and 15 May. And so on.

The 8-day windows are proving better for reinforcing the landscape of the completed years. And the time between recalling each image on my mental calendar remains the same with this technique. I will think of every day of this period once per month, even if only for a fraction of a second.

I still treat the past 6 months differently. Recalling two days per week, then every day of the last month. I generally do the former every other day.

So now my refresh process is simpler, more relaxed and may not need to change until I have completed 8 years of memories.

But if you want to try this process, see my post "starting out" under "about me".

Friday, 13 May 2016

When were we here?

I often surprise family and friends these days when we visit somewhere and someone says, "When were we last here?"

On a recent trip to a café, I was able to reply, "October 17, 2013. It was a Thursday and we stopped here on the way to visit that place in the countryside."

I even remembered what we had eaten and that in our subsequent visit we had spent some time identifying trees. The trees are included in my memory tag for the day as a way to store the features I need to identify them in future.

I was with my parents on both trips. My mother is suffering memory loss, which is becoming progressively worse. She asked repeatedly if we had been to the café before, even though it is one we have visited many times over the years, though most of those visits are lost in the mists before I began this process of remembering every day that passes.

Eventually my mother stopped asking if we had been to the café before, but then started to say she had been to the café just a few weeks ago. Somehow she had now connected with a past memory, but could not place it in time.

It is sad to see my Mother's memory failing her like this. I wonder if I am destined to suffer the same way in my old age and whether this process will have any impact on what happens.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Roaming free

As I wrote last time, this process of remembering every day that passes collapsed under the number of accumulated days at the end of April.

After a pause, I was ready to start again.

I began with a memory reboot. This is where I start on 17 December 2011 and recall the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags one day after the other. I aim to cover several months in a day, so after a couple of weeks have caught up.

This time things have been different.

I did the reboot through 2012 and 2013. Then stopped. I didn't feel like doing the same through 2014.

Instead, I continued with my short-term review only. To date, this has covered the past 6 months. I review two days per week. So as today is Thursday, I would review Wednesday and Thursday of each week.

But that felt like too much effort. I was still in need of a lighter regime. So instead of 6 months, I've kept the short-term review to the days of 2016 only.

It's been much more relaxed.

Then I became a little concerned that the images pinned to my mental calendar to remember the end of 2015 might fade as they had dropped out of regular reviews earlier than in my 6-month review approach. Rather than resuming the 6-month review, I've done a separate two-day window review of the whole of 2015.

But again, in a more relaxed way.

This is how it has gone for the past few days.

Monday: I reviewed Monday and Tuesday of every week from 4 January 2016 to a month ago, then every day of the past month.

Tuesday: I reviewed Tuesday and Wednesday of every week in 2015. Then every day of the last month.

Wednesday: I reviewed Wednesday and Thursday of every week from 6 January 2016 to a month ago, then every day of the past month.

Today (Thursday): I will review Thursday and Friday of every week in 2015. Then every day of the last month.

My idea is to follow this sequence until I have looped round to the Monday and Tuesday of every week in 2015. That will complete a memory reboot of 2015.

Then I think I'll do a reboot of 2014 in some way. Either sequentially or this two-day window technique.

My feeling and hope is that these completed years are now familiar landscapes. Perhaps I no longer need the discipline of a rigid method to ensure that I refresh the days within a certain time frame.

I can return to any of the full calendars of memory tags when I choose to roam over them.

Withdrawal and perspective

My refresh technique for reinforcing the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags was collapsing at the end of April.

So I thought it was time for a pause. I know that I can do a memory reboot, so do not fear stopping. A reboot is where over a period of a couple of weeks I run through the images on my mental calendar sequentially from 17 December 2011 when I began this process of remembering every day that passes. I cover several months a day in free mental time and can then return to whatever method I was using to refresh just a selection of images for each week or month.

I've been remembering every day that passes for over four and half years, so thought I would simply stop for a week or two.

What happened took me by surprise.

Normally - in what has become normal - I often use free mental time to revisit my mental calendar.

Without that distraction I found my mind to focus more on current events, particularly those causing me stress.

From the time before I began this process, I used various phrases to help me cope with stress. Such as "give me more strength". These are to supplant negative thoughts like, "I can't stand any more", or the taunting, self-critical thoughts that come unbidden to anyone sometimes when life is overwhelming.

I found over the several days without my refresh technique that both my coping phrases and taunting thoughts became much more prevalent. I was reminded how draining these can be.

In fact, so draining, that I returned to my mental calendars sooner than I had intended.

Here's why.

It is not for the distraction.

It is not to live in the past.

It is for perspective.

All things pass.

Alighting on the threads of the tapestry of the past few years reminded me of both good times and bad times. Reminded me of my strength. And brought home the passage of time.


That is the greatest gift this process gives me. It is beneficial to my stress levels and mental health.

The nature of my refresh techniques means that the images and events I recall are chosen simply due to their position on my mental calendar. Although the days selected are not random, the events and moods are. I do not tug at particular memories, but see the diversity of separate threads and so gain an overview of the rich tapestry of my life.

However, as I will explain in my next post, I have not returned to my past refresh technique. As often happens when a system collapses under the weight of the accumulated days, a new approach emerges.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Time for a break from reviewing

Over the past 4+ years since I began remembering every day that passes, I have repeatedly found the methods I have developed have collapsed as the number of days has grown. It seems essential to review the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags at intervals to stop them from fading. I've been doing each image at least once a month using various patterns for selecting the images.

The current method is falling apart. I have been failing to complete the more detailed review of the images pinned to my mental calendar for the most recent 6 months. My practice has been to review two days per week to entrench these images, before they move into less frequent review patters.

So today being Sunday, I would review the images for Saturday and Sunday of each week. Tomorrow I would review the images for Sunday and Monday. The overlap helps to reinforce the connection between consecutive days for long-term sustainability.

More recently, I have only done this every other day. So I might have a break on Monday and instead on Tuesday review Monday and Tuesday images. This covers all days of the week, but without the overlap. That didn't seem an issue as the two-day window shift by a day each week.

More recently still, I've missed doing the review twice and so been faced with using a three-day window to cover missed days. Sometimes I've not even managed that and so have simply run through the whole of the past month or so, just to make sure I don't loose those days.

It seems something has to give. Maybe it is time to give up on the more detailed 6-month review. Do I have the confidence to rely on the in-depth review of the past month only?

At the same time, I've hit a problem with my longer-term review. I had already made this more manageable by splitting it into two. One day, I would review two-days-per-month from the end of 2011 to end of 2013. The next day, I'd review the same two days for each month from the start of 2014 to date.

Today I was to review the 24th and 25th of the each month of the earlier years. But I hadn't completed yesterday's review of 22nd and 23rd of 2014 to date. I was trying to catch up, but it was proving too distracting. So I've stopped.

I'm going to have a day or two off reviewing all except the past month.

Then I'll try a memory reboot, taking a few months each day and reviewing consecutive images. It will take around 16 days to do this reboot, then I'll see what to do next.