Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Anniversary memories

This process of remembering every day that passes continues to enrich my life.

How often would I otherwise have remembered the events of 28 March 2012, when I visited an radio telescope facility with my parents, wife and nephew. My memory tag is sitting at the café with the enormous dish looming over us. One of those special days that I appreciate as being one of the happiest of my life as I live it and do not want to forget.

In my review technique that image and the feelings of the day come around on the 28th of every month. 

In fact, as my reviews cover days going back three years now, there is always something to make me smile and be grateful.

It is even more special when the day falls on an anniversary as then I can justifiably say to my wife, "Do you remember where we were on this date two years ago?"

Monday, 31 March 2014


Just because I might have a tendency to hypochondria does not mean I will never get ill.

And I cannot deny the symptoms logged in some of the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags.

My current concerns began on 11 February 2014, when tingling started in the thumb, index and middle finger of my left hand. I have long experience tingling in my face, but suddenly this was more pronounced, as if I am recovering from a dentist's injection and other times feels like I have been burned, and spread to my tongue, accompanied by a slight metallic taste.

Searching the internet suggests these are symptoms to have checked out. On 17 March I did register with a doctor with the intention to make an appointment, but have not yet done so. As a hypochondriac, I've become used to scaring myself, only to have my carefully monitored symptoms dismissed, sometimes after tests. Pains in my lower back were not signs of kidney disease, but probably exertion. Pains in my chest were not a heart attack, but a muscle spasm (intercostal neuralgia). The clicking vertebrae in my neck, which began 18 months ago and I sometimes fear may be behind these latest developments are nothing to worry about: many people experience the same.

More to the point, over a decade ago I experienced similar feelings of tingling skin on my arms and a clammy deadness in my legs and was checked out to the point of an MRI scan, that found nothing wrong. I feared at the time the commencement of a nervous disorder – in the darkest moments the dreaded MS that disabled and finally killed a brother-in-law. Nothing found and my worries faded, though the tingling cheeks I have experienced for as long as I can remember, never really left.

My recent internet research suggests possible other causes. Vitamin B12 deficiency is one, though I am not a vegetarian, even if I rarely eat red meat. I follow a fasting diet two days per week and have been stricter since Christmas and lost around 5 kg as a result. Perhaps that prompted a vitamin imbalance. Just in case, I started taking a vitamin supplement, also on 17 March.

Carpal tunnel syndrome could explain the tingling fingers. In a bizarre coincidence that seems like a cosmic joke, this came up in a telephone conversation with my father on 19 March when he told me he is booked for an MRI scan as he has been suffering from tingling fingers. He attributed this to carpal tunnel syndrome at first as my sister had been diagnosed with the same some years before (she was probably also beset with fears of the MS that took my brother-in-law). Then on 27 March a colleague at work mentioned she thought she was developing carpal tunnel syndrome ("Are your fingers tingling?" I asked, but she has aches in her wrists).

I do spend too long on the computer and both these symptoms and the clicking in my neck seem linked to the duration and levels of stress: if I work late into the night I know it.

There have been times when I have woken with both forearms and hands numb and I have started to wonder if this is computer related. As part of a life reassessment, I'm trying to keep work to set hours (though I am typing this early morning).

Whether from vitamin supplements, less typing or nervous disorder remission, the symptoms have diminished to slight tingling in my left thumb, index finger and middle finger, with the same tingling cheeks. Now I am in monitoring mode and my fears have started to recede. I have told no-one.

But there have been seem dark moments. My memory tag of 16 March is visiting a nature sanctuary with my wife. It had been a few years since we have visited and as we walked around I wondered if this would be the last opportunity – and so a moment to be savoured.

On 6 March I was running on an empty beach and decided to close my eyes, thinking of how life would be if I lost my sight.

On another run on 25 March, I ended up sitting on a bench at the top of a hill, feeling wonderfully healthy from the exertion and wondering if the symptoms were just another descent into hypochondria and not signs of my imminent demise.

It struck me that something will get me in the end. Like everyone around me I am ageing, day by day. Like everyone before me, I am mortal.

So run while I can, I thought, charging back down the hill.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Liver shrinkage

I had been following the intermittent fasting – or 5:2 diet – reasonably well until Christmas.

Then I suddenly noticed my gut was protruding and I was over 91 kg on 2nd January.

Back to low calorie days on Mondays and Thursdays and I've shed 7 kg in two months.

I noted here last year how my belly seems to deflate almost day by day as I lose visceral fat around my organs. Although intermittent fasting is supposed to have health advantages beyond weight loss, losing visceral fat is definitely a good thing to do. It is easy to monitor as I just try to stick my gut out.

For a while I noticed greater protuberance to the left side, presumably my stomach. Since then things evened up for a while.

Now it feels like there is nothing to protrude: trying flexes my stomach muscles rather than pushing my stomach, liver and whatever else forward. Things are fitting where they should again.

Last time I stabilised at around 82 kg. In theory my ideal Body Mass Index is a further 6 kg below this, which might be interesting to aim for just to see what happens.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Adding information

The images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags are providing a way to capture not only what I was doing on that day, but other key information I would like to remember.

This includes the names of friends' children, types of trees and jokes (see past posts).

Sometimes, however, I have to add the information after the event.

I was reminded of this yesterday, Wednesday 26 February 2014, as I went through the memory tags for each Tuesday and Wednesday of the past 6 months in my morning review.

On Wednesday 16 October 2013, my wife and I met my mother at a garden centre for lunch and shopping. They did not have what she wanted so we went on to another one I had not visited before. I included this in my memory tag that night, but could not remember the name of the second garden centre.

Passing by a couple of weeks later, I constructed a mnemonic to remember the name and added that to the memory tag retrospectively.

Now whenever I think of that day, I remember the name of the garden centre.

This is powerful, but it troubles me as it is, in a sense, a false memory. I did not record the name when I visited. Now I can think of my mother suggesting we go on to this second garden centre and hear her saying the name. But until I saw the name again, I couldn't retrieve this information by thinking back to that same scene.

It is something police forces and juries have to be aware of when assessing the reliability of witnesses: are they remembering something from the time it allegedly happened or have they, even unwittingly, added the information to their memory after the event?

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

That year

I have found an easier way to refresh the memory tags on my mental calendar for years past.

Now 2014 has well and truly begun, I have three full years to get through in the one-day-per-month part of my refresh routine.

This is something I do during free mental time during the day. But it was starting to feel a bit daunting.

So now I split the review into yearly blocks.

At some point during the day, I call up 2011 and remember images pinned to each day for the same day of the month: it being 17 February today, I remember the 17th of each month.

It doesn't take long, particularly as 2011 is mainly blank as I only began this processing of remembering on 17 December 2011.

At another time, I'll run through the 12 days due for a refresh in 2012 and later those in 2013, tagging the image for the day in January 2014 on at the end, at least for now. As 2014 progresses, it will merit its own separate slot.

I do wonder what will happen when there are too many years for even this more relaxed approach to cope. I have a vague hope that the point will come when I can remember the memory tags without having to refresh them, just think of the date and it appears.

But, for now, I still find pleasure in the reviews.

It is very rare now that I struggle to remember an image. Frequently they are like old friends I want to greet and renew acquaintances, even though it will be no more than 31 days since I last thought of them.

It was like that today, thinking of 17 July 2013. It was the day I gave my mother a book of photos I had laid out with captions and had printed, a delayed birthday present. She was overjoyed with it and for months afterwards would take it out most days to look through.

That's a nice memory to come around every month, whether I dwell on it or not.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Precious memories

February 2014 and I begin in the not-so-new year now when I review the memory tags for the past month.

My two-day-per-week review of memory tags for the past 6 months still begins in 2013, but inexorably the months drop out of it. When they do I make a point of running through every day of the month before letting it slide into the day-per-month review that refreshes the images in the more distance past.

Coming across the images capturing the key events and feelings of the early days of this process of remembering every day that passes, at the end of 2011 and into 2012, it struck me how precious they are, how glad I am to have them.

It would have been enriching to have begun this process long ago.

As more time passes, the memory tags I do have become more precious.

Friday, 24 January 2014

A life ended

At the end of 2012 we learned that a close relative had been diagnosed with cancer. A year later she passed away, a little over thirty years old.

We are still coming to terms with the distress of the final stages of her illness and that she is now gone, while trying to gain perspective by remembering her whole life.

She figures in many of my memory tags. I know exactly when certain events happened in the progression of her illness. I remember the special days we spent together both before and after her diagnosis.

This includes memory tags I have added retrospectively to the blanks on my mental calendar before I began this process of remembering every day that passes. We were together on 1 January 2011, the month when I begin the day-per-month reviews.

I was walking and speaking with her father soon after New Year this year and spoke to him about New Year three years before. We shared memories and stories. It was good to remember her, but there was a question that kept coming to mind, but was too painful to ask because it was no longer relevant: what were her plans?

When a life ends we have only the days lived to remember.

A phrase on cards and fridge magnets says that no-one is truly gone if they are remembered.

And so I am glad to have these memories and to come across them regularly following my refresh technique. Not just of this relative, but all the family and friends I share my life with.