Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Thinking about you

My memory tag for October 16 this year includes the fact my wife went to the capital to visit a friend we have not seen for a while.

I was unable to go myself and when she returned she passed on our friends best wishes. They had tried to work out when we had last all been together.

As I can remember every day of the nearly three years since beginning this process, I was able to say immediately that it was July 16, 2012 and recount where we went and what we did.

It was made a little easier than it might have been as a few hours before I had run through the 16th day of each month as part of the process of refreshing the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags, so I had briefly relived the captured moment.

This is a strength of my current system.

As well as being able to remember people and events, I periodically bring them to mind. I can honestly say, 'I was thinking about you recently'.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Memory reboot

I had to reboot my memory last week as this process of remembering every day that passes went into meltdown. It happened just as I reached the 1000 day milestone.

I was having a hectic time and was unable to complete my daily review of memory tags for the same day of the month stretching back to 2011.

Whenever this happens, I catch up by reviewing consecutive days the following day. For example, today is 17 September, so I will review the 17th of each month. If I hadn't completed the review yesterday, I would call up the images pinned to my mental calendar for the 16th and 17th of each month.

Last week the missed days piled up so I was faced with reviewing not two, but three then four days of each month, which began to feel overwhelming. If I didn't complete the review, the next day I'd have even more days to run through.

The solution seemed obvious: full memory reboot.

I did something I have not done for a long time. I ran through every day from the start of this process on 17 December 2011.

It took several days as I had to fit it into spare moments, just as with my usual day-per-month review.

My day still began with a more detailed review of the past 6 months, though here too I was experiencing problems as I explained in my last post. I only fully recovered all the memory tags for the last month yesterday.

Once the 6-month review was out of the way - or as much of it as I could manage - I picked up the full run through from where I had left off. There was something comforting in this. The feeling of being overwhelmed at having missed several days of reviews left me. Even though I knew this would take some time, I would still be revisiting past days with less than the month-long gap my established method involved, so could stop worrying that images would fade away in the time it took for me to reach them.

The advantage of a sequential run through is many of the images for consecuitve days are linked. I put to one side any days that did not immediately come to mind and went back to them later. After four days I had gone through the 1000+ days since I began this process without losing a single memory tag.

As I passed the day of the month I would have been reviewing in my normal method, it gave me a boost to see I could soon switch back to it.

It did occur to me that a sequential review could become my new refresh technique. Instead of a day-per-month review, I could review say four consecutive months per day. In my present technique the same day comes around about every 30 days. Covering four months per day would give enable me to review 10 years of memory tags before the time between reviewing the same day hits 30 days.

I am not switching to this method just yet for a simple reason. Reviewing sequential days put me into that time period. I was reliving the past.

The day-per-month review is very different. It gives me perspective over time and links today to past days. That feels much more healthy.

Even so, I now have a memory reboot method should I need it.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014


My system for remembering every day that passes suffered total collapse last week. I was drawing blanks for almost the whole of the last month and felt bereft. It was as if a balloon had become deflated and I could not pump it up again.

It happened because I spent five intense days working. I had little sleep and had too much to do. I struggled to conduct my usual six-month review in the morning. The longer review process covering the memory tags going back to 2011 went neglected. I was faced with recalling not just one day per month, but then two, three and four just to keep up.

Everything is back on track again now. Tomorrow I'll explain the method I used for a memory reboot covering the longer period.

The more immediate past, usually so familiar, had become a foreign country. A change of scene or situation does give me a new perspective on past days, but this experience made them seem so alien I could barely grasp them.

The solution was perseverance. I had to put aside feelings of panic as day after day of my mental calendar hissed with the white static of forgotten. There were a few days with images and slowly these triggered associations. All the techniques I have developed to recover lost memories came into play and after four days of struggle during spare moments (I have still been very busy), the tags were back.

The memory reboot method I was using for the longer timespan, which I will explain tomorrow, no doubt also helped bring my memory muscles back into shape.

The deflated balloon of my memory began to inflate. In fact, it felt more like inflating an airbed with a foot pump, so slowly did it unfold itself and return to shape. Images that troubled me as incomplete gained their missing aspects and another crinkle popped away.

For a moment, when the immediate month just passed was a mess of missing and confused images, I thought this process had come to its natural end.

This morning I have done my usual six-month run through and all is well again.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Putting two things together

For a long time I've felt something was missing from my memory tag for 4 August 2013.

I remembered calling a good friend from temporary accommodation I had rented to be close to work and adopted that as the image pinned to my mental calendar. The 4th August comes up in the reviews on the 4th of every month and so this is the image I have refreshed, but for several months it has felt like a bit of a cheat.

On the run through yesterday, being 5 September, I recalled receiving news about a cousin on 5 January 2013. But it was not the news of his son attending college. That I had learned on another day directly from my cousin. I decided to make a point of creating an acronym to record where and what he was studying.

Suddenly I realised this nugget of information had been lost to me and that was because it had detached from my mental calendar: it was the missing memory tag from 4 August. I had stopped off to have lunch with my cousin on my journey.

It is now fixed back firmly in place, giving a sense of completion to my calendar once more.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Why I find associating dates with memory tags important

It being the 6 August, my morning review involved a quick run through the images pinned to my mental calendar for every day of the past month.

On Sunday 6 July I ran my first half marathon. Only a month ago. This surprised me. It seems a lot longer. I was unsure how it would go as I was recovering from an injury, but since then I have gone from strength to strength, embarked on a training programme for my next half marathon in September, and have run a 10 km race. The half marathon landmark feels like it should be further away given the progress along that road.

By contrast, when I came to Saturday 12 July, I found it hard to believe the memory captured was not more recent. I took my parents on an outing to old haunts. They are less mobile now and don't travel far on their own. We had a very enjoyable time and I suppose that is why it still seems fresh.

That same day Brazil was beaten by Holland in the 3rd place play-off in the soccer world cup. The following day, Germany beat Argentina to raise the trophy. Both events and the tournament as a whole already feel consigned to history. So 12 July left me perplexed, containing memories both recent and far away.

The following weekend, 19 and 20 July, I had a great time cycling with friends. I am glad I will not forgot those days and will revisit them forevermore in reviews. Again, it seems a shock they have already receded so far.

It was Sunday 27 July when I ran the 10 km race. Just over a week ago, but already done and dusted as my focus is on the training runs scheduled for this week.

Last week, I was preparing and travelling to a conference that took place at the weekend. The images for the week come as a package, linked together. But that package now has the lid closed and is tied up with string. I would probably think little more of it, except my review process stops it fading to nothing.

If these images were not pinned to my mental calendar, but simply drifted into my recollection, no doubt I would be hard-pressed to place them.

My sense of the time passed since an event is unreliable.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Run through

I have mentioned in past posts how sometimes I am surprised when I review the imaged pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags to find events were so recent, or so long, ago.

As an experiment, here is a quick review for the images for the 22nd of each month from when I began this process of remembering every day that passes. I want to explore whether they feel as long ago as they should be, amongst other things.

So here goes.

22 December 2011 (Thursday): Christmas shopping with my wife and niece - without this tag, I would be hard pressed to remember this specific outing or that it took place in 2011.

22 January 2012 (Sunday): Watched the film, The Artist, with aching legs after a run. Would not have a clue the year it came out without this tag.

22 February 2012 (Wednesday): Conversation with a work guest. Planning for a significant event in December 2012. Seems like it was over two years ago.

22 March 2012 (Thursday): Collecting my wife from her language clash – the road was blocked. Captures that whole time of 9 months living in a particular flat in my country. A happy and more settled time. Glad I can remember it. Similar periods in earlier years are very indistinct and shapeless, just odd memories.

22 April 2012 (Sunday): Lunch at a favourite restaurant. Our first visit on moving back to my country after living in my wife's till the end of November 2011. I remember where we sat and what we had to eat. The same is true of subsequent visits. Previously they would likely have merged into one.

22 May 2012 (Tuesday): Trip to a nearby town as time of lieu after a working weekend. Probably would have forgotten all about this otherwise. But it was the first time we visited a particular café.

22 June 2012 (Friday): Wrote a report on a work success. This is a matter of history. Seems a long time ago - but then nearly two years is a long time, brought home to me by being able to remember every single day between then and now.

22 July 2012 (Sunday): Relatives of my wife's who were visiting returned home. Yup. Two years ago. That's a long time. Almost possible to see I have aged a little – certainly there have been some experiences along the way since then.

22 August 2012 (Wednesday): Sheltered in the rain with my wife before heading home to watch the Olympics closing ceremony on television. Of course, we would remember it was 2012.

22 September 2012 (Saturday): Final Saturday in our flat as we plan to move to return to my wife's country. A period that had seemed settled, was just a short chapter in our lives.

22 October 2012 (Monday): We returned to my wife's country to find my niece seriously ill – we didn't know when we went with her on this day for her first chemotherapy session at an out-patient clinic that she would not be with us 13 months later. These memories are precious as she is now frozen in the past.

22 November 2012 (Thursday): I had to sort out my visa for travelling for the conference discussed back in February. This process gives me landmarks to track the progress of stories like this.

22 December 2012 (Saturday): A gathering of family and friends for my niece.

22 January 2013 (Tuesday): Staying along at my sister-in-law's holiday apartment to work while my wife stays with our niece. Today I was sorting out a problem with the electrical supply.

22 February 2013 (Friday): Riding my bike to the swimming pool in our home town in my wife's country. It is the sound of the chain running through my cycling helmet that reminds me of this day.

22 March 2013 (Friday): A session with a physiotherapist as part of a course on global postural re-education (described elsewhere on this blog). It began on 21 February 2013. This has now become part of my routine. Again, I would not know when I first began this regime without following this process.

22 April 2013 (Monday): After nearly a month away from our home town, we are back with my mother and sister-in-law. Seems more than a year ago. My mother-in-law was taken ill while she was with us, so a difficult time. She's better now. Perhaps that's why I want to feel it is behind us.

22 May 2013 (Wednesday): Back in my country - on this day we travelled from my parents where we first stayed, to a house rented near my office. Something I could easily have forgotten. But I have the details of where we stayed, going for a walk on this first afternoon then and stopping for a drink.

22 June 2013 (Saturday): A 5 km race. This was organised by a running club I would go on to join. My wife had returned to her country to care for her niece. A year later, I was a volunteer helping to organise this race. In that year, I progressed to run 10 km races and read a lot about training and theory. It is encouraging to see how far I have come in a year, with still a long way to go.

22 July 2013 (Monday): A year ago today. What was I doing on this day? Not running as I had sore knees from running my first 5 mile race two days before. Usually thinking back to the same date a year before brings home just how long a year is. In the first 18 months or so of this process, I would sometimes do a long run through of every day from when I began. On a long solo car journey was a good time. There are two many days now, but perhaps I should run through the past year once in a while. Every day I get up. Do it 365 times and a year has passed.

22 August 2013 (Thursday): My mother went to the memory clinic for an assessment as her short-term memory is failing her. She was 74 at the time. They did not prescribe anything at that time, though they would later. Her coping strategies had masked the actual changes to her brain. 'At least I'm in the system', she said when she came back. I took my parents out to lunch to get on with life.

22 September 2013 (Sunday): My wife was back in time for my father's 80th birthday. We gave him an iPod and took him on a surprise trip to meet up with my brother and his family. In some ways, this day seems longer ago than less than a year. Why might that be, I wonder?

22 October 2013 (Tuesday): I can't reach my wife on the phone, but see her walking home as I cycle back. Her phone has broken. A memory I would probably not keep were it not for following this process, but I am glad to have it.

22 November 2013 (Friday): My has returned to her country to care for her niece, in time to be there for her final three weeks of life. In the end she died suddenly and was buried quickly. I am tying up loose ends so I can join her and the family for an extended period.

22 December 2013 (Sunday): So in my wife's country once more. A sister-in-law has a 60th birthday, but it is a subdued affair, remembering our niece. It is only recently that the six-month window of my more in-depth review (two days per week) has moved beyond this period. Relinquishing 2013 was a wrench. Now it is surprising that 2014 is already over half done.

22 January 2014 (Wednesday): My wife an I are staying in the holiday flat again for a month. Today the family who lost a daughter are arriving.

22 February 2014 (Saturday): A haircut. One of the recurring events I choose to remember. My barber when we are home is now 82 and I am pleased to find him still cutting the hair of his old faithful clients on Saturdays. His hands shake now and though he is still competent, not going to instill confidence in new customers.

22 March 2014 (Saturday): Back to my country once more. We have always moved between the two, but I am hard pressed to know for sure where we were before I began this process. Once I had to work it out for bureaucratic reasons and went through my passport stamps. For the past three years, I know from my memory. I've written before how this process changes the nature of the transitions: I am not so dislocated from the two lives we lead in different countries.

22 April 2014 (Tuesday): It is surprising that so much of 2014 has already been consigned to my memory. For the first month or so, I still felt rooted in 2013. On this day I drove to the office to unload the car of resources I had been using. The following day, I pulled a tendon in my knee, opening a chapter of recovery and treatment that closed on 6 July when I ran my first half marathon.

22 May 2014 (Thursday): I bought a foam roller as part of the process of getting back into running after my injury.

22 June 2014 (Sunday): The day after I volunteered to help at the 5 km race I ran the year before. A whole year gone by since then. On this day, I went for lunch with my parents before heading back to where I work.

22 July 2014 (Tuesday): And so to today. Another day that will be captured in an image pinned to my mental calendar. I'm not sure what it will be yet. That will come as I lay down to sleep and run through each memory tag for the past month, ending with today.

Looking back, that's snapshots of 32 days, capturing some of the significant – and not so significant – events of the past three years.

Tomorrow I will run through the 23rd of each month, usually in short annual block because the small blocks of time it takes fit easily around other activities.

Some years, I run through in minutes. Other times a day will stop me short and make me reflect, perhaps reminding me of other times beyond this arbitrary window of remembering.

Other days of the month capture other events. For example, the above sequence totally misses out the recent soccer world cup that figures in recent memory tags.

I don't know where this is heading. In ten years time will I run through 120 images at some point during the day? Will I have given up? Will my review process have developed so I can still find the memories, but don't call them to mind so often?

This sequence will come round again in a month's time. Today will then be captured in a memory tag.

While the past cannot be re-written, I have a new perception of it with each review. Stories progress. Situations change.

Perhaps, imperceptibly, I become a different person to who I was in my memories.

In praise of physiotherapists - part two

A while ago (19 May 2014) I wrote in praise of physiotherapists after I pulled the ligament by my inner right knee. I visited a phsyio for guidance on how to recover and instead also gained a diagnosis on changing my running style through stretching different muscles to avoid problems in future.

As I go through the reviews of my memory tags, the story plays out as follows:

21 April 2014: I set out to try running at a half marathon pace of 6 mins/km to see how it felt – and ended up running a half marathon distance (21 km).

23 April 2014: Confident I had it in me to complete a half marathon, I started to think about training for one. But on my run this day, I felt a tear near my right knee and had to walk home with it burning.

25 April 2014: One thing this process of remembering every day that passes bring home, is that episodes pass. To show my believe in this fact, when I saw an early-bird discount for a full marathon next April, I signed up. In the afternoon, I visited the sports shop and looked for a new pair of running shoes. The age of my old ones may have contributed to my injury.

26 April 2014: Instead of running in the park as usual on a Saturday morning, my wife and I went for a walk.

27 April 2014: Today we cycled. My knee could cope with this.

2 May 2014: I bought the new running shoes. But had still not returned to running.

9 May 2014: I visited the physio for advice on whether to rest or to exercise etc. Came away with exercises to help me change my gait. Told not to run for a week.

19 May 2014: Checked out clips on running gait and wrote the post In praise of physiotherapists - part one. The title was in expectation that one day I would write this post.

21 May 2014: Tried a short run. Muscles ached, but knee okay.

22 May 2014: Bought a foam roller to massage muscles.

26 May 2014: Went on a 40 km cycle ride as cross training.

28 May 2014: Started running again. Now doing my exercises each day.

8 June 2014: Ran a 10 km race. Knee fine, but bad approach, going out too fast and struggling at the end.

15 June 2014: Ran another 10 km race. This time, purposely started out slowly and build up the pace for a strong finish, passing many of those who passed me at the beginning in the second half of the race. Feeling back on track and looked for a half marathon to enter.

20 June 2014: Went for a haircut prior to seeing the physio okay to evaluate progress. The barber sneers at the idea of visiting a physio saying he had never met one who knew anything useful. I beg to differ, saying mine had dealt with my injury and the root cause of the problem.

6 July 2014: Ran my first ever half marathon – in just under two hours.

That was 10 weeks from injury to achieving my goal of running a half marathon.

Some of the above milestones along the way come up in each of my reviews.

Life is lived forwards, but understood looking backwards. This story now has a beginning, middle and end.

Now I am in a new chapter: building toward my first marathon in April 2015.