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Thursday, 6 January 2022

Ten years of remembering every day that passes

I began this process on 17 December 2011 and let the tenth anniversary pass without comment, so the time has come to reflect.

Firstly, I continue with this process. Every day I record a memory tag on my mental calendar and regularly review past days.

My current review process is to go through a month at a time per year. I'm currently on the month of September, remembering consecutive days of each month from 2012. It continues to be enriching. I would not have thought of many or even most of the events covered, but for this process. Indeed, I rarely recall events from the years prior to 2012 and have few landmarks for them.

The passage of time continues to surprise me. The moments captured in my images are fresh, but my perspective on them changes. Remembering every day gives me appreciation of how much happens in a year, yet I also feel the relentlessness of time's passing.

I have no intention to stop, but it has inevitably become harder to refresh the memory tags on my mental calendar. When this was easiest, I was recalling each image at least once per month. With approaching 4000 images, I need to get through 3 months per day. That rarely happens as my discipline has waned and I've let things slide when I've struggled to remember tags. Other times, an image may distract me to recall other events of the day or associated days.

Over the years, my review process has adapted as the days have piled up. My current approach to cope is not to obsess if tags elude me, but to go through what I can in the hope that missing tags will appear next time around. It is often the case that recalling subsequent months or years will suddenly unlock other tags. They are still there.

For many years, I wrote nothing down, though sometimes I might have to look back through photos or other records to find out what I was doing on a particular day where the memory tag alluded more. Prior to this process, I kept a diary and a few years ago I caught up with it, writing entries from years before retrospectively based on my memory tags.

More recently, I've kept a diary as I go, recording significant events and identifying the memory tag at the top of the page. This is not a substitute for my mental calendar, but it helps me to reinforce the memory tags during the early weeks.

It's always been the case that most recent tags are most elusive because I have spent less time reinforcing them. I've learned that I need to regularly refresh the tags by calling them to mind. What worked best was running through every day of the past month and a couple of days per month of the preceding 6 months, then selected periods of earlier years.

Often these days, I don't even complete the daily review of even the last month and so have to resort to the diary to fill in blanks. Occasionally, I'll look further back, but generally the diary is for these more recent days.

Another pressure on my time to remember is I'm using my brain for other purposes. My New Year's Resolution in 2019 was to learn the piano. Key to success is building mental representations of music and the keyboard. Increasingly, I do this by playing pieces on my mental piano, which now competes with my mental calendar for my attention.

But I'm not giving up. I am increasingly grateful for memories of times that have gone and the people who are no longer with us. 

Relatives and friends who have passed away. 

My mother's decline into Alzheimer's, which has wiped us from her memory. And put her into a care home when she became terrified of the strangers keeping her in a strange house. 

For a while she believed the care home was her childhood home and she had just come in for a rest from helping her father in the garden. Now those memories appear to have gone too, and though she is friendly when we visit, barely communicates. She smiles at us, but for the warmth of human contact, not recognition.

This shows me the fragility of our brains, that our memories are essential for our relationships, but that we are also more than our memories. Aspects of our personalities reside at a deeper level.

Sometimes, I wonder if there is something to be gained from letting these days go. It is normal to forget. 

Yet, I can see no advantage. The great benefit of this process, even as I struggle with it, is it gives me a rounded view of my life. 

The few memories I have from the years before sometimes taunt me with my failings and are missing the perspective given by putting isolated incidents into their surrounding context. 

So, I will continue to remember every day that passes, as best I can, and continue to be amazed by what it is to live a life.

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

To those giving this a try

It's great to see comments from people who have been inspired by this blog to try their own experiment in remembering every day that passes. 

People sometimes suggest different approaches - everyone has to find what works for them, which will probably change over time as the days pile up.

I have just replied to a recent comment as follows:

Thank you for your comment. Please keep us updated on how your approach works.

When I began - nearly 10 years ago now - I had the hope that this process might develop hyperthymesia, the ability a very small number of people have to remember every day without memory tricks.

That hasn't happened, but I continue. It is still rewarding - if not more so with the memory tags that have been reinforced stretching back 10 years.

Though it takes some time to do the reviews, it is only a small fraction of my day and I am certain it is beneficial to my mental health to think about this wide range of experiences, not just those that come to my mind unbidden.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Writing things down

For a long time while following the process of remembering every day that passes, I had a policy of not keeping a diary and not making notes. I thought it would be good for my discipline to rely on my memory alone. 

True, I would sometimes have to look through photos on my phone or emails with travel details to help me recover the images for particular days if I got stuck, but generally the mental process alone worked.

Prior to starting this journey, I had been a good journal keeper, not writing every day, but filling in the gaps whenever I picked it up. A few years in, I wrote my missing journals retrospectively, using the recollections my memory tags gave me.

Then in 2017, when my mother's Alzheimer's progressed to the point where I returned home to help my father and sister care for her, until that was no longer possible at home, I began to keep a diary of what was happening. The purpose was to learn what did and did not work in responding to her fears when she did not know us - and did not believe that she had a husband and children - and was scared of strangers in her house.

I have kept that going and write at the top of each page a prompt for the image for my memory tag.

This has had a downside. This year, I have fallen out of the habit of reinforcing the tags for the recent month with a review morning and night, and selected days from the past 6 months. I've told myself I can pick up my diary and catch up. To some extent that has worked, but it is not as effective as when I stuck to my routine.

It means it is somewhat harder to recall every day of recent months than the days from 2012, my first full year of this process. Yet, I suspect without the diaries, I would be lost by now.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Forgetting remembering

 I continue with this process of remembering every day that passes. I am coming up to ten years now.

However, it is getting harder to get through the review process and sometimes hitting blanks demotivates me from trying. But then, I'll have a good run or a particular day will be very important to me for the memories it brings or the fresh associations that arise.

Something I have noticed is that I no longer have the memory of my last run through to help me. For a long, long time, whenever I ran through the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags for each day, I would have a sense of when I last did so. If there was a day that gave me a problem, I may well recall how I recovered the tag the previous time.

Now, my process is not so routine. I don't even have a clear idea of how long it takes me to go through the tags for the past 10 years now. At present, I am going through January to December for each year, but stepping back a year each time. I'm currently mid-way through 2018, which was a important year for me as it was when my mother's Alzheimer's reached a critical stage where she no longer felt safe at home because she did not know who we were and was scared of her husband and me being in her house.

In the sessions before this, I ran through the same month of each year. In doing so, I found it was the more recent years that gave me most problems, hence giving those more attention now.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Getting through the years

 I completed a full review of my mental calendar from 17 December 2011 in December, taking a month and reviewing the images pinned to each day as memory tags for subsequent years. This brought me up to date.

There were blanks, some of which I was able to complete as subsequent years or months triggered associations. The earliest years were the easiest to complete as I have reviewed them so many times already.

January has just finished and I completed as far as the end of October. Accordingly, I've started February by running through November, December and January tags. I have 12 x 9 years = 108 months to cover, so need to cover about 4 months per day.

I will keep to the three-month window. It will have advantages as I was finding when I picked up on each month that I might have to scan the preceding month to orientate myself.

I changed the review of the past 12 months in January to make it more manageable. I had been reviewing two days per week for the whole year. Moving this window on a day at a time, so there would be overlap. To save time, I did 6 months at a time, dispensing with the overlap. So one day, Monday and Tuesday for January to June, the next Tuesday and Wednesday for July to December, then Wednesday and Thursday for January to June, etc. This half the time.

Again, it is the more recent days that are harder to track down, but I now keep a diary and note the memory tags at the top of the page, so can flip through that to remind myself. This is a practice I'm following only for the last month or so of images, as after that they are generally entrenched enough. It's a crutch, but now necessary and does not negate from the benefits I gain from the mental reviews of every day of the past 9 years.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Back to the old ways

I was close to giving up on this process of remembering every day that passes as the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags became increasingly elusive. Then ditching my smartphone from my bedroom and spending my initial waking time meditating and on a review, I found the images coming back to me. 

This has continued as I have reverted to some of the review techniques I used in the past. So, for the review of the past year, I am passing a two-day window over each week since January. Today being Tuesday, I’ve reviewed each Tuesday and Wednesday. It has proved to be refreshingly quick, though around October I have to switch to a review of sequential days as the images are not yet well enough entrenched. 

For the review of the 9 years since I began this process, I’ve been aiming to cover the same months of consecutive years, covering a month in two days. This is proving illuminating in a way I had forgotten.

For example, running through April from 2012 to 2020 includes my wedding anniversary. Recalling where we were in consecutive years gives me a flavour of that year in a way I was missing with the reviews of consecutive days I had been using prior to this, when it took days or weeks to cover one year as I became increasingly lost and demotivated. 

Now, I can manage four or five years of the same month before I’ve had enough. Some months have had blanks on the first run through, but subsequent years have often reminded me of events and images. My meditation process also seems to help in unlocking he images.

I'm hopeful that I can complete the review of the whole 9 years in a month of these early morning reviews.

Monday, 30 November 2020

It has all come back to me

I have ditched my smartphone from my wake-up routine and reverted to doing a morning run through of the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags. This review had become increasingly perfunctory as I became distracted by doing a quick check for messages, news and, sad to say, bank balances. The more perfunctory, the harder to recall the images and less motivated I was to keep trying. It seemed it was slipping away from me and the memory tags were vanishing forever.

Somewhat amazingly they have all - just about - come back to me.

My life is so much better leaving checking my smartphone for later in the day. Well, later in the morning, after I've completed the run through.

I don't just do the run through now, I spend a few minutes after waking getting into a meditative state. This is something I've done on and off for years. I'll explain it on the next post.

From that state, I've resumed the run through my mental calendar. Since reverting to this process at the beginning of the month, I've gone through each year in reverse order, so 2019, 2018 and so on to 2011/2012 (I began this process on 17 December 2011).

I've aimed to cover at least two months per session of about 20 minutes. This is slower than it used to take me when things were more manageable years ago, but now I have to do a certain amount of fishing around. 

What has generally happened is I've found an image and then had a good run of remembering other images, but then hit blanks. 

I am definitely remembering the images, rather than having a memory of the specific days (which was a trap I'd fallen into: trying to recall the images by working out where I was and what I was doing). The images do unlock other memories, but the images are key.

If there's a blank, I'll jump over it. As I come to the end of the session, having covered two or three months, my mental calendar has been speckled with more and more blanks. However, the next day I've started with any month with blanks and my subconscious has the images ready to serve up. It has been quite startling sometimes to suddenly find one image and then the others cascade across the days, sometimes triggering memories that fill in isolated blanks in earlier months.

So, in the end, I have very few days where the images have not come back to me and I feel confident that continuing with this more disciplined morning routine will bring those images back to me too.

I will be remembering every day that passes.

I also have to fit in the reviews of the past month and year, to keep my calendar updated. 

As was often the case, it is the more recent past which often presents difficulties, because the images are not yet entrenched on my mental calendar, particularly for the most recent days and weeks. I tend to do the previous month or two-month review once I'm up, perhaps on a run, and again before going to sleep. Then at odd moments during the day, I'll do the 6 month review I've written about previously, generally half a week at a time, so Monday to Thursday, say, then once I've covered the 6 months, Thursday to Sunday.

Having completed the review back to 2011, rather than just cycling round again, I've embarked on monthly windows across all years. I started this today by recalling the images for every day of the months of January 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Tomorrow I aim to cover January for the remaining years.

Clearly, this is a time investment, but it is time that was eaten up by my mobile phone (which still grabs me after I've finished this process, but I'm already ahead).

Most positively, from a mental health and general balance perspective, I am viewing a wide range of aspects of my life and reflecting on the many people and events that feature in these memory tags, rather than just specific memories I would otherwise obsess about. I've written before about how enriching this is. It's good to have it back.

This doesn't cover my how life, though I will sometimes be distracted by earlier memories triggered by the review process. All the same, it is now nearly 9 years. So much has happened in that time. I am so glad to be able to remember at least one thing for every day of it.