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.

Monday, 2 November 2020

Smartphones can be bad for your memory

Two news reports caught my attention recently and have indirectly put new life into this process of remembering every day that passes.

One said that giving attention to screens, particularly multiple screens – or "media multi-tasking" (such as scrolling through your phone while watching television) – is bad for the memory.

Another said that a large percentage of people check their smartphones within 5 minutes of waking up and the majority within the first hour.

I had fallen into this habit, partly because time differences might mean a request for me to take freelance work arrives in the early morning and waiting until usual working hours would be too late to secure the contract.

But I've gone beyond checking for such emails to routinely checking through social media and news websites, bank account apps, etc. and then starting the cycle again.

At the same time, my ability to recall the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags for each day has been failing me. I keep running through the current year, not least so I have some sense of the passage of time during the coronavirus lockdown and restrictions. 

I have also been refreshing past years, but this now takes so long it can be months before I revisit images to refresh them. And I know that I can run into difficulties if I delay for a month. The harder it is, the longer it takes and the more demotivated I've been to return to the process.

More distant years, such as 2012 and 2013 have been easier to review, but more recent years have been refreshed over a shorter time period and I could scan through several weeks with little clue of the images I had selected for each day. 

When I did find something to orientate me, I'd use that to try to guess at surrounding images to trigger a memory, with little success.

Then a few days ago it struck me that this was not how it used to work. I remembered the tags and they opened up the day to me and reminded me of the surrounding tags. When I had fewer days to remember and called up the images more frequently, I could often remember remembering them the last time around. Sometimes I'd have introduced a stronger connection between consecutive days to help me with the recall.

So, I decided to go back to a meditation routine I used to do morning and night, descending a mental staircase to a special place where I was totally relaxed and could then let my thoughts wander. I got into this meditative state and then returned to my mental calendar - hosting it in a particular place in this special place I was visualising. Where there were blanks, I visualised polishing the square on my mental calendar to reveal the image.

And it has been working.

I've coupled this with ditching the smartphone scanning in the morning - other than a quick check for work requests - and using my first half hour in bed after waking to engage in this review. I have the target of completing at least two months of historic images per morning (in addition to refreshing the current year during the day and when I am going to sleep).

Images are not only coming back to me, I'm suddenly remembering images that I had lost for other years and am jumping across the calendar pages to run over those days.

So I'm optimistic that I can get back into this routine and it will hopefully become easier as the images are reinforced once more.

Keeping away from my phone for this half hour and filling my mind with the richness that comes from recalling past days, with all the thoughts and reflections they trigger, can only be for the good.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Now I know what this is all about

I began this process of remembering every day that passes over 3000 days ago.

I continue to pin an image to my mental calendar at the end of every day as a memory tag.

But as I've been recording here, it has become increasingly harder to refresh the images.

Several times I've thought of giving it up as an experiment that has reached its natural end.

But I haven't. During the current coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the memory tags mean I can distinguish between days with few distinguishing features and mark the passage of time. Otherwise they would just be a blur.

More importantly, I've now realised what this process is all about.

I had hoped it would induce hyperthymesia, a rare ability to access all memories as if they are fresh. That hasn't happened. It seems that I need to review the images pinned to my mental calendar once per month to be able to remember them easily next time around. It's a memory exercise. It hasn't rewired my brain to make recall effortless.

Now there are too many days to run through all the images on that timescale, even though the process I use has evolved over time. My current method is to run through a year of memories over the course of a week or more. There are now approaching 9 years to cover.

I was becoming frustrated because sometimes I'd hit blanks and either take a break for a few days or jump ahead and hope I could come back and fill in the blanks - which generally does work.

Yet, as the reviews have taken longer, the monthly target of reviewing each image has become a forlorn hope and I face the prospect of each review being harder every time and blank days appearing and joining up into voids in my memory.

Just like the years before I began this process, where the reference points are few and far between.

But it struck me as I was recalling images of my mother, now in the later stage of Alzheimer's where she no longer remember me or her husband of 62 years, that this experiment was always about remembering.

Remembering the days I have lived. The people I love. The experiences we have shared. The places we have been.

I've currently been progressing through 2016. Before my mother's illness was bad, but when there were signs of it. Those signs are more poignant now. The times of normality and happiness more precious. Revisiting the past continues to be enriching as I see it differently as my vantage point changes and its impact on the present also changes.

Going through these memory tags in the past few days, it struck me that this is no longer principally to refresh the images for my memory trick. I am going to stop worrying that it's taking far longer than a month to complete the cycle. That pressure is off.

I'll finish this year in the time it takes. Then move onto the next in the same way. But without pressure to hit some target of weeks or months covered in each period.

It is only the recent days where discipline is required to establish the images.

I am savouring remembering. Filling in most of the blanks. Sometimes resorting to looking back at pictures on my phone - which is not cheating, as I set the rule. A photograph can orientate me and suddenly unlock a whole sequence of memories.

Even as some images slip away from me, the memories of these years are far richer than the previous decades of my life. And I will continue to add my memory tag for each day.

This was always about remembering.