One of my favourite films growing up was Gigi and the song “I remember it well”, I’m pretty sure my parents had the LP and it was played regularly on our Dansette record player which may be why it comes easily to mind. What I particularly like about it is that it relays a conversation between two peo-ple who have experienced the same events but remember it differently. You may recognise that!
Nick and I certainly do; Nick has an amazing memory for certain things, for example finding his way around a place he’s only visited once and mine is for certain facts and information. So how good is your memory and what do you most remember? Your answer may depend on your age and mental agility but there is more to it than that.
I have found recently, when sharing some of our background with the groups we work with, that certain key aspects of my life have come to light when previously overlooked, diminished or temporarily forgot-ten. That may be similar for you.
Memory is interesting and complex and there are two main types, short- and long-term:
Short-term or working memory is about the here and now, providing current information about the external world. What makes sense to me? What information am I picking up on that is useful and need to retain? The incoming information is processed in the pre-frontal cortex, doesn’t last long (20-30 seconds) and is quickly forgotten. It can only hold around seven items and if it’s important enough or experienced frequently the information is encoded via the hippocampus and filed in the long-term memory.
Long-term memory handles storage of facts, figures and information and can retain unlimited amounts of information indefinitely. It is not always immediately available but accessed via the hippocampus. Long-term memory is further broken down into declarative (what is known and able to be expressed) and non-declarative memory (what is known but cannot be expressed verbally).
So I’m guessing that my recent experience of being able to recall parts of my life that I hadn’t spoken about for a long time is a combination of short- and long-term memory function. Short-term because of the repetitive nature of sharing our background with the group has brought it back into my current atten-tion and long-term because it’s been stored in my memory banks for a long time and has taken a while to retrieve.
We may not realise just how complex the brain is or understand much about memory and I think a lot of us worry when we can’t remember something easily or get confused at times about things we should know well and may assume the worst. If this happens then it’s worth considering that it can be caused by stress and fatigue and is also influenced by many of our unconscious filters particularly our beliefs and perceptions.
By the way, September is mental health awareness month; mental health is vital to overall well-being so now may be a good time to find out more about your brain, how it works and what you can do to maintain your own mental health and wellbeing.