Memory is like a school of fish

How Does She Do It?

Laura and I were talking and all of a sudden, she went blank. She sort of had the deer-in-the-headlights look on her face. I gave her time to think and suddenly she just dropped her head to her chest and said, “I give up. I don’t…

“That’s okay, honey; we can get back to that. But, what’s it like?” I quietly asked. “Do you just see a black hole, or do you see something, anything, when you are trying to think of a word?”

“No, it’s not just a blank – at least not at first. When I get stuck it is like I am looking at a big school of fish, all swimming together- weaving back and forth, up and down, all around, darting in and out – wrapping themselves over one another,“ she explained as she waved her arms and hands around to help with the visual.

“Are the fish words?– are you are trying to pick out which one to use?”

“No, they’re everything: words, ideas, thoughts, memories – even things I have to do this afternoon – they are all just there and I have to find the right one and somehow hang on to it.”

“Wow, no wonder you struggle sometimes. I don’t know if I could do that.”

“Yeah and when someone interrupts or tries to help – it scares all the fish away – and then I’m left with the blank.”

I was stunned. Now it made sense. It explained it all, from the pauses when she is speaking to the seemingly random leaps to another topic. When Laura is faced with a choice, whether it’s a sequence of events or a decision, her thoughts can start competing with each other and easily distract her. The right answer is swimming around and around, almost taunting her to find it and capture it; only to have everything vanish when there is an interruption.

For example, when faced with a large menu in a restaurant, Laura sees the lunch choices as just a bunch of minnows swimming around on the page only to flee when the waiter comes by to ask for the order and unwittingly drops a stone in the water, scaring off the fish. Or why, when she is getting ready to leave the house, she will pack and unpack her purse, only to ‘lose’ what she has just taken out. Any decision, big or small, can get lost in the ‘school of fish’, just in sight, and then gone again, all in the blink of an eye.

How does she do it?

– Bill Smutny, Husband and Yeva Head Caregiver Mentor