Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Musings on memory and specialness

I've been meaning to write this post for several weeks now and am finally getting around to it. Some of you know that one of my favorite shows is House. On most Saturday nights, my date is House, ie watching the reruns. Occasionally, there will be a quote or scenario that really makes me think. (see "control" and organ transplantation, "let them eat cake," "life is a series of rooms," and "the greater good.") Or better yet, I tell myself, "this will make a good blog post!"

The show was entitled "You must remember this." It was about about a waitress, Nadia, who came in with paralysis of her legs after she falls suddenly. There is nothing different about this woman except for one thing--she has an impeccable memory. She can remember anything from any date. Everyone is impressed, including House.

Later, we find out that the waitress and her sister have been estranged for a long time. The sister comes to be with Nadia. She tries to share memories with Nadia, but Nadia only lashes out at her sister, always finding a reason why that was not a good memory. After several times of this, Nadia's sister leaves. That is, until she learns that Nadia needs a kidney and is persuaded to donate hers.

Nadia's case has yet to be solved, but House wonders whether Nadia will thank her sister. "She claims that she objectively sees reality. Weighing the good and bad in people. If that's true, I don't care how many times her sister borrowed her scrunchy without asking, a free kidney ought to trump all the bad stuff."

Well, it didn't, and Nadia still could not thank her sister.

As the show nears the end, we learn that Nadia also likes jigsaw puzzles and would never leave one unfinished--it would drive her crazy. Houses reasons she has OCD, and that she has McLeod's syndrome, a rare genetic neurological disease in which anxiety and OCD can be a symptom. House tells her, "Best case scenario, you can live another twenty years." Then, he says one of his famous lines, "If it's any solace, everybody dies alone."

Chase comes back into Nadia's room with a bottle of SSRIs, telling her it will help with the OCD. Nadia is only concerned that it would affect her memory. Chase tries to explain that her memory would be like everyone else's. Nadia goes on to say, "My memory is the only thing that has ever made me special." Chase replies with "if you want to be special then it means being alone."

So this episode is a twofold one--the idea that we filter out our memories, rehashing or remembering only the bad stuff and the idea of "specialness."

Lots of us, ED'd or not will at times dwell on things in our lives which may not be the most healthy for us. Take in point last week when I was talking to my dad about work. He felt I kept bringing up my former boss, and he just couldn't understand why I was not able to drop the subject already. I think had I gone on for days and weeks and weeks about it, yes, then, it would be considered dwelling. Or dwelling if I could just not stop talking about it completely, like an obsession. But it's not. I have talked about it extensively with close family and friends--heck I even had a recent dream about it, but I have moved on from it. Will I still wonder, yep. Will I ever get answers? Likely not.

That was the thing for Nadia, she was not able to let go or forgive people. She saw her memory as objective, but it was far from it. Instead, she filtered everything good out from her memories and only remembered the bad stuff. And continuously obsessed on it. And that became what she felt was her true memory.

This is similar to the scenarios of therapists who continuously want to rehash the past My feeling is that there is a time and place for it, and in early recovery, it can help understand why you feel the way you do or how someone else may have felt. Then, when there is a point of acceptance about it, that is when you must move forward and learn what you can do now.

Secondly, a lot of us want to feel special. Truly, we all are--we just never see it at the time. We want a special quality that no one else can do. For many with eating disorders, it is the idea of starvation and thinness. (For me personally, it was the superwoman complex which equated to great grades, functioning on very little sleep and food, and being a part of lot of extracurricular activities and excelling at them.)

Though I don't completely agree with Chase's statement if we relate it to eating disorders--really we aren't alone, there are millions starving, purging, bingeing everyday. But we do feel alone. We feel alone for being different, for having no one else to talk to who relates, for our isolation/our imprisonment in our own minds. And that's truly not a way to live a life.

It's kind of weird when I think about the whole "special" thing. For so long, I've been told I was special. I never believed it though. I mean, it just doesn't count when it is from your parents. But other people would say it too, and would they lie really? Still though, here's what I do know. I don't want to be special for my outward appearances (well okay, being called attractive is kind of nice at times--a recent date told me this), but rather for my inner qualities. I know that sounds hugely clichèish, but it is true. I'd rather be considered kind, compassionate, generous, reliable, hard working, etc. than just pretty.

Did anyone else see this episode? What were your thoughts? How do you view memories? How do you want others to see you?


shard said...

I saw it, and it resonated with me too.

I have struggled with eating disorders, but I'm just learning that my disordered eating, along with a lot of other unhealthy things I've done and/or still tend to do, are actually tied in to having post-traumatic stress disorder. So having PTSD is definitely not good for my health. It doesn't make me happy; it makes me feel different and damaged and alone. But at the same time, I can't help but see some positives in it. Like one of the symptoms of PTSD can be hyper-vigilance - being overly aware of sensory input, for example, and tending to be always on edge or always feel like you're full of adrenaline. And as I'm dealing with the underlying trauma, and getting better in some ways - happier, less stressed out, being able to trust people, etc. - I've noticed that some of the abilities I've cherished are diminishing. For example, I used to be able to run off adrenaline and stay awake for something like 48 hours, which helped when I had too many deadlines or things to do. I can't now. I get tired and I can't push myself past it; I do normal amounts of things in normal amounts of time now, and now I just sleep when I'm tired. So it's definitely a step towards being healthier, but sometimes I miss being able to just keep going and going and going. I have to remind myself, sometimes, that I'm doing the right thing and that being able to do more things in a day - which did make me feel special - isn't worth my health.

Anonymous said...

I also saw it and had the same thoughts. Interestingly, my husband (who is working with me on my recovery) was the one who first said something out loud and asked me what I thought. I said I never thought having an ED made me special and I never strived to be 'special'...but did agree that it does make you alone.

I do agree with Chase. As long as you have an ED you are distanced from your family and friends. You can not give yourself fully to either yourself or your relationships. So even if you are in a crowd of people (including others with EDs) you really are alone. How can you connect with people when you can't fully feel your emotions?

Your post actually made me think about myself...I had said I never wanted to be special by being thin. Which is true. But, like you, I did/do have a superwoman complex, that I'm not discovering. I don't 'need' things like sleep, food, and I get my 'special' feeling by thinking I am above such things and don't need anything.

This is what I am working on.

Very thought provoking....

Missy said...

I have a tendency to filter the bad and only remember the good...probably a coping mechanism or something.

You are obviously very special to be thinking all this stuff...but I already knew you were. (0:

Tiptoe said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It ca nbe a tough one to bring up.

Shard, glad you are working through your PTSD. It is sad letting go of some traits that we liked and felt helped us, though were not necessarily healthy for us.

Findingthewholeself, yes, I agree that with an ED, you cannot fully engage with someone. The Ed always takes some part of you. Good for you on working about changing your thinking on the superwoman complex. It can be a hard one to break.

Missy, we all filter in a variety of ways, and I agree, it is about how to cope. Thanks for your lovely remark about me. :-) The same holds true for you too.