Imagine you forgot everything you heard straight after hearing it. People come in and introduce themselves to you. Before they’ve left the room you can’t remember who they are … can’t remember remembering who they were, in fact. As far as you’ve concerned, time stands entirely still. In this condition, anterograde amnesia, everything, for you, is perpetually beginning.

What do you do?

One way is to stick to a strict routine: do everything in just the same order every day: see the same people, do the same activities. Your day, your week, your month, your year all mapped out in advance. 50 First Dates.

Another way is writing down everything you do just as you do it – keeping a journal of your daily round. If you write it down at least you won’t lose the writing, however little it may mean to you as soon as it’s complete. The word becomes the thing it was describing.

Another way is writing and/or memorizing poems. Because they have an ordered structure: the predictability of rhythm and rhyme, it’s possible to hold them in your head: that part of your head which rests, miraculously intact, below the level of dysfunction.

The television documentary Living without a Memory (BBC, 2003) tracks the daily lives of three sufferers from this condition: Debbie, Sally and George. They all exist within a family structure. It’s hard, in fact, to imagine them surviving any other way …

How do you recover your past if you have retrograde amnesia?
Write down, blindly, everything that comes into your head
check it back for clues

How do you hold onto the present if you have anterograde amnesia?
List the things that strike you
link them up to preserve your train of thought

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