Sunday, January 23, 2011

Welcome to Alzheimers

I can remember the exact time when I started to be unable to recall names. In high school I never had a problem, but once I started college, and was meeting dozens of people at a time, every day, for a couple of weeks - in dorms, dining rooms, classes, friends of friends and so on, I found that I was not remembering many names. About a couple of weeks into freshman year I ran into someone who addressed me by name and I was mortified that I couldn't remember his name,l though I did remember his face and where we had met just a few days before. Ever since it has been a noticeable problem for me.

Then, about 10 years ago I started to realize that not only could I not remember people's names, I also couldn't remember their faces. This was especially embarrassing in my job, where I would go to trade shows and meet vendors and clients, people I normally spoke to on the phone. If I could see their name tag, it was good, because I knew their names and who they worked for as I could picture their business card in my rolodex. Trying to see a name badge without them noticing wasn't easy and I failed at it many times, but most people were too polite to say anything - I knew it was insulting but there was not much I could do about it. The art of faking it wasn't in my realm either, I'm a terrible liar. And because I only saw these people face to face only a few times a year, the only ones I could recognize were those with distinguishing features - ie scars or interesting hair or very handsome or lots of freckles, and such. Even people I had a meal with, and long, personal conversations, I could not recognize them again, most especially if I saw them out of context, like in a store or at a theater.

This has gotten progressively worse since email. Not only do I never have to look in a rolodex, I don't have to remember names since "reply" doesn't require you to pay attention to the name. I have a different type of job now, and there are far fewer people I interact with regularly, but with those that I do, I can't remember their name or face even after a few lunches or meetings. Once, in Bed, Bath & Beyond, the ad sales rep from Brides Magazine stopped me to say hi. She was so out of context there was no way I was ever going to know who she was, and even after she told me her name, the blank expression on my face revealed it all. Luckily, ad sales reps change constantly. If I ever ran into her again I didn't know it, because I still don't remember who she was.

Then today, at Trader Joes, I turned a corner and a young woman greeted me by name, "Hi Jill!" I said hi cheerfully but scuttled away because I had no clue as to who she was and didn't want to embarrass her or myself with that revelation. I thought about who she might be, and since I don't know that many women in their '20's, by process of elimination it's possible she is a freelance writer I met once or twice. Maybe not.

But then it got weirder. I went into the pet food store on my way home fromTrade Joes, and the same thing happened. A young woman greeted me by name, and I was so surprised, because this was the woman I actually thought of when the first woman in Trader Joe's said hello. Could I know that many freelance journalists who shop nearby, both of whom I would run into within half an hour of each other? How very odd. They were not the same person, that much I can attest to. But who were they? I might never know. They seemed very nice and if I am ever wondering why I have no new friends, this would be the reason--I can't remember them.


John M said...

You're not alone, Jill. I've had the same problem for years. There are people I've closely worked with for a year or more whose very existence has been wiped from my memory. People try to remind me of who someone is, but I draw a total blank.

I don't even try anymore. People I remember, I remember. Those I don't, something in my brain and flawed psyche has blocked from retrieval. It's not uncommon or a warning signal of dementia--I hope! It's just an automatic way of sifting too much information and assigning priorities to that which we deem more important, for whatever rational or irrational reason.

Larry Slade said...

I'm glad you are finally putting things together dear.
The first young woman, at Joes, was our daughter Virus. She told me later that day that she had spotted you. We only see you from time to time since you wandered away from our 5th Ave apartment five years ago and attached yourself to these east village people. Honey, I like the arts too, and I'm all for helping the poor, but it is best to keep ones distance and help out as we can from our position with our continued support of foundations.
When you sort of snapped and thought you were one of them is when the problems started and you changed, became, well, . . . confused.
It's not to late. If you come home NOW, we can get you help. It can be as before.
Come back.
Larry (your husband)