I KNOW That I Know, But I Can’t Recall

In the last few years or so, this has become more and more frustrating to me as it continues to become more and more of an issue every day (well that’s how it feels). I can remember being a kid in middle school and high school; I was so sharp and so quick (I am talking about my brain, although I always made sure to finish “the mile” among the first)! I was pretty much a straight-A student (with a few “justified” exceptions) and even managed to graduate high school early.

My brain was quick

School was “easy” for me, which (because I had all this extra time) meant that I often got into trouble, well, I usually didn’t get caught, but you know. When I did get caught, I was that kid who was quick to challenge and discard someone’s authority; I think I saw it as a personal challenge. I loved to argue and to debate, no matter who it was with. Regardless of what the debate was about, I could take any position and defend it like I actually believed it while making sure my argument was logically “flawless”. I always had to “win”! In retrospect, I was totally a little know-it-all jerk who would annoy the heck out of me today, but that is not the point. The point is that I was quick, my brain was firing on all 8 cylinders from the moment I woke up till the moment I went to bed.


By quick, I am referring to executive functions like problem-solving, planning, reasoning and memory, but for the sake of this article I just want to break that last one down a bit. Memory. It is not as simple a function as you may initially think. A lot of people (with and without MS) might be able to remember the lyrics to a song they have not heard in over a decade but at the same time might not be able to remember the name of an actor they are watching on TV RIGHT NOW.

On the tip of my tongue

Well, more than likely, that song is something that they memorized, something they DEDICATED to memory, whereas the name of that actor? They probably did not sit down and actually try to memorize it. But if this is happening to you (like it has been for me for years), then more than likely you know you know the name, it feels so obvious! It’s that guy, you know, him! Everyone knows him, from that one movie! With the thing! Oh man… what’s his name? At that moment, someone starts to say the name, and you try to cut them off and finish it first as if you figured it out on your own. “Hugh Jack-“ “Jackman, Hugh Jackman, yeah I knew that!”

My memory is steadily getting worse

You see, that memory was there, it was in your brain, you just could not find it, you could not recall it. Think of it like this: I am sure you have seen some sort of cartoon where a character is trying to remember something and the camera cuts to “inside their brain” where a bunch of little people are running around like madmen searching through file cabinets and tossing papers around as they desperately try to find a fact or memory. The paper that they are looking for is obviously the memory, but the actual action of them looking for that paper would be the brain trying to recall that memory.

The ability to recall

“Recall” - that is an important word that I will be focusing on. You see, my issue? What I am talking about here? It's not my memory, it is my ability to recall my memories, because most the time I know that I know something, but I simply can’t seem to “access” it. Actual events in time or personal experiences are one thing, but the worst part (for me) is my inability to remember facts that I know I know, like someone’s name, what a tool is called, a TV channel, a place or a time. Not being able to recall the name of an actor right away is pretty typical for most people, but first, to better understand my frustration with my brain, think about how I described my brain growing up.

The difference feels drastic

When I was younger, if you had asked me to name all the manufacturers of motorcycles and cars in the United States, I would not have even needed to think about it. But after I was diagnosed with MS, that kind of recall slowly became more and more difficult. All of a sudden, I found myself having to spend more time thinking about things until I reached the point that I just could not remember what I even had for dinner the previous night, which is a huge step down from where my brain used to be, which makes this a thousand times more difficult for me (personally)! In terms of muscles, it would be as if 5 years ago you could easily lift 100 pounds, but every year since then it has become more difficult, until now you are struggling to lift just 25. I used to be able to recall information in just a fraction of a second, but now it seems to take me forever! The difference feels so drastic to me.

What will my memory be like 5 years from now?

So how well my brain could function just 3 years ago was nothing compared to how well it functioned 10 years ago. How it functions today is nothing compared to 3 years ago, and that scares me because I am only 26 years old, so where will I be in another 5 years if I can’t stop this progression? Will this keep getting worse, or will it start to plateau even if I don’t actively try to intervene? Because lately, it seems like at least once an hour I have to stop what I am doing to really try to remember (recall) something that I know I know! And not just random facts like what some organization is called but important stuff like appointment dates or simple things like how to spell a word like “found”. Sometimes simple words or names sound so foreign to me that I actually have to sit and wonder if it is an actual word/name! Now, I was going to end this post on a strong example of me not being able to recall something, but after sitting here and staring at the screen for 8 minutes, I realize that I just can’t recall any good examples of things I can never remember… go figure.

Is this a major issue for you? Does it affect your daily life? What tools do you use to try to help you work around this? Share below!

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Does anyone else in your family have MS?