MS and Memory: the Other Me Must Have Lost it

The other day I was looking for something around the house, something like my keys or the TV remote. I can’t remember what exactly it was, just that one minute I had it and the next I didn’t.

In my early multiple sclerosis (MS) days, I used to drive myself insane tearing the house apart trying to find something I had lost. Now, in the interest of not creating unnecessary stress, I usually just say, “Oh well, I’m sure it will turn up,” and more often than not, it does.

This time, however, before calling off my search, I noticed that something felt different.

Memory and cognitive dysfunction in MS

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) I’m sure you know all too well how it can negatively impact your memory among other cognitive functions. According to the MS Society UK, between 4 and 7 out of 10 people living with MS will experience some kind of change to their memory or cognition.1

Cognition refers to the ability to concentrate, learn, and process information; basically the ability to think. This includes remembering things. Think of “memory” as a subcategory of cognition that can also be broken down into different types.

There's long-term/episodic memory (such as remembering a past event or experience), short-term memory (like remembering those 6-digit confirmation codes websites text you), and prospective memory (remembering to do something in the future like sending out a birthday card). Recall is pretty much just the act of remembering, the act of sifting through your brain to find a specific piece of information or memory, and is something that a lot of us struggle with. You know the memory is in there, you just need some time to dig around and find it.

An unintentional personification

While playing detective in my latest lost and found case, I caught myself wondering where I might have put “my keys.” But it was kind of as if the “I” I was talking about wasn’t me. It felt like I was trying to help someone else find keys that they had lost.

So of course I can’t remember where they put them, I wasn’t there! It wasn’t me that lost “my keys,” no, it was the other me… The version of me that “takes the wheel” and tries to make executive decisions while I’m having an “MS moment.” The version of me that decides to put a gallon of milk in the pantry and a box of dry cereal in the refrigerator. Me but not me.

Was this some kind of coping mechanism? Was this my brain’s way of avoiding blame for this lapse in recall? Of explaining something that really makes no logical sense? Maybe I’m way overthinking it, but it felt like such a foreign thought, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it! Especially after I actually found what I was looking for by thinking about where “the other me” might have put it. I’ve lived with the other me for years now, and at this point, I kind of just know all his stupid habits.

A piece of advice

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but my mom has a really bad case of long COVID. I won’t really get into it today, but when I talk to her, or when I watch her, it’s remarkable how similar a lot of her experiences are to MS, especially when it comes to cognition and fatigue. I’ve noticed her start to lose things and struggle to find them just like me. Just like what I’ve described just now. The other day she had also lost something and was tearing the house apart and stressing just like I used to (and sometimes still do).

She kept asking herself, “Where would I have put it? Where would I have put it? It makes no sense, why wouldn’t I put it where I always do?” To which I replied, “Don’t focus on where you would have put it, think about where the other you would have put it, because the other you is like a completely different person.

When the other you manages to “get ahold of the wheel,” the way they drive is nothing like how you drive. So the question isn’t where you would have put it; the question is where the other you would have put it?

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