Remind Me Not to Forget: A Few Ways I Remember
"Hey Matt, could you remind me not to forget to do this really important thing?" - Someone who doesn't actually want to remember something.
Today, I want to talk about something I have been meaning to talk about for some time now, but I ironically always seem to forget to bring it up: my memory and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). You see, over time, as MS has settled into my life, my cognition and memory have been significantly impacted in a negative way. I think it's important to note here that when I say "memory," I am referring more to my ability to "recall" something.
It's seems like the memory is hiding deep in my brain
Maybe that's just a small detail that is medically indistinguishable from the concept of "memory loss" (I really don’t know), but when I'm trying to remember something, I feel like the memory (or knowledge) is actually still there hiding somewhere deep in my brain, but I simply just can't "grab" it. It sort of feels like when you are trying to remember something, but it's just on the tip of your tongue. It's as if your phone has fallen under the seat in your car and you're frustratingly reaching around for it; you can feel it with the tips of your fingers, but you can never seem to actually grab it because it just keeps sliding around and is always just beyond your reach.
When things are never committed to memory
While most the time it feels like the memory I'm looking for is there, but I just can't grab it, sometimes it feels like it was never even there to begin with - like it never got committed to my memory even though it should have. So let's think about all this in computer terms now: the computer in this analogy being my brain, a file being a memory, and finding something being remembering/recalling it. It's like sometimes I am looking for a file that I know is on my computer, but I'm just not sure what folder I put it in. Because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of folders on my computer to look through, it's going to take me some time to find it - if I ever even do. But sometimes? It's like I was working on a document and forgot to save it before closing it. The information was on my computer for a very short period of time, but it was never actually saved (dedicated to memory), which means it would be rather challenging for me to try to remember exactly what was in "that file". Very rarely (in fact, I can't even think of an example off the top of my head) do I feel like a file was actually "on my computer" but then, for some reason, it was "deleted" (as in, lost from my memory).
Finding ways to compensate
So of course, knowing that one of these scenarios will undoubtingly happen to me almost every single day, I have had to creatively work on ways to compensate for my brain's inability to remember/recall things or hold onto information. I have had to look at all the specific situations that I may encounter (mostly based on past experiences) and find different ways to try to overcome them so that my "awesome" memory does less damage to my life. The key word here is "less," because it doesn't seem like there is any 100% foolproof strategy to remembering everything; something will always fall through the cracks that MS has created.
What helps me remember
But I have found ways to help me lessen that occurrence, and I am constantly working to improve those strategies. Things I have to do, important upcoming dates, important past dates, where something is located, the simple steps I have to execute to complete a task, something someone told me, and all the other "who, what, where, when, and whys" in my life are all types of information that if I lose, will really mess things up for me. It's not always easy, but there are so many different ways I have learned to keep track of this information without having to depend only on my brain. Let’s talk about a few of them.
My number one favorite strategy for holding onto information, as well as remembering things that I know I will inevitably forget, involves the use of sticky notes. I love sticky notes! I have so many different colors, shapes, sizes, and of course the kind that go into a dispenser. I find that sticky notes are a great way to jot something down really quick so that the information I know my brain will lose will physically exist in the world for me to look at later. The best part? They are sticky! So I can literally stick them somewhere I know I’ll see when I think I’ll need to have the information on the note I just created. Since I have different colors, I can color code the notes so that if I see an orange note (for example), I know it has something to do with “medical stuff” and if I see a purple note I know it has something to do with “bills”. This way if I need to find a specific bit of information I don’t have to look at every single note. I also tend to stick notes on objects (as if I am leaving a message for someone else) like, “clean me”, “don’t use the left switch”, “last emptied on Monday”, “don’t throw away”, “the thing you are looking for is in the top drawer”, etc.
My white board
Some of my sticky note reminders eventually make it onto a whiteboard that I have on my wall. On this board, I used black electrical tape to create a series of columns which each represent a different category, or color, of sticky notes. “Medical”, “Bills”, “Work”, etc. Sticky notes reminding me about things that I’ll need to remember for a while (such as miscellaneous chores) go here in order to help me keep the sticky note population under control. Sometimes I have so many sticky notes around my desk, on my computer display, and on my closet doors that I start to look like I’m in a movie about an obsessed detective investigating a cold case murder who has newspaper clippings connected with red strings all over the walls. My whiteboard also has a column for stuff I need at the store, so that whenever I think of something I need, I can write it down really quick, and I will always know where my shopping list is. Because most whiteboards are magnetic, I also have a space for sticking important documents like letters, bills, business cards, etc.
While things like sticky notes or pads of paper can sometimes be used to actually remind you of something (“don’t forget to call the pharmacy today”), they are mostly good for holding onto information that you know your brain won’t, such as a phone number. Similarly, technology like smartphones and computers can be used for both but, at least to me, they are definitely the better option for actually reminding you of something. Technology has the advantage of using notifications/alarms to alert you to something important like a date, time, or even a location (thanks to GPS). Think about it- leaving yourself a note works great so long as you are 100% sure that you will see that note when and where you need to see it, but technology will alert you to something regardless of what you are in the middle of doing or where your mind is. It’s like asking someone to remind you to do something only you don’t have to worry about them forgetting.
How I use technology
So how do I use technology to compensate for the poor memory that MS has left me with? Well, let’s start with my computer’s calendar. Anytime there is an important date like a doctor’s appointment, when a bill is due, or when something for work has to be done by, I put it on my calendar. Sticking to my organization theme, each category on my calendar is represented by a different color, so each “event” is highlighted accordingly. I’m sure you have guessed it by now, but the colors I use on my calendar are the same as my sticky notes; I’m going for consistency here so that I can minimize the amount of cognitive fatigue in my daily life. Of course, the calendar on my computer is synced with the calendar on my phone so anything I put on one calendar will display on the other allowing me to access all the same information regardless whether I am at home or out and about. The best part about my calendars is that they can actually notify me of an event. For example, on my computer, a notification will pop up on my screen 24 hours before the date and time I labeled each calendar event with which is a lifesaver considering that 99% of the time I will forget to check my calendar.
The last strategy for remembering things I want to talk about is my use of alarms on my phone. Alarms are great for reoccurring things I need to remember such as when it’s time to take my medication. All I have to do is set an alarm for the days and times I need a reminder of something and then I pretty much never have to worry about forgetting to do whatever it is I’m setting an alarm for. I also use the timer function when I am doing something that involves me stepping aside for a bit like when I am cooking or doing laundry. Those things take time, and if it weren’t for the timer on my phone, I would forget that I have something on the stove and end up burning a lot more meals.
There are of course lots of other things that I do to help me remember stuff and hold onto information especially when it comes to technology. I am also sure there are better ways to do a lot of the stuff I do, ways that are probably more efficient, but this is just how I have personally grown to do things. This is what works for me, and the key to making it all work is making a habit of it all. I don’t really want to change how I do all these things because then I will be breaking from the habits I have worked on creating for years. As a result, I’ll overlook things, and important information will more consistently fall through the cracks, and I can’t have that happening because I don’t have a full-time assistant to remind me not to forget something.
How often do you use assistive devices to help manage your MS?