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Thanks For The Memories

Memories are maybe our most precious commodity. And I mean that they are a one-time deal; once we lose them we cannot get them back. That is the worst part about memories. But they also ground us, they give us direction by showing us where we have been, they allow us to hold on to things, search for things, identify with things, and desire for things. 

And when they go missing, it can be really debilitating. 

There are three pretty common things associated with bipolar disorder that I will talk about here that account for memory loss: medication, electro-convulsive therapy, and the disease itself, all things I have personally dealt with. 

Medication is a pretty easy one to follow. I take Lithium Carbonate as my base medicinal treatment and it has been shown to cause brain fogginess and slight memory loss. I think the jury is still out exactly on how much Lithium affects this, but it is a factor. When I first started taking Lithium I noticed two things right away: my right hand had tremors, and I would lose my train of thought easily and have difficulty recalling something I had recently done. The tremors have dissipated, but the recall has never come back, in fact I think it is getting worse. Several other medications have a side effect of memory loss, but since Lithium is so widely used, and has been used in my treatment since almost the beginning, I will stick with that. 

Electro-convulsive therapy is not something that most people with bipolar disorder experience. However, it is something I went through (and would happily do it again) and it wreaked havoc on my memory. I had the ECT treatments from April to May of 2015 and I have a hard time remembering most things from just before Christmas until after I was done with the treatment. I find that the memories come back to me slowly. I have regained a lot of memories from that time. But it took a long time and I still find that I am missing so much. 

Bipolar disorder is known to prevent what is known as “working memory” from forming adequately. So people often lose their train of thought, or forget why they are doing something; sometimes they say that you forget the things you are currently conscious of. Read more about the science behind this here and here. It involves the way your pre-frontal cortex transfers information to your amygdala. Not surprisingly, this information transfer is also home to the regulation of mood swings, information processing, and decision making. All things that people with bipolar disorder struggle with. 

Mitigating the memory loss, at least at low levels, isn’t really that difficult. I find that my memory has become pretty bad and so I take a lot of notes and record messages to myself on my phone whenever I can. I still miss a lot, and I feel terrible when I do, but it doesn’t dismantle my life anymore.

The bigger issue is dealing with the psychology of losing the memories. You don’t really know that you forgot something until someone tries to remind you of it. Then feelings of guilt, or stupidity, or incompetence can sink in. After the initial shock I always find myself searching my mind for gaps where I might have forgotten something. It particularly bothers me when I look at my daughter and think about all the moments of pure joy that have been lost forever.

I always find it best to simply recognize it as part of the disease, and its treatment, much like weight gain, or mood swings. It is likely to happen. It will only tear me apart as much as I let it. And I need to make sure I am doing everything I can to work around it.

Plus, “I don’t remember saying that, you know how bipolar can be” can be a pretty nice line to roll out to your wife from time to time.

Read the rest of Steve's blogs for IBPF here or visit his personal blog here.


Im a singer, and since being diagnosed bp2 , and getting meds right. I cant remember songs ive sung for over 20yrs, need lyric sheets all the time.

Hey, my favorite singer is named David Gray! Pretty close!
Yeah, BP2 ruined my career. I was an English teacher and couldn't remember the books I was teaching. Much like your using lyric sheets, I relied on Cliff's Notes.

my Son is pending incarceration very soon he has biplor 1 and was experiencing a severe manic episode he hit a deputy but only remembers part if the altercation he has been on lithium effexor seroquel oxcarbazapine for over 5 years it is a deal by the da 10 do 5 he has no prior record and no further issues in the past 19 months he is represented by the pd and he says we should not bring up he is bipolar it wont help his case and hes gonna do time anyway

Does anyone else have a "white cloud of fog" or similar over much of their past memories except for traumatic stuff? I find anything past 5 years ago is almost completely covered over for me and things start getting fuzzy as little as a year after they happened.... that means my childhood is completely gone except for some traumatic incidents I wish I could forget... among other things

I suffer from the white cloud of fog as well. I can tell someone something and a couple days later I'll be asked "yea remember you told me that the other day" but I don't remember. It's terrible all of the things I can't remember.

I am doing my best to keep my head together on minimal or no sleep and lots of meds. Since my diagnosis five years ago, I forget and think
I always was unable to do things that meant I had to learn this first then, I could keep learning more. Unfortunately, that was not always possible because I could not recall the first steps ! Believe me, had I known that I really have trouble studying, I may not have gone away to any college maybe I could have learned a trade!

I knew I was different ...

My doctors diagnosed me w bipolar in 2011. Since then I've had trouble remembering things. Is it the meds or just a part or bipolar? Im on lamictal prozac n welbutrin xl

Since being diagnosed w bipolar in 2007 when having a mental breakdown while in the military it became apparent to me as to why there was certain things I could & could not remember From my past. I had an accident when I was 13 that lead to having a cracked skull & a blood clot removed from my right side of my brain. I've read that trauma to the brain can lead to a bipolar diagnosis. Anyone else read that? I reallly never noticed my memeory loss until after returning home from the army on a 100% medical discharge & not being able to remember how to do complex things on & with the computer. It seemed like all the hacking & programming I once knew before enlisting was erased from my memory. I used to joke about having some-timers but it has gotten to be all-the-timers where I can't remember things. My high school sweetheart who is my husband now had to recall dates & activities he & I had experienced together back in the 80's bc I couldn't& still can't remember certain things. I can tell that not being able to remember us back in the day hurts him. I hate that ive lost that part of my past in my memory bc I'm sure we had s wonderful relationship. I mean I remember him in school of course & that he was my boyfriend but nothing as far as what we did on a date etc. I can however remember things that have had an impact on me in more of a negative way than positive I guess u can say. I was molested when I was 4 & u remember the place & who & what happened during & after &all that but I cant remember walking across the stage at graduation to save my life. I vaguely remember a Christmas play I was in as a cat when I was in the 3rd grade. I had 1 sentence to recite & I can't remember the sentence but I remember that the clown cut me off & said his line before his time & how disappointed I was. I remember the teacher in the 5th grade asking the class if someone in the class didn't actually sweat raise their hand. Well I remember raising my hand bc I wasn't so sure & getting embarrassed & then trying out for basketball the same school year & thinking "yep. I do sweat after all!" I remember getting married, child birth, & experiencing what death of loved ones felt like. But I am no longer able to recall long lists of things or memorize a poem. I can remember numbers like birthdays, phone numbers, social security numbers & drivers license numbers. But I cannot study for a test. I cannot read a book & then right after pass a pop quiz. I can no longer remember names or faces of anyone much I went to school with all my life. Do anyone else have the same problems I do? Sorry for typing so much. I wrote down things as they came to mind. Thank u for reading.

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