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Post 2: “Don’t you forget about me.”

Here's the 2nd piece in my challenge. Feel free to scroll on or just blame Aryeh Myers under your breath if you choose to read it. His stuff is amazing, btw. You might want to read that instead.

Those of you who know me "in real life" are probably aware that I have a neurological condition following an illness about 17 years ago. I have been challenging myself to write about that period, and might well share it here at some point, but today I’ve been thinking about two areas in which I was damaged by the experience.

When I was 14 I picked up my dad’s old guitar and determined that I would learn how to play by ear. It was an obsession and happily I improved day by day. For my 16th birthday my parents bought me my own guitar, I spent hours choosing the one that chose me, a bit like selecting your wand in Ollivander’s (or so I'm reliably informed). My guitar became an extension of my arm and I'm pretty certain that I played it every day, writing songs, performing with groups and bands, using it in youth and community work, entertaining my baby son. It was my best friend and confidante, gave me an outlet for difficult times and the opportunity to express myself when I found my own words lacking. The longest time I spent without my guitar was when I was in hospital following this illness. I sustained permanent loss of sensation in my fingertips (and toes) and discovered that despite long term and intensive physiotherapy, I no longer had the dexterity to play an instrument. My longest term relationship with music was over. Every so often I pick it up again and have a try, but I can’t really feel the strings properly, and can’t move my fingers in a sequential manner with any consistency.

Another consequence was memory loss, not only leaving big gaps from various periods of my life but I'm also now dreadful with names and faces. Facebook can be a real battleground for me when I get friend requests from people I have absolutely no recollection of and it transpires that at some point I knew them well. I rely on the “mutual friends” section to point me towards someone I can check with. A year ago, someone shared a photo of a group of friends I grew up. While I know logically that I recognise their names, and even some of their faces, I don't remember a single second of interaction with most of them - it's just gone. I have major chunks missing from my childhood, adolescence and twenties, even the early days with my husband and my oldest child. It’s enormously frustrating and can feel rootless and confusing. Who are we without the sum of our memories. I can’t even play a song about it.

Weirdly, I can remember lyrics. I remember songs from primary school but not seeing or experiencing my child’s first day at school. I know what I sang in the inter-youth-group-song-contest in Redbridge in 1989 but not a single friend who came to my wedding without photos in front of me. If I could remember, I still wouldn’t be able to play it myself. I do wonder which of those skills I would fight for if I could only have one back?

Invisible conditions like mine don’t beg questions in the way that a broken leg might. No one has ever asked me how comes I don’t play the violin or whether I can feel the gravel on the path. I am completely grateful for the level of recovery I have been blessed with but sometimes I miss the me that could lose myself in my own music, and I miss the me that remembered. I’ve found ways to manage and have worked with some great music producers who support the process of helping me to write music using my voice and them as my instruments, I’ve even been in a girl band! (Kol Sheva, we were the Jewish equivalent of the Spice Girls. But that story is for another time.)

I was always rubbish at maths and can’t blame my dysfunctional brain for that.

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