I’ve been asked what it feels like to have partial amnesia, and my answer is always the same—it’s VERY FRUSTRATING!! There’s something really hideous about having your memories stolen from you. As awful as my amnesia was, when I became ill, it wasn’t the only mental battle I faced. The carbon monoxide poisoning and chemical sensitivity really did a number on my brain. I had trouble concentrating, and my mind suddenly seemed wired incorrectly. When I would empty the dishwasher, I would be convinced that I was doing everything right, but later, I would find dishes in the oven and in the trashcan. It was like my mind was playing tricks on me. It was scary and very upsetting.
I was also having hallucinations. Light switches would creep up the walls and the waves in the ocean painting above my couch would move. I even saw a feathered frog jumping across my dresser and flying under my bed. I “knew” the hallucinations weren’t real, but they LOOKED real. I had to get on my hands and knees and peek under the bed to make sure it wasn’t infested with frogs.
I think the scariest thing was the confusion. One winter day, I realized I was standing out in the middle of my front yard without a coat. I had no idea how I’d gotten there, and I had no idea how long I’d been standing there. It was the strangest feeling in the world. That feeling grew even worse when I was driving home one day and I became lost just a few miles from my house. Even though I knew that road like the back of my hand, suddenly nothing was familiar. Getting lost was more than scary—it was terrifying. When I finally found my way home, I faced the awful truth. I had to quit my job.
There’s something soul-sucking about losing your independence. Turning over your car keys and giving up your paycheck. It hurts. It hurts really badly. It makes you feel very, very small and very, very insignificant. Each day, I felt like more bits of myself were being stolen. When I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I began to lose even more things. I couldn’t go to church. I couldn’t coach. I couldn’t go to the store. I couldn’t even write. Whenever I tried to pen a story, my words felt clunky. My sentences sat on the page like squatty lumps of clay. They didn’t flow—they didn’t make music. In a fit of rage, I yelled up at the ceiling, “You’ve taken everything, God! The only thing I have left is my cat!” That week, my cat was hit by a car. I felt striped down to nothing. Then the final blow fell. I couldn’t remember my past.
It was my brother who made me realize I had partial amnesia. One day he was talking about a trip I had taken. I couldn’t remember the trip at all. John has always been a bit of a practical joker, so I thought he was teasing. When he wouldn’t admit to the joke, I became angry. I would like to say that I handled the situation well, but I didn’t. I yelled at him. John didn’t say much, he simply showed me a picture, and the picture said it all. I had been on that trip—I just couldn’t remember it.
Once Pandora’s Box was opened, there was no closing it. I began searching my memory and finding more and more black holes. There were whole years that had simply vanished. Questions began rolling around in my brain and haunting my dreams. Who was I??? If I couldn’t remember “Danele’s life” was I even Danele??? And If I wasn’t Danele, did I even matter? I had survived the carbon monoxide poisoning, but in many ways, I felt like “Danele” had died. And the person I had become wasn’t someone I liked very much. I wanted to “imitate” the person I had been before, but how could I? I couldn’t remember much about her. I felt so insignificant. I felt so lost. Somewhere around this time, I entered into quarantine and that didn’t help matters much.
My amnesia sent me spiraling down into a gray funk, and when I hit the bottom, I was afraid I would shatter. But rather than breaking into a million pieces, I discovered I was stronger than I thought. Rather than buckling, I became very, very mad. I have a temper I try to keep under control, but in this case, my rotten temper came in handy. I figured that if I couldn’t remember who I was, I WAS JOLLY WELL GONNA FIND OUT!!!
I marched into the garage and pulled all of my keepsake boxes from the rafters. I’ve always been a packrat, and I believe that my packrat tendencies were a blessing straight from God’s hand. He knew what was going to happen in my life, and He was preparing me for it. Since kindergarten, I’ve kept all my birthday cards, letters, report cards, photographs, school reports, and movie tickets. In a fit of black rage tinged with despair, I began sorting the snowdrift into chronological order and putting the papers into scrapbooks. By the time I was done, I had over 40 scrapbooks sitting in a prim row on a bookshelf. By the time I was done, I “knew” who I was even if I couldn’t “remember” who I was.
I’ve been told that I’m pigheaded and stubborn as a mule. I think God made me that way on purpose. If I hadn’t been stubborn, I would have turned up my toes and given up. Instead, I began combating my memory problems with every bit of gumption I possessed. I’m a former Bible Quizzer, and I used to memorize Scripture easily. But my illness had turned my brain into a spongey sort of sieve. Determined to get my mind back in shape, I spent a whole summer struggling to learn two verses of Proverbs. Since I couldn’t remember my college education, I began reviewing my old class notes and reading encyclopedias. And then I began studying college-level algebra. Math has always been difficult for me, and studying it again was like facing a giant. But I was determined to get my mind back. Each day I would struggle to learn pages of formulas. I would work until I had them down cold, but when I woke up in the morning, I couldn’t remember a single one. BUT I DIDN’T GIVE UP. Day after day, I keep memorizing those BLASTED formulas. Day after day, I kept struggling to learn those two verses. I was STUBBORN in my resolve. And eventually—slowly—it started to work.
After years of struggle, I felt my brain beginning to unlock. Then, suddenly, I was able to memorize massive amounts of scripture. I began committing whole books of the Bible to memory. And as I focused on learning God’s Word, I began noticing other changes. I was starting to dream in color again, and I could see “shapes” in the clouds floating past my window. Suddenly, I knew that my ability to write had been restored. Feeling almost breathless, I looked through my old short stories. There was one about a time-traveling student that I particularly liked. I had written it for a college creative writing class, and in the margin was a note from my professor saying that he thought I had a “sellable” idea.
I still remember the anxious anticipation I felt when I sat down at my computer and began crafting my short story into a novel. The words that had been stolen from me, and pent up for so long, began flowing in an uncontrollable stream. I began spending 8-18 hours in front of the computer writing Time Tsunami. And when I finished it, I wrote its sequel, Time Trap. The words continued to flow, and soon I had four more books in The Time Counselor Chronicles finished.
As I continued to write, bits of my life came back into focus. I remembered my old trips. I remembered the fun times I had shared with loved ones. Birthdays. Weddings. Anniversaries. I remembered glorious church services and fun Bible Quiz trips. Slowly, I began to remember who I was. Like a fog rolling back from the shore, the amnesia left.
I still have a few black holes in my memory, but they don’t really bother me much. In a strange way, I feel like I’ve been given a unique gift. I completely lost who I was for a while, and I had learn all about this “Danele” person in order to rediscover myself. I also learned an incredible lesson–no matter how incredibly “lost” I felt, I wasn’t really lost at all. God KNEW me—even when I didn’t know myself. And He loved me.
I’m not who I was before my illness, and I’m not who I was immediately after it. I’ve morphed into someone new. Someone with quirky tendencies and lots of flaws—but someone I like. I don’t know much, and I’ve had to relearn lots of what I once knew, but I do know this—we can never be lost to God. And no matter how hard the battle—or how horrible the odds—God can restore anything—even lost memories.
“This is too glorious, too wonderful to believe! I can never be lost to your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, your strength will support me.” Psalm 139: 6-10