Monday, February 7, 2011

Medical Mondays: Memory Misers

Happy Monday, everyone. Hope no one got injured or psychologically scarred from all the snowfall recently!

Maybe you'll all remember all the days of this week, down to each weather forecast, school closing, and item of clothing you wore. Probably not, unless you have
hyperthymesia.

Hyperthymesia is a very rare condition in which a person has uncanny autobiographical memories. Ask a person with hyperthymesia what they were doing on February 7th, 10 years ago and they'll remember what day of the week it was, how much sugar they put in their coffee, their grocery list, the fact that there was more than average traffic getting to work...

Only about eight known cases exist in the world.
Marilu Henner is one of them (remember her from the show Taxi?) and can recall every day details of her life from age 11 on.

Hyperthymestic people also tend to dwell somewhat obsessively about their past. (Somehow, that doesn't surprise me.)

It put the whole phrase "put your past behind you" into an untouchable realm, doesn't it?

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice (see sidebar disclaimer).

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer.
Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation!

69 comments:

The Blogger Formerly Known As said...

Wow, what a fascinating condition. I suppose we all have these details deep within our memory, but don’t know how to access them?

Her highness, Samantha Vérant said...

That really is fascinating! Also, I feel bad for Mary Lou Henner! Apparently, she was quite the promiscuous one in her youth and she has to relive/remember every detail? YIKES

Melissa said...

Only eight cases in the world? WOW! Talk about a minority! That is a crazy condition. I'm not sure whether it would be cool to remember exactly everything or a curse....

Laura Pauling said...

I can't say I'd want that but I wouldn't mind being able to remember a little bit more than I do. :)

Jess said...

I've heard of this before, and it's just crazy/amazing! The human brain is an interesting thing, indeed. And Marilu Henner? Really? That's a really fun fact that I'll be passing on to my Mom--she loved Marilu on Taxi :) ...hmmm, now I'm trying to think how you could work that into a character...mystery novel, perhaps, with the hyperthymesia character catching the bad guy with her super memory details???

salarsenッ said...

Whoa! On one hand, I'd love to remember bits of my past. But on the other...yeah, time moves forward so we can have a past and some times the past should be left behind us so we can move forward.

Was that too confusing?

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm not sure I'd want to remember that much of my past. At 100, my grandfather-in-law had an amazing memory. Way better than mine and I'm not even half his age (when he was alive).

C. N. Nevets said...

Ugh, what a burden. I fall short or remembering calendar day details, but I do remember every day things and exact conversations from about the age of twelve on, in way more detail and clarity than anyone else around me does, and it's no fun at all. As it is, I can't stop thinking about the past and I am constantly frustrated because I seem to be the only one who remembers things that I consider formative for how the present came to be. I can't imagine how tough it is for those poor folks.

Carol Kilgore said...

I saw a TV program about this with Marilu Henner. Some of the people with this are obsessive/compulsive in other ways, too. Marilu is somewhat OCD about shoes. I love learning things like this.

Meredith said...

I wouldn't like this at all! Every detail is just too much--no wonder they obsess about the past!

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Sheesh that condition sounds more like a curse. I don't think I want to remember every little detail. Yikes!

Jennee said...

Ordinary days I can't remember in detail but if there's an excepting then I can remember pretty well. Interesting fun facts as always!

Sarah said...

I've always thought this was a fascinating condition. The opposite of amnesia! I don't have to worry about this one--with a few exceptions (the big events) I have an uncannily poor memory of my past. Maybe that means I'm doomed to repeat the same mistakes ...

Holly Ruggiero said...

I met a man once who could pull up trivia, headlines, weather, etc. from any date you gave him. I don’t think he knew personal data. He was more like an almanac.

KatyDid said...

Interesting. Never heard of it. Guess I don’t know those eight people.

Seems like tis could easily lead to meta-hyperthymesia.

As in “On February 7, 2001, I was remembering what I had been doing on September 13, 1997.” It could be a vicious cycle…

On the upside, I spend about 30% of my day looking for my keys. That could all be history…

Sondrae Bennett said...

I have a terrible memory. I can barely remember what happened yesterday (unless it's for work. I have a great memory about work matters which I always found odd). I can't even imagine what it would be like to remember every detail about the past. I think I'd prefer my bad memory, lol.

erinjade said...

oh! fascinating. there's a good plot for a book in this, i think. :)

Talli Roland said...

Gosh, that's fascinating. I'm not sure I'd like to have that condition! There are plenty of details I'd rather forget!

Bossy Betty said...

Fascinating to consider! On one hand I would love this and on the other I would not. Hummmm!

B.E. Sanderson said...

How cool would that be? I'm lucky if I can remember what I had for dinner last night and whether I fed the cat(s). Of course, it might get a little overwhelming after a while, so I can see how it might not be that cool.

Munk said...

My wife and I both suffer from Hyperthymesia, hers just isn't as good as mine.

Taryn Tyler said...

Just another testament that what is usually thought of as a "defect" is, more than often, just another, highly unique, state of being. I can understand that that kind of memeory would be frusterating at times but it would also come quite in handy at other times.

Connie said...

Wow. That is really bizarre.

Heather said...

Wouldn't a character with that condition be interesting to write?! You give me such great ideas!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I've heard of seeing your whole life flash before your eyes, but, wow, this has to be something to live with. Poor Marilu Henner.

There are moments in my life I didn't want to go through once, much less remember them in vivid, exact detail!

As always, an absorbing post, Roland

Nas Dean said...

Hi Lidia,

Wow, what a fascinating condition. I suppose we all have these details deep within our memory, but don’t know how to access them?

Lindsey Edwards said...

No harm came to me or mine during the snowpocalypse, thanks for asking! ;-)

Love your blog, BTW!

Em said...

I remember hearing about this (but not knowing the name).

I've always thought this would make personal relationships hard.

Angela Felsted said...

I think that would be a really hard condition to have. Imagine how depressing it would be not to be able to let go of stuff from your past.

Misha said...

I've read about this.

It must be terrible to have this condition, because the sufferer can remember the emotional pain he/she felt...

Unlike us, the emotions in their memories never dull...

That's what I remember, anyway.
:-)

Sarah said...

I think my husband might have selective hyperthymesia. He can remember the date most movies were released, when he saw them, what theater he was at, details of the experience, etc. I find it kind of strange.

The Golden Eagle said...

I've never heard of this condition--but it certainly is interesting! Imagine remembering all of that . . .

Cold As Heaven said...

No, I don't get mental scars from snow, quite the contrary. Snow is the white gold. There's nothing like powder skiing >:)

Cold As Heaven

LTM said...

omg, Lydia. Making my husband read this post--he always likes to say he remembers the car his parents drove him home in from the hospital the day he was born.

Of course, he's full of it. But now I'm wondering... :D <3

Indigo said...

Although hyperthymesia sounds cool on the page, I'm glad not to be one of those people. There are some memories and details better left alone. (Hugs)Indigo

Kelly said...

Well, that's one condition I am certain I don't have. I can't remember what I ate for lunch two days ago! :)

Mary Vaughn said...

I have a cousin with this condition. However, he also has no filter in that he doesn't realize that some details are best no repeated.

Colene Murphy said...

I used to think it would be awesome to remember things so well. Now...I'm pleased to forget! What a horrible condition! Bet it makes script memorizing easy for an actor though!

M Pax said...

I've been thinking of a story using that disease you posted about thinking a loved one is a changeling.

Is there a technical term for going mad from a lack of oxygen? Curious. I'll do a google search on it later.

Chris Phillips said...

These are great.

Phoenix said...

Yikes, I'm not sure I'd want to have this! Some memories are better left fuzzy with a rose-colored lenses over them, eh? Helps us cope better!

Heather Hellmann said...

That's amazing. I remember Marilu Henner talking about her condition on the Today Show.

Olga said...

It's very interesting. I wish I could remember more things; sometimes I wish I could remember what I was doing two hours ago :) However, I wonder if these people suffer sometimes, because all their memories follow them everywhere.

jbchicoine said...

Seems to me that would be a real curse, unless one had a blissful past. Perhaps there have been more cases of individuals with hyperthymesia, but they went mad and ended up in the psycho-ward...

The Red Angel said...

This is actually a really neat health condition if you ask me. xD Then again, I love the past and think it's an extremely important factor in determining who you become in the future.

On the other hand, having such a medical problem means you'll have the ability to relive the good memories...and also the bad ones. And I'm sure everybody has a deep part of their past that they'd love to, well, not remember.

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

lbdiamond said...

Yikes, I think I have the opposite disorder--I don't remember much of anything, LOL!

Karen Lange said...

I had heard Marilu had this, but didn't catch the name of it. I can see where it would be a good and a bad thing. Thanks for the info!

Hanny said...

I wish I had something like this. I can't remember where I was this morning! But maybe I don't want to remember some things...

Sweet Virginia Breeze said...

I, too, wish I had a touch of this condition. I have a very hard time remembering the past.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - I never thought that kind of thing was real. I do believe I sometimes have the exact opposite of this condition. :)

Alleged Author said...

I couldn't imagine being able to remember everything with such clarity. There are some things that are meant to be forgotten!

Ciara said...

Fascinating. I agree with some of the other comments, this could make a great story. :)

alexia said...

That's cool! I can't remember a damn thing half the time!

Kari Marie said...

Oprah did a show about this and I thought it was a pretty cool thing. Great post!

The Words Crafter said...

Interesting. I thought this only happened with autistic savants. I didn't know it was an actual disease/condition.....

Krispy said...

I can't imagine having that kind of memory. So weird! Also weird is that I totally saw something on TV (I think?) about this recently, but I can't place where or what the program was about, except that they had a woman on that had this condition. So yeah, this is like deja vu for me.

Michelle Teacress said...

Hi Lydia,
As usual, I love your Medical Monday posts, and always learn something interesting.
I don't remember the lady from Taxi, but I'm curious now.
have a great week!

Rachna Chhabria said...

What a strange condition. I am curious, do these people remember what happened to them in the recent past; say like last week. They certainly have great memories of the distant past.

Stephen Tremp said...

I saw this on 60 minutes not too long ago. Its amazing. One guy could remember sporting events, who played, the score, etc. The interviewer tried to trick him by asking the score of a football game on a particular night but it was a bye week for the team. Of course, the guy remembered it was a bye week. He was very very good.

Lisa Gail Green said...

That is so cool - well maybe not for the poor people afflicted, sorry! But what I mean is, it makes me want to write a story... You must have endless material to inspire you.

LeishaMaw said...

I love Medical Mondays! It's so cool to stop by and see what amazing thing you'll have next.

I can't remember what I ate yesterday let alone what the trafic was like when I was eleven. Crazy stuff! Thanks so much. :)

Jonene Ficklin said...

Memory is such a fascinating thing. Wow, that sounds both awesome and painful. I have a brother who has a phenomenal memory for numbers. He can even remember the license plate of the RV we followed on a family trip twenty years ago. Yup, he did great in math. I wish I could borrow a bit of his malady/gift! Thanks for the great blog!

Faith said...

Sometimes I wonder whether people writing autobiographies have a measure of this ability... I mean, for the most part we know they're paraphrasing, but in a case like Jeanette Walls whose 'The Glass Castle' has so, so, so much detail in it, is it possible she has this ability? I wonder. What a lot of stuff to carry around in your head!

Theresa Milstein said...

Does that mean you can recall conversations in vivid detail? That would be invaluable during a fight rehashing something from the past.

I love medical Mondays!

Julie Musil said...

I've never heard of this, and I'm fascinated that Marilou Henner's memory works this way. At first I thought it would be cool, but maybe it's best that some days in the past are forgotten :D

Janna Qualman said...

It's fascinating!

WritingNut said...

Wow.. I think I've heard of this one.. truly fascinating and scary..

Heather Taylor said...

It's amazing how the mind works. What an amazing but deeply strange condition.

Gail said...

HA, I definitely don't have hyperthymesia; I can't remember what happened yesterday or what I ate for breakfast sometimes!!! But I can relate to the imagine you started with. That's what my vision will end up like with RP. It's not, thank goodness, tunneled in that much yet so I can still read a book.
I know that wasn't the context you meant it for, it just struck me that way! :-)

 
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