Do you know someone who has Hyperthymesia, or the ability to recall every past event of that person’s life? It’s still considered a very rare condition only known to exist in a small fraction of the world population. For those who have the condition, they can tell you an exact date of where they were and what they were doing, even if it was anywhere from several to 50 years ago. It’s a condition only known to exist in one well-known person: Marilu Henner. But plenty of non-famous people have it, and it’s a condition both blessed and cursed.
I’m another who regularly deals with the challenges of having a fairly vivid autobiographical memory. While I’ve never been officially diagnosed with Hyperthymesia, I can recall numerous things from back to when I was a few months old. Almost all of those memories are as vivid as the present day, which can make it overwhelming at times. Thankfully, almost all of those memories from childhood are close to idyllic, so it’s nothing that causes anxiety. This isn’t to say it doesn’t get emotional when you have specific family members pass away or wish you had family lifestyles you no longer have.
For those of us who have some form of Hyperthymesia, what can be done to make it useful in your life? And what can be done to temper those overwhelming stream of memories that are as vivid as a time machine?
Ways to Use Hyperthymesia to Your Benefit
You’ll find some stories out there about people with Hyperthymesia using their superior memory to win monetarily with games utilizing memory. While this might vary in ability depending on memory capacity, some with autobiographical memory can only remember things later rather than instantaneously. Even then, that can be a benefit when needing to remember certain business dates or even being a witness to a crime or accident.
Almost every witness to a crime can’t be counted on to be reliable due to memory changing past perception. Anyone lucky enough to have a witness with Hyperthymesia would likely have 100% accurate information about who did what.
This can also be a detriment, especially in the workplace where you remember what all your colleagues said before and what time of day they said it. When dealing with an employee who did something wrong, this could cause some dissension and place you as some kind of pariah.
Even I’ve been able to call out lies among friends and family who claimed they did or said something when I knew they didn’t. Whether you want to use your memory skills in this way or choose to ignore it is strictly a personal decision.
The Disadvantages, and Ways to Calm Memories
One thing about my own sense of Hyperthymesia: It only manifests when there’s a specific prompt or trigger. When I have distractions to focus on, I can usually withhold autobiographical memory so I stay in the moment. My writing career, for instance, is a perfect career for me because of the ability to focus on other things not related to my own past during the day.
It seems many with Hyperthymesia have their most overwhelming flood of memories at night while going to sleep. Other times, certain songs will remind you of something vivid, or pictures can create extreme flashback levels akin to Marcel Proust’s involuntary memory. In fact, with many past critics considering Proust’s multi-volume “Remembrance of Things Past” a new way to look at relativity and time travel, Hyperthymesia could be a new form of the same that requires further study.
The best way to cope with the condition is to occupy yourself with things that keep your brain from wandering. While you may have moments when memories become intense, they can also help bring some inspiration and momentum toward something creative that’s been stumping you.