Hyperthymesia: Can a Person Remember Everything?

Hyperthymesia: Can a Person Remember Everything?

Can a Person remember everything? Do you remember what you had for breakfast ten years ago today? Nine years? Five? What about two weeks ago? One week? Yesterday? If you are struggling with any of these, that means you are, unsurprisingly, the same as most other people you know.
Most, I said, not all.

Can A Person Remember Everything?

For there are people who do remember what they ate ten years ago. People like me. Though I am in my fifties, I remember a great many things that you wouldn’t believe. I remember going out with my parents when I was about two years old. I remember the dress my mother wore for me. It was a little pink dress that had the words, “Mama’s girl,” written on it. Also, I remember being at the back of the car, my parents in the front seats. They seemed so happy whenever they looked back at me. I remember thinking, “Where is this place?”

I remember what colour my bib was. Funny but I remember what my favorite clothes looked like, and what type of pacifier I used to use. I remember owning one stuffed banana toy that had a strange brown blemish on it. Yes, I remember all these, and these are just the ones I vaguely recall.

You might be wondering what sort of wizardry allows me to remember everything that happens to me. Well, for starters, I don’t remember absolutely everything. I still forget where my keys are or where I dropped my phone, but what makes me different from most people is that the things I do remember, I never forget.

I was eleven years old when I first realized I functioned a little differently than others. My friends would look at me strangely whenever I was able to tell them the birthday of their cousin or sister they had offhandedly mentioned months back. My parents took amusement in how I always remembered—after years and years—the days we went vacationing and visiting family, and they would even quiz me on the details every so often.

Hyperthymesia – Superior Autobiographical Memory

On Saturday, 22nd of June, 1985, I visited the neurologists’ office with my parents. We were on the quest to figure out what exactly made me the way I was. I remember the big smile on Dr Denver’s face when he was about to begin questioning me. “You will answer some questions for me, all right?”
I nodded.

He threw at me random dates and asked me to tell him anything that came to mind. With every date, day, month and year he asked about, I would tell him something that happened: what the weather was like, what the newsman said on the radio that day, what the papers read. He would thoroughly fact check the information and to his amazement, everything would check out.

He said I had what could only be described as hyperthymesia—also known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM)—a condition that allows people to be able to remember an oddly large amount of their life experiences oh so vividly.

The diagnosis was right, to me at least. I really could remember almost anything, significant or mundane. How? Why, I wouldn’t know. Memories come to me as easy as your name would come to you when asked. I just… remember them. It’s a little like looking through a catalogued library—a very properly catalogued library—in search of a book, only that I find that book subconsciously and quite rapidly. Like a Google Search, is a more savvy description, I think.

Hyperthymesia is Extraordinarily Rare

“It is extraordinarily rare,” Dr Denver said, tugging at his blueblack tie—it was a sunny afternoon after all. “You’re one of the sixty or so people in the world having been diagnosed with the condition.”
Sixty out of seven billion people, I thought.
I felt so special. “You have a fascinating talent,” Dr Denver told me, and I did, didn’t I? I could remember the random people I met on a bus ride four years back, when those people would probably not remember even being on a bus. Yet I could tell them exactly where they sat, what they wore, and what we talked about. As far as the whole of mankind was concerned, only sixty of us could do that.

My parents called me a genius. Everyone thought it was amazing. I would be a genius, I told myself excitedly.

How much Can A Person  With Hyperthymesia Truly Remember Everything?

You see, the problem with being able to remember practically everything is that you really can remember practically everything.
I wasn’t a genius. I didn’t blaze through school with immaculate grades. Gods no. I barely got by. Having hyperthymesia didn’t mean I could remember formulas or master equations like no other. It didn’t make me exceptionally brilliant as I thought it would. Rather, it made me worse.

Why?

Because as every one of my friends and classmates and siblings worked on their lives and dreamt of the future, I lived and dreamed and relived my past; every last bit of it.

I would sit down and get lost in my thoughts, dwelling upon things past and long gone, the highs and lows, the ups and downs. I would dwell upon every moment when I felt down, and would feel down all over again from the thought of them.

Thoughts of regret, missed opportunities, things I wished I could change. If I hadn’t done this, this wouldn’t have happened, and this wouldn’t have happened, and this and this and this and this…

Each memory led to the next, in an almost uncontrollable stream of recollection. I would write diaries, not so that I could revisit them, but just to try and dump off everything boiling in my head every minute. I wrote and wrote and wrote, for fear that I might go crazy if I didn’t. Also, I suffered years and years of depression, living in my own head, losing focus of the future and present, yet never forgetting the past.

Is There A Cure For Hyperthymesia?

I sought help from whomever I thought I could find it. “Is there a cure?” I asked the many doctors and psychiatrists and neurologists, “Is there a way out of this?”
All I got in reply were sighs and nos and sorrys. There were relatively few people with hyperthymesia, they told me, and so there was a lack of research in examining the causes. Biological, genetic, or psychological, nobody quite knew what brings about hyperthymesia.

Eventually, I met with others like me—those I could find at the very least—and we all talked about our experiences. Many of them had things far different from mine, and their lives were far more… organized. Some even went as to say they loved being hyperthymestic. Marjorie in particular—with her big smile and even bigger sweater, green as I recall—had something quite interesting to say. “Yes, remembering the sad times can be so maddening, but you need to focus on the good ones. It’s the only way to live through this.”

The good moments, I thought. I do have those, don’t I? I remembered, strangely. The moments of victory, joy, love, the friendships, the family gatherings, the adventures, the vacation trips, the many moments photos could only dream of capturing. I suddenly found myself being glad, glad that I could remember them all, glad that I had blissful moments to hold on to. Meeting Marjorie and the others that day was one of the major turning points in my life, most certainly.

I Have Learnt To Balance And Cherish My Memories

Over the decades, I learnt to balance all the goings in my head, to not repeat mistakes—since I had whole catalogues to learn from, to power through the dark moments by clinging on to the good ones. I did my best to live in the moment, and it does help to have people around that can help ground you in the present.

I learned to cherish my memories. To appreciate the fact that I can live and relive them as I please. And while it does hurt a little whenever my husband forgets the weather on our fifth anniversary, or what dress I wore on his birthday, or the restaurant we had dinner in on our vacation at Prague, or when my son forgets the lovely janitors and flight attendants we met on vacation trips, I took comfort in knowing I had them all with me.

I Would Remember…

One day, dear reader, some day, ten, twenty, thirty years from now, when you have gone on with your life and gotten a job or started a business or what have you, when you have probably forgotten about ever reading this article, I would remember. I would remember sitting at my window side, writing while wearing my bright blue shirt and my round-rimmed glasses and drinking my hot chocolate, and I would make a fuss over the fact that I completely forgot to tell you my name.

Hyperthymesia: Can a Person Remember Everything?

Writer: Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria 

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi is a 200L Medical Student from the University of Ilorin, Ilorin Kwara State. He enjoys playing games—just one, really, Clash of Clans—reading science fiction and fantasy novels and watching similar movies.

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Fame
Fame
1 month ago

This is beautifully written….though I do not yet clearly understand the difference between hyperthymesia and eidetic memory, thought they were the same beforehand….but you pointed out that hyperthymesia doesn’t assure one of academic excellence rather it brings one down, whereas eidetic memory aids it. So are they different?

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Reply to  Fame
1 month ago

They are different. You should look into both conditions more if you’re interested. They’re very intriguing

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Reply to  Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
1 month ago

A person with hyperthymesia can remember nearly every event of their life in a lot of detail. On the other hand, eidetic memory is the ability to accurately recall an image after only seeing it once for a short period.

mls_oriade 01
mls_oriade 01
1 month ago

oh wow. I never knew this had a term.

I actually remember things that happened when I was as young as five years old

I remember things that has happened in the past that when someone offends me, I beg God to make me forget after forgiving the person. I feel like the writer is talking about me.

Aside from the downside I mentioned earlier, it feels good to remember beautiful memories just as it happened

Good write up. It was really engaging. I love the start and the finish of it. Well done 🌹

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Reply to  mls_oriade 01
1 month ago

Thanks so much

Stellicose
Stellicose
1 month ago

Wonderfully written. Thanks for explaining Hyperthymesia so well

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Reply to  Stellicose
1 month ago

You’re very welcome. Much appreciated

unusual_101
unusual_101
1 month ago

Wow, like it really had a term. Nice write up.
Though I don’t completely understand but it seems familiar with my experience.
I don’t remember dates.

I remember throwing a can of milk at my 3years old sis when I was six , in our room. I remember my parents taking me to my aunt’s matriculation ceremony, I was 5 and I remember wearing my best skirt and top, brown in colour. I remember it raining heavily and I made a paper boat and threw it inside a puddle of water to sail, I was 4.

I can remember alot of past events, sometimes I drift away in the middle of a discussion and wallow in my memories and I tend to overthink and always enjoy the comfort of solitude.

Though I can forget your name within 60secs of you telling me, I can forget where I left my phone etc.
But I always remember events that happened years ago, sometimes I fall in love with my past and sometimes it hurts so much to remember certain events.

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Reply to  unusual_101
1 month ago

Thank you for reading. I am glad you found the article relatable.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Aisha Rajih
Aisha Rajih
1 month ago

Ahmad, I am wowed. You’ll see me in your dm cause I don’t know what else to say😅.

Abdulwaheed14
Abdulwaheed14
1 month ago

Waw.. well penned
I’m actually very excited it’s my first time reading about this
It feels the writer is talking about me.
My friends always think I’m weird cuz I remember what I shouldn’t remember.
Thanks for the wonderful piece.
JazakumuLlaahu khyran 🙂

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Reply to  Abdulwaheed14
1 month ago

Wa iyyaa kum. You’re very welcome

Mydeborahstar
Mydeborahstar
1 month ago

This is a great piece,this writer is gifted🙌…I almost forgot I was reading this,it looks so real and I can feel the emotions of the character.😂

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Reply to  Mydeborahstar
1 month ago

The comment is much appreciated. Thank you so much

AKIG
AKIG
1 month ago

Absolute talent ✨✨✨✨

Apexx
Apexx
1 month ago

As much as I love the article, it’s actually enlightening…. I’ve had my share of similarities but hey, mine is normal and not a medical case please 😅 ….I have proof though
Yes I remember an embarrassing event from the time I was 1 year and eight months old….
I remember being beaten by a girl and some other experiences when I was 2 years old…..
I remember when I asked my dad a very peculiar question about my kid sister the day she was born (when I was four years old)….
I remember an accident the first time I was on a flight and how I was scarred where the urine goes to after I use the restroom…(when I was 5)

The point is,, I remember events like they were yesterday……but I don’t remember their dates, probably because I didn’t care about dates or because I don’t have hyperthymesia….and no I don’t actually recall how old I was but I asked my parents about the events and as shocked as they seemed, they actually told me my age corresponding to the events (some of which they forget)….

Some of us just have excellent memory when it comes to life events we experienced….. but that doesn’t mean we have hyperthymesia,,,I’m saying this because I’ve seen some people already self diagnosing themselves when they clearly have a similar “ability” like mine….

Nice write-up bro…. another good one to Med-Zone 👌❤️

Rex Emmanuel
Rex Emmanuel
1 month ago

Well not that my opinion matters but I’d say it all the same … Opeyemi, Thank you for sharing your story (loved everything). I also play COC ….😉
300lv now Anatomy (UNIBEN).
It was educating.

ghostwriter
ghostwriter
1 month ago

I don’t know if I have this ‘condition’
But I remember a lot of things from my child hood
I remember them so visibly in my head like it is a movie
I can recall how lighted the place was and other stuffs
I remember when I was barely even one when thiefs came to our house then
I was upstairs in the room
I was crying
The person kind of baby sitter had to put sachet water in my mouth
We went downstairs
They hid my elder siblings in the kitchen drawer
Then hid me upstairs with the water
I remember when my parents were telling this story
And I told them about this details
And they were shocked
They said how did I know.
That someone must have told me
Because they doubted I was even born then

I remember a lot of other things
It seems strange to me tho
But like it’s only when I think about it
That I remember.
I can’t really explain

I visibly remember a drama I acted with my neighbors when I was 3
And the song
I remember my kg3 graduation
I remember my grand father’s burail and weddings I attended when I was like 4years
I remember once I was 3 in the dining table
I remember almost every day in my secondary school that is if I want to
Just really strange stuffs

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
1 month ago

Good day, everyone. I hope you’re all doing well. I felt I should make an addition to the write-up. Having hyperthymesia is vastly different from remembering bits of one’s childhood.

A person might remember a thing or two about when they were two or three or four years old, but that level of remembrance is very little compared to what hyperthymestic individuals remember.

An Australian writer, Rebecca Sharrock, a hyperthymestic, remembers how she was wrapped in a pink blanket when she was seven… not years, not weeks, but seven days old. And her parents and others fact checked it.

American lady Jill Price (the first to be recognized with hyperthymesia) was quizzed on every important event that happened in America from when she was ten till her adult life. Over thirty or so years of information if I recall, dates, names, everything, she remembers almost all of them, not because she memorized the textbook or even knew such a book existed, but because she heard the those information she experienced all the things she remembered. All those dates and names and news were things she experienced one way or the other in her life. Perhaps she heard them in a radio, heard a friend talk about them, saw them on the back of a newspaper, read them off a random billboard on a drive home years and years and years into her past. Random personal experiences, is what I’m trying to say.

I guess the primary difference between remembering important moments or bits and pieces of one’s past and being hyperthymestic is that hyperthymestics remember an impossibly large amount, to impossibly accurate detail, and about seemingly unimportant things.

The reason we know so little about hyperthymesia is because there really is so few people to work on and make scientific conclusions based off of. And that is why I do not think that many of you well meaning individuals are truly hyperthymestic.

It’s wonderful that you can remember many things, but I wouldn’t say you have this condition.

I think my words might not convey just how accurate I mean, so here are YouTube videos to watch hyperthymestic individuals and how they function.

“The Boy Who Can’t Forget,” posted by Real Stories
https://youtu.be/9Bnu0UrgxBg

“People who remember every second o their life,” posted by 60 Seconds Australia
https://youtu.be/hpTCZ-hO6iI

Thank you for reading.

mls_oriade 01
mls_oriade 01
Reply to  Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
1 month ago

Okayy! Understood. Thank you too

JnrNkanta
JnrNkanta
1 month ago

It’s your writing style for me….

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Reply to  JnrNkanta
1 month ago

The remark means a lot. Thank you

Abdullahi Karimat Ayomide
Abdullahi Karimat Ayomide
1 month ago

This is so beautiful. For a moment, I thought I was reading YOUR story. The wordings and choice of words are excellent. You explained it so well using that story. Well done🙌🏽

Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Ameen Ahmad Opeyemi
Reply to  Abdullahi Karimat Ayomide
1 month ago

Thank you for the kind words.