Growing up with an Eidetic Memory: Eshaa's Story
Eidetic memory is the ability to recall an image, as well as sounds and other sensations associated with that image, with so much accurate detail that it is as if you are still seeing it. It is controlled by the posterior parietal cortex of the parietal lobe of the brain, through which visual stimuli are processed and images retained.
Eshaa is an incoming Economics and Comparative law student at Umass Amherst. She loves reading, dreaming, talking, and writing about courage and empathy. Today, she talks to Gifted India about growing up with an eidetic memory, and how that which is commonly considered a blessing can often be, for the ‘eidetiker’, a burden and a curse.
“Imagine sitting in front of a big screen with a google search bar. Now, imagine searching for a specific video that you want to watch.
Generally, google gives you a list of search results – everything from the purpose of the video, the person producing it, their story, motive, and background, to the number of likes on the video, its popularity, and the way it’s trending. But you have a choice not to click on the links that give you all of this information.
What if I told you that all of these links and information flooded your screen involuntarily, simultaneously, in the form of small videos one second after you searched for that specific video on google?
Well, most of the time, this imaginary scenario is a routine minute of my life.
I’m a 19-year-old with an eidetic memory – which basically means that I remember every conversation that I’ve ever had, everything that I’ve ever experienced, and every feeling, emotion, and intuition that I’ve ever felt. I live through several stories, videos, movies, audio notes (all related to me, of course) - but in my head.
I am an only child whose parents work about 20 hours a day. So, growing up, I spent most of my time alone. I did have an amazing German shepherd who took care of me when my parents weren’t home during the day, but he didn’t talk to me!
I didn’t realize the consequences of this interesting memory till I was about 14. As a kid, I thought it was super cool to live with this memory, because I had something that my friends did not. But as I grew up, I realized something important – I had something that my friends did not.
I found it extremely hard to let things go – small fights, quarrels, conflict. I couldn’t let go because I remembered how it felt. I could hear the entire fight in my head and I could almost see it take place in front of me. Again, and again, and again. I didn’t know how to let go because every time I tried, I remembered.
Whenever I spoke to my parents, they said, “Eshaa, we’re humans and we have fights with our friends all the time. These things are very routine and happen in all of our lives. Don’t think so much. Don’t waste your time”. My routine answer to all of this was, “What could be more important than addressing what I feel! I don’t want to feel so many things. I don’t want to remember all of this. Take it away. I don’t want to think.”
My parents took time to understand what I went through on a daily basis. But when they did, they encouraged me to speak my mind - everything that happened, everything that I felt, and every other incident that I associated with it. My entire train of thought. But I would only ever get two hours with them, because they left for office at 9 in the morning and came home at 8:00pm.
Sometimes, two hours were enough. But most of the times, two hours were not enough to empty my mind after a long day of thinking and living in my head.
So I figured out other ways to empty my mind: writing down entire trains of thought and then sometimes actually reading them out loud to make sense of the situation. This worked because it helped me get out of my head. After repetitive efforts, I slowly learnt how to turn the page over. I realized that it’s possible to make sense of a situation and move on, but that it’s extremely hard to move on from emotions. My struggle with my ‘emotional eidetic memory’ was way harder than my struggle with my ‘physical eidetic memory’.
“What do I do? How do I go ahead when I remember how I felt, why I felt the way I felt, what led to that, every single time I’ve felt this way before, and the situations that led to these feelings”?
My struggle was with the details. The details of what happened. The details of how I felt.
I quickly realized that most of my friends didn’t like to talk about this. They didn’t like to hear things on repeat. So my only option was to not be myself in front of my friends, push through the life I was living in my head, and occasionally have the two hour ‘cleansing sessions’ – as I used to call it then – with my parents.
When I was in the 8th grade, my parents enrolled me in IIT prep classes. I was supposed to study for about 6 hours a day after school. Managing two different lives, one in my head and one outside, got extremely difficult and exhausting with 17 assignments of physics in my bag. I barely had the time and the space to push through one life and it was easier to let go the one outside my head.
I thought that isolating myself socially would make me stop needing cleansing sessions. But leading this life was harder than I thought, because I craved social interaction. I craved attention from my parents and friends, and managing exams with all of this got difficult. Soon, I realized that engineering was something that I was absolutely not interested in. But I had given a commitment to my parents and I was scared that disappointing them would mean losing the only two allies I ever had. The only two people who understood the life in my head. I tried talking to them but each conversation meant a new, long, exhaustive train of thought, a new cycle – but with no ‘cleansing sessions’.
The easier option was to push through, to survive. To put in the hours, sleep, wake up, and repeat.
Slowly, school interaction with friends also became difficult. Since it was hard to break that train of thought, it was harder to get out of the loop. I wasn’t able to articulate properly even in normal conversations because each and every conversation triggered some ‘memory baggage’. I lived like this for three years, until it was just too hard to survive. After my 10th grade, I sat down with my parents and had a 6-hour long conversation – a forced cleansing session. I told them everything that I went through in those three years, I told them about every single ‘loop’ in my head, every single chain of thought. I forced them to take me to therapy, because this just wasn’t working anymore.
With regular sessions of therapy, things started to look better. I realized that embracing the loops and tackling them head on with vulnerability was harder but more effective. I was able to express my emotions more effectively.
Remember the big screen with a search bar, flooded with involuntary videos? I was able to zoom in and concentrate on one video at a time. I was finally able to accept that I feel a little more than my friends do, and sometimes I feel things that my friends and parents don’t. I realized that sports was a powerful way to pause and move out of the loop. My relationship with my friends and parents improved and life was a little less cruel.
I still find it very hard to break the loop and look up, and it takes a lot of courage to constantly be vulnerable and tackle things head on. I still need ‘cleansing sessions’, but I’m able to articulate more effectively.
Eidetic kids have similar needs and wants like other kids. We crave and hope for the same things. Like most of the people on the planet, we have social anxiety, we overthink, and we make bad decisions! We just feel everything more intensely. But we’re highly empathetic and kind humans – because we understand what it must feel like. We understand the importance of a supportive ally and we’re excellent listeners. We just feel and think in a different way, because we remember life in a different way.
But, we’re cool because we have our entire lives documented up here!”
Eshaa Joshi is a 19-year-old incoming undergraduate at Umass Amherst – Amherst college. She spends most of her time reading, swimming, cooking, and writing poetry. She is constantly trying to understand what makes us human, and currently trying to figure out the purpose of her existence.