What my mother’s sticky notes show about the nature of the self

People who perform prodigious feats of memory (repeating a long series of numbers, for example) often make use of a technique called the ‘mind palace’, also known as the ‘method of loci’, the ‘Roman room’ and the ‘journey method’. The technique is ancient – versions are described by the Roman rhetoricians Cicero and Quintilian – and involves imagining a building, such as a palace or house, and associating each item to be remembered with a location in that building. One moves through the imagined structure room by room (thus the ‘journey’), finding the items in question.

I’m caring for my 98-year-old mother Joyce, who’s had increasingly debilitating memory problems for many years. For a decade or two, she managed to compensate for these problems with amazing effectiveness. To a significant extent, her life was arranged to make it possible to function as she remembered less and less. The process – not atypical of people with memory problems, I’m told – indicates that the mind palace is more than imaginary. As she lost the internal structure of memory, the galleries of her mind became literal and external. First systematically, then chaotically, Joyce Abell has used her home here in rural Virginia as her memory.

She needs more help, I concluded as I consolidated the notes, and my kids and I have been living with her on and off, or in shifts, since then. That means that people are here, rearranging her pots and pans and her furniture, to some extent, so we can do what needs to be done (cook for her and also work remotely, for example). The process of change has gotten somewhat easier; she has grown more flexible as time has gone on. But there has also been a lot of sadness and anger, because there has been a lot of loss. She feels that she has lost each thing that gets moved, and a bit of her self besides.

I think, in some way, she experiences every change to her house as a change to her self, and I think that, in imagination and in reality, with dementia or without, there is no firm distinction between who we are and where we are.

Read more in Psyche.

Written by External Article
Everyone is talking about caregiving, but it can still be difficult to find meaningful information and real stories that go deep. We read (and listen to and watch and look at) the best content about caregiving and bring you a curated selection. Have a great story about caregiving? Use our contact form to submit it to us so we can share it with the community!

Related Articles

manic pixie dream world

manic pixie dream world

Rayne: Eliza, do you consider yourself mentally ill? Eliza: Rayne, at one time, I would have said I am extremely mentally ill. I no longer say that....

Popular categories

Finances
Burnout
After Caregiving
Housing
Relationships
Finding Meaning
Planning
Dying
Finding Support
Work
Grief

Don't see what you're looking for? Search the library

Share your thoughts

0 Comments

Share your thoughts and experiences

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join our communities

Whenever you want to talk, there’s always someone up in one of our Facebook communities.

These private Facebook groups are a space for support and encouragement — or getting it off your chest.

Join our newsletter

Thoughts on care work from Cori, our director, that hit your inbox each Monday morning (more-or-less).

There are no grand solutions, but there are countless little ways to make our lives better.

Share your insights

Caregivers have wisdom and experience to share. Researchers, product developers, and members of the media are eager to understand the nature of care work and make a difference.

We have a group specifically to connect you so we can bring about change.