Su Meck poses for a portrait at her family's home on Thursday, May 19, 2011, in Gaithersburg, Md. Meck lost her memory at age of 22 and never recovered it. She graduated with an associate's degree from Montgomery College on Friday, May 20, 2011.

Su Meck poses for a portrait at her family's home on Thursday, May 19, 2011, in Gaithersburg, Md. Meck lost her memory at age of 22 and never recovered it. She graduated with an associate's degree from Montgomery College on Friday, May 20, 2011.

“I Forgot to Remember” is a memoir about one woman’s journey after a traumatic brain injury erased all memories of her previous life. Diane talks to Su Meck about her remarkable experience.

Guests

  • Su Meck author, "I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia."

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from “I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia” by Su Meck. Copyright © 2014 by Doug Most. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Complete memory loss is so rare, doctors have a name for it: Hollywood Amnesia. That's because the condition appears more often on screen than in real life. Su Meck is one of the few people who's experienced it, after she suffered a traumatic brain injury at age 22. Since then, she's had to rebuild her life as mother, wife and, eventually, as student. Now, at age 48, she's written about her experience. Her new book is titled, "I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia." Su Meck joins me in the studio.

  • 11:07:39

    MS. DIANE REHMI'll welcome your questions, comments. (800) 433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook. Or send us a Tweet. Su, I'm glad to have you here.

  • 11:07:58

    MS. SU MECKThanks for having me.

  • 11:08:00

    REHMSu, this is just really an incredible story. And I wonder how difficult it was for you to write it, considering the fact it's a memoir, and you really have no memories of your early life.

  • 11:08:26

    MECKIt was incredibly difficult to write. I depended a lot on stories that I heard from other people that knew me before, and my kids, and my husband. And it was hard to hear some of the stories -- some of the stories I had never heard before.

  • 11:08:49

    REHMYou were 22 when this accident occurred. You don't even remember the accident. Has someone described it to you?

  • 11:09:01

    MECKMany times. I feel as though -- because I've just heard that story so many times -- I feel like I remember it, even though it's not like a real memory. I feel like that is a story that I can rattle off pretty easily.

  • 11:09:18

    REHMTell us what happened.

  • 11:09:20

    MECKWe were -- my husband and I were living in Fort Worth, Texas, back in 19 -- in the 1980s. This was 1988. We had two small children, Patrick and Benjamin, who were about 9 months, and Benjamin was almost two. And I -- it was a Sunday afternoon and I was making macaroni and cheese in the kitchen, like you do, and Patrick crawled in and asked to be picked up. And I picked him up and, you know, held him up over my head. And there was a ceiling fan that hung in our kitchen. It wasn't on or anything. And his back or his feet hit the ceiling fan and knocked it off a hook.

  • 11:10:05

    MECKIt was hung, not well. And the ceiling fan actually came down and hit me. I handed Patrick off to Jim, who was in the kitchen with me. And then I fell down and I hit the counter and then I hit the floor on the way down, so -- and then that was -- that was it.

  • 11:10:27

    REHMAnd that's all that can be said about that particular moment. You had to have been told what happened next.

  • 11:10:40

    MECKWell, I've been told that. And then, yes, I've been told that Jim called 911 and they came. And Jim took the boys across the street to a neighbor. And then I guess I went to the --the local -- more local hospital that was Harris Methodist Southwest that was closer to where we lived. And they took a look at me and then sent me downtown to the bigger hospital where they had a bigger neurological unit, downtown.

  • 11:11:10

    REHMAnd then what?

  • 11:11:14

    MECKThen, I guess -- I mean, I don't know to the degree -- Jim says that there was a neurologist there that explained that my brain had been shaken. So, like, it was like a bowl of Jell-O is the analogy he always uses, that says when you shake a bowl of Jell-O, it gets little cracks in it. So my brain was shaken such that it had little cracks in it. And there was an awful lot of pressure being built up in the brain. So what his -- his thoughts were to get rid of all the IVs and everything and try to just let some of the pressure that was pushing in my brain -- let that swelling go down and then see what happens.

  • 11:11:56

    MECKBut it didn't look good for that first 24 hours for me.

  • 11:12:02

    REHMIt looked as though you might not survive...

  • 11:12:05

    MECKCorrect.

  • 11:12:07

    REHM...because there was so much pressure...

  • 11:12:09

    MECKYes.

  • 11:12:11

    REHM...within your skull -- the brain pressing up against it. So after that first 24 hours, when indeed the pressure began to diminish somewhat, what were you left with?

  • 11:12:31

    MECKI'm told that I woke up and didn't know where I was, who I was, you know, why I was. I didn't know anything pretty much. I had -- I never lost speech, so even though my vocabulary was just a few words, I never lost the ability to speak. But I forgot basically everything I ever knew up to that point.

  • 11:12:59

    REHMDid you know your husband?

  • 11:13:01

    MECKI did not.

  • 11:13:03

    REHMDid you know your children?

  • 11:13:05

    MECKNo.

  • 11:13:07

    REHMDid you know how to get dressed?

  • 11:13:10

    MECKNo. No. No, this was, you know, using a spoon, using the bathroom, drinking out of a cup: these were all things I ended up having to relearn -- how to read, how to count, how to -- everything.

  • 11:13:26

    REHMAnd so you were in and out of consciousness for a good period of time.

  • 11:13:33

    MECKCorrect. Mm-hmm.

  • 11:13:34

    REHMAnd during that time, do you have any memories?

  • 11:13:41

    MECKNo. No. I don't remember, you know, not just that time. I have zero memories of living in Texas -- even after the accident. I don't have any memories even -- we moved, eventually we moved to the Baltimore area and I have a vague, like a vaguest recollection of that house. But that's pretty much all. I don't really have, I guess, full memories until we moved to Montgomery Village in, you know, outside of -- in Montgomery County outside of D.C.

  • 11:14:16

    REHMAnd how long were you actually in the hospital?

  • 11:14:20

    MECKI was only in the hospital three weeks, which was I think a little, maybe not the best idea at the time. Like, I think back to it. I have -- Dan de Visé, who helped with the research for the book -- the brain chapter, if you will, chapter three, which is the brain-sciency chapter -- he was able to get my medical records from the hospital in Fort Worth, which I had never seen my medical records before. So that was a real eye-opening experience -- that I was only there three weeks and that I left the hospital. I didn't feel -- looking at the medical records, I didn't feel like I probably should have been let go from the hospital at that time.

  • 11:15:06

    REHMBecause?

  • 11:15:07

    MECKBecause I had -- I still had some huge deficits and I had two little boys at home that I was expected to take of. And I couldn't take care of myself, let alone, you know, two little boys.

  • 11:15:24

    REHMSo when they brought you home, I mean, there's your husband with you and there are your two children -- perhaps other members of your family waiting for you?

  • 11:15:43

    MECKI don't think so. Jim talks about when he first brought me home. It was almost as if, like, there was just an incredulous look on my face. Like, okay, so this is where I live. And we walked up a hallway and we had a lot of photos on the wall of, you know, our marriage and the kids were little...

  • 11:16:05

    REHMSure.

  • 11:16:05

    MECK...family photos and such. And he said that I looked at one and I was like, oh, that's me, you know, in the photograph. And he's like, you know, yeah, that's you.

  • 11:16:14

    REHMHe was very encouraged to see that you recognized you.

  • 11:16:18

    MECKYou know, myself. But even at that time there were, you know, I still didn't -- you say, you know, I was with my husband and my kids were there, but it was still like I didn't really know who they were. I didn't really understand the concept that he was a husband and these were my children and I was a mother. I mean, those concepts are things that I didn't understand for a long time.

  • 11:16:40

    REHMHow long did you have help with those children?

  • 11:16:46

    MECKWell, I didn't really have help. We had one woman that came in for a brief time, right when I got home, but didn't stay around for very long. And, so, yeah, it was basically me and the boys. And I don't know what we did during the day.

  • 11:17:10

    REHMYou don't know how you took care of them.

  • 11:17:14

    MECKI don't.

  • 11:17:14

    REHMYou don't know how you fed them. You don't know how you fed yourself.

  • 11:17:19

    MECKNo. No. And it's very scary to me now. I get like this feeling in my gut that is -- when I heard these stories. Because a lot of these stories, I just have heard to write the book, so within the past couple of years. Jim would say that he would come home from work and the car would be running in the driveway. Or I would be there and the boys would be nowhere around. Or the boys would be there playing in the back yard, and I would be nowhere around. I mean, this is a one-year-old and a two-year-old. It's not a good situation.

  • 11:17:53

    MECKI just -- I must have a legion of guardian angels looking over me because the fact that there was no tragedy though all this is kind of amazing.

  • 11:18:06

    REHMWas there a psychiatrist or a physician in attendance during that time, that you know?

  • 11:18:16

    MECKYou mean after I...

  • 11:18:17

    REHMYeah, after the accident, after you came home.

  • 11:18:21

    MECKJim talks about how we went to a neurologist a couple of times. The problem was the MRI scans that they did at that time didn't show anything specific.

  • 11:18:35

    REHMSu Meck, she's currently pursuing a degree in music and book studies at Smith College. Her book is titled, "I Forgot to Remember."

  • 11:20:01

    REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Su Meck is with me. Her story is so unusual and she had a ceiling fan fall on her head back in 1988 when she was just 22 years old. She had two very young children. She was in the hospital for three weeks but she came out of that hospital three weeks later not knowing who she was, not knowing who her husband was or recognizing her children. But, I mean, even more than that she had no understanding of how to care for herself or her children.

  • 11:21:03

    REHMHer new book is titled "I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia." Su, one can call this post traumatic stress syndrome or one can call it a massive brain injury that blocked out everything that happened. I guess I'm just stunned that you were left alone to care for yourself and those children after you came home. And what you've already said that sometimes your husband came home, found the car running, couldn't find you, couldn't find the children. How did you get through that period?

  • 11:21:58

    MECKI don't know. I don't know. I don't remember that time so I have no idea what the boys and I did during the day or how we got along. I don't know.

  • 11:22:12

    REHMWhen your husband would come home in the evening, do you recall how you and he communicated?

  • 11:22:25

    MECKI think I learned pretty quickly how to gauge -- you know, to get, like, the smile from Jim instead of the frown from Jim. It was almost...

  • 11:22:36

    REHMWhat do you mean?

  • 11:22:38

    MECKWell, so I did things that would make life happier for us so...

  • 11:22:45

    REHMSuch as...

  • 11:22:46

    MECKWell, so if he would come home and, you know, I didn't know where the kids were, for example, and that would be kind of a frightening thing. So I got to the point where I would go across the street to our neighbor's house and see if maybe they were there. I got into a routine that would make it so that when he did come home I was with the boys. You know, I learned how to make Jim happy. So I learned how to do things that would keep things on an even keel at home.

  • 11:23:24

    REHMWhat about cooking? What about food?

  • 11:23:27

    MECKWe ate a lot of tuna fish salad. Tuna fish salad was one of the things that I had in a therapy session before I left the hospital to see if I could make tuna fish, because it required a lot of different skills. I had to...

  • 11:23:42

    REHMHow did they teach you to do that?

  • 11:23:45

    MECKYeah, so I had to learn how to work a can opener and how to, you know, spoon out, I guess, mayonnaise and how to cut up celery and add -- so it seems very simple but it's actually -- a multistep task like that...

  • 11:23:59

    REHMYou bet.

  • 11:24:00

    MECK...is quite difficult or, you know, was quite difficult for me. So that was -- and that was what they taught me so that was what I thought -- that was a meal. So I would make tuna fish all the time.

  • 11:24:14

    REHMMorning, noon and night.

  • 11:24:15

    MECKYes, yes, pretty much.

  • 11:24:16

    REHMLiterally.

  • 11:24:17

    MECKYes, literally. So I have a feeling that Jim would cook other things probably but that was, like, my idea of what a meal was, was tuna fish.

  • 11:24:28

    REHMAnd how about getting yourself dressed?

  • 11:24:33

    MECKWell, you know, buttons and ties -- I didn't know how to tie my shoes. So I think I would often just, like, tuck the laces into my shoes if I had tie shoes, or I just had, like, slip-on shoes that I wore. And to this day there are days that I don't know how to tie my shoes or work buttons very well. Benjamin taught me how to tie my shoes.

  • 11:24:58

    REHMYour son.

  • 11:24:59

    MECKYes. Benjamin taught me how to tie my shoes when he was in, you know, kindergarten, first grade.

  • 11:25:04

    REHMWhat about reading?

  • 11:25:07

    MECKReading was a tough one. I -- again, one of the books that I had to read before leaving the hospital -- one of the books I did read or I was taught to read letters and books was Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss. So that was, like, the first book I read. And I question now whether I actually read the book or if I just sort of had it memorized in a way.

  • 11:25:28

    REHMYeah, yeah.

  • 11:25:29

    MECKBecause Benjamin and Patrick had a lot of books and we would sit and, like, look at the books and we would make up stories about what the story was about. And when Jim read to them, I would sit and listen to the story just like they did. I mean, I was interested just like they were. I was essentially their age so I was just as interested to be read to as they were.

  • 11:25:55

    REHMWhat about things like taking a shower, washing your hair, washing clothes? What about things like that?

  • 11:26:05

    MECKThose are all things Jim taught me. A lot of that Jim taught me. You know, he talks about how he taught me how to shave my legs and how to, you know, wash my hair. And he was always very close when I took a shower so I didn't get lost. You know, we call it getting lost in the shower or getting lost in my house, whatever, not realizing where I am. So when he was around he was very helpful with that type of living skills kind of thing.

  • 11:26:34

    REHMSo what about something as perhaps real or fictional as motherly instinct? Did that kick in?

  • 11:26:49

    MECKI don't think so. I don't think that kicked in until much, much later. The one real motherly instinct thing that I have vividly in my memory is not until the early 2000s when I pulled Benjamin out of school. And so that's many, many years obviously after the accident.

  • 11:27:11

    REHMWhat do you mean pulled him out of school?

  • 11:27:12

    MECKI found -- I was making beds and I found a notebook stuck between his mattress and bed spring thing. And I pulled it out. I'm like, that's a weird place. And I opened it up and there was just -- it would -- as Benjamin's emotions had just exploded all over these pages over and over again, I hate my life. I hate myself. I'm -- you know, I hate school. Nobody loves -- you know, everybody hates me. I, you know, da-da-da all and on and on and on, filled pages and pages filled...

  • 11:27:45

    REHMHow old was he at the time?

  • 11:27:47

    MECKHe was a junior in high school then.

  • 11:27:48

    REHMOh, I see.

  • 11:27:50

    MECKAnd there was something that kicked in. There was something huge. It was like getting kicked in the gut. And I was like, I am not sending him back to that school. I'm never -- I don't know what's going to happen but I'm pulling him out of public school and he's never going back there. And that was -- I mean, if you think about it, that was a motherly thing. You know, I was trying to protect him from I didn't know what.

  • 11:28:17

    REHMSo you went to the school.

  • 11:28:21

    MECKNo. Actually he drove home that day and then I greeted him at the door and said, you are never going back to that school. And he -- you know, I think he gave me, like, this incredulous look like, what are you talking about? And I held up the notebook and he immediately went into happy Benjamin mode like, oh mom, don't worry about it. It's fine, da-da-da.. I'm like, no. You're done. You're so done with school. And I like to say that there was, like, this huge look of relief on his face. I think he was relieved.

  • 11:28:49

    MECKAnd then that Monday we went and I said, I'm taking him out.

  • 11:28:55

    REHMAnd he went then to another school?

  • 11:28:59

    MECKNope, no. He took his GED and I'm proud to announce that he has, like, the top GED score in all of Maryland or something like -- I mean, it was funny. It was also fascinating to me because the day that I pulled him out of school he got a thing in the mail saying that he had been nominated -- or had gotten some -- like, the national merit scholarship, you know, whatever because -- for his PSAT scores. So, I mean, it was kind of an ironic day.

  • 11:29:30

    REHMInteresting. Did he then go on to college?

  • 11:29:34

    MECKEventually he did. He went out to -- he sort of was trying to find his way for a while. He had a very, very, very rough time in school. This is before -- about the same time as Columbine, so bullying and stuff wasn't in the forefront like it is now. And so he had a very, very tough time in school. So he sort of needed to heal a little bit. But then he eventually went out to AADA which is American Academy of Dramatic Arts out in Los Angeles.

  • 11:30:07

    REHMFantastic. But back to you, when you think back to those years right after the accident, when here you were in charge of two toddlers and then became pregnant again, you know, I'm thinking, how in the world could you possibly have managed on your own?

  • 11:30:42

    MECKI don't know. I think we just did it. I was very scheduled. I had a very similar routine. Benjamin learned at a very young age, and Patrick too to a certain extent, you know, he would ask me every single morning, what's the plan for the day? Now this is starting when he's three, he's saying this. He took care of me. You know, Benjamin and, again, to a certain extent Patrick took care of me when they were very young. They were sometimes more parent to me than not. They taught me a lot of things, both of them.

  • 11:31:19

    MECKBut essentially they -- you know, we just lived hour by hour I think was how we managed. You know, it was, what do we do now? Well, let's go to the grocery store. And, you know, I don't know, it was -- you know, we just did what we did.

  • 11:31:37

    REHMI've heard it said often that traumatic events can either bring a couple closer together or drive them totally apart. Did you go through some of those times?

  • 11:31:56

    MECKOh, with Jim, most definitely. Most definitely. This is not something that, you know, I would want for anybody, my -- those years. It became apparent that I was not who I was before. I was not the person that Jim married. I had a very different personality. I didn't argue with him. I didn't have a vocabulary. I didn't know how to do a lot of things. I forgot things often. And that was difficult for him.

  • 11:32:31

    MECKYou know, you don't sign up to think that you're going to teach your wife how to shave her legs or her shapes or her colors. You don't think that you're going to have to do that as a spouse. So he started traveling a lot, and overseas traveling where he would be gone for weeks at a time. And so Benjamin, Patrick and eventually Cassidy, my daughter, and I, we were like a team. We were like four siblings altogether.

  • 11:33:02

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What were the neurologists saying at the time? Were they giving you any hope? Were they questioning what was coming from you? What was their view?

  • 11:33:25

    MECKSo this is back in Texas. There was a neurologist that we saw a couple of times that they didn't see anything physical on the MRI scans back at that time. So they didn't -- what they couldn't see they didn't know how to deal with. And it was almost like they weren't listening to me though because I was saying that I couldn't remember things, and that I was lost a lot of the time and that I had these horrible headaches. And they were saying, well, but we don't see anything wrong with you so there must not be anything wrong with you. It must -- you know, you're either faking it or doing this for attention. I mean, which is ridiculous. Why would anybody do that?

  • 11:34:08

    MECKI mean, that's a whole other -- and that's one of the reasons I even wrote this book was to let people know that this is real. This is -- we are not the same people after a head injury like this than we were before. And people have to understand that and doctors have to understand that and caregivers.

  • 11:34:28

    REHMApparently you were not only not able to remember what happened before, you couldn't make new memories.

  • 11:34:40

    MECKFor a long time, yes, for a long time. Like I said, I -- you know, we lived in Texas a whole what, year-and-a-half after the head injury, or two years, something after the head injury. I have zero memories of Texas and I have only vague recollections of the next place we lived outside of Baltimore. So, yeah, there was a long time that I had even making any sense of what it was I was supposed to do at any given time.

  • 11:35:05

    REHMSo you would perhaps learn to tie your shoes one day or learn to read a book one day, and then the next day forget what you had done.

  • 11:35:18

    MECKWell, it depended. There was -- you know, sometimes I could tie my shoes for a couple days at a time and then I would forget. Like, again, I told you, I still sometimes forget how to tie my shoes. But reading was a process. I think just like any kid learns how to read, the first book I think I read from cover to cover was called "The Outsiders." Benjamin read it when he was in 6th grade and so he came home and was struggling with that and I started reading it. And I think that is the first book I actually read.

  • 11:35:49

    MECKAnd so if you think about it, I was about 10 years old at the time that I read that book. And that's about right, if you think about that's how long it takes to learn how to read, and with Benjamin and Patrick sort of teaching me how to read and figuring out...

  • 11:36:05

    REHMYou and your family had to move around a lot during those years. That must have -- you even spent time in Egypt.

  • 11:36:15

    MECKYep, yeah.

  • 11:36:16

    REHMHow come?

  • 11:36:17

    MECKJim's job mostly. He lost his job when we lived in Baltimore. He was working and was laid off from that job and got another job that took him on the road a lot. And that was in the D.C. area. So we moved down to Montgomery County. Also the kids were starting school and we heard very good things about the Montgomery County School system. So we moved there. And then with that job he had a chance to move, you know, overseas. He was working with a global technologies group and had a job to -- or had a chance to live in Cairo. So there we went.

  • 11:36:56

    MECKAgain, I don't think that I was ever really part of these decisions. I think it just sort of -- he just -- he would ask me and I would tell him what he wanted to hear and off we went. I didn't actually even know we were in another country for a long time when we were there.

  • 11:37:11

    REHMYou didn't know you were in another country.

  • 11:37:13

    MECKNo, no. It wasn't -- I think Patrick came home and said, mom do you know that we're in Africa? And I thought it was like a joke. And he said, no, really we're in Africa. And I was like, oh okay.

  • 11:37:23

    REHMSu Meck. Her book is titled "I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia." Your calls when we come back. Short break. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. Su Meck is with me. We're talking about the accident she had back in 1988 when ceiling fan fell on her head and affected here with total amnesia, truly forgetting everything, from how to tie a shoe, how to read a book. She has spent her life rebuilding, not those memories, but a new life for herself. Before I open the phones, describe if you can what you know of your life with Jim before the accident and now.

  • 11:40:55

    MECKI think before the accident we were a matched pair. We were both very stubborn. We were both very argumentative. We were both, you know, we were well-matched. Our vocabulary was similar. We were intellectually very well matched. You know, we were stupid. I was a little stupid to drop out of school and get married at 19 and have babies at 20 and 21, but at the same time I was very much my own person. And I knew what I wanted and I know how to do it.

  • 11:41:30

    MECKAnd after the accident I was exactly the opposite. I was passive. I went along to go along. I didn't know why I did things. I just did things because I thought that they were expected of me. I observed what other people did and learned to just match what physically they were doing and what they were saying. I was a difficult person to live with, I think, because I didn't ever have a me part of me, I guess.

  • 11:42:00

    REHMAnd how would you describe yourself now?

  • 11:42:04

    MECKI think I'm learning. Going back to Montgomery College, in Rockville, was the beginning of that. And I was scared to death to go back to school. I had never been to school and I almost didn't go.

  • 11:42:19

    REHMThat you could recall.

  • 11:42:21

    MECKWell, yeah, that's -- I mean, I had never been to school. So I almost didn't go that first day. It was Cassidy that was like, "Mom, you're going," kind of kicking me out the door. But, yeah, I think that was the beginning of it, where I had to sort of stand up and be somebody and…

  • 11:42:42

    REHMTake hold of yourself.

  • 11:42:44

    MECKExactly.

  • 11:42:45

    REHMAll right. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Brian, in Oldsmar, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:43:01

    BRIANGreat. How are you doing, Doctor?

  • 11:43:04

    REHMGo right ahead, Brian.

  • 11:43:08

    BRIANYeah, I had -- it's not exactly the same experience. About I'm going to guess three and a half, four years ago I had a full blown seizure. I came off of medication very rapidly, which I should not have come off of. And I'm only going by what my stepson said. I was flopping around like a fish underneath my van in a full blown seizure. And I woke up in intensive care and the past part of my life I can't -- it's not in order. I can't place it in order, you know, which happened first or which happened later.

  • 11:43:54

    BRIANAnd the wife, she'll make fun of me because I can watch the same movie over and over every night. It's just a certain part of my brain was killed after that. And so I can empathize to a certain extent with the previous person on your program.

  • 11:44:22

    REHMWell, Brian, I'm so sorry for your experience. I hope our audience really does understand that Su Meck can only talk about her own experience. She is not a physician. She cannot advise you nor can she sort out your experiences from her own. Let's go now to Paul, in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.

  • 11:45:03

    PAULYes, ma'am. I've got a question for Su.

  • 11:45:09

    REHMSure.

  • 11:45:10

    PAULI just wondered where she stood -- this is a spiritual question. I want to know where she stood spiritually before the accident, if she had a belief in God or a relationship with God and after that, if she had to relearn that or has she had an experience with God or what her feelings toward God.

  • 11:45:34

    REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call.

  • 11:45:38

    MECKSo Jim and I always went to church. It was something we did. After the accident we went to church. I couldn't read. And so I had trouble with following along in the services, of course. And I didn't understand a lot of what was happening in that hour every week. And so I didn't actually like going to church at all, but it was something we did and so we just kept doing it.

  • 11:46:06

    REHMWhy didn't you like going to church?

  • 11:46:08

    MECKWell, because I didn't understand any of it. It didn't make any sense to me. Here is, you know, there are people talking about Jesus and he's like a son, but they said he's like a ghost and then he's like -- I mean, nothing made sense. And like people were sheep. I mean, that didn't make any sense to me.

  • 11:46:24

    REHMAs I'm sure it does not to very young children.

  • 11:46:28

    MECKExactly. I was -- and to a certain extent, still am -- very literal minded. I have trouble with big, conceptual things. And I think religion is one of those things that you have to sort of, you know, religion and faith and spirituality, all of those things are sort of bigger than a literal-minded person can always understand.

  • 11:46:53

    REHMBut, yet, you're about to graduate from Smith College. So concepts have got to begin to come into your thinking.

  • 11:47:06

    MECKYes. It takes me -- Smith has been the hardest thing I've ever done.

  • 11:47:10

    REHMI'm sure.

  • 11:47:13

    MECKThe expectations there for reading and writing there have been way beyond anything that I ever thought that I would be able to do. And I still am questioning myself with a lot of that. It takes me a long time. I sometimes have to read something a dozen times before it actually sticks or makes sense to me. So it just takes a long time to get in my head and have me understand it. And sometimes it never does.

  • 11:47:41

    REHMLet's go to Chelsea, in Houston, Texas. Hi there.

  • 11:47:48

    CHELSEAHi, Diane. Thank you for having me on today.

  • 11:47:51

    REHMSure.

  • 11:47:52

    CHELSEAI wanted to see whether your guest's relationship with her husband has evolved back to something similar to what it was before or whether they've kind of moved into a new relationship, because she mentioned that she really does feel like she is somewhat of a different person after the accident. And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.

  • 11:48:13

    REHMAll right. Thanks.

  • 11:48:15

    MECKI don't think Jim and I will ever have a relationship like we had before. I am not the same person. So you can't -- I can't be expected to have that same kind of relationship with him. It was a long time coming before I realized that. You know that's a very recent revelation and writing the book was part of that. But he and I have been through a lot of…

  • 11:48:42

    REHMHell.

  • 11:48:44

    MECKYeah, and beyond. So I don't think there will ever be the same relationship that would be that most married couples have. We have a very different kind of setup. I think it's more -- I feel like I wouldn't be able to be who I am without him. He's sort of my touchstone, I guess. He's the constant. He's the one that knows me better than anybody, with the exception of my children, of course. But I think -- and I think I say this in the book -- that if I did not have Jim, somehow I wouldn't have myself somehow. And I don't know really what the means, except that that's a thing in my head.

  • 11:49:31

    REHMDid you ever fear he might leave you?

  • 11:49:36

    MECKOh, all the time. He threatened to a lot. And, again, I think it was just exasperation with me. I, again, I am difficult. I ask questions over and over again or I don't ask questions and I just assume things and then assume wrongly. I can't imagine what it was like for him to have to live with me or be with me.

  • 11:50:05

    REHMWhy did you want to put yourself through the ordeal of going to college?

  • 11:50:15

    MECKWell, it didn't start out that way. It started out with I lost my job teaching aerobics. I had taught aerobics and spin classes for years and years and years. I lost my job in 2007. And I was floundering. I didn't know what to do with myself. I was depressed and I didn't know what I was supposed to do. My kids were growing up and they weren't needing me anymore. And I didn't know. And I have an aunt and her husband is dead now, but Aunt Sally is a professor at Montgomery College.

  • 11:50:51

    MECKAnd she and her husband both encouraged me to go and just take some classes, just see what I was interested in. And that was sort of the beginning. And I got to the point at Montgomery College where, you know, I was scared to death at first, but I got to the point where it was like, wow, this learning stuff is pretty cool. I was pretty good at it. It was a lot of work, but it felt good. It felt good to do it and to succeed at something that was all my own.

  • 11:51:23

    REHMDo you have any ambitions as you're about to graduate from Smith, as to what you'd like to do?

  • 11:51:33

    MECKWell, I mean, there's a lot, there's so many things that I want to do. I have a list a mile long of things I want to do, but one of the things I had at Montgomery College, I had an internship at the Library of Congress. And I fell in love with libraries and in books and my work study job at Smith College has been at Neilson Library, which is their main library. And Jobie Alec (sp?) who was my supervisor there, has been my supervisor for three years now. And I love library work. I love working there. My book studies concentration is sort of pre-library science.

  • 11:52:12

    MECKI don't think I want to go right to library school right now. I've had kind of enough of school for the moment, but it's something that I think it always going to be there that I might go back to library school. I like to write. I've been bitten by this writing bug thing. I'd like to write another book about my time at Smith College, be a non-traditional, non-traditional student at Smith College. There's so many things. I want to travel. There's so many things I want to do.

  • 11:52:40

    REHMSu, who do you think is the audience for this book?

  • 11:52:46

    MECKWell, I wrote it for people with TBI and their families. I mean that's who I had in mind when I was writing the book. Again, everybody's experience is different and I -- like you said before -- I can only relate my own experience. But I want people to understand that there's a lot of men and women coming back from the wars and stuff with Traumatic Brain Injury, and I think that it's more in the public eye, thank goodness. Because I think if something like that isn't public eye, more research will be done with TBI.

  • 11:53:21

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, to Jacksonville, Fla. Hi, Sheila.

  • 11:53:33

    SHEILAHi.

  • 11:53:34

    REHMGo right ahead. Hi.

  • 11:53:36

    SHEILAMy question is today, are the MRIs showing anything significant today that they didn't show years ago?

  • 11:53:48

    MECKI'm sure they're much better than they were. I got an email -- in fact, just last week from the Medical Center at NYU. And they're doing work with MRI scans that they can see the tinier little neurons or something. But, again, I don't know anything about the brain. I'm not a doctor and I'm not that well versed in neurology. But the email that I got saying that they would like to do brain scans of my brain, just to see if there's anything that they can see now that wouldn't have been able to be seen back in the '80s.

  • 11:54:23

    REHMHere are several questions, same question. "Something very strange about the fact that your husband left you alone with those children when you did not know how to parent, you knew only how to fix tuna fish. You barely knew how to give yourself a shower. Why? Why didn't he get help?"

  • 11:54:55

    MECKI think the first answer to that is I was 22, he was 24. We were so young. He had been told by doctors at the hospital that I was fine.

  • 11:55:09

    REHMThat there was nothing wrong.

  • 11:55:11

    MECKThat there was nothing wrong with me. So that's what he went with. You know, that is -- and if you think about it, I don't blame Jim for this. I do think that maybe there was some denial going on. I think he wanted it to be normal so it was. I think the same possibly with my parents. They saw -- I mean, I don't know how you could not see the weird things that I would say or do or act. So I think there was a lot of denial, perhaps going on as well. I also think that I became a world class mimic.

  • 11:55:53

    MECKAnd I did it I think like pretty early on, like within a few years. I was an observer, like I said. And I learned to do and act and say the things that people expected me to do, act and say. And there's no physical -- there's nothing on the outside. Like I'm not missing an arm and I'm not blind. I don't have a physical anything wrong with me. So I think that's hard for people to see that there was a need there. Again, this is something that I want to have change in the TBI community. There's need to be support for people, sometimes for years afterwards. Even if they don't look as though they need it. Trust me, they need it.

  • 11:56:47

    REHMSu Meck. Her memoir of amnesia is called, "I Forgot To Remember." She's currently pursuing a degree in music and book studies from Smith College. She wrote about her experience first for the New York Times Magazine. This is her first book. Su Meck, I'm wishing you all the best as you go forward. Good luck.

  • 11:57:22

    MECKThank you. Thanks for having me.

  • 11:57:24

    REHMAbsolutely. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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