Would you take a pill to erase bad memories?
This was the question I pondered today as I read about a drug which has been developed to erase painful memories. If you have seen the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which starred Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey, you will have seen the fictional characters use a technique to erase memories of each other when their relationship turned sour. My husband, the scientist (!) loved it , but it just struck me as profoundly sad.
At various times in my life when the pain of some trauma has threatened to overwhelm me, I have had that familiar thought of just wanting to block out the pain. I am sure you have felt it too. But think about it for a moment – isn’t our pain and suffering part of what makes us human? I know it is part of what makes me empathetic to the pain of others and willing to listen and help however I can. Without experiencing my own pain, I would never be able to do that for others. How could I? If I didn’t have that memory of the day I was told I had cancer, how could I fully understand the shock and confusion experienced by someone who has just been diagnosed. Without the memories of the trio of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, would I be so diligent in preventing a recurrence, determined now that I never want to experience any of those harrowing treatments again? How, without my memories, could I ever understand the loneliness and despair that can accompany cancer (and beyond) for a young woman with a diagnosis of cancer? Quite simply, I couldn’t.
While I concede that such a drug would be of benefit to those who suffer severe post traumatic stress and recurrent bad memories which prevent some from moving on with their lives, the primary purpose of my post today is to reflect on the nature of bad memories and the role they have in our lives. I believe they are part of what makes us human and capable of empathy. They can motivate us to get out there and make a difference in the lives of others.
So, what do you think? Are our bad memories part of who we are? Do they serve a purpose in our lives and those of humanity? Let me know what you think.