Building a life after losing all your memories

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What if you get into an accident and you lose all of your memories? It happened to Alex Lewis after a motorbike accident when he was 18 years old. It’s basically the start of a long journey to find his life-story. The truth and the lies, and the help of his twin brother. Let me show you my thoughts about the documentary Tell Me Who I Am .

Tell me who I am

Tell Me Who I Am

Tell Me Who I Am opens on a personal tragedy: as an 18-year old, Alex Lewis woke up from a three-month coma after a motorcycle crash in 1982. There was nothing he could remember about his life, except for the face of his twin brother, Marcus.

The Lewis brothers initially shared their story in an article for The Times, back in 2013. The new documentary about the brothers, which debuted on Netflix on Oct. 18, gradually unspools and details the consequences of a decision made by Marcus, who has suddenly become the holder of all of his brother’s memories. His brother decided to paint a picture of a happy life—withholding the reality that their mother had abused the boys throughout their childhoods.

“It played out like a psychological thriller. And yet it was true,” Ed Perkins, the film’s director of Tell Me Who I Am, tells TIME. “I was fascinated by the themes of brotherhood, the blurring of fact and fiction, memory and the question of who we are if we lose our memory.”

Hiding bad memories

A theme that I took from watching this film, is the blurred boundaries between your memories and reality and that everything is somehow connected. I believe that everyone has things in his or her life that you decide not to look at. Because they are too painful, too emotional, or too complicated, we hide them. We lock them away and tend to think that we cleaned them up. Easy.

It is an interesting idea how a seemingly great solution – losing all your bad and traumatic memories – isn’t a solution to the problems at all. As this documentary implies, emotions cannot be controlled, and by hiding certain emotions or painful experiences they aren’t cleaned up at all.

Even when losing his memory, it clearly seems important for Alex to understand what truly happened in his life. Even when he wasn’t able to remember it, it was important for him to understand his past – and so his present, and to face those painful experiences and see them for what they truly are. At some point you might think that you actually need your history. All of it, to be able to live fully in the present without limitations.

I always use the metaphor of entering a room to illustrate that. When entering a new room, we tend to think that it’s a new possibility for us to really be there and show our new selves, while in fact, we all carry a backpack with us. That backpack includes our memories and our past experiences. And although we might be running for bad memories, we always take that backpack with us, wherever we go.

As long as we put all kinds of heavy things in our backpacks that do not belong there and don’t take a closer look into it, our presence will somehow be unsubconsciously slowed down by our past experiences. Although we are probably carrying also good memories, we may be constantly reminded by our past through simple triggers like a flashback or an overreaction. These dynamics are all routed in past experiences and remind us of the constantly blurred boundaries between memory and reality, past and present.

Tell me who i am

Emotional bonds that allow us to survive

Another theme that I took from watching this movie is the importance of emotional bonds. I don’t have any experience of being a twin myself, but I do get a sense of how strong that bond is and how deep their connection is rooted.

Although Marcus couldn’t remember anything about his past, his brother was the one who told him all the stories that he needed to hear. Based on those stories, he painted a picture of reality that influenced his sense of self. Although that picture was not close to reality due to the things that his brother decided not to say, it makes you think about how much we depend on each other and the emotional bonds and relationships that we carry.

Psychotherapist Esther Perel said in one of her interviews how important it is to be picky about the people that you allow close to you. We rely on their information, we somehow copy their believe systems. She always says, “surround yourself with people who know what you don’t. […] You’re the sum of all of those people – their perspectives, ideas and knowledge.”

Therefore, it’s beautiful to see that the twin brothers will do anything for the other half. And how a loved one can help you overcome even the hardest things in life. Much can be said about the way Marcus framed their common past. But for sure, their emotional bond allowed Alex to survive his memory loss.

Conclusion

Earlier this month my friend suggested me to watch Tell Me Who I Am when we were in Spain for a couple of days. I immediately watched it as I got home and I’m happy I did because it gave me some great insights.

Although hiding bad memories for yourself and others might be human, it rarely seem to work. As this documentary implies, trying to control and hiding our painful experiences might lock them up for a while, they will still exist and control our lives even long after. It’s inevitable that memories play an integral part of our lives. In order to live life free and to the fullest, we need to have a closer look at our own memories. The ones that stick with us and repeat in our minds over and over again.

I think it’s important for our well-being to fully understand the memories that limit us from the life that we actually want to live. Until we have found the courage to look in the mirror and see our biggest fears for what they truly are. And we need our family and friends to support us with that. I’m curious to know if you’ve seen this movie. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Did you like this story? In this section you can find more blog posts that I wrote about memories. But you can also pick the ones below:

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