“Where did the years go?”
People often ask that plaintive question as time seems to accelerate and the days of the past begin to blur. But it’s not a question people with HSAM ever ask. Because they can recall in vivid detail, everything. Yes, everything.
HSAM or Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory is a condition of possessing an extremely detailed autobiographical memory. There are close to 60 to 80 people around the world with this rare condition. Being able to recall everything, good or bad, can be both a boon and a curse.
Memories for us, may fade over time. But not for someone like Rebecca Sharrock, because if you ask her what she did when she was only 12 days old, she will be able to give you the minutest detail.
“As a newborn child I was curious to know what the seat cover and steering wheel above me were. Though at that age I hadn’t yet developed the ability to want to get up and explore what such curious objects could be,” she wrote in a post on Omni.
Not only can she remember what she did that day, but she can recall all the irrelevant details, like her clothes, her meals and the weather that day.
‘Highly superior autobiographical memory’ (or HSAM for short), first came to light in the early 2000s, with a young woman named Jill Price, when she claimed she could recall everyday of her life, right from the time she was a kid.
Psychologist Gary Marcus, who interviewed Jill Price, WIRED magazine, believe people with this condition share some traits with people with OCD, like obsessively thinking about dates and events. 51-year-old Price said she constantly relives certain moments from her personal history. She remembers every moment of her life, good and bad. Price acknowledges that it can be paralyzing.
But Price told researchers she couldn’t apply her superior memory skills in school. She said she had great difficulty with rote memorisation. She said she had to study hard and that she was not a genius.
But Rebecca remembers everything from each Harry Potter book, word for word.
Alexandra Wolff, another woman who has HSAM (from Maryland in the US), told NPR in an interview that HSAM feels like “time travel”. She told the broadcaster she can remember everything she has heard and felt in a day, “right down to getting sick to my stomach or getting a headache.”
It is often said that we are our memories – of experiences, relationships, thoughts, and feelings make us who we are. Maybe, their memories make them ‘whole’?