real life

What it's like to live, when you're incapable of forgetting.

Jill Price can forgive, but she can’t forget. And that’s absolutely not by choice.

Price was the first person in the world to be diagnosed with hyperthymesia, a condition which is characterised by a highly superior autobiographical memory. In simple terms, Price has an unbelievable memory. Scarily so. She can remember, in great detail, almost every part of her life from the age of about 14.

She’s now 51.

In a episode of This American Life titled “In Defence of Ignorance”, Price recalls how her life differs to so many others because of this one fact. And how more than anything, she recounts how the condition invites a whole lot of unwelcome resentment. After all, she doesn’t have the gift of a fading memory. Things that annoyed her once probably still annoy her now.

“I’m still pissed about stuff from when I was five. And that’s ridiculous,” she tells reporter Stephanie Foo.

While you or I probably can’t remember the specific details of our schooling lives, or the reasons why – at any given point in time – someone would annoy us or hurt us, Price can remember them with vivid clarity. And because of this, she can find it hard to let go. Even from events that hurt her over 30 years ago.

There’s a universal, and scientific, truth in humans blocking out moments of trauma – that our memory’s instinct is to repress things that hurt us. So, when you’re memory doesn’t have that physical capability, where does that leave your emotions after trauma?

“It didn’t paralyse me until my husband died. Like, his death has really paralysed me,” Price told the radio show about her husband’s death some 11 years ago.

LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 26: Jill Price poses for a photo in her home on August 26, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Jill Price has a condition called "Super Memory". (Photo by Dan Tuffs/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jill Price
Image: Getty.

When probed by Foo as to why her husband's death has had such a consistent and profound mental and emotional affect on her wellbeing, Price's answer is simple: "Because I will never, ever, ever, ever forget that."

Imagine the most horrifically tragic moment of your life. And then imagine teleporting your body and emotions back to that moment - the moment you felt intense grief or trauma. That's what Price's life is like every single day - she relives the short period, the excruciating moments, after her husband's death more than 10 times a day.

"Even though I get up every day, I feel like I'm still standing in the same place. It's really being stuck. It's being stuck in a moment that you can't-- there's no escaping it," she says.

LISTEN: The seven stages of grief. (Post continues...) 

So what would her life be like without such an unnatural, almost-photographic memory? By her own admission, Price believes it would be a very different life. One where she could let go more.

"I think that I would have been able to move forward. I think I probably would be married today. I don't think I would be so scared. I would be able to just walk forward instead of constantly looking back," she said.

00:00 / ???