Our life is all about memories which we cherish every moment. But how would you react when one fine morning you wake up with no memory. You don’t remember who you are, what you’re doing on this planet and you don’t even recognize your own parents. It is impossible for us to imagine but this is what Mayank Sharma went through.

mayank sharma

“I remember crawling up a flight of stairs on all fours, but I don’t remember the effort, or the pain or the sense of achievement I felt. Can you really call that a memory?”

Mayank, a man having creative traits of an editor and a photographer contracted ‘Tubercular Meningitis’ in 2010, which is a severe  infection of the central nervous system. While he was being diagnosed, doctors observed that his memory was eroding slowly. The situation got worse and he didn’t know anyone, not even himself. Chronologically, he was 28 years old, but the only memories that he was left with were when he was a couple of years old.

“On the face of it, I have no issues with the fact that I can’t recall the past 26 years of my life. What sometimes flusters me though is the fact that because of the memory loss I can’t reciprocate the emotions of the people close to me — they have known and loved me for 28 years, while my depth of emotions towards them dates back to only the past two.”

Help from Facebook

When gifted a wheel chair by his parents on his 27th birthday, Mayank for the first time understood that no parents would love to gift a wheel chair to their children. He couldn’t see his life slip like this, he had two choices – either he let his 27-28 years go by or else find a way to trigger his memories. To let go 27-28 years of life was a big ask so he started his quest of triggering his memory.

He tried some common tricks that he shares in his blog post. Along with this, he started searching his past on the Internet. These memories were either stored in his Gmail or in the social networking site, Facebook. But above this, his interests gave him the early indication of his beautiful past.

“Since there’s no way I can come to par with their emotional state, I look for continuance in the two emotional things that I can still connect to – photography and writing.”

He picked up photographs from his childhood days in the hope of fetching memories but nothing triggered his memory like Facebook did. To start with, he created a profile on Facebook and filled in details of his high school. Based on that information, Facebook recommended people whom he might know. The simple feature of Facebook changed Mayank’s life. As he started connecting with friends,  his network of mutual friends also increased.

 “As my network grew, I started contacting people with whom I shared mutual friends, folks from school, teachers, colleagues, editors, publishers, co-authors, and just random people I had bumped into at conferences. Once they acknowledge, I follow up with my boilerplate message and request them to add the much needed “context” to our acquaintance.”

Additionally, Mayank created a Memory Place page to collate his past and to communicate with friends and colleagues, eventually to create a Wikipedia. Mayank adds that by liking of the page, his friends also exposed him to their network of friends and some turned out to be mutual ones. For Mayank, leveraging Facebook was similar to leveraging the “six degrees of separation” idea. But was connecting to people and asking them that easy?

“When I decided to reach out to people and rediscover my old self, I knew there would be some unpleasantries. But I think it’s a small price to pay for almost three decades worth of learning experiences.” adds Mayank.

Help from Google

But it was not only Facebook that helped Mayank to connect with his missing past. He told me that Google and its various online tools also helped him. Once his brain started healing and he started regaining cognitive abilities, he was informed that he had written extensively on the Internet.

Thus started the quest of Googling himself. Google helped him to find his articles for various publications such as Linux.com, IBM DeveloperWorks, etc. He also read all the blog posts that discussed his work, read comments about his books and this helped him to create the professional aspect of his personality.  Mayank also did some ego surfing with his username (‘geekybodhi’). He did whatever was possible to hunt for his past that was somewhere archived on the Internet.

“All this might sound unimpressive to someone with a normal working memory. But for someone with no episodic memory, who had to be told his name and then had to learn to respond to it, having access to this kind of information is of tremendous help.”

Along with Google search, the other thing that stored his past were the hundreds of emails that he had written via Gmail. Gmail helped him add the missing pieces of his past together and he found that from 2004 he had interacted with 889 people professionally and  personally via Gmail.

“Thanks to Gmail, I have been able to piece together the most important years of my adult life. Be it, the exhaustive threads hashing out articles and book edits with my editors, or sending out music and movie recommendations to friends, every email tells me something about myself in my own words, that I don’t remember.”

Mayank credits Facebook as well as Google to help him in finding his missing past. But is it only technology or social media that has helped him regain some of his lost memory? Mayank tells me that despite all the advancements in medical science, all the love and affection of my parents, all the old snapshots, and videos, there’s no substitute for a one-on-one interaction with people whom you have run into in various stages of your life. He further  adds that,

Social media adds a new dimension to neuroscience

Indeed social media and internet has helped our real life super hero Mayank who is still creating his own past but lets not take the credit away from Mayank because he believed in it. Doctors are positive that with time Mayank will be able to regain his memories but till then he his good with crowdsourcing his memories. He has created a website that is about his entire medical journey, which definitely is a big help for medical practitioners and researchers.

I wish Mayank Sharma a smiling future and thank him as without his help, this article wouldn’t have been possible. Mayank your determination inspires me!

For those who haven’t seen his story yet, featured as one of the Facebook Stories then the video is shared below. And if you have such inspiring stories that revolve around Facebook then click here to share your story.

Prasant Naidu

Founder and Editor at Lighthouse Insights.

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