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Bookseller/ Counsellor

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From time to time a customer will approach the desk to make an enquiry and, in the course of doing so, reveal something personal and sad about themselves. I will respond, sometimes with fake bookseller politeness, sometimes with genuine interest and sometimes with a wash of empathy.
(Other times I veer backwards in horror at the nuttiness that can unravel.)
This weekend a middle aged man came in with an enquiry about audio books. I answered him, offered a suggestion or 2 and smiled as he left. He returned shortly after with another similar question. This time he revealed that he suffers from problems with his memory, brought on by shock.
He said that he was mugged several years ago. I won’t go into details because I would hate for him to happen upon himself on-line one day. Suffice to say that apparently the incident shocked him so much that he no longer has the ability to hold new memories. He therefore is unable to continue his work as a teacher. He seemed nice, sad, vague. He says he feels very vulnerable and won’t go out after dark.
We chatted for a while, he was apologetic about taking up my time. I told him it was fine, and it was. It seems to me that if his story is true (and why would it not be) that’s what he is left with. This is him, he is a man who was mugged and now has a problem. It’s the information that he has waiting to spill out of him, he has lost who he was, indeed is no longer able to be that person and function in the ways that he did before. He has become this man as a result of a random act of violence. He wants to tell everyone, because it is huge and important and all consuming. He looks the same as he ever did, retains his long term memory, and is passed unnoticed always. He bears no visible scars of trauma, it’s all in his head, and he says that the doctors deem it a form of neuroses now. He hates that.

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4 responses »

  1. That is some story… Just out of curiosity I checked DSM-IV/R to look up for what that costumer might have… According to what you’ve written this man has a Dissociative Amnesia, in a Continuous form, meaning after the trauma. These cases are so sad… I wish I could heal this person.

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  2. It is extremely sad, and troubling. He told me that it is deemed a neurosis to stop people from claiming compensation. I have googled dissociative amnesia…and yes, in its continuous form that sounds as if it fits with what he said. I also noticed a definition of Dissociative Fugue, which has nothing to do with my customer but which sounds astonishing:”… is a rare disorder. An individual with dissociative fugue suddenly and unexpectedly takes physical leave of his surroundings and sets off on a journey of some kind. These journeys can last hours, or even several days or months. Individuals experiencing a dissociative fugue have traveled over thousands of miles. An individual in a fugue state is unaware of or confused about his identity, and in some cases will assume a new identity (although this is the exception).Dissociative Fugue, formerly Psychogenic Fugue,- is a sudden, unplanned excursion away from ones planned itinerary accompanied by either memory loss or confusion about, loss of, or assumption of a new identity.”Wow! That’s incredible…such layers to the mind.

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  3. Yeah, what a sad case…I was thinking about this man’s case for a while. To put matters simply, he’s using all his “mental energy” repressing the memory, for in its form it is far more dangerous to him as conscious than it is unconscious. It has a price though: he cannot waste any other parcel of energy to learning new information. This man seriously needs psychotherapy. I had never heard about such case of fugue, but it is indeed fascinating and worrying. There are things about our “consciousness” that keep on surprising me… like for instance, not being confined to our brain, nor this space nor time. 😉

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  4. This is what the main character suffered from in the wonderful film Memento. I didn’t realise until now that it was a real condition.

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