Jill Price was 12 years old when first realized she had an amazing memory to call up events from her life. Since the age of 14, she has had total recall.
She is the first person diagnosed with the condition, which scientists have named hyperthymestic syndrome, based on the Greek word thymesis, or "remembering," and hyper, meaning "more than normal."
While Price can remember most of her life, it is difficult for her to memorize day-to-day information. In fact, she wasn't a very good student. The stress of a constant influx of memories from her past left her emotional exhausted.
Now 42, Price has detailed her condition in a new book called, "The Woman Who Can't Forget," with writer Bart Davis. You can read an excerpt from the book below.
The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control!
-- Fanny Price, in Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park"
I know very well how tyrannical the memory can be. I have the first diagnosed case of a memory condition that the scientists who have studied me termed hyperthymestic syndrome—the continuous, automatic autobiographical recall of every day of my life from when I was age fourteen on. My memory started to become shockingly complete in 1974, when I was eight years old. From 1980 on, it is near perfect. Give me a date from that year forward and I can instantly tell you what day of the week it was, what I did on that day, and any major event that took place—or even minor events—as long as I heard about them on that day.
My memories are like scenes from home movies of every day of my life, constantly playing in my head, flashing forward and backward through the years relentlessly, taking me to any given moment, entirely of their own volition. Imagine if someone had made videos of you from the time you were a child, following you around all day, day by day, and then combined them all onto one DVD, and you sat in a room and watched that DVD on a machine set to shuffle randomly through all the tracks. There you are as a ten-year-old in your family room watching The Brady Bunch; then you're whisked off to a scene of you at seventeen driving around town with your best friends; and before long you're on the beach during a family vacation when you were three. That's how I experience my memories. I never know what I might remember next, and my recall is so vivid and true to life that it's as though I'm actually reliving the days, for good and for bad.
I can recall memories at will when I'm asked to, but on a regular basis my remembering is automatic. I don't make any effort to call memories up; they just fill my mind. In fact, they're not under my conscious control, and much as I'd like to, I can't stop them. They will pop into my head, maybe triggered by someone mentioning a date or a name, or I'll hear a song on the radio, and whether I want to return to a particular time or not, my mind is off and running right to that moment. My recall doesn't stop there, with one memory; it rushes from one to a next and a next, flipping wildly through days as though they're cards in a Rolodex.