'I fell back in love with my partner every day after losing my memory'
A mum-of-one says she’s living out the real-life version of the movie, 50 First Dates, after losing her memory.
After waking up from a nap, Nesh Pillay had no recollection of her past life – and didn’t recognise her partner, Johannes Jakope, or her six-year-old daughter.
The 32-year-old says that she believed she was 17 again, and that her memory was ‘resetting’ once every minute.
Nesh, who has previously suffered unrelated brain injuries, believes she most likely hit her head prior to the amnesia, though she doesn’t remember.
A neurologist confirmed she had a concussion, and said she had likely suffered a series of seizures – leading to the memory loss and diagnosis of traumatic brain injury.
Nesh, from Toronto, Canada, said: ‘So many people have referred to our story as 50 First Dates or The Vow and I see the similarities – after all, I did fall in love with him for a second time, and will likely do so for the rest of my life.’
In October 2022, the 32-year-old had taken a nap while watching a movie with Johannes, 30, but when she awoke she became confused.
Over the next few hours, most of Nesh’s memory completely disappeared.
She said: ‘I forgot that I had a daughter, but knew I constantly felt afraid about the well-being of a small child.
‘I called my daughter ‘the child’ which I imagine was a jarring experience for her.
‘I would say “I have a child? I don’t know how to take care of a child!”‘
Johannes become a huge support to Nesh during her recovery, helping care for her physically and even learning how to braid her hair properly.
But Nesh says that she would often mistake Johannes for an Uber driver, and he had to remind her multiple times a day who he was.
Nesh added: ‘No matter what, I always knew he was a safe space. He was still the person I would choose to go to doctor appointments with me or help me shower.
‘So naturally, even in my brain state, I wanted to marry him.’
Nesh’s recovery journey has been long. Her short term memory slowly healed – she was able to remember things for five minutes, then 10, 20 and onwards. Now, she is able to retain memory of her partner and daughter.
Nesh said: ‘Because so little is known about concussions, treatment options are limited. I’m on medication that helps with my headaches and sleep issues but beyond that, I sleep as much as I can.
‘For most of the last few months I cut out things like caffeine and alcohol, but I’m slowly reintroducing them.
‘I also cut out driving, but am hoping to start again soon. My doctor said my brain activity has settled down, so it’s safe to do so.
‘When my symptoms like headaches, vomiting and body tremors start to surface, I stop. I cease all stimulation, put on noise-cancelling headphones, and jump into bed. I’m hoping this will help build my tolerance – it did with my last concussion.’
It’s that that Nesh’s previous brain injuries may have contributed to her losing her memory.
She explains: ‘When I was nine, I was in a car accident in South Africa that left a gaping gash in my forehead.
‘The doctors at the hospital called in a plastic surgeon to make sure I look alright but there were no brain scans and no talk of concussion, so I was sent home that very day.
‘I’ve had around five more concussions since then, each more serious than the one before, and each instigated by a smaller and smaller head bump.
‘Unfortunately the brain remains an enigma to medical science. Concussions rarely show up on any imaging, and while we know their symptoms, we can’t predict their outcomes.
‘While my concussions have been diagnosed, there has rarely been a linear treatment plan other than to address individual symptoms like headaches and sleep issues.’
Now, Nesh is looking to the future and focusing on her continued recovery, and building a life with Johannes.
She captured the moment she proposed to him in early November 2022, sweetly saying: ‘I don’t have a ring but will you marry me? You’re the best person.’
EVERYTHINGS FINE BRAIN INJURIES ARE FUNNY MEMORY LOSS IS FUNNY HAHAHAHH IM OK. #traumaticbraininjuryawareness #memoryloss #traumaticbraininjury #traumahumor #torontoblogger #southafricancomedy
But due to the fact that Nesh couldn’t legally consent to marriage the time, Johannes later proposed in January this year.
She said: “I’m waiting for the dust to settle to find out who I am now. Every concussion has caused a permanent change in my brain.
‘I’m normally a very independent person so I’ve struggled with losing that. I moved in with my parents for a while so they – and my partner – could help me.
‘Johannes has recently moved in with me to help with recovery.
‘It’s just little steps forward, and steps back when I’m overwhelmed. I hope in time, those little steps forward will amount to strides.’
The experience has also confirmed one thing for certain – that Johannes is the man for her.
Nesh added: ‘I am more sure of my choice in life partner now than I’ve ever been.
‘Normally when you choose a partner you’re doing so theoretically. You think, “Yes, in theory, I think this person will stay with me in sickness and in health” – but reality is a whole different story.
‘I know now, without a doubt, that Johannes will always prioritise and love me. I’m committed to doing the same for him.’
And Nesh says that they still find ways to be romantic, despite her health issues.
‘It was hard to find romance for a while, when I could barely shower and wash my hair, but romance took on a different definition,’ says Nesh.
‘It went from glitzy dinners to sitting on the couch watching him play VR with my daughter. But it’s deeper now, more rooted, more pure.’
Nesh also says her personality is different now.
‘I’m more quick to anger, I’m more on edge.
‘I don’t have the energy to do a lot of the sweet romantic things I would normally.
‘While Johannes rarely shares this – for fear of hurting my feelings – I’m sure this is difficult for him.
‘I’m certain he’s dealing with trauma from having me forget him. I think it will take time. We are both committed to prioritising our mental health though, so we have separate therapists and make time to talk to each other about our feelings openly, and without judgement.’
Johannes echoed Nesh’s sweet words.
He said: ‘I thought I had planned for every possible life outcome, but this one came out of left field.
‘The whole experience was surreal, but I kept focused on Nesh and her needs. We took it one minute at a time, then one day at a time.
‘I was really afraid – I didn’t know what to do or how to help her. Would she always be this way? I just didn’t know.
‘I feel really grateful that she’s healing well and that she accepted my proposal. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us, but I know one thing for certain: It won’t be boring.
‘I would do it over and over again, if I had to.’
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