Forgetfulness: A med side effect that’s hard to forget

By Alan Kravitz

When Steve Martin was still doing stand-up comedy, one of his best-known routines was I Forgot. The bit went something like this: Mr. Martin would be accused of, say, tax evasion. The tax man would ask him why he didn’t pay the money. His response: two simple words. I forgot.

I’ve been thinking about this comedy gem a lot lately, and not just because of Steve Martin’s genius. I have chronic depression and anxiety. In the hopes of taming both those “big black dogs,” I’m on a “cocktail” of meds. No question, I’m much better able to function with them than I was without them. But then there are the side effects. One of mine is short-term memory loss. It happens too often, and it drives me nuts.

alanHow bad is it? I forgot that I was asked to write this very blog post. I swear. If I hadn’t been poking around my own blog and noticed this one, this would have joined a growing number of items slipping through the cracks. And yes, I write things down. I always have. It’s the journalist in me. Suddenly, even that isn’t good enough.

According to my doctors, this is one of the “manageable” side effects. In other words, I should just be glad that I’m not hearing voices that aren’t there, or seeing things like dinosaurs roaming Boston Common. Those would be problematic. But memory loss? Why, I just have to keep doing “brain exercises” and writing things down even more than I already do. It’s considered livable.

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I consider it scary as hell. The other day I received a check from a client. One minute, I had the check in my hand. The next, it was gone. I had no idea where I put it. You might say this happens to everyone occasionally, and you’d be right. But most others find what they’re looking for pretty quickly. It took me nearly three hours—even though I live in a small apartment, and that check obviously could not have gone too far. Of course, my anxiety kicked up. I wasn’t just forgetful. I was also a nervous wreck. It was not a fun afternoon.

Certainly, I’ve talked with my doctors about this. We tried reducing some of my dosages. My memory was sharper—but my damn anxiety attacks got stronger. And more numerous.

Now I’m back on higher dosages, and I’m having to tell friends and family to remind me of things. I hate this. It makes me feel like an old man.

Then again, if I have to choose between being forgetful and being suicidal, I’ll pick forgetfulness. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to stem the tide. I practice mindfulness exercises, and I’ve started meditating. It’s too early to tell if this makes any difference. Still, I figure these steps can’t hurt.

When I remember to do them.

Alan Kravitz is a freelance writer and editor, a budding novelist, and the world’s biggest Jewish country music fan. His blog is It’s about anxiety and depression, but he promises it’s not too depressing. He lives in Somerville, MA.

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