Can you imagine being able to remember every single experience of your life, every conversation you have ever had, every meal you’ve eaten, every word in your favorite book and even the feel of the clothes you wore on your very first birthday? That’s what Becky Sharrock’s life is like, and as amazing as that ability sounds, she says it can also be quite terrifying at times.
Three years ago, Rebecca Sharrock was reading a newspaper article which mentioned that it was impossible for people to remember details of their lives that had occurred during the first four years of their existence. “What absolute nonsense,” she thought to herself, because she could clearly remember her life all the way back to when she was just 12 days old. Her parents had carried her to the driver’s seat of their car and laid her down for a photo. She remembers looking around and wondering what the seat cover and steering wheel above her were. But it wasn’t nonsense, she was just one of only 80 known people suffering from a mysterious condition called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM).
Photo: Rebecca Sharrock
Like Jill Price, the woman who cannot forget, 27-year-old Becky Sharrock, from Brisbane, Australia, remembers all the details of her life, but what really makes her special is how far back her memories go. Jill and other HSAM sufferres only remember details of their daily lives from when they were 10 – 14, but Sharrock recalls specific moments of her infancy. She remembers the dress she wore on her first birthday and how itchy it felt, how scary the Minnie Mouse plush toy she got as a gift looked and how she would always push it away, and how uninterested she was in her baby sister at first.
Becky will sometimes ask her mother a question about some trivial thing, like if she likes a TV show, and be bewildered by her answer. “But that’s not what you said last time I asked,” she might say.
“Last time? When was the last time?” her mom will respond.
“When I asked five years ago,” Becky will tell her.
Becky Sharrock’s unusual case we recently featured on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes, where reporter Allison Langdon put her ability to the test, by asking her questions about her favorite book series, Harry Potter.
“I tested her on the (Harry Potter) books because she says she can remember every single word from every single book,”Langdon said. “So I would pick up a book and open a page and read her a line and immediately she would name the book, chapter number, chapter name and could recite every word until I told her to stop.”
Being able to remember every little detail about most of your life is a remarkable ability, but as every HSAM sufferer will tell you, it can be very tough to deal with. Forgetting is one of the mechanisms we use to get over tragic or sad experiences in our lives, but it’s something that people like Becky Sharrock or Jill Price are incapable of doing.
“One of our great abilities as a human is that we can forget, get rid of the stuff that’s not important. However, they can remember insignificant events just as clearly,” Allison Langdon says. “That’s why a lot of people with the condition say it’s a burden.”
Even walking on the street and lightly bumping into somebody triggers distant memories from Becky’s childhood, when a boy bumped into her and knocked her over. She’s taken right back to that time, vividly reliving the experience all over again. Having to emotionally relieve painful experiences of her life constantly is a heavy burden, the 27-year-old admits.
Also, people with HSAM often do poorly in school, because they have problems filtering through all the information, remembering only the important bits. To them, it’s information overload. “You would think you would blitz your tests, but it doesn’t make you a genius,” Allison Langon said.
Becky’s remarkable brain could help scientists find a cure for terrible mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s. Her condition is “the other side of the spectrum” and could hold the secret to treating or even preventing Alzheimer’s.