False memories: Obsessing over things that didn’t happen

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If you find yourself constantly reminiscing about an event that didn’t happen, you aren’t alone. False memories are very common in people with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

This account is an example of how false memories can seem so real, we have a hard time knowing fact from fiction.

I was on a road trip with my friends. We were driving between San Antonio and Dallas, much of it was at night. 

We had lunch in San Antonio, stopped in Austin for dinner and the last leg of the journey was heading north to Dallas where we planned to stop for the night.

We were sober, I wan’t to state that. But were getting tired as the sun was setting.

Probably half way between Austin and Dallas, we hit a bump. It was nothing. We were familiar with potholes and dips in the roads around Texas, and this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

But my brain started having weird thoughts. What if we hit someone? Like, what stops this being a possibility? 

I immediately shrugged it off as another brain fart, but for some reason the thought didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to seem insane, so I kept the thought to myself.

The thought got worse. Every time I questioned it, it cemented itself deep into my consciousness and it was now the only thing I could think of.

I waited until the current song finished on the radio and before a conversation started, I spoke up.

‘Guys, you know when we hit that bump back there?’

‘What bump?’ the reply immediately told me this was going to be an uncomfortable and confusing topic to bring up. 

The event causing me such relentless overthinking was literally nothing to them. Not even a memory.

‘We hit a bump, how would we know it wasn’t a person?’ 

I tried to make it sound like it was just a passing thought, although I don’t think I hid this very well.

‘I literally don’t even know what you’re on about. But I’d be worried if it was a person, there’s nothing out here’ said my friend driving.

My friends were right, it was nothing but fields the moment we hit that bump. 

But because I didn’t look behind the car afterwards, music was blaring and we were talking, I do not have that visual that we didn’t hit a person.

When we were in Austin, I saw a white bike tied to a railing. I learned that these are called ‘ghost bikes’, in memory of people that died whilst riding a bike, usually in collisions. 

I am sure this fuelled my intrusive thought, and I didn’t see any flowers or anything on the same journey back in broad daylight.

But what if the flowers were placed elsewhere? What if it was a homeless person, and nothing was put there in memory of them as it was a remote location?

I now fight to recognize this as a false memory that most definitely didn’t happen, and worry that it will become a memory of an actual event I believe occurred.

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