When we have a favorite book or movie—especially a favorite line from it—we often liked to reread the scene again and again, just to make sure we can recall every detail all over again. Rebecca Sharrock of Brisbane, Australia has taken it further. She can recite all her “Harry Potter” books by heart, but it is not just because she’s the biggest fan of “the boy-who-lived”—though that probably helps.
Sharrock has a rare “condition,” (if you want to call it that) called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), also known as hypermnesia, which causes her to perfectly remember every detail of her past. And she is one of only 80 people in the world known to have it. In fact, the condition is so rare, Sharrock did not realize that she had it until she and her mother were watching a television program discussing it. Beforehand, she just assumed everyone had a picture perfect memory.
This means she can remember all her birthday parties, the taste of all her favorite—and not so favorite—foods, and every dream she’s ever had. But she also remembers things like every time she got hurt.
“I remember my mum placing me in the drivers seat of the car and taking a picture of me when I was 12 days old,” she told The Mirror, “That’s my earliest memory. I remember every day since then. Some of them I can’t date exactly because I was too young to understand calendars, but I remember what I did that day, what the weather was like and so on.”
Her perfected memory can be hard to deal with at times.
“When I relive memories, the emotions come back. So if it’s something from when I was younger, it’s like my mind is an adult, but my emotions are the age that I was then,” she said.
“I also re-experience pain,” she said. “For example, I remember falling over when I was three at my grandparents’ house and grazing my left knee. Talking about it now, I’m getting an echo of the sting in my left knee cap.” Reportedly, she also has problems with watching the news, saying that images of people suffering will haunt her for years to come.
“At school, it was a hindrance. I’m not very quick at processing things so there was always so much going through my mind,” she added, “At night, I have to sleep with the radio on and a soft light. If it’s too dark or quiet my mind just chatters away with all these memories and I can’t sleep.”
There are some interesting advantages. As mentioned, she can perfectly remember the taste of any food, especially her self-proclaimed favorite, black forest cake. As she explained, “It won’t take away hunger but I can re-taste the cherries, chocolate and cream and that takes away the other taste.”
“Becky had been diagnosed with autism and obsessive compulsive disorder as a teenager, so we thought her memory might be something to do with that,” explained her mother, Janet.
“But watching that Sixty Minute special it was like a light bulb went on. They had people with HSAM recalling things that had happened in their lives, and you could just tell they were completely in those memories. I just knew for sure that that was what Becky has too. She relives her memories so vividly that sometimes she’ll answer a question I haven’t asked just because she’s thinking about a conversation we had years previously.”
However, Janet also added that, “Finding out about HSAM has been such a positive experience for Becky. I’ve seen her blossom. She’s been more positive and able to do things independently, which has been excellent. She’s realized that all these things were happening not because of any sort of deficiency with her. Before there was the self-doubt and the feelings of not being good enough, but now we know that she’s just different [and] has a memory ability that she wasn’t aware of.”