When I was young I had a traumatic experience. And no, I’m not going to talk about it here because it’s my experience and deeply personal. I kept it to myself for three decades until after years of therapy I finally built up enough trust to speak of it. This was not a repressed memory, it was one I had always had, I just didn’t tell anyone about it because of a toxic mix of shame and fear. After telling my therapist, I told the people I was closest to and they helped me heal, but I’m done talking about it. Because if I am allowed to speak of it if I want to, to whomever I choose, then I am surely allowed to keep silent about it.

I only bring it up now because I want to talk about false memory syndrome. You see, there are things about my traumatic event that I know absolutely happened. But the tricky part is, there are other things surrounding this event that I know absolutely never happened. The insidious part is, in my mind and in my spirit, when those images and memories pop up, they are as real as the stuff that really did happen, even though I’ve proven to myself they are false. Because I’ve lived with this for a long time, when they pop up I can tell them firmly, “You’re not real.” I try to “gray them out” in my mind’s eye—but I accept that they will be there for as long as I live. Or at least until this current configuration of my brain exists.

It’s pathetically easy to plant false memories into almost anyone’s mind. The younger a person is when the attempt is made, the stronger and more tenacious the false memory will be—but even adults are not immune to false memory creation.

I hate it. It calls everything I’ve ever experienced into question. That’s why, whenever I have an incident, I go over it again and again, obsessively. I return to the place where it happened to make sure I was seeing the terrain correctly. If possible, I call in other people to either verify or deny, confirm or shrug helplessly. I pick everything apart, endlessly.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more accepting. I accept that the human mind has more in common with a hall of mirrors than a straight look into a glass. As far as I know, I only have the one false memory—but that’s the tricky part about them, isn’t it? Still, I try not to live in denial of all my experiences because that way lies madness. These days I accept, verify if possible, and move on.

Yes, I know I’ve spoken of having a number of extraordinary experiences, and admitting to having even one false memory calls them all into question, even to myself. Fortunately, I’ve had a number of these experiences in the company of others, or confirmed by others outside my own head, or confirmed by subsequent events, to know that sometimes weird stuff just happens to me.

But there will always be that niggling kernel of doubt, that gray area in my mind and spirit, that says this happened when it most assuredly did not. It’s a peculiar agony. It’s also my hedge against being a true believer in anything. Or anyone. I have yet to figure out if that’s a tragedy or a fail safe.