Jess Sharman, 21, Tunbridge Wells explains how she lost 19 years of her life...
I’ve been told that Thursday 3 March 2016 was like any other day…
That my boyfriend of seven months Richard Bishop and I left his house like always, after I stayed over.
That we then boarded the train into London, where we both worked in recruitment.
Only, on the train, I had a series of epileptic grand mal and absence seizures that changed my life forever.
Diagnosed with epilepsy at 14, having fits wasn’t unusual. But, that day, at age 19, they erased all my memories.
So all I can remember, even now, is what happened after that train journey…
Arriving at work that day, I was sitting in an office with a dark-haired bloke about my age.
‘Give it a few minutes and she’ll remember,’ he was telling the others. ‘She sometimes forgets things after a seizure.’
I had no idea who he was or what he was talking about.
‘Has anything come back to you?’ he asked, over and over.
‘No!’ I replied, confused and exhausted, as someone handed me my mobile phone.
Only, I’d forgotten the code for unlocking it.
Soon after, an older-looking couple arrived.
‘Jess?’ they said, looking worried. ‘It’s Mum and Dad.’
The man reached out to touch my hand, but I pulled it away, freaked out.
I didn’t even know my own name, let alone recognise these people.
‘She can’t remember anything,’ the woman who said she was my mum told the nurse at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital.
My voice had gone funny, too – I had a stutter and was speaking really slowly.
The nurse said it was common for people to lose their memory after epileptic seizures, and that it would probably come back after a sleep, or in a few days.
Back home, I didn’t recognise anything, though.
I was led to a bedroom, where I just slept.
‘I still don’t remember you,’ I told Mum – Lisa, now 50 – later.
She said I had a boyfriend called Richard Bishop, or ‘Bish’.
‘What if I don’t fancy him?’ I panicked.
That afternoon, he visited…
‘I’m Bish!’ he smiled.
He was good-looking and kind, but I felt so mixed up, I really didn’t know how I felt about him.
Four days on, my memory still hadn’t come back, so I was admitted to hospital. I had test after test while Mum sat by my bedside the whole time, and Bish visited every night.
But, after six days…
‘You just have to carry on with your life,’ doctors said, adding that, maybe one day, my memories would return.
‘What do you mean, “Just carry on”?’ Mum gasped, shocked.
‘Jess has to get on with her life,’ they explained. ‘Even the smallest thing could jog her memory.’
The reality was very different. My speech was still slurred. And I was clueless as to how to do simple things like put on make-up.
I couldn’t remember my brothers Eddie, then 26, and Charlie, 23, and had no memory of Bish.
Mum took leave from work, spent every moment showing me photos, telling stories from the past.
She took me swimming, gave me my bike. I knew instinctively how to swim and cycle, but couldn’t use a cashpoint.
Frustrated and fed up, one day I just flipped.
‘It’s not fair on me or you,’ I told Mum. ‘I don’t know what I was like before –only now.’
I went through my wardrobe and binned most of the clothes – I didn’t like them.
Then my best friend Jamie, 22, who I hadn’t recognised, told me about YouTube hair and make-up video tutorials.
‘I used to wear far too much make-up!’ I laughed, looking at old photos.
Studying in America, my brother Eddie FaceTimed me every day, gaining my trust as he told me what he was up to.
Bish and I started going for walks together – and he was brilliant.
‘Ask me anything, and I’ll ask you stuff,’ he smiled.
It was like the small talk people make on first dates.
I relied on Mum and Bish constantly as I relearned things.
Bish and I went on dates. Eating out, I didn’t know what things were on the menu, so I had to try them all over again!
Then, a month after I’d lost my memory, at Bish’s birthday dinner, we kissed properly for the first time.
Then, soon after, at his place, he was getting changed…
‘Woah! Stop!’ I shouted, embarrassed to see him naked.
‘Sorry!’ he gasped, realising this was all new to me – again.
Bish stood by me, patient, supportive, always making me laugh. The perfect boyfriend.
But sometimes I felt guilty…
‘Let’s just split up,’ I told him one day. ‘I’m not the person I was before, and it’s not fair on you.’
‘I just want to be here for you,’ he reassured me.
Although I couldn’t remember us being together before, slowly, I fell in love…
Now, it’s been over a year since I lost my memory. Thankfully, my speech has returned to normal, and I’ve started a new job in business development.
To look at me, you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong, but that makes things worse… I’ve stopped going out in town because I hate bumping into people and having to explain I don’t recognise them.
When Mum told me I’d danced all my life, I went to watch a class, but it looked so complicated, I didn’t go back.
Doctors don’t know why I lost 19 years, or if they’ll come back.
And I’ve been told it could happen again…but I take each day as it comes.
Thanks to Bish and my family, I’m learning to lead a normal life – and love again.