Forgotten Girl Author Naomi Jacobs Opens Up About Her Surreal Experience with Abby Sheaffer

Imagine going to bed and waking up 17 years into the future. For Forgotten Girl author Naomi Jacobs, that actually happened. Are you intrigued? Read our interview. Forgotten Girl is out now via Macmillan Publishing.

In your book, Forgotten Girl, you wrote about the surreal experience of going to bed a 32 year old and waking up believing you were a teenager. Were there any gnawing symptoms prior to when you fell asleep and woke up believing you were 15?

My family and friends thought I had Transient Global Amnesia initially, but I later found out from doctors that I actually had Dissociative Amnesia. It’s a form of psychogenic retrograde amnesia brought on by severe stress and is very rare. Yes, there were symptoms beforehand. In the year leading up to the amnesia I had suffered a nervous breakdown when I lost my business and ended up homeless and bankrupt. I was also misdiagnosed with Bipolar disorder. The acute symptoms in the three months leading up to the memory loss were rapidly losing weight due to a severe stomach virus and tonsillitis, no sleep and a break up with my ex-boyfriend. The ongoing pressure from studying for my psychology exams also contributed to the stress I experienced before the amnesia.

From what I understand, Dissociative Amnesia is a very rare disorder and thus, harder to treat. Since Forgotten Girl was published, have you met any fellow sufferers, and if so, how did you connect over your unique experiences?

I haven’t met anyone else who has suffered from Dissociative Amnesia. I did however do some research last year and found a handful of cases; they all had suffered some form of stress in their lives beforehand and the length of period of the memory loss ranged from four weeks to eight months. I have also noticed that the cases I have come across have all been male. So far I have not met or spoken to a woman who has experienced this.

In your book, you describe how you were able to heal yourself by talking to friends and re-reading journals from your life in 1992 to present day. Did you also ever visit any online communities or forums or are those rarer to come across?

I didn’t no. The only way I felt I could navigate through my experience was through the diaries and the help and support from my sister and best friend. I was also slightly intimidated by the new Internet at first and didn’t feel confident enough to use it without the help of my son Leo or my sister Simone.

 For our readers, can you give us either a brief sample or excerpt from your book, and/or discuss the disorienting feelings you exhibited during your eight-week time lapse?

 Excerpt from Chapter One ‘Not in Kansas Anymore’;

Clutching my chest, furiously grabbing for air, I sat up in bed. I couldn’t breathe. Gulping down sobs, I tried to scream. Nothing came.

There was a small window opposite the bed. I looked up at it, willing my breathing to calm. The sun shone cheerfully through the curtains, illuminating the purple flowers covering them. Purple flowers?

I closed my eyes. ‘S’okay, Nay, it’s just a dream,’ I said out loud.

I grabbed my throat. My voice sounded . . . weird, different; hoarse and deep. Like a grown-up’s. I opened my eyes and scanned the room, turning my head slowly to the left and then to the right. Nothing. I recognized nothing. I looked down at my body. The pyjama top I was wearing was drenched with sweat. I tried to think and my head started to hurt. This wasn’t my bunk bed. Where was my Marilyn Monroe duvet cover? This wasn’t the bedroom I shared with my sister. Where was she? Where was Simone? I closed my eyes again.

‘I must be dreaming,’ I said to the empty room. My voice again; it sounded so strange. I jumped out of the weirdly large bed. Had it kidnapped me in my sleep and brought me to this strange place? I looked around at the room. It was dismal and grey. There was no carpet on the floor, just bare boards, and the walls had been stripped down to bare grey plaster. It looked almost like a prison.

I walked slowly out of the room into the hallway, hoping I would see something familiar. The house felt empty. ‘Hello,’ I called out. To the left of me was a closed bedroom door but in front of me was a bathroom; the door was ajar. I pushed it open. No one was in there and I didn’t recognize anything inside. There was a mirror above the sink. Maybe, I thought, if I see my reflection I will know that I am still dreaming and wake up.

It took a slow second, but when my mouth dropped open in horror, I grabbed my face and screamed, ‘NO! Oh my God, oh my God oh my God oh my God . . . I’m . . . I’m . . . I’m OLD!!’ I was old.

Shock made me back away from the mirror. I burst into tears and dropped to the floor. My brain tried to make sense of the face I had just seen, asking what was with the lines? The dark circles under my eyes and the short hair? No, no, it wasn’t me. I jumped up from the floor and stared at the face again. ‘This isn’t me!’ I shouted at it.

I ran back into the bedroom, shaken by what I had seen. I felt a cold panic box its way into my mind, punching tiny holes of anxiety into my brain. Dread found its place. Where was my sister? I felt the sudden urge to find her. Maybe she was in the living room.

Panicked, I sped downstairs and stormed into an unfamiliar kitchen. Nothing. I ran back into the living room. No one.

I flew back upstairs and, avoiding the other closed door down the small hallway, I rushed into the bedroom and flung open the wardrobe doors, looking for one of my smeghead[1] friends maybe, who would yell, ‘Surprise!’ and keel over laughing at the crap joke she was playing.

‘Oh. My. Dayz,’ I gasped.

The colours were unbelievable: blues, purples, yellows, but . . . like . . . different. Clothes I would never wear. ‘This isn’t my house.’ I shook my head at them. I spun around. ‘This isn’t my room . . . This is NOT my life. NO!’ I ran back into the bathroom and looked at the face again. ‘This isn’t me!’ I shouted back at it. Dizzy, I hit the floor. My body curled up into a ball and I started to cry again. I tried to find something to focus my mind on, anything, and then I remembered that I had seen a picture of my sister downstairs. But I didn’t get up; I just lay there, crying, moaning, and mumbling.

After lying there for what felt like ages, I realized that I wasn’t dreaming. This was real; I was real. I had woken up in a bed I didn’t know, a room I didn’t recognize, and a house that wasn’t mine.

And then I heard music in the distance, a song being sung. I crawled across the bathroom floor and back into the bedroom while a woman sang something about bleeding or breathing; no, it was definitely bleeding, yes, bleeding love. The music was coming from something on the bedside cabinet. It kept stopping and starting and stopping again; but there was no radio, no tape deck, just a small black object shaking violently across the top.

I jumped back, almost falling over myself. The sound hurt my ears and as I cautiously picked it up, the word ‘Simone’ flashed in black letters.

‘Simone?’ I asked it.

Simone! It was my sister; it had to be. She was the only Simone I knew. I turned the strange object over and over, pressing hard plastic. There were no buttons. I put it up to my mouth and called Simone’s name, hoping she would somehow hear me. The flashing, the music and the vibrating stopped. ‘Where are the frickin’ buttons?’ I screamed at it, and a great sense of inadequacy produced even more tears. I felt defeated. ‘Three missed calls’ it now read.

‘What the . . . ? This, like . . . is this a phone?’

I dropped the phone on the floor and ran down the stairs to the front door and stepped outside. The houses opposite stared at me; their windows looked like laughing eyes. Frantically, I scanned the tree-lined road. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I so knew this wasn’t Wolverhampton. This wasn’t my home town. I didn’t live here. A woman walking a small white dog passed the hedge separating the front garden from the road and smiled at me. I turned away. I must have looked such a div standing in the garden in my pyjamas.

I ran back into the house, slammed the door shut and stood facing the stairs. My heart was thundering in my chest. I closed my eyes and counted to ten and as my breathing slowed down, I grabbed my forehead with both hands. ‘Come on, Nay.’ I took another deep breath. ‘You’re all right, girl. Everything’s gonna be okay; you just need to chill the smeg out.’

Through deep breaths and several counts of ten, I talked myself into some semblance of calm. For the first time, I saw the different-sized photos hanging on the walls on either side of the stairs. I started with the ones closest to me, pictures of this chubby baby with a cute smile and a head of brown kiss curls. My brain was saying, ‘Leo,’ but I didn’t know who he was. The next set of frames answered my question – they showed me but older, me smiling back with a chubby toddler on my lap.

Was this really me? Was this child mine? Is this the future?

What do you hope your book will accomplish? Do you see yourself penning another book in the future?

I hope that readers will find something positive from reading my story, whether it’s their own healing from any trauma or adversity that they may have experienced in their life. If the sad parts in Forgotten Girl make them cry and the funny parts make them laugh then I hope it inspires them to know that no matter what happens in life, they can always find a way to make it better, to make what is broken whole again.

I have finished a second memoir with a working title Am I Here? Am I Real that gives another side to my story. I am also completing a fiction book titled The Book on The Wall. I would like to continue writing and share the many stories I have with readers from all over the world.

[1] Smeghead – complete and total (usually quite ignorant) idiot, who has no clue about anything outside of his/her own head). Refer to Red Dwarf.