When Anne Howell was 30, she should have been relishing in the joy of having a new baby girl but instead was struggling to come to terms with a world where she seemed to be thrust into the future.
The once accomplished arts editor and senior journalist woke from a coma in hospital thinking she was a nine-year-old girl, staring blankly at a strange man who apparently was her husband and a "creature" she had no memory of giving birth to.
"She was beautiful but I thought 'is it a monkey or is it a half human', so I really didn't understand the concept of a daughter," Anne told the Mercury of her retrograde amnesia.
"I lost my autobiographical memory and some concepts of some basic things, like what's a hospital ... and to read and write."
For some time Anne saw the world through a child's eyes, with vague memories of some in her life like her mother or a childhood friend but it was accompanied with the shock at how they had aged dramatically (in her mind).
Now 30 years on, the life Anne has been living still seems "surreal" to her, but the Illawarra resident has conjured enough courage to publish her story in her debut book, All That I Forgot.
The memoir was written as part of her healing journey while also highlighting the invisible disability and quiet those who didn't believe her.
"Partly, I wrote it to make sense of it for myself," she said.
Upon waking she couldn't remember the pregnancy or the labour, the terrible migraines which doctors diagnosed as an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), nor the 12-hour surgery which ended with the journalist contracting bacterial meningitis.
The complication was the sinister bug who stole her memory and her life.
It has been a long road for Anne, who "quite privately" taught herself to read through her daughter Mia's picture books and slowly relearned how to live as an adult and with a child.
"Who I was before and who I am today, I've never been quite the same," Anne said.
"I am somebody who's had the rug really pulled out from under them. So I've never had the confidence that I used to have."
She admits the book isn't all roses, but "quite dark", but it does document her fascinating journey to regaining most of her memory.
It became apparent that some of the "memories" fed to her by loved ones were highly altered.
This included the fact her "husband" was actually not her husband but a man she had met several months before Mia was conceived, only to part ways by the time their daughter was born.
Around 10 years it took for the technicolour impressions of joy and sorrow, familiar faces and the knowledge of how to do things to filter back into her brain.
But on occasion she would still bump into people in the street who knew her but she had no memory of.
Anne didn't have the ability to return to her old life as a high powered journalist so worked in an array of other fields, but she never stopped writing.
"As soon as I could read and write again - and it really hurt me at first, it hurt my head and it would hurt my eyes - but I wrote because I've always been a writer since I was a young kid," she said. "So I sort of wrote my way through it."
Anne said living with this amnesia was far from what Hollywood makes out and in no way was "heroic" as often portrayed.
"A lot of people didn't believe me or didn't treat me as somebody with anything because I look so normal," she said.
A group of beautiful friends became her rock and supported her through the years of healing and helped with raising her daughter when during times when she was "not a big winner".
Throughout her new life Anne has continued to suffer intense migraines, but swimming in the waters off the Illawarra coast have been a saviour to manage the pain as has yoga.
Despite her life seeming more like a nightmare at times, Anne said she is grateful for what she has today and there has been "so much love" in her life.
Anne Howell will be in conversation with Caroline Baum at this weekend's non-fiction writers festival: "I Am Not Making This Up".
The two-day event in Coledale will share stories about the local Dharawal language, a Darkes Forest farm and a dinner with food foraging expert Diego Bonetto.
For more information and tickets, visit: https://southcoastwriters.org/truestorytelling.
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