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The Drew Barrymore role in 50 First Dates is no laughing matter. (Photo: Sony Pictures)
While the character of Lucy Whitmore, the loveable yet incredibly forgetful woman in the movie 50 First Dates, may seem like a completely fictional character, that’s not the case at all.
Jenny Gisby, a 20-year-old from Nottingham, England, suffers from the same condition as the 20-something single woman portrayed by Drew Barrymore — a condition where she deals with short-term memory loss to the point where she wakes up each morning without a clue what took place the day before.
Stuart Balmforth and Jenny Gisby, with her scrapbook. (Photo: Caters)
And just like in the movie, Jenny has her own Henry Roth/Adam Sandler, a.k.a. the patient boyfriend who wants to help her remember.
“I will wake up after being asleep all night with no memory of who I am or my boyfriend and parents,” Jenny told the Carters News Agency in the UK. “I feel so angry at first as I think everyone around me is a complete stranger.”
Jenny’s boyfriend of three years, Stuart Balmforth, also 20, helps calm his other half by flipping through a scrapbook that chronicles their romance. “It is terrifying when I wake up with no memory and it takes half an hour before I begin to remember again, my photo album definitely helps speed it all up. But once I remember, it is lovely being able to witness all mine and Stuart’s memories again, it’s like I’m falling in love with him all over again,” said Jenny.
Jenny Gisby with her mother and boyfriend. (Photo: Caters)
It all started last year when Jenny collapsed at work and landed in a coma for a few days. When she woke up, she suffered from a severe seizure, which caused her to become paralyzed. Doctors have diagnosed Jenny with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) and epilepsy — two conditions that contribute to her memory loss. Since Jenny recalled having balancing issues since childhood, doctors speculate she has quietly suffered from FND since she was 10-years-old.
William B. Barr, PhD, Director of Neuropsychology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health that FND is nothing new. “In fact, Freud described this type of disorder long ago,” states the neuropsychologist, who does not treat Jenny. “Generally, these are conditions where somebody has what appears to be a neurological symptom, but we can’t find any neurologic source of that symptom — meaning that there’s nothing wrong in the brain or in the nervous system. When we don’t find any obvious neurologic cause, there’s often some kind of stress in the person’s life, and this is usually seen in individuals who have underlying psychiatric conditions. So it is generally understood as an expression of an underlying psychological condition that comes out in a physical way.”
Jenny Gisby with her parents. (Photo: Caters)
He further explains that this condition can manifest in many forms, including paralysis, difficulty speaking, abnormal body movements and seizures, which are the most common. “This is something we see in our office all the time,” he says. “Not so much in terms of the dramatic memory symptoms, but we definitely have patients who have seizures that are not explained by any underlying brain activity which are then, therefore, considered psychological in nature. And these people have terribly disruptive lives as a result.”
Barr adds that the treatment for FND entails focusing on the psychological or psychiatric condition. “The most effective form of treatment that has been demonstrated thus far is psychotherapy—in particular, Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy.“
He also says that recovery is “certainly possible. However, in terms of making a full recovery, that’s a little harder to define because there is often an associated psychiatric condition—and sometimes those can stick around for a while.”
Jenny is hoping her story will help others who are also dealing with this disorder. “I couldn’t ask for more support from my family and boyfriend, they have all been amazing and I rely on them so much now.”
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