Encephalitis: 'I couldn't remember my boyfriend'

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Georgia posing with her boyfriend LaurenceImage source, Georgia Lee
Image caption,
Georgia's boyfriend was warned by medical staff she might not remember him at first

Georgia Lee still can't remember going to university.

For a while, the 23-year-old also couldn't remember anything about her boyfriend.

Georgia lost five years from her memory when she got encephalitis at 22. It's a potentially life-threatening swelling of the brain that can be caused when certain viruses spread through the body.

"I had a constant headache for about two weeks in one spot of my forehead," Gemma tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"No tablets were working. Then one day, I messaged my boyfriend making absolutely no sense whatsoever."

When Georgia's dad checked in on her later, he realised something was wrong and she was rushed to hospital.

At first, medics thought she had meningitis but after suffering a seizure, she was diagnosed with encephalitis.

The Encephalitis Society estimates, that every year it affects around 500,000 people worldwide - with about 6,000 of those cases coming from the UK.

Image source, Georgia Lee
Image caption,
Reconnecting with her boyfriend was part of the 23-year-old's recovery

When she was in hospital and asked how old she was, Georgia said she was 17 - because she couldn't remember anything past that age.

Georgia says she still feels younger than 23 and her memory has never fully returned - with sixth form and her uni degree a total blank.

Her recovery has including re-learning everyday tasks most people would take for granted, like getting public transport or visiting friends.

"Normal things like getting on a bus on my own, going into the shops or going over to somebody's house are big steps for me now," she says.

She also had to do her driving test again as she has no memory of doing it when she was 18.

And it's affected her relationships too. To start with, Georgia had to get reacquainted with her boyfriend.

"I had to get to know him all over again, same as all my university friends," she says.

"He was a bit nervous to begin with. Then he took it bit by bit. He'd tell me about our past and show me pictures of everything.

Image source, Georgia Lee
Image caption,
Georgia also re-learned how to drive

'The food I eat now is everything I used to hate'

Georgia's encephalitis was caused by the herpes virus, but instead of forming a cold sore on her lip, it went into her throat before moving to her brain.

Side affects can vary but along with the memory loss, Georgia lost her sense of taste and smell - neither of which have recovered.

"I have no sense of smell at all. I can taste really spicy and sweet food but that's about it. I recently ordered a pizza with anchovies, pineapple and gherkin in a restaurant.

"Basically, everything I can taste is food that I used to hate."

When she can't taste something, Georgia covers everything in either hot sauce or tomato ketchup to strengthen the flavour.

'My friends have already got their dream jobs'

Encephalitis has taken some of Georgia's past, but she's now worried about the effect it might have on her future.

"I try and have a positive outlook but I tend to find it a lot easier to look at the negatives," she says, adding that job hunting with no memory of her university studies is a real challenge.

"If I don't really have anything to say to them about my sixth form or my degree, then what can I offer them for the job?"

It's also been a struggle reconnecting with her friends, who are now in different places in their lives to where she is.

Image source, Georgia Lee

"A lot of my friends have already got their dream jobs, already got houses with their partners, all of that," she says.

"I just feel like it's going to be a very long time until I can do that and move on and gain the confidence in myself."

But Georgia is optimistic about her future and remains positive as her recovery continues.

"I do wish I remembered my university. But I always think I am lucky that it's only five years and not my whole life that's gone."

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