A businessman has told of the horrific moment stress forced his brain to ”blow a fuse” – and wipe out a lifetime of memories.
Self-employed Billy Wallace, 53, was under so much pressure to make his timber haulage firm a success that his body could not cope.
Stress caused Billy’s brain to ‘shut down’, wiping his memory in one life-changing blackout.
The devastating moment left the father unable to recognise his children, forcing Billy to relearn the simplest of tasks, even using a knife and fork.
His memories have never fully returned and doctors cannot offer answers to his nightmare ordeal.
Billy said today: ”I was always on the go. The work pressure built-up so much it had an effect on my personal life and I asked too much of myself at times.
”The doctor told me my brain overloaded and blew a fuse, like a safety mechanism.
”It’s bizarre to think work did that to me. I’ve learned big lessons. I wish I could turn the clock back and do it differently.”
Former lorry driver Billy decided to go it alone in 1989 and became a self-employed timber haulier.
But he found himself working 16 hours a day, six days a week and put in more time on the seventh.
He rarely had the chance to relax with his wife and children Stephen and Rachel, now 25 and 20.
But while waiting for his son Stephen to finish a music lesson in 1998, Billy became unwell and went to his car where he collapsed and suffered a total blackout – losing consciousness.
Billy, from Tynron near Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, was taken to hospital where specialists told him his brain had overloaded.
He said: ”I was petrified. I was so alone. It was like a horror movie. I would wake up in the morning and it was a matter of, what do I do and how do I do it?
”All my friends and work colleagues came to visit but it just frustrated me because I didn’t know them. It made me really depressed.”
Billy spent six months in hospital where he was shown how to tell the time, tie his shoes and use cutlery again.
The former forester used to be able to identify every tree but suddenly found himself seeing them as if for the first time.
Experts used stories of past events and smells to trigger memories until eventually some began returning.
However, Billy’s illness clouded his life and his family broke up.
On being discharged from Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary he moved in with friends and relearned how to play the guitar and sing.
But there was never a time when the memories came flooding back.
Some recollections – like his childhood home, playing school sports and the births of his children – remain, but the rest is patchy.
Dr John Higgon, a clinical psychologist at Dumfries and Galloway NHS, said Billy’s condition could be dissociative amnesia – a form of memory loss which occurs after a stressful event.
He said: ”It is extremely rare. It is a very traumatic experience to feel that a lot of your memories from early life have disappeared and you can’t access them again.”
Now Billy is helping the organisation which was instrumental in piecing his life back together – Support In Mind Scotland.
He will cycle from John O’Groats to Land’s End to raise cash for the charity next month.
Billy said: ”I don’t remember much but I’ve said to myself, don’t worry about it Billy, just worry about todays and tomorrows, leave the past be.
”The new memories are always good, because now I’m developing as an individual again.
”I’ve learned the good times of the future can drown out the bad times from the past.”