Mom Dubbed the Real-Life '50 First Dates' After Traumatic Brain Injury

"I have a child? Is the child safe?" a shocked woman says. In a video shared on TikTok, former journalist Nesh Pillay grapples with the realization that she has a daughter, partner and family—and that she has forgotten all about them.

When she was 9, Pillay was in a car accident in South Africa. The crash resulted in a head injury that was fixed up by a plastic surgeon.

Pillay told Newsweek this was the first of multiple brain injuries or concussions that have resulted in her suffering memory loss over the years.

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Nesh Pillay in hospital following her brain injury, left, and a picture of Nesh and her daughter together, right. Nesh Pillay

"At the time, not a lot was known about traumatic brain injuries," she told Newsweek. "But over the years I've had quite a few concussions and as time goes on, it takes less and less of a bump for you to get a concussion—and every time my symptoms are worse and worse."

In October 2022, she suffered an injury that caused severe memory loss, and the symptoms are still with her today.

"I told my family that I had bumped my head, but I don't remember," she explained. "My neurologist thinks I probably had some sort of minor bump, and that I may have had some seizures following that."

For Pillay and her family, the memory loss seemed to appear out of the blue. When she said she was feeling a little under the weather and went to take a nap, nobody was prepared for what would happen when she woke.

"I Was Constantly in Panic"

"I reportedly was very confused and didn't know what was going on," Pillay said. "Then over the course of a couple of hours, I lost my memory. By that evening I didn't know who my partner was, I didn't know much about my daughter. That's so difficult."

At her worst, someone had to stay with Pillay 24/7. "I was constantly in panic," she said. "I mean, how terrifying? You don't know what's going on? Who is this random white man sitting with me? That was really tough."

Family rallied around, her sisters took her dog and her parents and partner took time off work to care for her. For a while, someone had to be with Nesh even while she showered because of how frequently she would forget where she was and what she was doing.

"Someone needed to remind me all the time," she said. "I definitely don't remember any of October or November."

Pillay has been sharing her journey on TikTok, where she now has over 33,000 followers. In a series of videos she shares the reality of everyday life with her brain injury, from nausea and vomiting to fear and confusion.

While things are slowly improving, she is still rediscovering herself and her memories.

"If you think of your memory like a house, I can remember the structure of the house, but in order for me to remember the things inside, I need to be triggered," explained Pillay.

"Sometimes friends will message me and say, 'Hey, do you remember me?' And I wouldn't remember them until they would message me, but then I'd be reminded and remember."

"It's a Little Bit Annoying"

"It's a little bit annoying," Pillay laughed, discussing the mental impact of her memory loss. "I'm a person who has always relied very much on my intellect. That's who I am. That has been the hardest part for me. At the worst of it, I was crying to my parents because if my value is my brain, and my brain is broken, doesn't that mean that I am broken or worthless?"

As her family continued to support her in her recovery, Pillay said she is most conscious of the impact her condition has on her 6-year-old daughter: "I think I feel most guilty about the impact this has on her. There was a moment where I called her 'the child,'" she explained. "Imagine going from having this very engaged mother who loves her child so much to having someone call you 'the child?'"

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Nesh Pillay and her fiancée. Nesh recently completely forgot her partner after a head injury resulted in major memory loss. Nesh Pillay

At the beginning, the rest of the family kept the 6-year-old away from her mother to protect her from the most difficult elements of the condition. While Pillay misplaced most of the memories of her daughter, some things remained.

"It was interesting because while I didn't always remember how to be a parent to her, so many of the emotions were still there," she explained. "I always felt very protective of her, and I knew I loved her."

Pillay's partner was quick to take time off work to be by her side after her latest injury, and has remained there for her every day.

"I don't think he's even begun to process the trauma of it all," said Pillay. "Of having me forget him, taking months off work. The whole time he has really just been there for me. There was never any moment when it was about him or his pain for being forgotten."

After losing her memory, Pillay completely forgot her boyfriend—at one point even thinking that he was an Uber driver.

Never trying to push her to remember him, her partner continues to support and care for her and Pillay describes how she fell in love with him for a second time.

"It's solidified for me that this is someone I want to spend my life with. When you're dating, these things are theoretical—you say 'I think this is the person who will stay with me in sickness and health,' but actually going through something like this, it finalized things for me," said Pillay.

"Real-Life 50 First Dates"

The way the couple found love again following the trauma of Pillay's memory loss prompted comments from viewers on TikTok saying that it was like "real-life 50 First Dates," or 2012 movie The Vow.

"I didn't expect the reaction," said Pillay. "When these things are happening to you, you don't think of them as a big deal, you're not making connections to the movies."

Currently, doctors are still unsure exactly what causes Pillay's memory loss.

"The first hospital sort of said it might be as a result of my concussions in the past and that I would be fine in a couple of days," said Pillay. "But I wasn't fine, so my family took me back to a different hospital and that's where I would say I just wasn't believed."

"Women in general are not believed when it comes to their symptoms," she said. "Women of color are especially not believed. The doctor was hellbent on tying it to a psychiatric issue. I was there for three days and saw a medical doctor for maybe 15 minutes."

During this hospital stay though, Pillay was assessed by five psychiatrists who all determined that her issue was not psychiatric. Thankfully after this, she was introduced to a neurologist.

"He said the thing that I think a lot of doctors are afraid to say which is, 'I don't know,'" said Pillay. "It was nice to hear that, because at least I wasn't being gaslit."

From this experience, Pillay has felt even more inspired to share her story with others.

"Two things have happened," she said. "Number one, people who have had traumatic brain injuries and have felt exactly like me—it is such an isolating feeling—they're messaging me telling me that they feel seen for the first time. That was never my intention, but I am honored to be able to do that."

As her recovery continues, Pillay has an inspiring sense of positivity toward the future, and hopes that she can continue to build a community of support for people with brain injuries and discuss healthcare bias in society.

"It's not great, but it's not terrible right?" she said. "I'm so grateful to be alive. So many people die from head injuries and don't get any memory back. So I'm just really looking at the bright side here."