Amnesia plots are commonplace on TV. Even ABC's Lost features a castaway who has misplaced her memory. That's nothing compared to Bethany, the real-life amnesia sufferer on NBC's daily reality soap, Starting Over. The 21-year-old North Carolinian recalls nothing about her life or personality before the age of 17, when she was stricken by encephalitis. Here, TV Guide Online rings up Bethany's peppy life coach, Rhonda Britten, to learn more about her unusual story.
TV Guide Online: Bethany's 21 and can't recall most of her life. Is this your toughest case ever?
Rhonda Britten: I don't consider Bethany my most difficult case. I consider Bethany my most innocent case. Her innocence is just so overwhelmingly endearing and heart-opening. Here is this young girl who does not remember at all who she was. She's created an identity based on what other people have told her. It is amazing. It is such an opportunity, because I think, for most of us, the thought of having amnesia it is like, "Yes! Forget my past, woo hoo!"
TVGO: Yeah, I'd like to forget some things.
Britten: Exactly. She has this incredible opportunity to start fresh and anew. But she is petrified that this is going to happen to her again. I want her to discover who she really is. Whether she remembers anything or not, whether we figure out what happened to her memory, whether any of that gets solved, she has to start deciding what she wants.
TVGO: Is this really something that could happen to Bethany again?
Britten: How do you know? The doctors have said they are not really sure why this happened to her. It is kind of a medical mystery, so because of that, she is going to have this silent fear that this is going to happen again. She carries a note with her that says, "If I forget, this is where I live and this is who I am."
TVGO: Her condition isn't like on soaps, where someone has an accident or a bonk on the head and they recall nothing.
Britten: That is virtually impossible. Long-term memory is stored in different parts of the brain, so to have an accident or a fall or something and actually lose your entire memory is virtually impossible. You can lose short-term memory a lot easier than long term memory.
TVGO: You're saying the soaps have had it wrong all these years?
Britten: It is a great manufactured point to have a great dramatic story line. But the cool thing is that Bethany's [story] is even more dramatic because it is real. Ever since she got amnesia, she has also had continuous headaches everyday. So not only can she not remember a darn thing, but she also has painful headaches that you and I could probably never deal with. The doctors are attempting now to figure out if the headaches and amnesia are related. But she's seen so many specialists, and we are going to send her to more specialists.
TVGO: Are you making progress?
Britten: I think you are going to see a transformation in Bethany that is worth the wait. I think we have the same addictive quality that soap operas have. The twist on it is that these are real people that they can learn from.