Me, talk funny. Does that make sense?
I know this to be true but I couldn’t understand why.
For my first full year of college I suffered from the inability to string together a sentence. It nearly happened overnight. When someone spoke to me I’d zero in on what they were saying- studying the way their mouth formed each letter, thinking maybe if I just really, really, focused I could figure out what they were telling me and then I could come up with an adequate response. Something that said, “Yes, I’m here with you. I understand you. I am understood.”
I took this information to a therapist and she decided to medicate me. During the golden days of Vyvanse (a medication served to individuals with ADD/ADHD and, sometimes, Binge Eating Disorder) I’d find myself sitting at the local coffee shop, studiously completing tasks, and turning to strangers saying, “Is this what life is like for you all the time?” Sometimes I’d recognize a familiar sweaty armpit stain on them (profuse sweating is a side effect of the medication), and I’d know that they didn’t know what being neurotypical was like, either. While we enjoyed the come up and rode out productivity during its peak, we’d both be a victim to the come-down. The inevitable crash that follows when you lean into more of the symptoms, like a lack of appetite. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly simple to abuse amphetamines, a trap I’d unwillingly fell into, but we’ll explore more of that in my next post.
I grew up with a subconscious belief that I was stupid. I mean, I had to be. Spelling was impossible, numbers would jumble on the page, and following orally given direction was incredibly difficult. I don’t recall myself to be a particularly troublesome kid, especially in a public school system in the south- where privilege ranged from wealthy multi-million dollar homes to families in trailers on welfare. I grew up in the forgettable middle. I never failed a class but set the standard quite low in the avenues I never excelled- like math. Whereas classes like English, where I could put words to play and flex creativity, I’d have a lesser issue understanding. I’d accepted that maybe I wasn’t very smart- but people liked me for reasons embedded in my personality. I could inspire attention through self-depreciative humor, crass language, and quirky style. I was kind, inclusive, and most of all, on a quest to be liked- despite all that I lacked. In an effort to mask my academic shortcomings I applied my natural ability to evoke humor and flair drama. While other kids collected extracurriculars, volunteered, ran track and field, or experimented with meth, I expanded my deep infatuation in theatre. Acting was both a great savior and a radical distraction from what I needed.
I’ve been seeing a new therapist and it’s confirmed that I most definitely have ADHD. ADHD is an immediately recognized term. I know that I don’t have to break it down because either you have it, someone close to you has it, or you know that you lack it. Confirming that I have ADHD didn’t really expand my understanding of self, but realizing that I have APD, or Auditory Processing Disorder, did.
Central Auditory Processing Disorder affects anything to do with oral language, written language, and communication. It can cause difficulties in musicality, language learning, or even picking up social cues- like sarcasm or sincerity. (I’ve always had difficulty understanding why things I’m expressing with deep sincerity can be read with a deep degree of sarcasm!)
Orally given instructions are difficult to follow and lectures are lost without the ability to record notes. One of the symptoms that fueled my major depressive disorder in college was the inability to recite words as spelled. I had one professor who was incessantly aggressive with my inability to pronounce certain words correctly. The harder I pressed myself to not fuck it up, the more frustrated I would become, like a fan to a flame- continuing to illuminate a big banner stretched across my brain. “I’m Stupid!” But somehow it took until this first year of college, when I was assigned a specifically academic professor, to notice how I have a knack of flipping sounds in a word. Something that I’d notice my mother also did.
APD affects 3 out of 5 people and can hereditary or developed through trauma. Like a significant bonk to a toddler’s temple or even head injuries sustained later in life. Auditory Processing Disorder takes place when the central nervous system takes a sound, like a series of sentences, but once it transfers to the brain it becomes a jumbled message. There lies Auditory Discrimination which is when similar sounds become difficult to discern, and also Poor Auditory Memory which causes verbal instruction, or even just an interesting fact heard on NPR, difficult to absorb. While APD has shown to be misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD, it also can be a symptom of ADHD. There is no medication for APD, but medications like Ritalin have been seen successful, though this is allocated to subjects with underlying conditions like the aforementioned ADHD. When a child shows positive for APD they can practice language forming skills to encourage the neuroplasticity in their brain.
Four years ago, in what I would consider the trenches of my depressive suffering, I wasn’t able to accept nor process this information if someone served it to me. But after years of self-esteem improvement I’ve reached a place where I can take in this diagnosis (slowly, processing in my own time) and begin researching on my own behalf. The first step to a solution is by discerning the problem. Discerning, accepting, relearning, actualizing, and beginning a whole new life with brand new tactics. And slowly the big ol’ banner across my mind dismantles. I believe that through meditation, patience, and self-compassion adults can gain a greater acceptance of their diagnoses and begin to live life more aware of their unique style of processing. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, says “Where attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows.” And I hear that loud and clear.
When I accept my reality for what it is I can begin re-writing my story. Most people with auditory processing disorder find that writing is a great difficulty; I become wedged in between two crossing paths. Writing and communication for me can be incredibly difficult. But communication is, simply, what I do. My days are filled with thoughts, journaling, conversations, and attempting to engage my insatiable curiosity. Clarity provides a sigh of relief and a cry of lamentation. Had someone discovered this in my youth, where would I be today? How many years of suffering could have been wiped from my experience in exchange for years of goal setting, self-actualizing, and optimal living? But alas, that’s what life is about. My therapist constantly reminds me that we all have our own setbacks and challenges, childhood traumas, and things we’d like to better understand about ourselves. The human experience is perfectly flawed, and maybe that can be the fun part, unraveling the tangled up questions to reveal an imperfect answer. And that, to me, is starting to make sense.