Living in An Upside Down World

Posted on July 18, 2010


My upside down world.

Thanks to the good folks who spend their time discovering obscure illnesses that nobody should ever know about, Life in the Boomer Lane now knows she has DEVELOPMENTAL TOPOGRAPHICAL DISORIENTATION or, it’s more roll-off-the-tongue name, TOPOGRAPHAGNOSIA. This dysfunction is manifested by a belief that when one is asleep, crews of people are out in DC, changing the location of all the traffic circles and the directions and names of most of the streets.

LBL has had this dysfunction since approximately birth. It’s a miracle she made it down the birth canal in the correct direction. To her knowledge, that was the last time she went in the correct direction to get anywhere. Scientists now recognize this as a real, bona fide disorder. This goes well beyond mere “Oh, I have a terrible sense of direction!” Those same scientists have identified the hippocampus and surrounding temporal lobe structures as being crucial for spatial memory development. In some people, something goes wrong. They aren’t sure exactly what happens to cause the disorder, since people with the affliction have no actual brain damage or other cognitive impairments.

Most people afflicted don’t concern themselves with their hippocampus anyway, because it’s tough enough to figure out where things are that we can see. We try not to clutter our brains up trying to understand where things are that we can’t see. But, the affliction can severely affect an individual’s daily life. This most often occurs when some unnamed individual, like me for example, is attempting to find the ladies room in a restaurant, and wanders around in circles and invariably either ends up in the kitchen or in a broom closet. In fact, LBL may have inadvertently run into her hippocampus once, when trying to find the ladies room, but she can’t be sure.

Other enjoyable aspects of this disorder occur on vacations, when that same unnamed individual is totally enjoying the breathtaking scenery, until another unnamed person, usually consisting of Now Husband, will say something like, “Wow, that is the most phenomenal-looking bird I have ever seen! Can you believe those colors?” or “Wasn’t that amazing how fast those wild horses ran by? I didn’t realize there were any around here!” or “Those mountains look almost like someone dipped their tips in glitter!” And the person afflicted with Topograpagnosia will answer, “Huh?” This is really unfortunate because until that point, said afflicted person has been having a swell time simply staring at trees and rocks.

LBL tries try not to let these things bother her. She likes to believe that she has gifts that compensate for her lack of ability to orient in space. She is still working on just what those might be. And, to make matters worse, she read somewhere that DTD also impairs a person’s ability to remember names. This fact, unfortunately, really resonated with her. She has always tried everything she can think of to remember names. She concentrates really hard. She repeats the person’s name back to them. She asks them to spell their name. She tries associating their name with something else. Nothing works, and the last item in this list is especially worthless. She’ll remember only the mnemonic device and end up calling people things like “Zippy” or “Phlegm.”

People who have really extreme cases of DTD can’t recognize faces, even when those faces belong to members of their own family. LBL watched a TV show where a man with severe DTD sat in a shopping mall. His daughter walked back and forth and even sat down in his line of vision. The man didn’t recognize her. This would be really terrible, unless you were the parent of one of the contestants on “The Flavor of Love.”

Since LBL has already lived with Topographagnosia for 63 years, she supposes she can continue to do so for the foreseeable future. She really has no other choice. She could carry one of those personal, handheld GPS devices. But even that has its drawbacks. If it’s like the one in her car, it would cause her to spend a lot of time making U turns in public. At the very least, DTD assures her that life will continue to be exciting and it will always be a special thrill to actually arrive at wherever she wanted to go. And there’s always the hope that someday, she will be introduced to someone whose actual name is either Zippy or Phlegm, and then she’ll probably have a pretty good shot at remembering it.