Ten years ago, sometime in June, I learned something that changed my life forever.
At 56, really a month from 57, I first heard about nonverbal learning disorder (NLD), realized that I had it, and had myself diagnosed.
The psychiatrist that diagnosed me had known me for 20 years. He was known for his abilities to diagnosis, pick the “right” meds for a patient, work with bipolars (that came after me, I’m not), an anxiety/depression scale that’s widely used (I never liked it), and for coining the phrase “Internet addiction” way back in 1994. (He was hooked on computers forever.)
He had sent me for learning disability tests when I was 38. I wasn’t given a diagnosis
when I learned about NLD, it seemed like the answer to a puzzle. Nothing more. Nothing less.
But I asked Dr. G for help; if he knew of any professionals who could help me learn about NLD and be the best me I could be. He didn’t know of any.
I asked him if he had realized that I had NLD prior to my asking. (I didn’t expect him to know the name in 1988 when I first saw him–yes I did, he was up on everything.)
He knew I had NLD. He said he hadn’t told me because I had been doing so well. That didn’t sound like him; he was a man who believed in sharing information.
Yet like every doctor he was loyal to his brethren. I had been the testing psychologist’s first adult patient. After Dr. G heard the story, I’m about to tell, he said he wouldn’t refer anymore adults to him. That the testing psychologist didn’t know how to help us. But he wouldn’t go any further. I shouldn’t have expected him to.
You don’t walk into a room where a patient is taking a test, like the testing psychologist did, and a mere five minutes after she began the tests, you don’t say: “you really can’t do this can you?”
I was a wise-ass then with maybe a bit more faith in my intelligence than I should have had, and would answer: “if you gave me the time to figure it out, maybe I could do it. But I won’t be able to do it now.”
When he gave me the results I walked out before he was finished. He told me I hadn’t gotten any test right, and then proceeded to go over each test, and tell me what I had done wrong.
I stopped him. It’s not that I only wanted to hear good things about me; I wanted to know that I could do something correctly. Basically anything.
So I said, (a line that’s become famous in my own mind): “you’re telling me that I shouldn’t be able to tie my shoelaces, and take a crosstown bus by myself?”
He was excited as he knew I wasn’t insightful, yet….”That’s exactly right.”
I got out of the child size desk, (I was underweight for the first and odds are last time in my life ) and walked out. If I were my paternal grandmother I would have spat at him; if I were any other woman I would have told him how sick he was. But I just racewalked to Dr. G’s office.
I couldn’t understand: How could I have not only functioned but succeeded in a very competitive world? I lived in Manhattan. When you had to wait online for everything, when going to the bank was a nightmare, when walking down a street meant crowds, and you worked in an office life wasn’t easy. But I did it, and I did it well. He was telling me that I shouldn’t be able to do anything? How dare he.
I was mad as hell when I got to Dr. G’s office, and demanded to see him in between his apppointments.
He never said he disagreed with the testing psychologist’s findings, only the way he presented them. And he thought I was weirdly smart–analytical, quick to comprehend his stories–I had the only psychiatrist in town who spent most of the session talking, and I had a sense of humor that he approved of.
That was the year I began to lose my faith in doctors. I didn’t lose my faith in myself. I went to work for Social Security then went to grad school for social work, and after graduation worked at my internship.
I put the test results on a back burner that hadn’t been built yet. I don’t think that I thought about the test results often, if ever. I had met my birth mother soon after the tests.
My life was a good and exciting one. But between 1991 and 2001 both my parents died. New York was changing and not in good ways. Though I had complained (endlessly my friends would say) about the crowds, about service or lack thereof and much more there had been an excitement to the city that I now found lacking.
Maybe I was getting older. Of course I was, but I didn’t think age played a part in hating what Times Square was becoming. I had friends who lived in what was then called Clinton and is now back to its original name Hells Kitchen.
A policeman once told me a nice girl like me shouldn’t be walking there. I said I wasn’t that nice, and continued walking. In all the years I walked around Times Square and Clinton during the bad old days the worst thing I saw were a bundle of used condoms in front of my friend’s building. And that was great joke material.
By the time I found out about NLD I was living in a luxe building with doormen on Riverside Drive and 75th Street. My 630 square foot one bedroom apartment had two bathrooms but lacked a kitchen you could really cook in. It had one closet but it was a walk in one I had made into a California-style closet.
Aside from the total lack of amenities I intuitively knew that this was the perfect apartment for somebody like me, somebody who lacked anything resembling an organizational gene.
Throughout June I will be putting in posts about my many and varied reactions to an NLD diagnosis. They wont be boring.,