Will the vulcan klingon?

By | 2011/10/15

Yesterday morning I made my first visit to a psychologist. It was more of an introductory session – exploratory, if you will. The psychologist was probably as much as anything wanting to make sure that we could achieve results together, since everyone in mental health seems very clear that one of the biggest challenges is matching a patient to a compatible therapist.

Yet, some things did get discussed – enough, at least, for me to walk out of the session having been told some useful things, namely:

  • Yep, I’ve been dealing with depression for likely some time.
  • My depression comes from various items of trauma, and is unlikely to stem from an actual disorder.
  • I don’t have anger management issues – I have anger over-management issues.

Net result, I was told, was that I should reassure myself that I’m not ‘crazy’ but I just simply have some issues that I need to resolve.

So, I walked away from the clinic with a spring in my step that I hadn’t felt for ages – discussion had started, I was walking that (potentially long) path towards clearing up, I can reassure myself that I’m not crazy, and I equally don’t have a disorder I’ll have to learn to manage. I just have issues.

And I felt really good for about 2-3 hours, until my self analysis kicked in.

The curse of being intelligent is that you’re often your harshest critic, and so my thought process eventually turned down the following path:

  1. So I don’t have a mental disorder.
  2. I don’t have a physical disorder.
  3. I just have issues.
  4. Does that make me a failure as a person for having not dealt with them?

So yesterday afternoon, all into the night and then through to early this morning, I was stuck in that loop. No actual ‘excuses’ for the failed thought processes, so it’s just a failure on my part to actually deal with my issues under my own steam. The ‘breakthrough’ of deciding to see someone wasn’t a breakthrough but an admission of failure. It doesn’t matter that having learnt the term this week that I’m aware I frequently have impostor syndrome. Self awareness and intelligence, it appears, is a bitch when it comes to mental health, since it means lengthy stretches of cognitive dissonance – such as in this case simultaneously holding the world view that I’m a failure and knowing it’s not the case.

This morning though, after a night of existential nightmares, and ramping up into the same feelings of failure, I managed to get myself onto enough of a different tangent that I could see the issue in a different context.

Context is without a doubt a core problem for me. I’m going to make a bold claim here and suggest that I may have synaesthesia. If you’ve heard of it, you’ve probably heard of it in the context (ha!) of associating/seeing colours with sounds, or seeing words and text in colour. It’s a condition that has several formal recognised versions and considerably more informal ones that haven’t been studied enough to be formally recognised.

Mine? If it’s not synaesthesia it’s likely going to be some variant of a linguistic disorder. It all stems from how I learnt to speak though. I had a speech impediment as a kid that was so strong I had to go to speech therapy, and a considerable part of the learning there involved having flash card sessions. A picture of a cat, with the word “cat” underneath, and having to repeatedly say “cat” until it sounded close enough to move on to “dog”, or whatever the next flash card would be.

So I learnt to read while I learnt to speak. And for years I thought that was the only net effect of it, until only recently I realised that it affects how I communicate, too. In fact, it affects it hugely. Darren and I will periodically have contextual failures in communication, and it goes like this:

Darren: So, Steven said X.

Me: Oh, that’s interesting.

>I go off on a mental tangent about another person, Stephen<

>Context has switched, I’m now thinking Stephen instead of Steven<

Darren: And then Steven said Y

Me: Huh? What? What are we talking about?

You see, I make a contextual switch based on the words, not the content of the discussion, and I lose track of the actual discussion. Spelling becomes meaning, for a start – but my interpretation supersedes meaning. Why?

Because of the stupid fucking flashcards.

I don’t just see words associated with things, I see meanings associated with words. There are whole books and theories of academic studies about whether language shapes thought or the other way around, and I’ve got the entire fucking battle running around in my head on a daily basis. So, particularly as I run through things in my head later, I’ve got those flash cards in my head tagging my meanings to the words that come back. If it’s just about cats, dogs, place names, people’s names, inanimate objects, that’s all fine.

Words that can have interpreted nuances, though?

Something Darren says frequently in instant messaging is “fair enough”, as a response. It’s a statement that he’s seen and understood what’s been said to him, felt it necessary to  acknowledge it, but has nothing further to say, quite possibly because there is nothing further to say.

“Fair enough”, for me, still interprets as “Oh fair enough!”, with extreme exasperation. And so every time Darren says “fair enough”, I have that “blink blink” moment where I first see my interpretation, then pull out of it and see his interpretation. Or more correctly, see a more likely interpretation. Indeed, another best friend in Melbourne happens to say “fair enough” when he chats online with me as well, and I have to equally do the same “blink blink” every time he says it.

This, as a quick side point, is why I react so strongly towards hate speech. I’m not just seeing the words. I’m seeing the meaning, overlaid like an augmented reality over the words. I see the anger, the depraved need to hurt and cause injury all wrapped up in the words.

Maybe my synaesthesia is that on non-neutral words, I don’t just see the word, I see the emotion of the word, or the interpreted meaning of the word. Not always – I’ve got some theories about how it triggers, but I’m still exploring that.

But where does any of this come back to my plummet yesterday?


It all hinged on the word issue, and how I naturally interpret it. For me, an issue is that I can’t find a file on my computer I need to use. Or I’m looking for a pair of scissors I misplaced. It’s a minor, niggling thing. So once that self-analysis kicked in yesterday afternoon – fuck, if all I have are issues, that’s pretty lame – I’m pretty lame. And that’s where the loop started.

Yet, in no way is that what the psychologist meant yesterday when he said I had issues. So now I’m going through that period of cognitive dissonance where I’m simultaneously aware of what I mean by ‘issues’ and what he meant by ‘issues’, reconciling the differences between the two, and dealing with the need to not see my meaning when I think of him talking about ‘issues’.

(Of course, this is now the bit where my natural curiosity kicks in. Do others who had to do similar speech therapy as children deal with language the same way (or at least a similar way) to how I do?)

So, as I undergo therapy, it’s clearly something I’ll have to clearly spell out to my psychologist – my contextual failures aren’t just something that causes me to lose track of conversations as I’m having them, it’s also something that affects my post-conversation analysis, too.

The old clichéd saying is that every cloud has a silver lining. It may have taken me around 33 years to work out the negative impacts of the speech therapy I had as a kid, but I wonder whether they can be harnessed in a positive way? In the simplest form, obviously by retaining as much as possible a foreground awareness of how they impact my interpretation of information, I can start to control and limit that interpretation, channeling it in the direction it should go rather than the direction it would naturally go (for me). But what of other possibilities? For instance, I’ve always been atrocious at learning languages. For example, after 2 years of study at high school, I can introduce myself and ask if someone speaks English, in French. But would I be make better progress on languages if I did it via flash cards?

I have much food for thought.

Will the vulcan klingon? I certainly hope not.

4 thoughts on “Will the vulcan klingon?

  1. Paul

    “The curse of being intelligent is that you’re often your harshest critic. . .”

    Emotional Intelligence is both a gift and a burden. I love reading your personal insights Preston, as a lot of what you write about is what I personally experience day in and day out. I am my harshest critic; when I feel incompetent in my abilities, it usually takes a colleague or another external source to say “What are you on about? you’re quite talented”. I was bullied all throughout my schooling for being ‘different’, yet today I have no hangups about it. I am a highly emotional person but maybe I have been lucky enough to teach myself how to recognise and control them. I am glad I was born this way, and now as I see my son develop with the same emotional intelligence, I am more than ever prepared to ensure it is nurtured and help him come to terms with it. Having a high IQ is one thing, but having a higher EQ is better!

    Honestly, thank you for sharing such personal thoughts!

    p.s and about learning languages.. I’ve been trying to learn Italian for 13 years (as long as I’ve known Angela, and yet even having lived here in Italy for over a year, it still hasn’t improved dramatically!)

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  3. Col

    I once said the following to my psychiatrist (I have bipolar disorder): “I feel like a failure, because I can’t sort these mental health issues out.” He responded by saying that I was sorting them out, by coming to see him. It takes a fair amount of insight and intelligence to seek the appropriate assistance for the problems that you encounter.

    Good luck with your therapy. I only stumbled on your blog today, and am enjoying your writing.

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