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Renee Fisher Headshot

Living in An Upside Down World

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Thanks to the good folks who spend their time discovering obscure illnesses that nobody should ever know about, I now know I have 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.

I have had this dysfunction since approximately birth. It's a miracle I made it down the birth canal in the correct direction. To my knowledge, that was the last time I 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, I may have inadvertently run into my hippocampus once, when trying to find the ladies' room, but I 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 a Current 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.

I try not to let these things bother me. I like to believe that I have gifts that compensate for my lack of ability to orient in space. I'm still working on just what those might be. And, to make matters worse, I read somewhere that DTD also impairs a person's ability to remember names. This fact, unfortunately, really resonated with me. I have always tried everything I can think of to remember names. I concentrate really hard. I repeat the person's name back to them. I ask them to spell their name. I try associating their name with something else. Nothing works, and the last item in this list is especially worthless. I'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. I watched a TV show in which 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. I tried that when my children were little, but it had nothing to do with DTD.

Since I've already lived with Topographagnosia for 66 years, I suppose I can continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I really have no other choice. My iPhone doesn't help. Like my car GPS, it causes me to spend a lot of time making U turns in public. At the very least, DTD assures me that life will continue to be exciting and it will always be a special thrill to actually arrive at wherever I want to go. And there's always the hope that someday, I will be introduced to someone whose actual name is either Zippy or Phlegm, and then I'll probably have a pretty good shot at remembering it.