Lost for words

I often struggle to translate my thoughts into either speech or the written word.

Sometimes I lack the particular executive functioning powers required to organise and synthesise what’s in my mind, to present it to an external audience. At other times, the very fact that I have set myself the task of writing means that I have made a demand of myself. I have told myself I “must” write. And the moment my brain seizes upon the notion of the imperative, some inner refusal mechanism kicks in.

But very often, it’s something far more mechanical.

I found myself in a Twitter exchange a few months ago about how there are times when I’ll have phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and entire, in-depth arguments and treatises swirling around in my mind, only to discover that – when I attempt to commit them to the written form – they are not there.

Being autistic means I process the written word far more effectively than the spoken. I have time to craft, to ponder, to review, and revise. With speech, once it’s gone, it’s gone; with the written word, I can edit what I’m putting “out there”. 

But it’s not as simple as that.

No matter how much easier I find it to deal with the written word, and no matter how much I enjoy writing (and I love it!), writing does not come easily to me. It’s as if there’s some loose connection between the thoughts stored in my mind and the means I have at my disposal to convey those thoughts.

In that Twitter conversation, back at the start of this year, another user talked of “outside head” language, and how this differs from what’s inside the mind. For me, sometimes, the act of committing my words to a written or spoken form means that something gets lost in translation.

There’s a disconnect between my mind and my body.

I’ve noticed that the thoughts come more easily into shape when I’m committing pen to paper than when I’m using technology. The simplicity of the medium provides a smaller risk of overload or distraction. I’m not tempted to tinker with the formatting, edit or delete compulsively, or simply bugger off and check Facebook.

And yet here, I have another problem. Writing longhand for extended periods is something I find intensely painful. I grip the pen too hard. And congenital abnormalities in my elbow joints mean that one of my nerves is constricted whenever I bend my arm. And so I face a dilemma. Writing longhand means pain. But, whilst different, is this any worse, really, than the pain I get from repeatedly typing on an iPad screen?

I’m required to type a lot at work. I have a specialist ergonomic mouse and keyboard, and wouldn’t be able to manage more than around 10 minutes of computer use without them. I could, of course (as people often suggest), use the voice dictation software purchased for me to alleviate the pain and reduce my use of my hands.

But here I am once again, faced with that disconnect between brain and body.

How do I get my words out?

There are times when I feel I have so little control over my own body. I feel impeded. Component parts don’t quite speak to each other as they “should”.

I forget common, everyday words mid-sentence when I’m tired or overwhelmed. I “lose function” dramatically when I have a meltdown. But this other “loss of function” is a subtle, nuanced, hidden loss of function. It isn’t obvious. With time, effort, focus, a whole lot of internal chastisement, and that persnickety, pedantic, perfectionist attention to detail, I overcome it.

But so often, I still feel lost for words.

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