It’s happening so fast I can see it, hear it, observe it. I’m losing words. The worst of it is my inability to speak fluidly, to simply say what I want to say. I’ll be shooting a little video to share with my daughters, standing at the closeby creek, and the many long, long pauses are increasingly common as I hit a blank wall. The most frustrating part is that I can’t get the simple words, like ‘pool.’ “And this . . . um . . . this is a well . . . um . . . still area.” Only more frustrating than that, even, is my inability to speak around the lost word, to find synonyms or descriptions or definitions. I usually can’t even get close, as ‘still area’ is close to ‘pool’ in the context of a flowing creek.
For example. Our well water is so gross — sulfur-smelling, and so full of iron it turns the toilet bowls dark gray-brown — and it also leaves a film on things as it dries. The dishes I wash so thoroughly, that are so clean when I put them in the dish drainer, look awful when they dry. There’s a film on them, and that word ‘film’ was impossible for me to find the other night. I was telling Marc how the floors looked after I finished scrubbing them on my hands and knees three times, and then after a final sponge mop, and simply could not find the word film. Nor could I tell him in any other way what I meant. “So the floors are very clean, but there’s a . . . you know, the water . . . you know, how when it dries?” He tried to fill in for me, “Did the water damage the wood floor? Is it stained?” And I couldn’t even approach my meaning. I said, “There’s a specific word for this, never mind never mind.” This morning I tried to explain something about my big camera on the tripod and couldn’t. Couldn’t even talk around it.
This has been happening for a very long time, but it is getting so much worse. I’m losing my ability to be articulate in speech, and I can’t tell you how painful that is, because being articulate has been one of my self-defining characteristics. It’s the aspect of myself I most enjoy, the aspect that feels most me to me. I can still be articulate when I write, thank heavens, but that’s because I can hit a missing word and pause, go searching for it through Google searches, let it be with an XX placeholder and come back later — strategies that you can’t do when you’re speaking.
And it makes me both scared and frustrated, so I get angry in the moment. I’m angry at myself, at the situation, at this roadblock, but the person to whom I’m speaking only sees the anger, the short temper, the flare. Usually this is Marc who bears the brunt. I feel for him. I try to be mild and compassionate with myself about it, and I’m reassured to feel like I’m still fully there, it’s just that I can’t get words — I’m not feeling like my self is disappearing, I have full connection to my own experiences, my memories, my presence, and I know what it is I want to say in its fullness, in its clear and specific articulation, I just lose the words I want when I try to produce them. Too often I just give up before I even start, I don’t try to explain anything that’s at all complex, like the way the lever on the ball and socket head joint on my tripod doesn’t close tightly enough to hold the camera at a 45-degree angle anymore. Or the way there is a film on the clean floor so it doesn’t look clean, but it is.
This loss is gutting, and just so very personal. I’ve always said that if a terrible accident befell me and I was confined to a chair, that wouldn’t be awful at all. Athleticism, or even physical activity, is not central to my identity, it’s not at all an important element of what makes my life worth living, or enjoyable. But verbal acuity is, for me. Incisive expression is, for me. My thoughts can be quite complex, and my emotional understanding is layered and intricate, and being able to give voice to that has always given me such a thrill, such pleasure. I love words. I’m just so verbal, it’s where my intelligence lies. I don’t have other forms of intelligence, but this is mine, and it always has been. I scored at the 99th percentile on the verbal section of the GRE, and wasn’t even surprised by that. This is my little pocket of gift. It’s all there, in my mind, and I can easily access it except in speech production. So that’s at least a reassuring feeling, even if it adds to my frustration: I’m still here. It’s all still there.