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Pia Savage

NLD, You Don't Own Me

Being diagnosed at 56 with NLD brought its own problems

The person on the cover of Psychologytoday.com was dressed as a nurse and very familiar. First I thought "Ellen DeGeneres." Then I thought "that's crazy, she's Nurse Jackie, uh Carmela Soprano, uh Edie Falco." "Of course, Edie Falco."

Welcome to a typical conversation I have with myself. I'm not great with faces and that is pure nonverbal learning disorder (NLD). The second part--trying to find the right name is pure aging. Ten years ago I would have had this conversation with myself so quickly I wouldn't have been able to analyze it as my compensation skills were that good.

I'm the person you never wanted to play Trivial Pursuit against. You did want me to fill in the names and other facts you couldn't remember. I'm analytical and still can explain The Magna Carta's significance to the American Constitution; the differences and similarities. Though why anybody would want to have that particular conversation is beyond me. (Nothing against either document. I love The Constitution with all my heart, consider The Bill of Rights to be the most perfect of all instruments, and thank England for its foresight.)

I look at this extensive reservoir of useless and useful facts as helping my brain in its fight against aging.

When I first found out about NLD and then was diagnosed with it I knew few people who had it. The literature seemed so abstract and scary. I knew that my life had turned out differently than the expected outcome for adults with undiagnosed NLD but maybe that was just a fluke. Maybe at any moment the world was going to come crashing into me and I was going to end up as the suicidal should be institutionalized adult described in the scant literature.

I should have laughed it off. When people in my first psychopathology class in grad school would freak sure that they would become schizophrenic I would laugh as I was 44 safely out of the age range for signs of schizophrenia to begin sprouting.

But I have NLD.

2001 was a horrible year to live in Manhattan and worse for me than most as my mother suddenly and tragically died a month after 9/11. Ironically on the day of her funeral I was offered two jobs as a grief counselor. Nobody had wanted my volunteer services and now two agencies were offering me jobs. If I had been capable of laughing I would have. But I wasn't even capable of crying. I knew I would do more harm than good in those jobs so I declined.

It was then that I began feeling out of sync with the world. It's too easy to fall into cliches about both my mother's death and the fall of the towers. The symbolism is so overt as to be pitiful. Never again would I feel so safe, embraced and loved.

I had always viewed my life as a sort of fairy tale. Good things often happened to me.I never felt worthy of good or great things. I was, I knew, an incredible fraud who faked my way through life. No therapist had ever been able to figure out my problems. I was beginning to believe they were real physical ones but at the same time I was sure I had borderline personality problems and wasn't worthy.

I didn't realize how hard I worked to make things happen, inbetween panic attacks and this strange need to be alone when I was such a basically social person. Now my life was like a fairy tale's sad twisted part. No longer was I a young woman about town but a middle-aged spinster who was probably only invited to parties to keep the conversation flowing. Sort of like wine but cheaper.

When I began looking at boxed wine as a metaphor for my life I knew it was time to change that life. And I did. I was offered a job at a new newspaper and took it. At a movie screening I realized that the film, a documentary about convicted pedophiles and their family, was more than just a review for me but a chance at a cover story. With help from an incredible editor and friend, I made that happen.

I took as many "master" writing courses as I could because I was aware that while my writing was good I had structural problems. Now it seems so simple, I couldn't put things in the proper sequence to save my life.

Yet I had always excelled at research papers, characters studies and technical writing. I couldn't understand why I was so good at that and so bad at anything else. Then I realized the kinds of writing I excelled at had an inherent structure that I had understood since childhood.

In 2004 I began a blog that people actually read. I wrote about anything and everything. I had sought group counseling after my mother's death. But New York in late 2001, 2002 was 9/11centric. Nothing else mattered and sadly it felt as if the only dead who mattered died in the attacks.

I began writing about my mother's death. While nobody in New York wanted to hear anything about it, people in the rest of the world were a receptive audience. I could frame and reframe the story until it made a bit of sense to me. My blog wasn't dead mother or 9/11centric. I wrote a lot about growing up and a lot about my daily encounters in stores named Fairway, Zabars....To me it was daily living. To other people it was exotic.

The edgier my writing became the more people read it. Now I barely update my blog as I moved from NY at the end of 2008 when I bought and totally renovated a house in coastal South Carolina. I didn't really understand why I felt so compelled to do this.

It was my way of saying "screw you, NLD, you don't own my life. You account for some strange problems. You made what should have been an easy ride bumpy but I have had and continue to have an amazing life despite you. Maybe in part because of you."

And I finally feel worthy!

© 2012 Pia Savage

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About the Author

Pia Savage is a writer, journalist, and former social worker diagnosed with Non Verbal Learning Disorder.