Hyperthymesia and Neurodivergence (Time Lapse)

Re: Hyperthymesia

I hadn’t ever heard this word, as I’ve not ever looked into memory too much.

In more than a few of my writings here, I mention the form that my memories take, the way they present themselves, the nuances of the word “everything.”

I don’t actually remember everything. Just yesterday I was sitting in my office fumbling with a moment of forgetfulness.

I was 1/2 listening to my co-worker facilitate a class across the hall, listening to the students talk about dopamine and addiction and the way it feels to come down. Someone  mentioned black outs and the days they came to in the early morning, finding their fingers covered in burns.

I was across the hall, looking at the tabs on my computer, trying to remember what I was doing.

For a long time I have been aware that I think about the world differently, feel and see my own story differently. These differences are what make me neurodivergent, mentally diverse. I first learned about them when I was 12, sitting in an east facing office with the venetian blinds down and the room full of soft glare and flourescents. The woman was sitting by the window and she was holding a file, my file. She was speaking to my mother.

“Your daughter in very intelligent in a lot of ways. Her verbal IQ is —. She is above the ninety-ninth percentile on a few measures.”

She said a few more things and I smiled, feeling smug in my chair. I was smart.

Of course, my smartness was not why I was there, in that office. I was there because I was “depressed” and because I had “mood” and “behavioral” difficulties.

My mother was advised to seek professional help for me, for my depression.

My struggles really shouldn’t have been a surprise for anyone. I had just spent the past three years watching the only place I felt safe in the world be systemically destroyed and paved over. My father was working 18 hours a day, developing Shadowlawn, the subdivision that took the place of Shadowlawn, the holy land of oaks and ghosts that I knew as home.

Even as a child, the land was sacred.

Especially as a child, the land was sacred.

I did not believe in God, but I believed in Native Americans and I believed in the magic golden threads of nephilas, spider silk so sturdy that one could, if they had enough, weave a sail of it.

We made rings out of it. Gathering the strands at the edge of the web, careful not to wreck the construction strung between yaupon and pine, woven so often at eye level. The female spiders, as big as our small hands, never rushed toward us, they never leapt out. They were patient with the disruption of their webs and my brother and I wore the spider silk rings as gifts from the empire that edged every pasture.

Of course, as I’m writing this, I see it all very clearly, the precise place on the path to the East Marsh, the stand of palmettoes to the south and the old timber in rows stretching north. I know the time of day, mid-morning, because of the slant of the shadows. I know I was happy, because I can feel it. We were going for a walk in the woods, my brother, my father and me.

We had found the perfect spider webs to make rings and my father was telling us stories of all the things that could be made of thread so fine.

There are many memories like this, an entire childhood spent in a world that now only exists in memory and spared acreage. It was this world that, as an angry 12 year old, I was mourning.

I think, judging from the tears that are stinging my eyes and the huge trembling sadness inside of me, that it will take me a long time to heal.

I still have a huge howling outrage inside of me. Sometimes I wonder if we brought up the ghosts when we destroyed that land. I knew there were ghosts. I knew there were indigenous people. I knew that the animals and seasons were wise, that the river itself was haunted.

The rage I felt after the destruction was tremendous, it was bigger than me. I was, and I knew it then, outraged for the marshes and for the blackberries, for the deer and the rattlesnakes, for the fields and the old dirt roads.

I hated my parents. I hated the Navy and its horrible submarines. I hated the bankers that pressured my father and the wretched paint-stinking school with its crush of bodies in hallways. I hated all adults and the whole world made by man.

I remember it all quite clearly, because that is what I do. I remember. I cannot help but to remember. It is how my brain works.

Last weekend, walking alongside a new-old friend in New York City, looking at the late-night planetarium at the Museum of Natural History, I thought about memory. We were studying the perfect angle of the trees arching away from the fence, sidewalk, and street. “I wonder if they were staked and trained to lean that way?”

“Maybe they just grew that way in accommodation of one another, air flow and branch space…”

“It’s odd that they don’t have any branches until so high up,” my friend observered.

“They got cut off.”

As we were walking and talking about the graceful architecture of trees, I was thinking about memory. Earlier, he had said, “Not to put another label on you, but there’s this thing, hyperthymesia…”

I hadn’t realized that remembering one’s life in florid and unbidden detail had a name. I wasn’t particularly surprised, most everything has a name.

I don’t quite think that people understand how difficult it is to maintain a minimally acceptable neuronormative life when one must carry all this around in their head and their heart, the mind constantly stirring up stories and stringing together connections, the heart attuned to memory and possibility, the present always a point on a map that, with each passing moment, just gets bigger and bigger and bigger, the universe within infinitely expanding and extrapolating.

I have an acquaintance who calls me “brave,” and I don’t know if I’ve ever told him how much I appreciate it that he sees the courage required.

Oct 15 (2 days ago)

Re: neurodivergence
I mean this in a fairly objective sense, meaning that a person’s cognitive/emotional processes are impacted by things such as “atypical” intelligence or other differences in learning. Although intelligence tests are, by and large, not entirely reliable measures, they do measure something and it stands to reason, in my mind, that a person who experiences information and sensory stimuli at the outer edge of the bell curve will likely experience the world differently than those who experience things in a normative (neurotypical) fashion.
There are a lot of variables that determine one’s experience, but it seems that our cognitive workings (for example, I tend toward meta-analytics, logic, and gestalt thinking and have a visual memory) and our emotional realities have a lot to do with how we experience things and make meaning. Much about me that could be termed mad has less to do with madness and more to do with the way my brain processes information and the orientation of my heart and values.
Biopsychiatric perspectives often indicate a flaw in brain chemistry or brain structure, requiring medication. Neurodivergence identifies a difference in brain function and, possibly, structure – but this difference is not inherently flawed or in need of correction.
Living in the neurotypical world can be tremendously stressful and traumatic and in my case the stress of stimuli and trauma manifested as symptoms of a mental health disorder.
I’m not sick. I’m sensitive.
There is nothing wrong with my brain. There is something wrong the world.


Coming soon, double bookkeeping and resolving existential angst by deciding that everything means everything.

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