What an odd thing it is to lack a sense that most people take for granted. I can get lost anywhere. When navigating in a new setting, to get back from where I was requires that I memorize a string of left/right directions and/or visual cues. When I am at someone’s house for the first time, I risk horrible embarrassment when they find me wandering the wrong way down the hall, attempting to navigate my return from the bathroom.
I didn’t give this quirk a lot of thought when I was a kid. I just simply believed people when they told me I was dumb. I was lucky enough to spend my early driving years in a small town. But even there, in a town of 40,000 people, built on a North/South East/West grid, I occasionally got lost.
When I moved to Albuquerque for another failed attempt at institutionally organized education, finding my way around took a lot of effort. I memorized the names and order of the streets. I was helped enormously by the landscape. The big mountains were always in the east, the small ones (that looked like giant pimples on the mesa) were always in the west. But in the dark, all bets were off. I took a wrong turn one night and spent an hour trying to find my way out of a mazelike subdivision of identical stucco houses.
When I moved to Durango, CO with my husband, I had no problem. The day we arrived he drove me to the top of the mountain (in the east) to behold the little city laid out before us. I saw all of its features in relation to one another. From that point on I always knew where I was. Driving back to town from rural mountain locations at night would have been a problem except that I never did that. In those situations I was with my husband. He could find his way to and from anywhere. It did not occur to me that I lacked something. I was simply astounded by his magical intuition. When my sons were old enough to self-transport, I discovered they possessed the same magic.
I was in my thirties before I studied this phenomenon and came to the conclusion that I seriously lacked something that the majority of humans took for granted. Of course, I wondered why. No one else in my family of origin suffered from this lack.
I made two educated guesses as to what was wrong with me.
Educated guess number one:
Odd brain wiring. I hypothesized the part of my brain that made me ridiculously creative had commandeered a swath of synapses and connections that normal people used for finding their way around.
Educated guess number two.
I am very near-sighted. I was nine years old before I was able to convince my parents I needed glasses. Maybe, while I was stumbling around blind, the wiring connections for sense of direction missed their developmental window of opportunity.
Only recently did I come across literature that linked my lack of a sense of direction to my extreme sensitivity. This makes me feel better, oddly. Having several symptoms lumped together under one diagnosis has the comforting effect of seeming like there are fewer things wrong with me than I thought.