Language comprehension, naming, and word recall are cognitive functions regulated by the temporal lobe. I have temporal lobe epilepsy. The result is I suck at verbal articulation. I forget words. I say things backwards. Things get stuck on the tip of my tongue. I botch sentences. I often sound clueless even though I am actually quite smart.
I chose to tell my employer about my condition, mostly because I break the stereotype. I want everyone to know that epileptics can leave the house, drive cars, and tolerate blinking halogen bulbs. I made it through college and even graduate school. I’m a normal human being. I also disclosed so I can explain how to respond to seizures, which is protect my head and keep your damn fingers out of my mouth.
But how do you explain to your co-workers that your speech fluency does not reflect your intelligence?
Fortunately, the majority of my team members work remotely. Most communication is through email. I am a clear and concise writer, but get me on the phone and it all goes to shit. I stumble through weekly project update calls. I ramble and use wrong words. I once said congress of the cow instead of conference call. Oops. Silence follows my updates. I can hear my teammates’ poker faces. Thankfully, my boss and I are in sync. “Suzzanne, anything you want to add?” She articulates what I cannot without embarrassing me. We’ve been doing this for years. She gets it.
I recently told her to enjoy “hot gods and manburgers” over the holiday weekend. We had a good laugh.
I acknowledge this is inappropriate self-criticism. Co-workers do not judge me. I judge myself. Some say they have never noticed my verbal stumbles (so why the poker-face reaction)? They treat me with respect and make me feel valued. Yet I still want to end every call with “I’m not a fool, I just have epilepsy.” I’d probably fumble that too. An email broadcast would be kind of desperate, so I just endure my anxieties.
People with epilepsy exist along the same intelligence continuum as everyone else. Some are clueless, some are brilliant but most of us fall somewhere in between.