“Pressured Speech” is a symptom of mania. It happens when your mind is racing at 100 mph and you feel the need to tell everyone all the epiphanies you’re having about how the universe works.
On the other end of the spectrum is “Poverty of Speech.” It’s one of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia and occurs when your brain grinds to a halt and you have very little to say. It also occurs in advanced dementia.
Most of us function somewhere between the two ends of that vast spectrum most of the time.
The reason I’m writing about this is that talking with people is the essence of social engagement, and social engagement is one of the five pillars of brain health.
As I mentioned in Episode 41, I think I’m knocking it out of the park on 4 of the 5 pillars, but that I need improvement in the social engagement domain. This past week, though, I found myself engaging with others on more days than not…and that gave me an opportunity to observe myself.
But before reporting findings, it’s important to establish my baseline because, as you will recall, dementia symptoms are measured against your previously normal behavior and abilities.
I’ve never really been a social person. I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone and said, “Hey, wanna hang out today?” On the other hand, I usually enjoy being with others when the opportunity presents itself.
I’ve never been comfortable meeting new people (is anyone?) and I never learned how to ‘work a room,’ even when my job description called for it. I never learned how to introduce myself to a stranger. I have a congenital disdain for ‘small talk.’
So how on earth did I ever have a career as a psychologist, you ask? No problem! In that role, it was understood that people would seek me out and they would do the talking while I listened… and I was a very good listener.
Same for when we ran the B&B. My wife was the extrovert who would meet people upon arrival and have a glass of wine with them. By the next morning, after I had cooked and served them breakfast, they had a thousand questions for me which I was more than happy to answer.
On the other hand, when I do have something to say, you can’t shut me up! So much so that when I chaired meetings of the Kennett Area Democrats, Sally would frequently have to give me the pointer-finger-drawn-across-the-throat sign to let me know I needed to wrap things up.
So how did I do this week?
As is my style, I found myself more than happy to listen. I didn’t feel pressured to impress anyone or to say anything witty. I had no trouble following conversations, but neither did I feel compelled to compete for the floor. If the conversation moved on to another topic before I had a chance to say my piece, I just shrugged it off with an “Oh, well.”
Now that I’m reflecting upon it, though, it appears that throughout my life it wasn’t unusual for someone in a group discussion to say, “Wayne, you’ve been awfully quiet. What do you think?”
This past week, my mind was going all the time. I was thinking about what I was hearing and enjoying the company. I felt comfortable and relaxed. It’s true that I spoke less than the others in the room or at the table, but that was because I just didn’t have a lot to say.
Sally noticed and asked if I was feeling ok. That tells me I must have been talking even less than usual. I didn’t have a good answer for her. Was I tired from my workout or not getting my afternoon nap? Maybe. Is my cognitive processing speed slowing down so I’m not finding relevant content to offer in a timely fashion? Possible.
In any event, it bears watching.
So, with nothing more to say on the topic at this time (!), I’ll close with two tangentially related quotes that come to mind:
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. –Abraham Lincoln
Talk less…smile more. –Aaron Burr in the musical ‘Hamilton.’
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