Quoth the Ozzy:
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train.
Seems like a too-obvious reference for a day spent having my brain tested at a psychological services center. But the universe sent it to me. First, in the form of the Honda Pilot commercial where the car full of people spontaneously erupts into an a cappella version of “Crazy Train.” Second, as I pull into the parking lot, the Oz-man’s original song from the classic rock station on the radio. Third, as I surf the internet in the parking lot (because I am forty minutes early and I can pick up free wifi) I get a Facebook message from a friend. “You gotta see this” with a link to a YouTube video of the aforementioned Pilot people.
But I am not crazy.
(Neither is Mr. Osborne’s persona in this song. Well, he’s driven “crazy” by all the insanity of people who have forgotten to love, but it’s “crazy” in the sense of “fed up,” not in the sense of “I’m going to eat bats now.”)
So I arrived back at the BRAINS place, and the receptionist says, “Oh, you’re here for testing” with wide eyes and a grin. Sheesh.
They’ve told me to plan on two or more hours of testing. I don’t know much beyond that, for example if any of the tests involve electrodes on my scalp or ink blots.
I get downstairs early and they’re ready for me even though I’m early and it seems a little hectic. It seems the original tester went home ill earlier in the day and I’ve got the backup.
My tester introduces herself (I immediately forget her name, as I always do) and leads me to a conference room with a polished wooden table and leather swivel chairs. It looks like boardroom with a frosted glass wall. She’s got papers and props at one end of the table and motions for me to sit to her right. She is very formally dressed in mostly black, adding to the business aura in the room, but seems a little scattered, perhaps having just arrived or something, maybe from a benefit luncheon or a funeral.
She looks down at the paperwork and says, “Let’s see, so are you in school now? Is that right?”
“Well, I’m a college professor, if that’s what you mean.”
“Oh,” she says, with a confused look, going back to her papers. She looks flummoxed by my answer.
“Okay, we’ll start with this.” She gives me a pencil and a worksheet. It’s connect the dots. She acts embarrassed to ask me to do a basic task, as if I’m going to scoff, pull out my pipe and say Poppycock! I’ll not do such trifling tasks. Her awkwardness makes me even more nervous.
“It’s a timed test, so just draw a line between the numbered circles in order as fast as you can.”
She says go, and I do it quickly.
“That was . . . fast,” she says.
She gives me a harder one, and I actually mess it up. I’m trying to do it as fast as possible and I connect the last two in the wrong order. The test gets harder as I have to connect 1, a, 2, b, etc.
We get through that, and next she holds up a purple plastic sheet about the size of a file folder with a dozen holes in it. She uses her pencil to poke through the holes in a pattern and I have to repeat the pattern with my finger. I know that I’m doing fine through a pattern of four, but five starts to trip me up. I peek through the holes to the sheet where she is writing down my errors.
We move on to repeating back patterns of numbers and letters, and then to an “executive function” test. I have first a pattern of red, green, and blue squares and I have to say aloud the words to match the colors in the pattern as fast as possible. The next sheet has the words “red,” “green,” and “blue,” with different ink (sometimes the word “red” is written red, blue, or green ink). First I have to just say the word and ignore the color. Then I have to say the color, not the word—much harder. Finally, on the last sheet, some of the words have boxes around them. I have to say the color, not the word for the boxed ones, and the rest of them say the word, not the color. It is taxing, having someone there with a stopwatch, writing down all my business.
I’m getting mixed signals from her, though. She’s praising my results but looking confused at the same time.
After a putting-pegs-in-holes test, we go to a computer in another room. The first test is attention.
I sit and watch the monitor with headphones on. The computer explains to me the test: a “1” or a “2” flashes on the screen in random patterns and the computer voice says either “one” or “two,” also in random patterns, mixed in with the first. I have to click the mouse when the computer says or flashes 1, but not on 2. The computer keeps reminding me in a kindergarten teacher’s voice: “Go as fast as you can, but be careful.”
It’s a fifteen minute test, and I do feel my mind wandering. I look at the brand of the monitor, it’s a name I’ve never seen before, and then I remember I’m supposed to be looking at the screen. It was actually pretty tiring to concentrate for 15 minutes for the main test.
My tester comes back in and explains the next test. I’m just answering a bunch of true or false questions. Over two hundred, it turns out. “Some of the questions are . . . outrageous,” she tells me, “but just follow along and answer them honestly.” A lot of the questions are typical assessment questions “I find it easy to make friends at a party.” Some of them were pretty odd, like “It would be easier if everyone in my family just listened to me all the time.” Some of them were delusional, “I haven’t seen a car in ten years.”
But the questions keep coming back to substance abuse, like “There’s nothing wrong with using ‘so-called’ illegal drugs to get through a day.” And “My family keeps bothering me about my alcohol use.”
I am neither an alcoholic nor a drug addict. I go out once a week with a poetry group and have two drinks. I have such terrible side effects from Benadryl, that I’m scared to try anything harder. My couple of experiences with pot left me feeling paranoid and nauseous. My drug addiction is coffee, with an occasional Excedrin popper to get me through an afternoon of work. Which can also make me feel paranoid and nauseous.
But this test won’t stop nagging me. Every third or fourth question comes back to alcohol and drugs. I half expect a question like “I have ended my drug addiction.”
Anyway, we end computer time, and my tester comes back for me again. She says, “I’ve been talking to the doctor, and because you’re so high functioning, we’re having trouble finding a test sensitive enough to show your problems. We’re going to keep trying, though.” That explains a lot. I feel like apologizing.
We go back to the table, with more tests. I do a tower of Hanoi puzzle, which begins with a starting pattern and a card that shows me a goal pattern, and I have to do it as quick as I can with the fewest moves. The first two are easy, but I get hung up on the third for a minute. Then it clicks, and I breeze through the rest of them. She says “well, you did that one in under ninety seconds, so you get three bonus points.” The next one she says, “that’s the fewest number of moves possible, so you get four bonus points.” I get excited. But then I remember I have no idea what the points mean. I got to the end of the test, though, which apparently was an accomplishment.
At this point, I don’t know if it is good or bad to do well. I start to have a nagging thought: what if I do so well on the tests that they say, “You don’t have ADHD like you thought. You’re just a lazy bastard.”
We move on to a test I that I know I will have trouble with. Finally, I think. She tells me three letters and a number, like “A X G 78,” and I have to count backwards by threes from the number until she tells me to stop and then I have to repeat back the letters. She called it a “divided memory” test. It’s hard.
I do okay at first because the starting numbers are low and the counting time is short. I do find my mind struggling. I try to repeat the letters back to myself, but then I lose my spot on the numbers.
The numbers get higher and the counting time gets longer. Once I trip over the numbers and concentrate on counting, the letters are gone, somewhere in outer space with my tester’s name and the combination to my high school locker. After a while, I am saying random letters because I have no actual letters in memory.
Then I get a flash of insight. The next prompt is “L R P 189.” I make the letters into a word and say it mentally after each number. I say “189” lerp “186” lerp “183” lerp, and so on, and then say confidently “L, R, P,” at the end. I do it again, and then finally get to the last one: P H Q 147. I try not to giggle as I say “147” phuq, “144” phuq, “141” phuq . . .
I finish the test, and am hardly listening to the instructions as I make jokes to myself. I’m glad that PHuQing test is over. Holy PHuQ that was hard. Harder than a mother PHuQer, you PHuQing lerp.
I start paying attention again as she’s explaining the next test: say every word that starts with the letter she gives me. No proper nouns, numbers, repeats, or different forms of the same word.
My face drains. She didn’t say anything about obscenities. Are they all right? Is she going to write down the words I say, or just count the number of words? Are they going to analyze the words I say to find the pattern? If I start using sex words, will they think I’m a pervert? Because, quite honestly, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Should I ask? Or would that be part of the test?
I get nervous as she pulls out the stopwatch. “Okay, two minutes with as many words as you can think of that start with–”
please not F, please not F, anything but F
“–the letter F.”
Are you effing kidding me?
“Um . . . floor . . . uh . . . fence”
FUCK! FART! FELLATIO!
“frog . . . um . . . fester . . .”
It is seriously hard not to say fuck. And because I’m trying not to say that word, the other words arrive slowly. I mutter maybe a dozen F words, shaking my head and squinting the whole time. Maybe she thought I was tired.
“We’re going to try another one,”
What, S this time?
“Ready? All words starting with the letter S.”
I think that had to be planned. There are two words we use in English to express displeasure, the S-word and the F-bomb. Why not give me W or G or something like that? There’s no W-word! When’s the last time someone said “Oh, WASHBASIN!” after smashing his thumb with a hammer? There’s a reason it’s called the F word, because it’s the only one that matters when you’re trying to get serious about cursing.
I did a drawing test, and a recognizing patterns test, and then the last test: vocabulary. I breeze through that. I have to give a concise definition to a word that she read to me from a sheet in front of me. The words start with “apple” and get harder from there. C’mon, I teach English. The next-to-last word was “plagiarize.”
I expected to have some discussion about test results at the end, but had only some chit-chat with the tester. It turns out her husband is also an English professor, and she is an avid reader herself. I did manage to steer the conversation back to my problems, particularly grading papers and memory and focus and such. She said, “I believe if you’re having problems, that we can find you some techniques and accommodations and such, regardless of what the test shows.” That didn’t give me much faith in the testing.
I hoped for some definitive answer, something like “yes, your pathways for executive function are inefficient. You’re not just lazy.” But I have to wait for the next appointment to discuss the results.
Three. More. Weeks.