Directional Dysfunction

I’m not so great with guessing measurements.  I know that a cup equals 8 oz, and that there are 16 oz in a pound, and I know that a foot is 12 inches and a yard is 3 feet, but I have no idea how many cups are in a gallon, or how many yards are in a mile.  I’m even worse at conversions.  Litres to gallons?  Inches to centimeters?  Just the thought of it sends my brain into a tizzy and I want to think or talk about anything else.

I’m also bad with distances.  My mom visited me once while I was living in Chicago, and planned to take the el down to my office to meet me for lunch.  She’d asked how far away the el station was and I told her “Oh, a couple blocks.”  Turns out it was actually half a mile; a HUGE difference to someone who didn’t live in Chicago and walk everywhere.

If I print out driving directions that include how many miles or tenths of a mile before my next turn, I almost always underestimate the distance.  I’ve no understanding of what a tenth of a mile is, or how long a mile lasts.  So if I’ve got several miles to go before my next turn, I’ll actually start to worry a mile or so before I see the road sign.  This happens almost without fail; second guessing the actual distance I’ve traveled.

lost_compassBut I’m even worse when it comes to directions.  Other than knowing that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, I’m lost on the whole N-E-S-W thing.  So much so that when I’m driving, whatever’s in front of me is North.  I’m serious.  Even when I drove from Michigan to Florida, it felt like I was heading North, even though I know that Florida is south of Michigan.

The only place I could understand N-E-S-W was in Chicago, but even that took a couple of years of living there before I acclimated myself to know the position of Lake Michigan.  Once I got that, I was fine.  But now, living in Alameda, I’m “lost” again.  I know that San Francisco is to the West of the island, and Oakland (and the rest of the country) is to the East, but I honestly think the island runs North and South, when it apparently runs more West to East.

So why is my system hardwired this way?  When I drive a road on Alameda that runs the length of the island, I would swear I was moving in an up or down direction, which, to me, equates to North and South.  It makes sense in my head, but people laugh at me when I explain it to them.  And it’s frustrating for me when I get directions from someone who doesn’t understand my issue. I’ve actually come to a point where I have to ask people to phrase their directions in Left or Right, rather than N-E-S-W.  If they can give me landmarks, it’s even better.  I’ve heard that the landmarks thing is more common in women than men, but I think the direction dysfunction is genderless, and thankfully I’ve met others who have the same problems, so I don’t feel entirely like a freak.

It’s been a bit of a struggle between Craig and I to learn how to communicate with directions.  He has no problem knowing in which direction he’s heading, which I marvel at, but it took him a while to accept that I didn’t. Thankfully he’s adapted quite well and now just gives me directions in Left/Right.

If anyone out there “suffers” from directional dysfunction, like me, just know you’re not alone.  Also, if any of you know what might be the cause of this, I’d be real interested in hearing about it.  I don’t know that I feel the need to “fix” this particular issue, but it would be nice to know that I could, if I wanted to.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Camille Minichino
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 09:33:18

    I’m ok in Midtown Manhattan where there’s a grid, and a few landmarks like the Empire State Building and Central Park, but I can get lost in my town after 10 years. If my neighbors change the color of their house, I’ll miss my turn.

    My husband, on the other hand can go up in an elevator in a store in a mall, walk around (no windows) and be able to point to where we left our car.

    Interesting book on the subject: “Maphead” by Ken Jennings.


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 07, 2012 @ 10:27:49

      I can do what your husband does, Camille, with getting turned around but still be able to locate the car, even if I’m not the driver. I can also be taken someplace for the first time, & find my way back to the starting point without getting lost. I’m actually quite good at spacial relation . . . just not when it comes to the actual compass directions.

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll have to check it out.


  2. Dolly Chamberlin
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 14:09:03

    Going over all the different places I have lived, Alameda was the first place I remember having difficulty with directions, & I’m not sure why. I was there 3 years & still would confuse NESW
    LOVES :}


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 07, 2012 @ 14:12:54

      Well, I’d love to say it’s “Alameda,” but as I said above, I was heading “North” while driving from Michigan to Florida. That kind of takes away that argument for me. 😉


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