Word Salad — My Writing Came Out Jumbled and Incoherent

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Reader’s Question

I recently had an odd problem. I could communicate verbally well enough, but when I tried to type or write, the words came out jumbled and incoherent. This increased or decreased with the pressure or stress level of what I was writing. Cognitively I thought I was writing fully-formed words and sentences, but in hindsight I realize that they were incoherent. A little history: I am 19 and physically healthy except for mild asthma. I have a history of large amounts of anxiety, panic attacks, and migraine headaches.

This was also during a time of an unusual amount of environmental stress (change of living environment along with having to, for the first time, pay rent and utilities, and an abnormally large amount of five- to ten-page essays to do for courses).

I have always jumbled words to a small extent when typing or writing (a letter or a few out of place, maybe a word out of place or at random).

This odd incident has passed but I’m still having a lot of trouble writing. I’m writing at a very slow pace (about 1000 words per day) and some days (like today) it is like I’m scared to even open a word document; like it’s going to be life-threatening. I can read just fine. In fact I read quite often and don’t have any trouble.

Any thoughts?

Psychologist’s Reply

You would have us believe that this unusual problem is related to your anxiety level, and it well could be. Before even considering that possibility, however, you must go in for a neurological examination. This could be an early warning sign that should be attended to. If the results come back negative, then it would be worth looking at the symptom under different levels of stress to see if it is a specific learning disorder that flares up during periods of anxiety, or a specific phobia. If so, then it could be treated psychologically or psychiatrically.

My guess is that the problem will fall into one of the latter categories. However, the neurological exam must come first. Getting that exam behind you may alleviate the biggest source of anxiety as well as the biggest threat to your health.

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