Two of my longtime lawyer friends have echolalia. It’s a speech phenomenon that involves the imitation of words, sentences, or sounds. Echolalia is common in children learning to talk. In its severe form, echolalia can be a symptom of mental disorders like autism.
Each of my friends has a very mild version of echolalia. They compulsively repeat the last few words you say in conversation. As with certain hypnotic accents, the challenge for listeners is to resist echoing their echoes.
A few months ago, a cute guy in Vancouver told me “It must be hard to be a lawyer with your stammer.”
Ok, maybe I’ve always had a bit of a stammer that comes out when I’m stressed or nervous. It's never really interfered with life. I’m much more concerned about my PTSD-amplified trichotillomania, which causes me to relentlessly rub my scalp and pull my hair out.
Nowadays I’m well aware that I’m a person who sometimes stammers and who often pulls at his hair. Of course, I’m usually not consciously “aware” of doing either at the time. I assume my two lawyer friends with echolalia are the same – surely they didn’t make it into their forties and fifties without someone pointing out their obvious quirk of speech.
Here’s a helpful hint from a disabled person: don’t tell anyone living with depression, anxiety, compulsive disorders, or other mental illness to “snap out of it.”
While I’m in confessional mode, I should also mention that I compulsively hum or vocalize as I go through the day, particularly when I’m in a good mood.
When I catch myself, I try to identify the song and analyze why my subconscious chose it. Sometimes I’m merely harmonizing along with the jazz or classical music playing in the background. Other times particular people or places will trigger the musical motifs associated with them, like the friend who always inspires “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Shop clerks and strangers often notice, and usually smile. As with yawning, I’m contagious – I’ll walk out of Trader Joe’s and hear folks humming along behind me.
I generally default into random improvised vocalese, untethered to any particular melody. For some reason, eventually the song fades into “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors. I have no idea what that means.
Last week I picked up my nephew from an appointment downtown on our way to dinner at Grandma’s.
When the elevator doors opened, there he was, smiling: “I heard humming and knew it was you.”
Apparently when I’m in a good mood I can’t sneak up on people.