There are adults with Noonan Syndrome who are quite accomplished. I’ve met those who are high up in technology, medicine, and law. They have the physical appearances, the physical issues, and may have had learning disabilities. They have somehow managed to create the same type of everyday life that I always wanted. Consequently, because I obviously haven’t I often wonder what I did wrong. Did I not work hard enough? Did I lack ambition? Did I grow up too entitled? Did having Noonan’s have anything to do with my station in life?
As I consider these questions, the answer is “Yes” to all of them, but why was this the case? If I was such a good student, and I was based on grade metrics, and showed promise, why did it fall apart? I did work hard for those metrics. I had ambitions, but, somehow, things did get in the way. In addition, all attempts to “better my station” never seem to work. I took accounting classes and did well, but in real life I am terrible with money management. I learned all aspects about real estate and passed the brokerage exam in one of the fastest times recorded. Yet, put me in charge of a real estate transaction, and I somehow cannot manage to get anything together. What, if anything, is going on here?
If I were to read only posts from the Facebook group of Adults with Noonan’s Syndrome, I would not find answers. If I asked these rhetorical questions, there would either be no answers or condescending ones. Sometimes, they would look helpful, but the “how” would remain elusive. However, if I were to look at posts from parents of children with Noonan Syndrome, I would find myself looking in a mirror of the past as they describe their behavior. The anxiety, hyper sensitivity, lack of emotional control, the inability to follow instructions, and socially awkward behavior are all there in them. It was all there in me as well. Consequently, Noonan Syndrome is only partially defined by its physical characteristics: short stature, scoliosis, kyphosis, and various medical terms that are Greek to me. There are behavioral and psychiatric elements as well.
Let us suppose the I could choose between eliminating either the physical or the mental. Which one would I choose? For me, I would endure the physical deformities and the health issues if I could only have a strong and practical mind. By this, I mean a mind that can think quickly and logically. A mind that can access risks, ask the right questions, correctly interpret instructions, and multi-task so that things are done quickly and efficiently. In such a position, I could have the mechanical aptitude needed for home ownership or at least know how to contact the right people. I would sufficiently know how to network, act correctly in social settings, manage money, drive a car in heavy traffic, know how to buy a house, buy a car, make contracts, interpret rules, and so many other things essential for success in adult life that I simply do not have.
Of course, I do not have that choice. I must accept both. However, is it possible that the physical did indeed shape the psychological (as opposed to psychiatric) and emotional? In other words, is my inability to act and think the way an adult should be able to do something what was pre-existing in the genetics the same way the scoliosis, kyphosis, cardiac issues, circulatory, and other physical aspects? Cartesian philosophy held that the mind was separate from the body. We would be aware of ourselves, Rene Descartes believed, even if we had no physical stimuli at all. Later philosophers, notably Edmund Husserl, refuted this. They stated, that our physical selves shape how we think. Our physical experiences shape our world view.
Without a doubt, my experiences with the physical Noonan’s did impact how I think and act. Being short, not having physical strength, and looking “different” impacted my social experience and the failure to be fully engrossed in the necessary activities that children must go through to become adults. There were parental influences, because while my parents never told me I had Noonan’s and never treated me in any “special” way, I was never really challenged. I was encouraged to do certain things, but there was rarely follow up. Unfortunately, I also put up resistance. So, I was pretty much left to my own amusements which was filled with the “vast wasteland” known as television, which was commonplace by the 1970s. My father tried hard to encourage me, but it never succeeded until it was a bit too late when I became a good student.
Why was it too late? What I am about to say is something I want to stress to parents with Noonan children because technology is now to the point where there is a world of “virtual reality” with games in which people spend hours in “virtual lives” rather than the one they are physically present in. Television brought me into a world of “virtual reality.” The 1960s situation comedy re-runs looked like real life to me. I immersed myself in that world, and, in many ways, my imagination put me in an alternate reality that was different from the one I lived in. Readers of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” would understand this. Perhaps, cartoonist Bill Watterson was this way. However, while Watterson is clearly one to defend children with wild imaginations, anti-social behavior, and contempt for “conformist” education, I am not in his camp. He may have succeed because of his, but my experience set me back to a point of no recovery. While I enjoy the strip, I do not cheer such characters because it breaks down the vital necessities of citizenship and the type of bonds that are necessary for human survival. For this reason, perhaps, I find myself feeling far more in tune with Eastern thought rather than Western thought, more in line with Confucius than Christianity, at least how Christianity has been shaped in the Protestant, and, by extension, in the United States.
However, I am forced, once more, to ask, if my Noonan mind was a priori? The evidence seems to be that some aspects were. The story goes that shortly after I was born, I spent five days in the hothouse (incubator). A nurse told my mother that whenever she approached me, I would start crying. As a child, I would become frightened easily and start crying. This seems to have been a pre-existing condition, and this may contribute to why I have trouble dealing with complex adult situations. The anxiety factor takes over and prevents having the necessary confidence. Every situation seems daunting to me, and so I am probably telling myself that I cannot handle this even if I might be able to handle it well.
Developmental delays are common in children with Noonan’s, and I know that many milestones for me came very late. However, there is a question as to whether those experiences of developmental delays impacted how I was perceived by others, and how, in turn, I perceived myself. So what was pre-existing in my mind was exacerbated by the experiences I faced in the world as a result of working with the body that I had. In other words, there was sort of a feedback loop. So the answer as to whether the Noonan mind is pre-existing and influenced by the body is yes. To what extent the situation can be improved will be covered in a separate post.