Heading Disorientation: Information Needed

The other day I wrote about an episode when I couldn’t figure out where I was and it freaked me out.

I lost where I was again. My brain fritzed out. I had no idea where I was. I couldn’t figure it out. I froze.

My chest constricted and tears welled up and I looked around blankly, trying to figure out where the fuck I was and how to get where I wanted to go.

Logically, I knew I was only a couple of blocks away from my office, in a neighborhood I know well. I understood the street signs, the landmarks, and knew they were supposed to be familiar to me.

That’s me in the spotlight, losing my direction

Since then, I’ve done a small bit of research and have learned a little more.

“Topographical disorientation.” That’s what occurred.

And I learned about a specific type of topographical disorientation called, “heading disorientation.”

Suddenly, there it was. The description I had been unable to come up with on my own.

This is what happened the other day:

Heading disorientation is marked by the inability to represent direction of orientation with respect to external environment.

…Patients are able to determine their location using landmarks, but are unable to determine which direction to proceed from those landmarks in order to reach their destination. They are also impaired in map drawing tasks and are unable to describe routes between familiar locations.

…All three patients showed normal visual perception, were able to identify familiar buildings and landscapes, were able to determine and remember locations of objects that could be seen from where they were standing, but were unable to recall direction from selective familiar landmarks. Symptoms of topographical disorientation disappeared in all three patients after two months.

Wikipedia, Topographical disorientation

I thought it was anxiety-related. I assumed it was an anxiety or panic attack.

It happened twice last summer, though, and once last weekend. That’s a lot longer than two months. That’s over a year.

I was in a constant state of heightened adrenaline last summer. These episodes seemed like they typified my anxiety being in dire straits. My therapist agreed.

This time, though, I wasn’t in a similar state. I was a little rushed, yes, because I was running late. I was a bit panicked about the battery in my key fob for my car dying and how to go about replacing it. Perhaps, I was so stressed about that task that it triggered a panic attack?

Or perhaps the level of panic I was feeling about the key fob was actually a symptom that something else was going on. Even for me, with all my anxiety crap I deal with every day, the level to which my adrenaline spiked because of replacing a battery in a key fob seemed odd.

Regardless, my therapist wants me to go see my primary care doctor and talk about this episode with her, so I’ve made an appointment. And if it happens again, he wants me to call her and go in right away.

He mentioned that it might be a sign of a seizure of sorts, or somehow tied to migraines. I don’t have a history of seizures. And as for migraines… well, I have a constant low-level migraine that I sort of power through all the time. Combined with my sinus headaches, honestly, I try to ignore how my head feels. The pain is background noise. I’m used to it.

Here’s where I need your help:

I can’t do any reading about this right now. My brain won’t absorb words or phrases like posterior cingulate, visuo-spatial agnosia, retrosplenial, and so on. It’s not what I’m capable of right now.

So, readers, I’m reaching out and asking for some assistance. What do you know about sudden onset heading disorientation? Has it ever happened to you? What did your doctor say? What have you learned about it?

Please… help?

If you aren’t comfortable posting your comments below, please send me a message via the Contact page on this site.

Thank you.

(On a rather comic note, though, can we appreciate that thinking this crap might not be linked to anxiety is making me incredibly anxious?)

Featured Photo by meo from Pexels


  1. I’m guessing your doctor will probably order some imaging tests. It’s not something I’ve come across, but on the face of it, it sounds more like a neurological issue than a psychiatric issue.

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