Dyslexia - From the Inside Out

Jennifer Day (On Twitter: Jennifer Day)
Living with: 
- Dyslexia
Dyslexia - From the Inside Out

First of all I would like to thank Frank for giving me the opportunity to write about a subject I rarely talk about.

Dyslexia to me is not a discussion point, it is simply a way to describe how my brain is wired. I do not see it as a disability, it appears that way because of the 'Reality' created by people without dyslexia. If dyslexics had formed the educational system, they would be considered the 'Norm' by which mental ability is measured, and non-dyslexics would be being diagnosed with a learning disability.

I was identified as being dyslexic at a very early age. I say identified rather than diagnosed because it was my mother who recognised the signs. I gave my parents a painting I made, with a written dedication upon the canvas. The dedication was written backwards. I remember being very upset about this because I had thought long and hard before writing the dedication, trying to figure out which way the words went. Since my grasp of left and right has always been very tenuous, though I could recall that the words were supposed to flow from left to right, I chose the wrong left from which to begin writing.

School helped me with learning how to write correctly, but it posed many new problems. Dyslexics are prone to being easily distracted. A busy, noisy classroom is not conducive to concentration. Zoning out chaos is a necessary tactic, but this means that everything is zoned out, including the teacher. I remember once being kicked out of class by a very angry teacher because she had asked me to do something and I had not heard her, in exasperation she sent me out into the corridor to study the text she had been asking me to read. I was very upset, this teacher was a very good, caring and patient woman, and to have incurred her wrath meant that I had been very bad. This event was a blessing in disguise, in the quiet of the corridor, I was able to focus my attention on the work at hand, when I was allowed back in to the classroom I had memorised the text and my teacher was pleased and relieved, she was also apologetic.

I suffer from excruciating shyness, part of that is due to my dyslexia. Communicating with other people is very difficult. It takes an extraordinary amount of effort. Sometimes I don't have the energy or the will to make the effort. I think mostly in images and impressions. A picture holds more information for me than a pile of words. A smell, sound, or flavour has more meaning than the description of the smell, sound, or flavour. A shiver is more expressive than the word itself. An example of this is, if I smell a rose, an image forms in my mind of a sunset, a warm glow, and a hint in the air of the night to come. That is how my mind creates an idea of the rose and its scent. If a person were to ask me, as I was smelling the rose, what the rose smells like, I would have to translate my idea of it into words. First I would have to assemble words together, then I would need to edit them, distributing them in the correct order, and, once I felt that I had a suitable verbal description, I would have to speak the words out loud. The process takes time, and usually, by the time I am ready, the person has moved on, both mentally and often physically too. They have also probably formed a bad opinion of me, I have been accused of being rude, of having a superiority complex, and any other affront that the person may feel that I inflicted upon them. This is hurtful to me, I do not like to cause distress in others, as I am well aware of how painful it is, but hurrying up my mental process has equally disastrous consequences. When I rush myself, I blurt out a bunch of nonsensical words, and people on the receiving end think I am crazy, delirious, and a nuisance. The pain of constantly being shunned by others who do not understand me has led me to create a file in my mind of stock answers to call upon when dealing with impatient people. So now, if someone asks how a rose smells, I simply say 'delicious' or something to that effect, it makes life easier and more pleasant because I have responded in the way that was expected of me, thus pleasing the person. It can be frustrating doing this because I feel it is a dishonest interaction, I have so much more I want to say, but I am hiding behind a platitude.

I do not suffer too baldy from my dyslexia where reading is concerned, which is a blessing, I adore reading, escaping into the fantasy world held within the pages. However, I do read very slowly, letters have a tendency to dance around on a page, swapping places with each other, and I often have to read and reread a sentence many times over before I actually understand the words and what is being said. My attention wanders, especially when a writer uses too many adjectives to describe an object, room, character etc. I have already formed an image in my mind of the thing involved and the extra information clogs up my thinking. My solution is to skim, stopping here and there to read more thoroughly if I see something that needs the extra effort. This is fine where books, magazines, and the like are concerned, but it becomes a gargantuan task with contracts, forms, and other legal documents. People who don't have dyslexia find legal jargon hard to fathom, so for a dyslexic it becomes utter gobbledygook… perhaps that is a good way for a non-dyslexic to experience dyslexia and gain some understanding of the condition.

Writing is something I do with relative ease. I enjoy it because it allows me to express all the things which are going on inside of me, which I would never be able to express through speech. Spelling is often an issue, but with Spellcheck this becomes less of an issue - although when UK English meets US English my brain does wobble a bit on the brink of meltdown. Then I remind myself that the spelling does not matter as long as I know what I am saying, and anyone who happens upon my written words can also catch the gist of them. One thing you will find in my writing is a lot of repetition. Of words and ideas. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I form friendly bonds with certain words, their meaning takes on imagery, for feelings and ideas, they express a panoply of things to me, so I use them frequently. 'Lovely' is one of those words. My friends are probably tired of hearing the word because I use it so often, but they are all very lovely people and forgive me my quirks. Sometimes too, the sound of a word will intrigue me and it will get lodged in my brain, repeated over and over like a mantra. Those are the times when I am certain that I am trying to drive myself completely insane. The second reason is that I developed a very irritating habit of repeating something I have said three times, sometimes more, to be certain that the person I was talking to had heard me and understood. I try to stop myself from doing this now, but it is so ingrained that I do it without knowing I am doing it.

The area where my dyslexia is at its worst is with numbers. They are a nightmare to deal with on so many levels. They never stay still. They like to shape shift. '3's become 'E's. '9's & '6's are the same number, and they both regularly become 'g's, 'b's, 'd's, and 'p's. I have this problem with letters too, 'M' & 'W' are interchangeable, but with numbers it reaches critical level. It is important to work with numbers to manage finances, to communicate via the telephone, I cannot count the amount of times I have messed up a phone number, and to make measurement calculations amongst other things. As soon as someone uses a measurement to describe something to me, my mind goes blank. They could be speaking Elvish as far as I am concerned. When I do my finances, it takes a long time, and I usually have a horrific migraine at the end of it, which can only be cured by darkness, sleep, and incredibly strong medication.

Time is another dyslexic mystery. It is an abstract concept, and holds no sway whatsoever over the dyslexic mind. Wearing a watch makes me panic, so I only use one when I have to be at an appointment. My entire day will be devoted to the appointment, as the slightest distraction will cause me to forget about it and miss it. Timed tests are torture. I took a timed IQ test once. Needless to say I did not finish it, and was not highly graded for it. I was average, which is good, but curiosity pushed me to take an untimed IQ test. Not one with the same questions, that would have been cheating, and very boring. My score was elevated from my previous one. I am not a genius. I know that. Though many geniuses have been identified as being dyslexic, it is not necessarily the case with everyone with dyslexia. The problem with timed tests is that the questions need to be read and answered very quickly. With dyslexia, reading quickly leads to errors of perception. Answering quickly can lead to mistakes, which would not happen in a timeless scenario.

Recently I met a man who had just taken a test for dyslexia, and had been diagnosed as a sufferer. I used that word because he described it that way. He saw the diagnosis as an excuse for never having to make an effort at anything anymore because he had a socially recognised disability. That annoyed me. I wanted to punch him. Dyslexia is a challenge, but within the challenge lie many gifts. The best resource for information about the positive side of dyslexia is The Gift of Dyslexia - Why Some of the Smartest People Can't Read and How They Can Learn by Ronald D. Davis. It is written by a person with dyslexia for people with dyslexia. He also has a website with enough information to cover all your questions and needs concerning the matter… although the website could be a bit more friendly to dyslexic eyes. I will forgive him that because his book was tremendously useful to me in helping me to feel less awkward and more confident about having dyslexia.

There is so much more I could say about a subject which is such an intricate part of my life, and which I have great affection for, but if you, like me, have dyslexia and are reading this, then your mind has already wandered many times, and the effort to keep it focused to get to the end has been Herculean. I appreciate it. Thank you. The End.

Jennifer Day

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