I was identified as dyslexic at the age of 49. It was like finding the missing piece of an unfinished puzzle (to paraphrase Steven Spielberg). Finally, my life made sense. In the days that followed, I did what I always do: I wrote it out. Then, I published my story on my book blog Lost and Found Books.
Here is my dyslexia story. Something lost, something found.
I love books. I don’t love reading them.
A strange admission for a writer and book lover. But it’s time I told the truth: I find reading hard. At times, reading makes me uncomfortable and anxious.
That’s because I’m dyslexic.
I got the diagnosis last week. A revelation after my 49-year-battle with the written word.
School was the worst. In my day, schools did not accommodate for learning disabilities. Neurodiversity was not a thing. You were either lazy or stupid. Take your pick.
I was diagnosed after a lengthy battery of tests that took place over several weeks. When the psychologist delivered her diagnosis she asked me:
“How did you get through without any learning supports? How did you do it?”
The answer is simple: I didn’t know any better. Also, I was stubborn, contrary, and a dreamer. These things, I’ve discovered, can get you through just about anything.
And here is how it went. My life with dyslexia:
My preschool years. I clearly remember having trouble learning simple things: adding numbers, learning the alphabet, telling time, tying my shoelaces. Thankfully, my parents never seemed to worry about it. I wasn’t labelled a slow learner at home. These years, the years before school, were pure bliss.
Me in primary school. My mom remembers getting the call from school: my grade 2 teacher said I couldn’t read. Perplexed, the teacher told my parents that I might be colour blind. They sent me to an eye doctor, who found my eyes to be in perfect working order. It was something like the test documented in this 1944 Life magazine article on dyslexia.
My home was full of books. It didn’t matter that I didn’t read them: I learned to appreciate their beauty and wisdom. My favourite was a pretty picture book edition of Heidi. I got lost in the illustrations, and the story of a little girl overcoming adversity.
I had an active imagination: I became a storyteller. I kept a daily journal. I started a newspaper to report on family gossip. (No wonder I am drawn to blogging.) My mind was full of stories, on a constant loop. And always with a happy ending.
Me in middle school. While the smarter kids got streamed into French immersion, my teachers recommended that I stay in the English program. I was secretly relieved.
Report cards came and went, always with the same comment: “She is a pleasure to have in the class. But she needs to apply herself.”
Me in high school. Anxiety was my constant companion. Do not, do not, ask me to read out loud. Please, please, please I beg you don’t make me do a math problem in front of the class.
My math teacher started tutoring me. At some point, I don’t remember when, he gave up. He said I would never learn how to do math (“some girls don’t,” he said). So why try? I dropped math. Same for science.
Writer John Irving, who speaks eloquently about his dyslexia, has said: “I simply accepted the conventional wisdom of the day—I was a struggling student; therefore, I was stupid.”
I felt stupid, but I never actually believed it.
Me in grade 13. My last year of high school. The guidance counsellor said I would never go to university. I think he thought he was doing me a favour.
Me in university. Never say never. My home university had an open door policy, and so I was accepted for a liberal arts degree despite my low marks. At university, I discovered a perfect world where creativity and critical thinking were valued above all. I graduated with honours. Eventually, I went on to do a master’s degree.
Me as a professional writer. After university, I kept on writing and this became a decent-paying job. My learning challenges seemed to give me an advantage as a writer: a desire to understand things deeply, explain things clearly, and the patience to read and reread, and write and rewrite. When I am in in my writing bubble, I am able to (indeed, I must) block out the world. My focus is singular, and nothing can tear me away when I am my writing–just ask my husband.
And now we are here. My diagnosis has come with mixed emotions: sadness, regret, relief, hope. Has dyslexia held me back? Yes. Has it ruined my life? Absolutely not. Along with the challenges comes curiosity, creativity, and compassion. Something lost, something found.
This is the edited version of a post first published on my book blog Lost and Found Books, December 8, 2015.