Why I Paused, and Why I Restarted

20Jul14

Recently, I came across an article on Wired entitled: “This Beautiful Textbook is Designed to Make You Feel Dyslexic.” I promptly choked on my couscous, and wondered why on earth someone would want to experience something I struggle with everyday. I would first like to point out that this is not an article about dyslexia, just an illustrative art/media project, and it only addresses one of the many final forms this – whatever – can take.

This is not intended to be a ‘woe is me’ piece, it is more about how I feel both vindicated, ashamed, and ridiculous. As a humanities PhD candidate, reading and writing are the foundations of your, well, everything. I had had some warnings that I had issues, but it was not till about a year ago, when I was sitting in my supervisors foreboding office feeling incredibly small and slightly sweaty, that she asked if I was dyslexic. I am pretty sure I did a spot-on impression of a carp fish. She recommended I get tested, then end of meeting. I picked up my belongings, quietly shut the door, and stood at the top of the stairs for a while. I was mortified. The capillaries in my face were fully dilated, and my skin was so flushed it probably looked bruised. Naturally, I rushed to the washroom, locked the door and began to pace and hyperventilate again. If you are currently reading this, and thinking I need to get a grip, I am right there with you. Present me looks at that version of myself having a metaphysical crisis, and tells her to pull herself together. As the saying goes, “Hindsight is twenty-twenty.”

Then I started to think critically about it, what if she was right? Everyone mixes up the order of numbers, or is terrible at telling left from right, or spells a word fifteen different ways in which every incarnation that appears on the paper looks simultaneously correct and nonsensical. Right? I would hide my spelling or reading blunders by laughing it off, but the truth is difficult to escape. I was being childish and I knew it, but I was scared. Scared that I would never be good enough to be a PhD student and have the bright academic career I dreamed of, and this just added more fuel to the self-loathing fire. I lost confidence in my own work, I found myself unable to write without second guessing myself on the spelling of every single word. I will not spell words when asked, and I am paranoid about writing before groups. However, hiding is foolish, and I am doing myself a serious disservice by trying to maintain this status quo.

The signs of my dyslexia have always been there, but there was no real infrastructure to deal with kids like me when I was growing up. The children who were dyslexic were made fun of and had to stay late for extra help. For me, that was weakness. I always feared being seen as stupid or a failure, so when I had problems, I just tried to work it out myself. If I had asked for assistance, or if we had known the signs, maybe I would have learned useful tools to read faster and write clearer. Instead I have a hodgepodge of semi-realised and nonsensical coping mechanisms, and I worry that I am too set in my ways to change them.

Like Stella, I am trying to get my groove back! (Ugh, yes, I am the worst.) I am restarting here to keep my brain and typing fingers in shape. Written communication is an important part of what I do, and acting like an ostrich will not improve my situation. The shame that I feel about being dyslexic is twisted and does, in some part, stem from my early schooling and academia; though I hope to vanquish it someday. In the end, I am the one who needs to find a better approach, one that suits me and maintains my voice (no stuffy academic writing for me!). Luckily, I am the sum of my parts, and this is just one piece. I vow try to keep awkward structure, obvious typos, and any other crimes against grammar to a minimum (I should note that this post has undergone over twenty-five revisions…). Now there is a start.

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