I love books. I don’t love reading them.
A strange admission for a book blogger. 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. Text is not stationary or static to my eyes. Words are like ants crawling in crazy directions across the page. I follow them, but I can’t pin them down.
In his art, John Court shows text as it sometimes appears to me–as strange and disconnected shapes rather than recognizable symbols.
I got my dyslexia 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.
The psychologist 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 this stuff. I wasn’t labelled a slow learner at home. These years, the years before school, were pure bliss.
Me in primary school. I could not read as well as my peers. Perplexed, my 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.
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 grade 7. While the smarter kids got streamed into French immersion, my teachers recommended that I stay in the English program. I was 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.
So what of this blog? It will remain a place to share my love of books, stories, libraries, and the creative process. But it will morph a little to reflect my experience as a dyslexic reader, writer and mother. A safe place for every kind of reader. My little bubble blog where reading is not intimidating, words come easily, and there is always a happy ending.