I was always quite quiet when I was a young kid. Riddled with fear, I remember taking naps in the Head Mistresses office of infant school, she could see I was a highly stressed child. The anxiety of academia was just too much. I sat on a table in my first year of school with 3 others, we were the table that couldn’t spell our names. We were the yellow table, the underdogs. As pages were ripped out of our exercise books and our tin of flash cards grew we began to realise we might not be as clever as the other kids. As I journeyed through junior school the humiliation of staying behind after class because my spelling wasn’t good enough was becoming unbearable. I was moved into a class without my friends as they thought I would do better. Alone and feeling thick I decided I didn’t want to play this game anymore. I quickly learnt that I was better at talking. Being cheeky and trying to make your friends laugh is a lot easier than doing your work. I was labelled a trouble-maker, lazy and rude. Only the last part I would agree with.
My school career continued in a similar vein until Sixth Form College. I managed to scrape in and found myself doing quite well in the subjects I enjoyed. These were those subject heavily marked on non-written exams. I debated till I was blue in the face, I stood in front of my peers and delivered passionate talks on literature and film. I was actually enjoying myself. Surprisingly I found myself going to university, as I sat petrified in a lecture hall I’d never felt so out of my depth. But surprisingly I started doing ok, I was interested enough to pour over my essays for hours trying to make sure they were right and to my luck there was always a percentage on presentation which always pulled my marks up. I had enough time on my hands to do things properly and whilst I wasn’t the best in the class I wasn’t the worst. It was like a new beginning.
When I was in my third year of university my lecturer called me to her office. She had marked one of my papers grading it high and an external had cross marked it and failed me. I was in shock. I’d worked really hard on that essay and knew that I’d made some good points. My lecturer told me in no uncertain terms that I was dyslexic, not stupid. As she knew me she knew what I was trying to say in my essays, she heard me speak up in debates and deliver many presentations. A wave of recognition rushed over me, finally an answer to why I’d always struggled with writing, why I couldn’t pick up spelling, why I was always so much more comfortable speaking.
To confirm my diagnosis I headed down to the learning support centre and after 2 hours of intensive tests I was officially dyslexic. I even had an ID card to prove it. The grades in the latter part of my final year were 10% higher than previously. I’ve never enjoyed learning as much as I did during that time, with the extra time in exams and help from my new friends at the learning support centre I was finally hitting my stride. Knowing that I wasn’t stupid was a huge weight off my shoulders. But then came real life. Finishing university and starting a career proved challenging. I worked in administrative roles and sending an email to ‘all’ with a spelling mistake does not look good. I remember a line manager saying to me ‘can’t you control it? Sarah has dyslexia as well and she just double checks her emails’. I’d double, triple and quadruple check everything I sent but sometimes you just can’t see it. There is an assumption that if you make a spelling mistake you’re being lazy or that you don’t care. But the thing about spelling is that it isn’t something you ‘can’t be bothered to do’, it comes naturally or it doesn’t. Some of us just have to think about it a bit more.
The anxiety of dyslexia never really goes away. Each time I start a new job I panic that I will be found out. That someone will regret their decision of hiring me because I have a learning difficulty. I have had jobs where I’ve told people and it has made my working life a lot easier. But I still think there is a stigma attached to it. I never know when I should tell people, on my first day? During the interview? When I feel stressed or upset my dyslexia gets worse, I start to stumble on my words, I can’t string the simplest of emails together and I just feel blocked. Sometimes I feel so dizzy I think I’m going to pass out, all through fear of being labelled stupid. There is no learning support centre in real life or marks for your presentation skills to pull up your written work. Everyday provides a new challenge to overcome.
To combat dyslexia I write this blog and I try to read every day. It keeps my brain moving and helps me feel confident. And it really does help. But I don’t think I will ever be totally free from it. It is the skeleton in my closet, my Achilles heel and the chip on my shoulder.
So maybe next time if you see someone’s made a mistake on an email or in a piece of writing please excuse the typos, we’re trying our best.