A Journey of Discovery and Acceptance
A Shared Experience
I thought I would write this blog today to share a little of my story and experience in the hope that it may help you the reader. If you have a diagnosis or suspect that you may have either dyslexia or dyscalculia you may experience feelings of anxiety around education and jobs, you may find yourself unhelpfully comparing yourself to others and it may lead to self-limiting ideas. Here’s the thing, you may find yourself saying things like “it’s just reality and it is not self-limiting” but is it?
So, for many years I knew that there were aspects of me that let’s just say felt a little under par. I recall being in school maths lessons in the lowest sets possible and I simply couldn’t comprehend the subject at all. In shame, I tried in desperation to cover up what I thought was a real inadequacy of mine.
I noted that I LOVED English and my vocabulary verbally was quite extensive however writing it on paper I quite often spelt things as they sounded. I learned to compensate for this in other areas whilst pushing to the back of my mind the aspects of me that cause me concern.
The Horror on Forms
When I got forms through the post that I needed to complete I would quite often call the sender and enquire what I had to do. 20 years ago when we could speak to a person I think I was more able to sort aspects of my life as my strength was verbal and not written. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like reading or couldn’t read because I did and can. I had aspirations in life but there was this nagging part of my life that kept coming up time and time again and no matter how I tried I couldn’t shake it. I remember having a receptionist job in a dentist whereby I had calculations to make. Armed with a calculator I thought I would be fine. There were only ever 3 brackets of payment in this job so after time I memorised what I needed to do and if there were additional things I had a cash register that did the rest ….. Phew! I would like to say that was as easy as it gets but some days even that challenged me and I found myself feeling such shame and I carried feelings of being “ less than”. I didn’t share those aspects in case people concluded I was ‘stupid’
Forms were the absolute pain of my life and boy o boy did I get frustrated. I always dreamed of academia however I started to think in a fashion that wasn’t helpful. I seriously thought that I would never achieve and I resigned myself to never fulfilling my dreams and aspirations.
The start of a wonderful journey
Fast forward many years and I embarked upon my journey to be a therapist. I knew that I wanted to become a counsellor psychotherapist but I knew at the bottom of me it wasn’t possible, or at least I thought it wasn’t. I remember starting with a 6-week introduction and instantly I knew I had found my vocation. A vocation that I strongly wanted to do but wasn’t sure how it would pan out. I managed to go through levels 2 and 3 of my training and my tutor always made comments on my convoluted work. This was me scared of missing things out in my assignments so I went belt and braces and packed things in there.
Then when it came to my level 4 and as I was organising my final portfolio which had to be referenced for the exam board to assess the gremlin of maths and numbers came back out to bite me. Suddenly my passing or failing became hinged upon numbers, dates and criteria. I felt so out of my depth. I was told if it wasn’t referenced right it would fail ?!
Friend to the rescue
If it hadn’t been for a really good friend of mine who helped me cross reference criteria’s amd put it in numerical order I would have been stuck. I will forever remember her support when I needed her. I was deeply saddened and affected by what was happening. I knew internally that I had thrived in my knowledge and
Understanding I just could not reference my work, match-up criteria and code things. I had unhelpful comments from my tutor like “Paula, this isn’t about numbers it’s easy I don’t know why you’re like this”. I knew exactly why I was like it. I decided to brave it and share with my tutor that I was getting numbers mixed up and criteria wrong and I was struggling to put it into an order. It took great bravery and my tutor shared that I was making it harder than it was and she felt it was about me looking at disability and not ability. I have to say at that point I concluded I would never ever make myself that vulnerable again. I vowed I would never say a word and I would soldier on
Fast forward to my degree, the very place that allowed me to make peace with over 40 years of struggling. I had the most wonderful tutor and academic support team who very quickly spotted that I had the knowledge but upon reading my work they felt parts were missing in transit. Very kindly it was shared that they thought I may have dyslexia. I was shocked, I knew about the maths but I didn’t think I was dyslexic. I decided to break my vow and share what had happened at college and how that all my life had been a struggle with maths. I was referred to the Educational Psychologist who did several of tests I’d become a little bit of a class joke in University with my copious amount of reading and the number of books I had. what I’d never EVER shared with anybody is how many times I had to read something for it to sink in.
Then came a day in my life that I never thought would happen a day when I made peace with over 40 years of struggle and hardship. I had my answers and the Ed Psych shared with me that I have Dyscalculia and mild Dyslexia and a processing disorder. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry……. Now I also had a reason for why I would read the same thing over and over. Many years of habits and secrets suddenly made sense too. All the times my mum said “ Paula, you write as you talk” which often left me feeling embarrassed as clearly, she felt I couldn’t even write a letter properly. All the phone calls I made as the forms didn’t make sense…….Hallelujah, years of utter heartbreak, all those years of resigning myself to never getting anywhere in life and voila, just like that it all made sense. Not only that but now that people knew they could also help me. I had specialist software on my computer that was marvellous and really helped when it came to composing academic work. I could literally feel myself going from strength to strength. I began to think “ Perhaps you do have a place in academia”. For the first time in my life, I was supported with my education. I remember being so darned happy that finally what had always been on the inside was finding a way out. Thanks to my wonderful lecturers and a wonderful lady in the academic support team I graduated from University with a First Class BA Hons degree
Embracing the next challenge
Then came my next challenge, I wanted to do my job and to help people as a therapist but to help them I had to, first of all, let them know I was there. The thought of putting myself on the internet and social media scared the life out of me. I was sure that I would be shamed, what if I misspelt something what if I was humiliated and thousands of people saw it, would people think I wasn’t a good therapist. My negative thoughts went on and on. Until one day I bit the bullet so to speak and I went for it. I had software on my computer and hey I am human, I am fallible as all humans are. I began to have ownership of what I was doing. I went to a CPD (continuing professional development) event and a wonderful lady said. Why not put this in a blog Paula as this could help so many people. I came away thinking “what’s to lose” and it may well help somebody going through the same.
So, the lesson in this for me was to never shame myself. The lesson to the world was if we put people in the right setting we can support them to thrive. I smile now as I look back as going through this means that I don’t just sit there as a therapist without experience. I sit there with you fully empathising as even though the path may vary I do know the struggle.
Thriving in the right setting
If we put a cactus in Antarctica we can’t expect it to survive, the same principle with us humans. Give us the right setting, the right conditions and no matter what the barrier with the right support we reach our potential. Dyslexia and dyscalculia is part of the wonderful world of neurodiversity and if my sharing a tiny snippet of my story helps you then it will have been a blog post worth writing. We may sometimes feel alone, we may sometimes feel less than, we may sometimes feel embarrassed but remember “Feelings are not facts”
I felt I couldn’t do it, I felt I wasn’t smart enough or good enough…. it took over 40 years for me to be able to say “the FACT was that I could and I was. There, Finally, I said it “ I was enough just as I was! “
And so are you!