Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Dyslexi-me


As you may know I have been off work for a while now, and I have been using that time to get back in touch with my own brain. In amongst the mess of the past year I felt like I've lost myself a little and lost track of where I'm going in life. For someone who has suffered with various mental health problems in the past, it's quite overwhelming to have to deal with so many things all at once. It becomes somewhat more difficult when you add dyslexia into the mix.

Now that might sound out of sorts to someone who doesn't have to deal with a problem like dyslexia. Everything you are is governed by your own brain, and when a part of your own brain doesn't connect it's naturally going to cause huge problems. Even writing this right now is so incredibly difficult because I'm actually having to go against how my brain naturally works.

You see, dyslexia is on the autistic spectrum. As someone who has spent the past few years working with children who have autism and Aspergers Syndrome, it has always felt a little odd to say that. It actually feels quite silly to compare the two, knowing the behavioural patterns someone with autism or Aspergers has to live with, my problems seem somewhat insignificant. Nevertheless, they are connected.

I'm not going to sit here and pretend I'm an expert on any of this, all I can do is use my own experience and talk about my own brain and the behavioural patterns I've observed in others. Hopefully, if you're interested, you'll bear with me while I try and work this out in words (seriously this shit is hard). When you're on the spectrum, at any part of it, your brain NEVER STOPS. I imagine a lot of people probably knows how this feels, especially if you have suffered with any amount of anxiety or depression before. But I mean, this is kind of different. Your brain never stops, but it also never completes a thought. It's like what I can only imagine having ADHD (and probably dyspraxia) feels like, and it's certainly no coincidence that a lot of people often have both (or multiple) conditions to deal with at the same time. My brain is disjointed. Things that come as second nature for most don't even come into consideration in my brain.

Whenever I'm in a situation where I need to tell someone I'm dyslexic (at work or in interviews etc), most people look at me with a confused or blank expression. As if something like not being able to spell should affect an interview, right? And then I try and explain exactly how this does affect my every day life, and people almost instantly switch off. People are happy just going on thinking it's such a minor thing to have to deal with, not being able to spell. I've even had people question if I am dyslexic based on my spelling ability, because even if I do say so myself, I am excellent at spelling. I think I'm probably good at spelling because I'm a very visual learner and I'm able to picture the word in my head. How could I possibly be dyslexic if I can spell?! Problem solved, right? It's just so much more than that. Some people with dyslexia can spell, and they are still dyslexic,  but because it's not a tangible thing that someone can see being a problem, they choose to think it's not a problem at all. (Sounding familiar, depressed friends?)

My brain is constantly ticking over with all of these questions and thoughts and answers and none of them ever finish or come together. It's so loud in there that it's incredibly overwhelming sometimes. When I try and talk out loud, words just fall out in a row and they carry on coming and for at least 50% of the conversation I have absolutely no idea what I'm even saying! Words become meaningless, they just happen on auto-pilot, because my brain is dealing with that one activity of talking, so I can't think about what I'm saying too. I can listen to someone and hear their point, and then I try and respond and a few words in I have not only completely forgotten what my point was but I'm still talking and making several points at the same time and I either start to rant about all of these things because I'm overwhelmed with thoughts or I just talk and talk until someone else takes over. It's incredibly frustrating. It's like when you lose a thought, which in itself is an annoying thing, but it's happening constantly, every few seconds or minutes. Two of my very close friends are dyslexic, and after I have talked to them I often feel as if we have talked around the whole world, because a conversation which started about, say, my job, has ended at african snails hibernating. In just one short conversation we can cover literally dozens of topics. I often wonder if anyone listening in could make any sense of it.

When I'm writing down words they also just fall out. Writing a simple greeting card can go one of two ways: Either I let it fall out and it becomes an entire paragraph about absolutely nothing with a few words that don't even make sense with some spellings out of place because they're remotely similar to other words, or I can stop and think about what I am going to say and about a week later I will have a card with a simple message because I will have written 20 drafts of it.

Experts in dyslexia talk about processing speeds and reading ages. I've never really known what it meant before in terms of the affect it had on me and my life, but  more and more I've started to recognise dyslexia coursing through my brain and my every thought and my every action. It is so much more of who I am than I had ever thought possible. When I read anything longer than say 5 sentences together it takes for ever. My processing speed can only take in such short amounts of information at once. So to break it down, my brain is trying to control my eyes to read the words. It is also trying to attach those words to meanings. It is also trying to piece those meanings back together into something that makes sense as words together. It is then trying to place that into my brain to keep it there long enough to piece it together with the thing I read before it and the thing I'm about to read after it. I can manage about six words in a row at any one time, and those six words I will need to read at least four times to actually take it in.

On top of all of that, for some stupid reason reading black text on a white background makes the words literally vibrate and move around! Having studied graphic design for so many years I know a little bit about how people usually read and how type faces and colour and spacing can affect it (ie. you read across the top of words and serifs can distract from the word and make it harder to recognise the letters etc), right now I have no idea where I was going with this. Maybe it's just an interesting little tid-bit for you, who knows. I'm sure there was a point here somewhere, but no, it's gone.

Anyway, it might all sound super simple to you to be able to see these words and make reading happen, I don't know, maybe that does sound simple when reading doesn't cause you any problem. When you're able to perform an action without even thinking about it, you're going to naturally struggle to understand why other people can't do that, right?

Another way in which it affects me is organisation and generally tidying. My mum used to say I just can't see mess, which sounds ridiculous, but I really can't! People would try and talk to me as if I'm stupid, saying simple things like "When you walk around just pick things up!" or "Just put things away when you're finished with them". Seriously, I know those are the answers, those are the words I have been hearing for 25 years. It's so easy to you, much like enjoying reading is easy for you. I have to get from A to B. I think of a task I need to do, like I need to let the dog outside. That's the only thing I can concentrate on doing, because while I'm trying to get from the sofa to the door my mind is going ten to the dozen. A to B becomes A-ZSFGETHFSMGUMEMSBFI- oh and B has now happened, when did that happen?! I can't take in the thing on the floor that needs to be picked up as well. Before I have even closed the door again my next task will already be in my head and I then have to go and do that. The thing on the floor hasn't even come into view in my brain.

I sometimes think I am quite funny, because sometimes people laugh at the things I say, but I have got to be honest about it, I know I am absolutely not clever or at all witty, I have literally just said something with no prior thought. I think people just find me funny because the way I think is slightly different. I know I don't have a regular brain, and sometimes my first reaction to someone talking to me is just to say any words that come to mind. I have a pretty good example for this, and it's something that I've never been able to forget because it's ridiculous. I was once at a friend's parents' bonfire night BBQ and there were some young toddlers there and they were all close family friends of my friend. I was sat in the kitchen eating some food (with plastic cutlery) and there was a small toddler beside me with no nearby parents and I hadn't even really noticed him there until he started crying. I mean, this kid was fully bawling. His father came rushing over and asked what was wrong, and my instant reaction was to tell said father that I had STABBED HIS SON WITH MY FORK. What even is that?! Why would that happen?! Of course I hadn't stabbed his son with my fork!!! The words fell right out of my mouth before I could do anything about it! I didn't even realise what I had said until about 10 minutes after I'd said it. Luckily his father kind of awkwardly laughed, and said something witty in return (that I couldn't reply to) and they were on their way, but it could have actually been quite serious.

I often get really embarrassed about talking because I really like to talk, but I am also acutely aware of the amount I talk and the fact I don't know what I am saying. I'm often left tired and confused after conversations because I'm trying to piece together what the conversation was about and what I might have said. I like to try and converse normally, and sometimes this involves recalling facts, but usually the facts I recall aren't quite there (because retaining information is something I can't do) so my brain will have just auto-filled the gap with anything at all, and so a lot of what I say is also bullshit. It's really difficult to admit to that right after you've said something, so sometimes when people question it or say it's wrong I try and defend the thing I have just said and I'm trying to search my brain to connect it to something and I don't know if I have just convinced myself of it's truth or because I know that at one point some information was in my brain about that subject or fact. It's never a thought out thing though, I never intentionally lie about anything but sometimes I can't help it because it just comes out. And it's hard to admit to something being a lie because I didn't lie on purpose, I'm just so confused about everything!

I absolutely don't mean to be writing any of this with a view to complaining about my life. Although I am saying all of this is difficult to deal with sometimes, it's my brain and I'm used to it and the way it does things because I have never known anything else. I'm merely writing all of this because I think it's healthy to become self-aware (hopefully in a non-egotistical kind of way). It's useful to know about the tools you are working with. I am comfortable with talking about it, in the same way I am comfortable with talking about my mental health problems. Something I have found very useful with regards to that is to recognise patterns in it, and to recognise the different feelings involved. For example, I am able to recognise the differences in feelings of depression, low self-esteem and grief, and am therefore able to deal with them differently. It feels healthy for me to know my own behavioural problems so I am able to be honest about them. Maybe in some of this, some other people can find answers too. It's also kind of nice to get some of this out there as an awareness thing. I am fully aware that my behaviour might sometimes make people very uncomfortable, especially introverted people who probably find me quite full-on or difficult to hear through all of my inane babbling (sorry about that introverts). But it's also quite nice to really have an understanding of yourself. The brain is a very complex, but very beautiful thing.





Thank you so much if you have stuck with this and read it all. I hope at least some of it made sense, I'm just going with it because I've been writing it for hours and I don't really know exactly what it all says. Living life on a constant whim. You get used to it.



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