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I Am a Dyslexic Writer…

I am a dyslexic learner and ever since I can remember I have struggled with spelling, learning (I had to read non-fictional books at least three times to be able to understand what means what), abstract concepts and ideas such as physics, chemistry (still makes me sick) and very low self-esteem.

When I was in pre-school, my teacher made me read a story in front of the room full of other six years old. I was terrified, and, at first, I couldn’t even get one word out. After a few minutes of struggling she finally told me to sit down. On that day I was called lazy for the first time in my life, an adjective that stuck with me for the rest of my formal schooling years.

My primary school physics teacher was the one who called me stupid first. He asked me a question and didn’t really like my honest answers so told me to leave the classroom (that was a punishment back then) and on my way out he did say to the rest of my classmates that I was just stupid.

The more years I spent in the formal education, the more I hated everything that had to do with school, schooling, and teachers.

During the longest 13 years of my life, having no other choices, I started developing more and more sophisticated coping mechanisms, which I have been using to this day.

My primary focus in school was to be liked and popular, even though I went through very quiet phases and didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was still desperate for attention. I don’t think that is anything unusual for a teenager. A lot of my energy went into being liked and into making sure that no one, and I mean no one, knew my secret. Back then I thought that my secret was that I was stupid and lazy because I couldn’t learn the way other people did.

I was never formally diagnosed; first of all, there was no such a thing as dyslexia in a communist Poland; a child was simply labelled stupid or lazy. Learning struggles or difficulties were not an option. In high school, just a few months before I took my A-levels, I was given some form of dyslexia test and a test for intelligence. I never received any of the results, and the school didn’t want to disclose them, even though I was already over 18 years old. Now, when I think about this, it might have been illegal. However, what I was told after the tests were: “I could take my A-levels as a dyslexic learner but. Exactly that fucking ‘but’, I couldn’t receive a higher grade than C.”

Once again, I was going to be punished for something that was completely off my hands. I didn’t accept the “amazing offer” since I knew that having C on my A Levels meant not only more humiliation at school and home, but also that if I wanted to go to the University in Poland, I had virtually no chances to be accepted, if my A Level marks were all C.

Having no other option and choice, I just focused on getting through the exams, graduating, and moving as far away from Poland as I possibly could (In reality I didn’t go that far but I still can and hopefully one day will).

I experienced tons of abuse from the teachers who couldn’t understand that I wasn’t able to bend my brain in a way, which would allow me to understand their subjects (I’m not going even to mention their teaching styles, which in most cases were below average).

In high school grade 2, if it wasn’t for a friend of mine (Aga, I’m eternally grateful for that, and I’m still amazed that we managed to pull this off), who took a chemistry test for me, I don’t think I would have been allowed to go to grade 3. I was so behind and couldn’t wrap my head around that subject at all. I guess if I were held back, I would have dropped out altogether.

When I left the formal schooling years behind, I was beyond happy. The freedom was wonderful. I could finally be me, or at least I thought so.

It wasn’t until 2017 when I realised that even though my miserable years of formal schooling were well behind me, I wasn’t entirely me.

In the summer of 2017, I decided to take my nine-year-old son out of school because he was showing the same dyslexic signs as I was. His school wasn’t accommodating, understanding, or even slightly helpful. It was an independent school, so usually, the expectations are higher, when it comes to accommodating kids with learning difficulties, but it was just wishful thinking on my part.

Since I graduated from high school in 1998 until 2017, I had never learnt much about dyslexia or didn’t even want to know more about it.

I guess I was afraid to learn about the condition I was born with, and which has made my life much harder in some respects, but also gave me the drive, resilience, creativity, and never give up attitude in life.

My plan for homeschooling my son was pretty straightforward. I was going to learn as much as I could about dyslexia and how to teach dyslexic kids; teach him at home on my own at first and then spread our wings and diverse our subjects and lessons.

The moment I started learning what dyslexia was and how it can affect people, who live with it, I was beyond emotional. I slowly started putting two and two together about why I behaved in certain ways and did what I did in the past and how those past decisions impacted my life.

For me, learning about dyslexia is a process, which started in September 2017 and, I guess, will continue for the rest of my life. What I have been doing so far, is to apply the academic knowledge to me and my son’s situation. On the intellectual level, I understand everything perfectly well, but it wasn’t until last week, the last week of September 2018, when everything started sinking in on the emotional level. I never previously realised how dyslexia could control and influence one’s life and life choices.

All my working life I was self-employed or I worked as a freelancer. I never experienced a 9-5 job until last week. I started a new job training where I needed to spell, and spell pretty fast. In my entire life, I was never a good speller, neither in English nor Polish. But I always used spell checkers or had other people check my spelling for me. But now I had none of that support and needed to do it on my own. It was terrifying, it was emotional, and I was ready to quit before I even started properly.

And then and there I had an epiphany. All my life I made fun of my dyslexia and my spelling. It was one of my coping mechanisms. My other coping mechanism was to be either self-employed or freelance so that I wouldn’t be in difficult/hard situations for me and I couldn’t be made feel like a failure, who couldn’t spell the simplest words.

In all honesty, I didn’t realise that avoidance and underachieving was part of my coping mechanism package.

After my epiphany, all those negative feelings and emotions I kept locking away in some dark place, came out and I felt like a helpless little girl back at school once again.

When people spell stuff for me, more often than not I can’t hear what they are saying; I get very stressed.

When I get stressed, my mind goes black, and I’m done. I don’t understand a word the person in front of me is saying, and I switch off. When I’m drained, I find it incredibly hard to talk and to find the right and correct words to express myself.

But it wasn’t until last week when I finally realised how many years I’ve spent hiding this difficulty from the world, and how challenging “hiding” has been and how much shame and fear has been attached to my dyslexia.

Since I’m a grown ass woman now, I’ve decided to talk to my managers about it. I just wanted to explain “what was wrong with me”. The moment I started talking about my problem, entirely out of my control, I cried twice.

I know it’s stupid, illogical and embarrassing to cry in front of strangers but I couldn’t stop the sadness for much longer.

All my life, I was trying to hide my dyslexia from people as if it was something shameful. I spend so much time and energy trying not to be found out. I applied for lower paid jobs in fear that my dyslexia was going to be found out and I was going to be screamed at, told that I was stupid or lazy because I couldn’t do a task or didn’t understand an instruction (instructions are also my nemesis).

All those feelings and fears are so deeply embodied in my body and soul that I’m just continually assuming that this is my personality, not a learning difficulty or a hidden disability.

But I know that I cannot live in fear and shame anymore. I’m letting you all know that I’m a dyslexic writer, filmmaking and content creator, I’m a mother, and I’m in my late 30’s.

The fear of being found out has stopped me from being me for so long; the amount of energy I used to hide my dirty “little” secret, the amount of time I spend underperforming and underachieving is unimaginable. Living in fear and shame is not what I want for me, for my son, or for anyone who experiences difficulties.

For now, I have decided to be kind to the scared dyslexic Magda, who is hiding somewhere in the corner, trying to come up with gazillion creative ways to cope. She needs lots of overdue love.

To all the dyslexic adults and children out there, you are all awesome, full of unusual gifts and talents. Stick to what you love, develop the skills you are good at, and be kind to yourself and accept your fantastic, amazing dyslexic brains. Don’t pay attention to haters and bullies who only thrive on hurting people; you don’t want those in your life. Celebrate your life every day because you are perfect the way you are.

I was hiding my dyslexia from people because I feared the rejection and besides I was ashamed. The fact that I have kept this as a shameful secret from everyone I started living in fear of being found out. If anyone looks at this from the outside, it is a perfect catch 22 and unless there is support in place the circle of shame, fear, underperforming and stress continues and finally becomes a norm.

Filed under: Clever Girl, London, London, Polish Gal in London

About the Author

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Magda Olchawska is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer and screenwriter. She writes not only about making films and writing but also about financially independent and sustainable lifestyle. Her current projects include Ecotopia Universe and School Runs.

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