We continue our #SafeZone series with a new submission from a young African who’s overcome the limitations of Dyslexia, rising above it, founding a fashion house and modeling agency. She shares her experience.
My first thought; did I spell that correctly? My second thought; how will I, a dyslexic, get through composing a whole article? My earliest memory of Dyslexia comes from primary school. I remember trying to study for an exam and getting frustrated because I didn’t understand my own notes. I also recall an English extracurricular I was placed in towards the end of primary school that included spelling tests where we had to spell words out to the whole class; a class of about 30 students.
Getting through secondary school is undeniably one of the hardest fights I’ve had to put up with. Trying to recall it seems more difficult than I thought. A subject I struggled with the most was Math; no surprise here. Till this day, my father thinks the reason I didn’t fail this subject was that of the home tutor he got me in my final year. He will probably never know about my sleepless nights trying to figure out how to solve simultaneous equations because getting the workings right would give me more marks on my paper. Or how I turned my literature notes into colour coding central so I’d remember the difference between the Literary Devices we studied because just reading their meanings made no sense. I crawled my way through IGCSE, passing just enough to get me to A Levels. This is where the depression with dealing with dyslexia crept into my life.
It’s advanced literature class and we’re reading Pride and Prejudice. We’re going around the room reading about a page each. Before it gets to my turn, I practice using my thumb to follow the words so I don’t get lost and the page doesn’t turn into a sea of alphabets; this happens frequently. The person before me reads as I pay attention really carefully so I know when to start speaking. It’s finally my turn. The moment I anticipated nine readers before I have finally arrived, I take a deep breath and start saying the words my thumb is beneath. There’s no rhythm, there’re no syllables, I’m just saying words. I even ignore full stops. I got through my page but it was terrible. I couldn’t feel my tongue or thumb because anxiety had consumed my body. The only reason I wasn’t stopped midway is that my literature tutor was a nice guy; bless his soul.
This is the exact moment I thought “okay, maybe I have a problem” because what just happened didn’t seem normal. Everyone read their page perfectly so why couldn’t I? I really wish I could say this was also the moment I realized I had dyslexia. It wasn’t. I had read in front of people before. I had also had a bit of trouble reading in the midst of people but I never understood or knew the reason behind it.
The rest of AS (High School) was a blur. I only remember skits for that academic year. Like being extremely hard on myself for not understanding my business studies notes, screaming at my reflection for “being stupid” and hitting myself on the head hoping whatever was wrong with it would stop if I hit it hard enough. I remember cans of Redbull and post-its everywhere. My room was covered in colour coded notes and post-its. I also remember crying. I cried every day. I cried when I woke up, cried in the shower, cried while walking to a class about to begin a new topic knowing damn well I didn’t understand or recall the last three topics, I cried while in the sick bay after I had lied I wasn’t feeling too well just so I wouldn’t sit through huge textbooks and letters; so many letters that made up sentences that I couldn’t comprehend.
I remember barely finishing my exams with a none existent self-esteem and the words of one of my secondary school teachers on replay in my head; She won’t amount to anything. Words that meant nothing to me till after my AS exams. Despite the doubled work ethic of someone with dyslexia, we are often called lazy, unintelligent and even forgetful. This can have long-lasting effects on how we view ourselves because we know just how much effort we’re putting in. It’s more difficult when you don’t know you have dyslexia, which was my case. Luckily, it’s one of those things you can self-diagnose. It’s not just falling lines on a page, it’s fluently reading a sentence and having absolutely no clue what you just read regardless of reading it over and over again.
As a young adult, there are several ways dyslexia could disrupt your everyday life. Forgetfulness is one of them; I already hear a chorused “God forbid” from all the African parents. It’s okay, this is as real as it gets and non-spiritual and the fact is your kid probably has dyslexia. Forgetfulness will come in sneaky ways. You’ll forget conversations extensively had and get into arguments with the other party because they can’t believe you would forget a discussion you had 48 hours ago. You may forget instructions you’re given.
Another way dyslexia shows up in everyday life will be spelling. I thank Steve Jobs every day for autocorrect. People with dyslexia always find a way to communicate (even with themselves) without words; because it’s clearly not their strongest point. A significant amount of us don’t actually have a consistent inner voice, we use images and feelings to speak for ourselves.
I think the worst part about dyslexia is when you just can’t find the words to explain what’s going on with you. Not just with the disorder, with life. You can’t verbally vent so you paint some cryptic shit on a canvas and when people ask what your art means, you tell them “it’s whatever you want it to mean”. Because even if you found the words in your head, your mouth would mistranslate them and what you end up saying will have little to no meaning; that was more than personal, forgive me. My advice to you in all this will be to write everything down. Not really into pens and pads? Type it in your electronic device. Date your pages and make as many notes as you wish
If you see traits of dyslexia in someone you commute with frequently, in the words of Nasir from the Social Anxiety post, don’t be a dick. It’s unnecessary. Regardless of this shared disorder, everyone still varies in their own way. Dyslexia can be cognitive or developmental, it’s up to you to find your own system or process of dealing with it, don’t ever feel less special about yourself or abilities, don’t feel weakened or low, Dyslexia is something a lot of people deal with and you too can find more if you try.
Written By Sessi A. Koshoedo
Feature Art By Ose Adeniyi