Monday 29 November 2021

Dyslexia Blog - I spent 33 years wondering what was wrong with me then….

Somtimes nothing makes sense. I spent the first 33 years of my life thinking that there was someting wrong with me. I felt that I had been transported from a parallel universe, to one where nothing was quite right. School was a nightmare, I felt the constant urge to want to escape. I'd often deliberately be naughty so I'd get slung out of classes. I can remember when I was at St Vincents, in what we then called Junior 2 (I'd have been 8 or 9 years old). I got slung out of class regularly, our classes were old portacabins on the edge of a big lawn. I started bringing in pieces of bread to feed the sparrows, who'd congregatclose by. Eventually one of the nuns, who ran the school, spotted me feeding the sparrows and all hell broke loose. I was made to feel like I was the personification of evil.  I couldn't see why it was wrong, as I'd been raised to be nice to animals , yet feeding the sparrows after you'd been slung out of class, was like committing a mortal sin in the eyes of the school.   At the time, I just accepted I was a bad person, but in truth our teachers took zero interest in  me and my work. When my mum died in 2008, I found a stack of my old Primary School exercise books. This picture is a graphic illustration of this. All I got was  tick. 

Click on image to enlarge

Would you give this work a tick? Or would you suspect that maybe the child had a learning difficulty and needed extra help? I could forgive it if they'd missed the odd complicated misspelling, but look at it? The person who marked this work went to teacher training college, qualified and was paid to educate me. They weren't volunteers standing in front of a class out of the goodness of their heart. I look at this and I feel quite angry. Would it have been better for me if they'd identified an issue? Maybe, maybe not, but hopefully they wouldn't have subjected me to the cruel jibes that I had to put up with for most of my schooling.

I can't lie. I improved, especially after I was fourteen years old. The neurones in my brain somehow managed to join up, to work a little bit better. I still make silly mistakes, I still don't really understand the rules of grammar or punctuation properly. My wife and daughter have both offered to proof read blogs for me. I choose not to let them, most of the time, as I feel that leaving the mistakes in is provocative and that is a good thing if you want to make a point. My point is that a dyslexic is quite capable of writing an interesting blog. 

But I jump ahead of myself. As I said, I felt that I was very disconnected for the first 33 years of my life. I'd suffered with issues of anxiety and anger. When I found out I was going to be a parent, I realised that I needed to address the issues with anger. I booked in for some anger management counselling. After five minutes, I was asked if I'd ever been assessed for dyslxia. The answer was "No". I didn't evern know what it meant. Sure I'd heard the term and I 'knew' dyslexics can't spell and are  'a bit thick' (ie I knew the rather poor sterotypical view), but my spelling wasn't the worse and I'd long since stopped considering myself thick. However as it was part of the process, I got myself assessed and to my horror, sure enough I was dyslexic. The graphic above from the Utah Dyslexia Centre demonstrates many of the misconceptions about dyslexia. 

What I find shocking is that many of the symptoms listed describe me, but I never even realised were a feature of my make up. Take anxiety. I'd have never put this down as something I've suffered with. A couple of years ago I was discussing my teenage years with a friend who is a doctor. I mentioned that I'd been proscribed Valium for depression when I was a teenager. I'd had issues and my parents had taken me to a paediatrician. My parents had always told me I was depressed. My friend informed me that valium wasn't given for depression, it was a treatment for anxiety. This was a real shock. When I look at the course of my life, when I was fourteen I started self medicating myself, with things both legal and illegal. I found this helped greatly. I spent the next four years constantly using whatever I could that made me feel OK. I didn't want to lie around staring at the ceiling feeling stoned or drunk, I just wanted to be able to function. When I was eighteen, I moved to Stockholm for six months. I left my mental baggage behind. I found, much to my surprise, that without all of my friends and family, who 'knew what I was like' around me, I didn't need anything to function. I spent a lot of time practicing guitar, writing songs, reading and talking to people. As no one knew I was thick, I could get away with pretending to be intelligent. I got very good at fooling people in this matter. 

As all of my new friends were into music, we'd sit around listening to music, discussing the finer points. Coming from London, with a good knowledge of the up and coming bands, I was seen as a pretty knowledgable sort of chap. I quite enjoyed being treated like a human being. After six months, I returned. I've no idea if my friends noticed a difference, but I| felt I was a very different person. If nothing else, I knew I could be self sufficient and didn't need to rely on anyone. I think that is perhaps the biggest lesson anyone can learn. 

Our prisons are full of people with dyslexia and other learning issues. I've often wondered what role the anger pent up over years of humiliation has to play in all of this? I wonder what role self medication plays in all of this? I know plenty of dyslexics who are very intelligent, but don't have the pieces of paper needed to get the best life chances. Some adapt and find a lucrative niche, some don't. 

So lets look at the Utah Dyselxia Centre's list above. How does it apply to me?

1. Letter Reversals. I used to do this quite a lot. These days, I always use a computer so I can't really tell, although I think I'd just about got over this by the time I was 11-12 years old

2. Slow Reader. This is me. As an experiment a few years ago, I sat next to my wife and read the book she was reading on a plane. I found that she'd turn the page when I was only 60% down it. 

3. Struggle with Directions. This isn't a problem for me. I'm pretty good at finding my way around.

4. Delayed langauge development. The family always remind me that I didn't talk until I was four and my first words were "I wanna piece of cake" at the dinner table. I recalll going to the medical centre in Hartley Avenue, next to the Library for hearing tests as they tried to work out what was wrong. The lady told me that the machine could tell if I was lying. I was very disappointed to learn, in later life, she was lying when she said that.

5. Struggle with copying written text. TBH I've no idea, I don't recall ever having done this,but it wouldn't surprise me, especially under pressure or in exam conditions.

6. Forgetful. This is a difficult one. Some things I have 100% photographic memory and clarity on, whereas other things I forget instantly. I am terrible with people's names., but when it comes to technical issues and problem solving, I have no trouble at all recalling the most complex matters.

7. Poor Self Esteem. Again, this is a difficult one. I most certainly did have when I was a teenager. I think I've got over it, but occasionally it resurfaces in the most bizarre of circumstances. When I am meeting people and I feel I have to make a good impression on them, I can struggle and get extremely nervous. More than a few times, I've declined to meet music heroes of mine, when the offer has been there through work, as I get paranoid that I'll make a fool of myself. There is this nagging "why would they want to talk to me?". Usually when I get to know such people, I'm embarrassed that I thought such a thing.

8. Low Mood. Again, this was a massive problem as a teenager, but one I've largely put to bed. I get the odd day when I struggle, but this is very much the exception and usually caused by stress, which I'd guess most people feel.

9. Anxiety. I go through phases. I've been feeling anxiety a lot more over they last 18 month than I have at any time since my teens. I put this down to the pandemic, I would be surprised if anyone anywhere was unscathed. When I was 12/13, I used to get so stressed I'd make myself physicially sick. I still recall events where I was completely overhwhelmed by it. I am very pleased to say that I've not felt that for a very long time, but it still lurks there someowhere, like a crocodile in a watering hole. There is a part of me that always thinks doom is around the corner. I must say that I also have a strong desire to be the last man standing and not give way to it. I recognise anxiety in other people and find the need to be calm when I see that, which often overrides my own fears.

10 Unmotivated to learn. This was me when I was a child. I hated learning anything. I'd just give up and think "what the hell". As an adult it is not an issue at all. I feel like I've been catching up ever since.

11. Poor concentration. This is another difficult one. I cannot concentrate on tasks  which don't interest me. If something is of interest, I can focus on it 100% for hours or sometimes days. There are a lot of jobs I'd be useless at for that reason. I'm lucky in my chosen business that my wife handles the side of it that doesn't interest me.

12. Headaches. I can't really say that this is a problem for me.

13. Stomach Aches. I think that when I internalise problems, I do so in my stomach. I've had issues with my stomach since my early teens.

14. Feeling Dizzy. I often 'feel weird' I wouldn't describe it as dizzy, more displaced. Often the longer I am completely sober the more displaced I feel. When the Talking Heads released 'Once in a lifetime' I thought they'd almost stolen my thought patterns. I can remember putting it on the Jukebox at the Three Hammers about ten times in a row, as I wanted to hear exactly what he was singing about. 

15. Observant. I am acutely observant. So much so that sometimes, I shut up as people say "Why did you notice that". As a blogger, it is quite a useful tool to have in the box. I can always tell when people are lying. That is why I find meetings of Barnet Council so irritating. Mike Freer, the ex council leader and now MP for Finchley would always shake his foot uncontrollably when he was telling porkies. Sadly such insight has proven to be of no practical use whatsoever.

16. Poor Co-ordination. Anyone who has played football with me will testify to this, usually as they lauy crumpled on the floor after a badly timed tackle. Actually, it is strange, as I sometimes have moments of total clarity and co-ordination, usually when I am not thinking about it. As soon as the conscious mind gets involved it all goes to pot. 
17. Strong sense of justice. I guess the 8.5 million words in this blog are testament to that.

18.  Mispronouncing words. This is the bane of my wife's life. She thinks I do it for effect, but there are many words that I genuinely get very confused when pronouncing. This was a real cause of hilarity at school. I'm especially bad at non English words, especially names, which irritates me intensely, as I know it can appear disrespectful. 

I found going through this to be a useful exercise, as it has clarified how my dyslexia coping mechanism has been functioning and also areas that I need to work on. 


About my dyslexia blog

For those of you who haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 33 I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion. I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

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