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Finding out I was dyslexic helped me to become a better writer

Dyslexia. Usually associated with seeing words backwards and difficulty with reading and writing, it was never something I thought I would have.

But here I am. A dyslexic writer. A perfect contradiction. Just how I like to be.

I was diagnosed at the age of twenty. I had gone through school, college and the first year of university with not a glimmer of the word dyslexia ever being associated with me. But that isn’t to say I didn’t have issues, it’s just that no one recognised them as being a part of dyslexia.

Diagnosed when I was 20

From starting school, I excelled at English. Loved reading since I was a child and read books that were way above the reading level for my age. There was one literacy-related as I struggled with, and that was spelling. No matter how many times you could tell me how to spell a word, I would spell it wrong. Even the simple ones. And I wasn’t consistent about it either, spelling the same word a variation of wrong ways. I put it down to laziness. To be honest, I didn’t really care about spelling. I just wanted to write. I didn’t want anything to stop me, especially not stopping every three words to check how something was spelt.

Pronunciation became something I also struggled with. I would pronounce common words wrong, especially names like ‘Stephen’ or ‘Sean’. I knew how they were supposed to be said, but my brain just kept telling me to pronounce them exactly how they looked in my head. I had to consciously remind myself to pronounce something properly before I spoke it. And when I got to university, this became really frustrating.

I was reluctant to put up my hand in my film theory class because, not only could I not pronounce some of the seemingly simple last names of directors, (Bergman was just something my brain decided to not know how to pronounce no matter how many times I’d heard it), and names of film obscure film theories, I finally thought that something must be wrong.

It wasn’t until I wrote an essay for a playwriting class that someone had actually suggested I might be struggling with dyslexia. An essay, that I had spent quite a lot of time writing, had tons of mistakes. Sentences were backwards, words were in the wrong places, what I was trying to say just didn’t translate on the page. I decided to take a test at the university to see if I had any of the symptoms of dyslexia. 
And I did.

I didn’t think the test would be so revealing. I had assumed it would ask me questions about my reading and writing ability, which were both fine. But instead, it asked me questions that suddenly had me thinking, ‘wait, yeah, that is something I struggle with.’

Struggling with telling left to right was a big one for me. I had always struggled with this, panicked thinking while driving as the GPS tells me to turn left was a common occurrence. It wasn’t that I didn’t know, it was just that it took me a while to remember. Lack of coordination, spatial awareness, and noticing patterns was also symptoms I had, I just never knew they were related to dyslexia.

After the initial test, I got referred to an educational psychologist who assessed me for over an hour. It was eye-opening. She told me that not only was I dyslexic, I was severely so, and was shocked that it had been this long before I was diagnosed. She told me that I should be incredibly proud of myself for getting this far, and said it was likely that because of my love of English, reading and writing, I had managed to mask this learning difficulty to everyone, including myself, for a long time. Her words and the diagnoses itself was surprisingly emotional.

Two of my favourite books

I finally had a reason why I found the strangest things hard. Why I read a ton but still couldn’t remember how to spell common words. Why I struggled throughout college with transferring my ideas into a coherent essay. 
Being diagnosed was honestly one of the best things that I could have done for not only my personal life but my education and my writing as a whole. Recently, an essay I wrote on my creative writing MA course got awarded a distinction. I could have cried. Little old dyslexic me, getting a distinction on an essay at masters level. But it was truly knowing and working with my dyslexia that helped me achieve this.

Now I know what I have, it’s so much easier to work through it. I’ve found techniques in essay writing that really work for me to help get my ideas on paper. Spell check is a life saver. Someone will always correct me on my pronunciation of words, but I don’t care. I still can’t always remember left and right.

Not only can I now work through my dyslexia to improve my writing and break down barriers that have held me back from producing the best work I can, I can work with my dyslexia in my creative writing. I can use it to my advantage. Use the way it makes me think differently about the world to add texture to my characters, to make interesting dialogue, to think of similes and metaphors other people wouldn’t.

Most recently, understanding my dyslexia has helped create a unique voice for the narrator in my novel in progress. Her sentences are disorganised, words appear in the wrong places, she makes up words and uses incorrect grammar. And it works. It makes her come alive. The words have never flowed faster from my fingers onto the keys.

Know that without spellcheck this piece would be riddled with spelling mistakes. Know that if I were to read this to you I’d probably pronounce things wrong, I’d stumble over my words. But none of that matters. All that matters is that you read this and maybe it helps you feel better about something you struggle with. Maybe you have dyslexia yourself, or another learning difficulty that feels like a brick wall in front of the potential you have if you could just get past it. It’s only a brick wall if you let it be. Go on, turn it to rubble.

A new notebook — unlimited potential

So, I suppose this is somewhat of a Thank You letter to my dyslexia. You are a learning difficulty only in the sense that it was difficult, before I knew.

If you feel you may have dyslexia or are struggling with your dyslexia, check out http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk for the UK, or https://dyslexiaida.org for USA.