My self-esteem and confidence had taken a pounding from a young age as the red pen marks made permanent scars. Although I survived it, School was not easy for me. Enduring constant put downs for bad spelling, grammar, reading and handwriting as well as occasional disdain for being “dreamy” “slow” and “Not paying attention”, left me feeling stupid and burnt out. I developed strong defence mechanisms of staying off the radar and hiding how I really felt. I thought they protected me, but in reality they didn’t.
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I faired better at College and University. The open-minded academic environment was much more inspiring. But I always felt I was faking it and constantly feared it would go wrong. When I finally got my dyslexia assessment in May 2006, I had an answer, but also confusion, coupled with no idea of what to do. As time went on, I just put the whole thing on the shelf and struggled on. When I got full time employment I found that organising myself and keeping on top of things was really hard. The mistakes I would still make and judgement of the occasional grammar snob would bring back memories of school and I would easily beat myself up and get stressed. I was also fearful of moving onwards and going after what I wanted as the monkey on my shoulder was getting much heavier. As time went on I was starting to feel lost, alone, full of shame and ultimately like my life was a non-event.
Finally In March of 2015, I made a decision to start facing it and stop denying it. I sought out resources and books, listened to podcasts (and Codpasts!), joined Dyslexia Scotland and approached my work for help. But there was one lingering issue I was avoiding; the catastrophic effect it was having on my mental health. I was in complete conflict about it, but the more I researched, the more it became clear. After a particularly difficult period leading up to October 2015, I had reached breaking point. Following an emotional phone conversation with my sister one night, I googled “mental health counsellors Perth Scotland” and I am now proud to say, the rest is history!
I got my first consultation a week later, and I took 8 sessions in total. I was nervous at first but I knew that I had to let everything out in the open. I was also aware that if it was to work, there would come a point at which I would no longer require it. This gave an extra motivation to be honest and put myself into it. I really needed to sort it all out if I wanted to move on, and I was the most honest about how I felt about it ever. I felt after so many years I was finally standing up for myself.
Having someone with complete neutrality to listen and not dictate how I should feel was imperative in allowing me to come to terms with it all. Being told by my counsellor that what I suffered was traumatic was a big deal. I could finally see the scale of it but also get perspective and start working to accept it. Slowly I cast off the negative thoughts, feelings and perceptions that haunted me as I realised they were no longer any use. Having felt for years that things were my fault, the red pen scars were starting to heal. I no longer blamed myself for things but also let go of blame I had for others. Over the course of it, as we worked through it all, my perception on dyslexia began to turn on its head. Whilst I accepted the negatives of the past, they were no longer defining my present and future and keeping me on the back foot. Furthermore, I can now give myself the credit I deserve for the things I have achieved in the face of dyslexia and also now see the positive traits that I have. Stress and frustration no longer compound me and I don’t get knocked down so easily by the ignorance or judgement from others towards my dyslexia. Most importantly, I no longer feel like I just fade into the background trying to stay off the radar. I feel free to be myself at last and a lot more confident in challenging myself, such as recently joining Toastmasters.
It is not always obvious to those looking in to the dyslexic world from outside that these things can be an issue. But constant put downs and shame, not being “normal”, feeling frustrated and feeling lost, as I experienced, can be very traumatic for dyslexic individuals. Suffering stress, anxiety and depression is rife with dyslexics and often goes untreated. Sadly it seems societies perceptions may be fostering this. In my own case, half if not more of the battle I was having was with my own deeply negative perception of myself. Counselling was nothing short of emancipating and has been equally as important as any work place needs assessment or strategies that I have adopted. It doesn’t mean I don’t have difficulties in life, but now I am in a much better place to deal with them.
Michael Sheldon, 32, from Perth, Scotland graduated from the University of Dundee in 2006 with an MA in Politics and American Studies. He currently work as a Marketing Assistant for Horsecross Arts, who run Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre.
Follow him on Twitter @Sheldo10
The Codpast is a multimedia production from www.extraordinaire.tv