Life is like a hurdle race. If you fall, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and take the next one at a runOne of the things I have discovered about dyslexia is that it does not go away. When I was really young I used to think if I ignored it, it wouldn’t really matter, and I found that’s not the case. Then I used to think that if I just worked hard enough it wouldn’t matter, and found that’s not the case as well. I used to think that if I just sounded smart enough it wouldn’t matter, and found like the others that’s not the case. I loved learning, and I still do, I’m a factual sponge if I’m on a topic that interests me, but I hated school. I hated the fact that I could never say on a page what I knew. I hated that fact that in exams I thought I was giving them what they wanted, but I was never right, and I hated the fact that I was never really able to reach my full potential. When I left education I didn’t really think I would have to deal with my dyslexia again. Unfortunately that has not been the case. Job applications can be a nightmare; a regularly write out the wrong amount on cheques for my daughters school dinners; in many online mediums your arguments are immediately shut down by other people if your spelling or grammar are wrong, the implication being that if you can’t get that right you have not right to have your opinion respected; in one job I managed to not receive pay for a full month because I had written my bank account number down wrong, after checking it three times. I sometimes find my dyslexia pretty hard to cope with. Normally it’s the challenge of a new situation which brings my dyslexia into focus for me again. I’m currently taking an MA in Creative Writing. At the beginning of my Masters I would sit looking at the set texts understanding every word in them, but having no idea what they all meant when they were put together in sentences. I felt like my brain was a large sandtimer through which the information was falling, but only a grain at a time – it was frustrating to hear classmates elegantly talk and unpack theories, while I was still waiting for the sand to fall. It’s under these new situations, and also under stress, that my coping mechanisms begin to fall apart, and I begin to lose confidence in myself. Suddenly, and still after all these years, my dyslexia again becomes a barriers which appears to define my interactions with the world and those about me. I began to start feeling that there is nothing I can do where my dyslexia will not make it more of a struggle than it is for other people. My confidence ebbs away and negative thinking started to take over. The Local Authority I grew up in tended to dislike a diagnosis of dyslexia as it meant more money having to be spent. For this reason I got very little help at primary and a secondary school, which although excellent in many ways, wasn’t even willing to recognise the diagnosis, non-recognition being a standard get-out clause. So during my state education I was not helped as I believe I should have been. For my undergrad degree I have no idea what was motivating my tutors, but until I found a wonderful woman in the student support service in the final year, it was again pretty much ignored. I’ve found all these attitudes and situations serve to add more to the emotional element, which can so often be negative, of my dyslexia, and I often really struggle with the tangle of emotions which this brings up. However it’s not all been complete doom. My Masters is being undertaken at Edinburgh Napier University, and I don’t think I have ever in my life encountered such an enlightened and supportive atmosphere. My tutors are routinely encouraging, and work with me in consultation to help circumvent some of the barriers I face. The student support services are also on hand to help in any way that they can and have gone as far as helping me with techniques to deal with the anxiety which can de such an accompanying factor for anyone who has dyslexia. Although dyslexia has made parts of my life tough and other parts tougher I’d say than a nuro-typical person, I have also found that in general people and friends are massively supportive. Bad attitude comes through ignorance of what dyslexia is and what disabilities mean in reality, far too many people think disability is something they see, or a fear of having to spend money. I have also managed to have a lot of successes in my life. When I was first (and finally after lots of testing) diagnosed at the age of nine it was expected that I would never get to tertiary education. I recently dug out that old report and it made me cry to read how hopeless and how much of a struggle it was assumed learning would be for me, when it is something I love. But I try instead to take pride in the fact that I not only completed my undergrad but I am also now getting a MA in Creative Writing in one of the best CW courses in the country, where competition is stiff to get it. I also last year published my first book of poetry called This is a Poem with Burning Eye Books, this had been an ambition of mine for a long time, and I would say that although the book itself was written over in total a six month period, in reality it took all of my thirty four years to complete it. Just now I’m currently working on my first novel as part of my MA. I have a publisher looking at a second book of poems which have been illustrated by a talented artist, and I’m currently working on an idea for an anthology. I’m someone who is naturally ambitious and driven in the work I do. I like to achieve and I bristle when other people try to limit me. These characteristic don’t make dyslexia easy, it would be easy if I was more mild, more happy to stay where I was, and spent less time wanting to push further. But this is me for better or worse, and to get the achievements I have achieved I had to develop characteristics to take me there. I’m quite determined, one person close to me has called me bloody-minded and some people I work with say I am stubborn, but stubborn refusal to accept the limits others want to put on me has got me where I am, and made sure I got to tertiary education, twice, and got me published. What also helped get me there is tenacity. Imagine your life like a hurdles race, where you have to leap again and again and again. The dyslexic people in the lane have somehow landed with more hurdles, so they have more opportunities to fall and are more likely to lag behind. The two most important things you need to know to get to the ribbon at the end is that the only person who’s performance matters is your own, take your eyes off how others are doing, and the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and take the next hurdle at a run. Failing that when I get really down, and feel dispirited I go to bed and read my book, which makes me unbelievably happy, because there is nothing anyone can do or say that stops that being one of my achievements and no one can ever take that away.
Mairi Campbell-Jack’s book This is a Poem is available from the Burning Eye website, and she can be followed on Twitter @lumpinthethroat