I have recently decided to make a change in my life- to pick up the pieces of a broken self-esteem and piece them back into the confident, capable person I know exists somewhere.
So I'll start at the beginning (although I didn't know it was the beginning until about 12 years after the fact). At 4 years of age my parents noticed that I had a difficult time following broad directions like "pick up your toys," even though intellectually I was ahead of my peers. They took me to a doctor who, after some tests and observations, diagnosed me with a learning disability. I would love to be able to say the doctor diagnosed me with an Executive Function disability, but I can't honestly say that because 1) my parents can't remember any of the details of my diagnosis and 2) they didn't hang on to any paperwork. It was at a time when Ritalin was handed out like candy and there wasn't a lot of other options, so they made the decision that they thought best: they did nothing. They did not tell me, or my teachers when I started school.... They did this with only the best of intentions- they didn't want me to live with any kind of stigma or label, and they didn't want me to use it as a crutch or excuse. It is those convictions that appreciate most about this whole journey. And although their intentions were good, their follow-through left something to be desired. To put it nicely.
I knew as early as kindergarten that I was different. I could pay attention and pick up new tasks quickly- faster than most of my classmates. I did well when the teacher was at the front of the class teaching. But the moment she handed out "busy work" and sat at her desk it was a different story. Everyone finished before me, if I even finished at all. It was the same with homework. I was lucky enough to even remember that I had any, let alone actually sit down and work on it.
This is one place I wish things had been different. To the best of mine and my siblings' recollection there was never a set homework time. Our mom swears otherwise, but if that were the case we ALL would have done much better in school (well, my brother and I, anyway. My sister was one of those kids who gave herself more homework because she enjoyed it so much). My grades were effected, drastically. Even though I was testing above my peers, I still had just barely average grades. At every conference it was the same thing: Laura pays attention in class and participates very much, but she isn't turning in her work. I asked my mom why she didn't do more, like come up with a system or routine? Why didn't she have my teacher sign off on my work then check my bag the second I walked in the door? Again, she swears up and down that she did and that it was my resistance that kept it from happening. I'd like to take this opportunity to call bullshit. I can see now that my mom has the same EFLD, most likely more severe, and that that is what kept her from doing any of those things. She couldn't organize a system. She couldn't form a routine. And she couldn't remember to check my bag for homework. But to claim that she did do all those things and that my 6, 7, 8, 9 year old self was the one at fault is a big steaming pile of bullshit.
At that point, as I got older and became more aware of my differences and therefore more self-conscious of them I started asking questions. Why can't I remember to do my homework? Why don't I remember that I have projects due? Why are my grades barely scraping by? My mom, feeling she had done everything she possibly could on her part, tried to give me an explanation that ended up becoming my self-loathing mantra for years later. She said: some people are athletic, and some people aren't; some people are artistic, and some people aren't; some people are musically inclined, and some people aren't; some people are good at school, and some people aren't- you just aren't.
Oh....ok. I wasn't good at school. At first it was comforting. But it quickly became....consuming. I'm not good at school. I'm not good at school. So why was I forced to go to school everyday for hours and hours? Because it is important. I'm not good at school. I'm not good at school. So why did I score so much higher than my peers on standardized tests? Because you are smart. So why am I NOT GOOD AT SCHOOL?!
It was like a puzzle I couldn't wrap my head around. I knew there was an answer but just couldn't my synapse to fire off the right answer. After a while I came to the conclusion that there must just not be an answer. I was smart, but I wasn't good at school. So, I had better get used to it and deal with it. So I did. If it was music and the arts, I exceeded getting solos and leading roles in musicals. But academically, I never put in any extra effort, and I never expected to do better than mediocre. I saw a glimmer of hope at the start of high school. Everyone was allowed to try for honors English. All you had to do was take a test (which I was good at) and write a paper (which I was also good at). I went and tested with all of my friends and I got in! The excitement lasted about a month. Our first assignment came by mail over the summer- read a book and do a study guide. Oh crap. It was my freshman year of high school and I had never actually read a book I was supposed to do a report on. I loved to read, but book reports required skills I did not possess. Skip forward 1 year, and I was taking a summer school class because I had failed the second semester of that English class. I was back to where I started. Not good at school.
My sophomore year was a cloud of depression. I got up, went to school, came home and slept until dinner, ate, then went back to sleep. It was the same routine over and over. The end of that year I tried out for the school musical and got exactly the part I had wanted- supporting lead female. I was so excited! A few days after the cast list was posted a friend asked why I decided not to do it. Huh?! What are you talking about, of course I'm doing it! Turns out I had missed a mandatory meeting and my role was given to the understudy. But how had I missed the meeting? I had read the date and time. I even canceled a babysitting gig so I could make it. And yet somehow when that date and time rolled around no internal bell had gone off, reminding me of where I needed to be. I was devastated. The only potential bright spot in my life was made null and void because of my own stupid....what? What was it that made me like this. I cried to my mom in frustration. She listened to me degrade myself for a while then patted the back of my hand and said, "You aren't stupid honey. You have a learning disability."
In a very nonchalant explanation she told me that I had been diagnosed at age 4 with a 'mild' learning disability. What was it called? She didn't know? What did it effect? She wasn't really sure. But she was sure this whole 'misunderstanding' was caused by it, so I shouldn't beat myself up. O...k... ? ... So why am I just learning about this now? Well, you know how your sister is literally a genius, but we decided not to tell her as a child so she wouldn't get a big head...? Soooo, you didn't want me to get a big head about my learning disability? Silly girl. We didn't want you to use it as an excuse.
Needless to say, I was in a bit of a haze for several days. Quickly followed by a downward spiral. The nicest of my thoughts involved dropping out of school and punching my mom in the face. I would be lying if I said suicide didn't cross my mind more than once. At some point before school started my Junior year, it occurred to me that my little mantra I'm just not good at school was not entirely true. Obviously, I had my difficulties. But up until that point I had seen them as a limit. The end of the road. There was nothing beyond them. But now I could see, they weren't the edge of the Earth- they were a mountain. Not only was there something on the other side, but there was a way I could get to it. I just had to figure out how. And so I did.
I found my biggest mountains and set out to hike over them. I was always running late, so I started writing down every minute of my morning schedule and figuring out the most logical way to do things. And suddenly, I wasn't late anymore. I saw that just being told a date and time of when I had a meeting, or project due, or shift to work wasn't enough. I had to physically write it down. And not just anywhere- I had to write it somewhere where I could see its relevance in my schedule. My junior year, for the first time in my life, I made honor role. That was all the proof I needed. I WAS could at school. I just needed the right tools. By my senior year I was in an honors college prep writing class, and doing well.
A whole lot of life has happened between now and then. I got married and had 2 kids. It has presented a whole new set of obstacles. Instead of homework and projects and studying there is laundry and dishes and bills and doctor appointments. I will be completely honest, the first 4 years of the domestic life were awful. My husband's mom is (literally) a Suzie homemaker, so he's never needed to do chores. Although we have always agreed that we would try to split things more evenly, and he has always offered to help me where he can, he isn't very good at following through. It has been a lot of learning by trial and error. Lots of error.
Over the past year I have seen many of the same difficulties in our oldest daughter. After some testing there is no doubt that she has the same EFLD as me. You'd think I'd know exactly what to do for her, but since I had means of coping as a child, I'm not sure how to help her (once she hits high school, I got it down). I've done a lot of researched and learned even more about myself. I have even made the (difficult) decision to homeschool. I can tell you right now that there are going to be things that work great about it, and things that will cause me to bash my head against the wall. We will have great days- like yesterday and today- and we will have days that end in tears for all of us. And believe me- there is a part of me that sneaks up every once in a while and taunts me with visions of how it could be: putting her and all of her difficulties on the bus in the morning with a kiss and a wave, quiet time with my "normal" (and I assure you, quite abnormal) daughter, less messes to clean, more time for myself....it is a beautiful vision. But it's not the right one. The schools where we live are incredibly broken, and the money just isn't there for private school.
I am facing this decision much the way I faced breastfeeding with her, my sweet little problem child. It hurt like hell. It wasn't easy, and everytime we sat together I told myself That's it! This is the last time, I am cracking open the formula can hidden under the sink the next time she cries! But we'd come to that next feeding and I'd see my hungry little baby through new eyes and there was no way I could live with giving her less than what I knew was best. Even though it was hard. Even though it hurt. Because I was her mom, and mom's do things that aren't easy and that hurt for their kids.
So here I am. Surrounded by books and websites and networks of people to help me with time management, organization, phonics, preschool math, finding time for myself, bettering my marriage....and I'll tell you what- I intend on making every one of those things a success in my life. Because the world does not end here. It is only a mountain. And you had better believe I'm gonna climb it. (And shout something obscene from the top. Because that's just how I roll.)
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