What is it like to be dyslexic? Merry Everest’s Story

What is it like to be dyslexic? Merry Everest’s Story

Merry Everest, Performing Artist; Asana Leader for Yoga Alliance’s Annual Conference 2015

They say every dyslexic is different, here’s what it’s like for me: when I read, letters dance sideways, and up and down, sometimes all at once. It’s like a Busby Berkeley movie. Sometimes letters dance in a pattern, and sometimes chaotically. It’s quite fun, actually, and mesmerizing. I blink and look again, and they do it again, and it’s a different dance. I stare at the word for a while, it eventually becomes still. That’s when I sound it out, and when I get its meaning, I move onto the next word. Yup, I read slowly.

When I spell, I recall the time I stared at that word until it became still, when my brain took a picture. I see the word in my mind’s eye, and I just read off the letters on that picture, from left to right. Later, I came to know this as a ‘photographic memory.’

Any spaces between words affect me. The first time I drove by a fast food place called “Popeyes”, I was alone in my car, and I shouted out: “Pope yes? That’s funny! What does that mean, Pope yes? The Pope’s blessing for a name of a restaurant?” Saying things out loud helps me process them. This did not add up for me, of course, so I waited, and its real meaning dawned on me next to no time.

When it comes to numbers, uh oh. Word problems are the worst. So I get help! One time, a tutor spent six hours working on one word problem with me, no success. She gave up out of frustration, my poor teacher.

Reading clocks and calendars is problematic. I tell the wrong time, it’s 3:20, and I say it’s 2:30. 9 am and a quarter to 12 seem the same to me. So I cross-reference, and double check. Military time works better for me. And a clock with Roman numerals. For appointments, mistakes can be very costly. My secret is to get it in my body: hand write it out, say it to the person, repeat it in an e-mail. I can only recall one mistake in all the years I’ve been alive.

Numbers on receipts or restaurant bills are something else. Decimal points trick me. They move around between numbers. I am indifferent to $100.91 and $10.91, at first glance anyway. So I read and wait for the numbers to stop dancing. You’re not going to believe this, but sometimes the wait staff catches me looking at the bill intently, and ask: “Is the bill accurate?” Yet, no one has ever cheated me at the cash register. At the store, I spread a pile of bills for the cashier and let her pick out the correct bills. And at home, I would practice giving myself change. In my native Canada, bills are coloured…whew! In the USA where I reside now, the bills are very similar (though the new ones are shaded with muted colours, thank God.), even down to the numbers on the bill. They all look similar! One time, I gave a bellboy what I thought was a dollar bill, but judging by the delighted surprise on his face, it must’ve been a bigger one. How much bigger…I didn’t stick around to ask him. He was happy; that’s what counts. Cards simplify things for me.

I test terribly. I’m lucky if I get 60% on a test!

But I’m very in my body. In the above example with the word problem, we quit working on it around midnight. I went to sleep, and woke up with the answer. My tutor was speechless. I was about 8 years old, and I looked up this phenomenon. I stumbled onto the power of my sub-conscious. Since then, before I sleep, I go over a problem I’m solving, and I wake up with the answer the next morning. So there!

What else is it like being dyslexic? Well, I read the following just fine:

The term “think outside the box” is strange to me. What box? There is a box? I feel unconstrained. Ideas gush out of me. All the time.

To the casual observer, I daydream a lot. My inner world is rich and colourful. It’s a lot of fun to float in it.

I feel so many feelings and sensations. I experience the world in sensations and feelings, and I think later. And speak even later than that.

I misjudge the depth of a lot of things. I put down dishes where there’s a gap between the surface and space, and end up breaking them. In which case, I throw my hands up and shout “Mazel tof!” as if I’m in a Jewish wedding. The same misjudgment causes me to bump into the furniture, or walls, a great deal. That is, unless I’m on the set, in which case I rehearse until all blocking is smooth. Ballet lessons help.

When I shell peas, sometimes I dump the shells in the peas, and the peas in the shells. When that happens, I just smile, course correct, and move on. I’m listening to Mozart’s piano sonatas while doing this chore, for crying out loud, so how bad can it get? Pshaw!

I read slowly. But I retain most of what I read. That’s not a bad trade off.

In speaking, I make mistakes with words…often with one syllable off. So life is never dull, and often funny. One time I said “gregarian chant” to mean “Greogorian chant”. My boyfriend knits his eyebrows for a second, then breaks out laughing. I laugh too. I am unaware of such mistakes sometimes. So when people laugh or seem confused, I learned to ask: “Okay, what did I say?” They’ll repeat it, and I’ll say: “Oops, dyslexic moment!” And we move on.

When I learn a new word, I get someone to help me sound it out, and the rest is rehearsal. No need to stress, or I’ll get “atherosclerotic plaque” in my hearteries. I mean arteries.

I add extra sounds or syllables to words. Like you just witnessed. For years I said ‘persinnamons’ when I meant ‘persimmons,’ mixing ‘persimmon’ and ‘cinnamon’ together, and confusing my friends. (How do they put up with me?) In Chinese restaurants, I call “pot stickers” “pot sticklers.” Recently, I realized that ‘asshorted’ is really ‘assorted’. But hey, just for fun, I feel “watermelon” needs to be called ‘schwatermelon’, for the sound we make when we lap up all the delicious juices, sinking our teeth into the meat. Who’s with me on this one?

My speech is impaired—sometimes I stutter—when I am especially emotionally engaged. I am not a verbal processor of my experiences. In my work as an actor, I work diligently to get off book as soon as I can. I aim to know my lines so well that they are part of my muscle memory already.

Reading handwriting is difficult for me. I can’t tell you how many e-mails bounced back because I made a mistake on the letters. I read an “o” as an “a”. I solve this problem by reading it out loud with the e-mail address owner. I often get numbers wrong. When I enter phone numbers into my address book, I do a triple check, reading each number out loud in a punchy kind of way, before I click save.

Oh, yeah,with my own handwriting, I’m ambidextrous. My brain feels different when I use my right hand to write, as opposed to the left. My penmanship on both hands is good. Before I achieved that, I practiced a lot. It was a drag at first, but I knew that with practice, it’d get easier, better. And it did. Now I enjoy the fruits of that labour.

They say dyslexics are prone to additives and chemical products. That is so true for me. I eat whole foods—processed foods make me violently ill. Refined sugar makes me dizzy, disoriented, and yucky. Can’t touch caffeine. If I drink my favourite Earl Grey, I pour four cups of hot water on one teaspoon of tea leaves. Anything more concentrated, and I shake like a leaf (no pun intended), unable to focus for a whole day. But, those tea leaves sure go a long way, eh? If I ingest MSG, I’d be bed-ridden for a week; I’m so dizzy, I can’t move my head even slightly, and my stomach feels like a side-loading washing machine, on for that whole week. Oof! No worries though, all these things helped me cultivate culinary skills. For skin care, I make my own stuff. Ca-ching, ca-ching, and that’s the sound of money I’m saving from NOT buying cosmetics.

All this to say, I work around dyslexia. It’s no big deal. I find a way to make it work for me. I keep my sense of humour about it. I’m also very discreet about it. No one has to tip toe around me. And I always ask for and accept help. The rest is a celebration!

I earned two university degrees, in the sciences no less, before I learned that I had it.* I endured ridiculing from some teachers and fellow students. They didn’t want to be my lab partners. I am feisty, and my “I’ll-show-you” attitude was my compass. It only made me more determined, and I worked harder, longer, smarter. In this process, I discovered patience with self and with others, perseverance, and persistence. I am also very, very empathic. These traits are perennial friends.
*No one thought to test me because my photographic memory enabled me to spell normally.

Someone once told me that blue pens and blue highlighters help. And I agree. Even my fountain pen has blue ink in it.

Oh, look, Christian Boer, a Dutch graphic designer who has dyslexia, created this font in 2008 just for us. The font is called “Dyslexie”. It IS easier to read. Thanks, Mr. Boer!

It’s fun to be dyslexic…look at all the jokes I can crack…

If you have dyslexia like I do—and mine is very severe, remember: you are among geniuses and giants. Dyslexics of the world, untie! And let’s meet at the bra, I mean bar, and drink to that!!

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