I’ve always been bad at math. I’m so bad at it that it is actually funny how I do math. I make jokes all the time. Today my cousin told me she was bad at math too and described all of the problems she has involving math, and they were my exact same problems/stories. She had really similar problems at work, like adding up totals when cashing out one night to the point that she was in tears. Then she said something that I have been saying FOR YEARS: “It feels like I have dyslexia, but only with math.”
and it clicked.
she does. and so do i. I googled it and sure enough, a learning disability that can be described as “math dyslexia” called DYSCALCULIA does in fact exist. I didn’t take it VERY seriously. I even joked about it throughout the day. The more I thought about it though, the more it made sense. I mostly just thought it was interesting. I got back math homework I’d done recently, though, and my marks were good and I was ready to just shove it out of my mind. Then my teacher mentioned 2 things:
1. we have a test in 2 weeks. I haven’t done a single assignment in this class without checking if the people around me got the same answer. quite often, they didn’t. I can’t do that on a test.
2. SABRE. This is a computer program used by travel agents to find prices and dates and things. it’s a bunch of numerical codes that you punch in to bring up more numbers and then you have to look through this sea of numbers and find the one code you need. We have a class on it next year. I instantly started to panic. My back started sweating.
I decided to ask my program director who adults can talk about about things like dyslexia and she asked if I wanted to elaborate. When I did she got pretty concerned and brought up SABRE and pretty much guaranteed me it would be a total nightmare. She called up the learning commons and talked to one of the people there about getting assessed for things like this and getting special accommodations when it comes to writing tests. At first I was kind of embarassed and said I’m sure this semester would be fine etc etc… and then I remembered how good it felt to get that letter congratulating me on academic distinction… and how i wanted to keep getting those. The woman on the phone’s name was Geri, and she asked me about a few of my concerns, and even guessed about other problems. Turns out not being able to do math can affect so many areas of your life without you even realizing it. It’s too late in the year to apply for a bursary to cover the cost of the assessments so we’re going to shoot for getting that taken care of in the summer and hopefully getting my needs all figured out before next year starts.
Hearing words like “it sounds like you may have a serious learning disability. We need to have you assessed before your next semester.” through the phone by a stranger I’ve only been talking to for 60 seconds is a weird thing to be happy about. Happy isn’t really the word… it’s more like relieved. I know I’m not stupid, I’ve always known I’m not stupid. Some how, though, I’ve always been the dumb kid in the family. Even in my circles of friends I’m usually the dumb kid. I feel left behind, left out. I honestly feel so frustrated and stupid all the time. I am seriously afraid of getting another job and having to pay bills, seriously manage finances… I’m afraid to have money almost as much as I’m afraid to run out of money.
I know what some of you are thinking, “but Paige, not being able to count in your head isn’t a learning disability, tons of people can’t do that.” Right-o, internet random I made up! Good point! Dyscalculia isn’t just not being able to count, turns out we use a lot of math to do a bunch of everyday things. There are a little of symptoms. Here’s a list I’ve found on some reputable websites, along with some other things I’ve noticed about myself:
- Frequent difficulties with arithmetic
- Difficulty with everyday tasks like reading analog clocks
- Inability to comprehend financial planning or budgeting, sometimes even at a basic level; for example, estimating the cost of the items in a shopping basket or balancing a checkbook
- Difficulty with multiplication-tables, and subtraction-tables, addition tables, division tables, mental arithmetic, etc.
- Difficulty with conceptualizing time and judging the passing of time. May be chronically late or early
- Problems with differentiating between left and right
- Inability to visualize mentally
- Difficulty navigating or mentally “turning” the map to face the current direction rather than the common North=Top usage (I used to have a serious problem with this, but since getting into my current program I’ve gotten much better at it.)
- Having particular difficulty mentally estimating the measurement of an object or distance (e.g., whether something is 10 or 20 feet (3 or 6 meters) away).
- Often unable to grasp and remember mathematical concepts, rules, formulae, and sequences
- Inability to concentrate on mentally intensive tasks
- Low latent inhibition, i.e., the inability to tune out, filtering unwanted information or impressions. Might have a well-developed sense of imagination due to this (possibly as cognitive compensation to mathematical-numeric deficits)
- Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. May substitute names beginning with same letter
- difficulty cooking and measuring ingredients, as well as time cooking, the numeric value of heat/temperature (how hot is 9? fuck.)
- numbers get switched ie. 2s become 5s. The wrong digits will get stuck in my head and I”ll actually start SEEING the wrong numbers
- a large amount of numbers on a page can look blank, or like a big fuzzy jumble
- trouble going up and down stairs and judging how many steps there are
- i’ve always read music improperly. I knew how to do the fingering for each note, but didn’t know what the notes were, i just memorized what it looked like to play that note. then i would follow this line of notes up and down. I had to go higher because the little note sign was higher, etc.
- when i make lists of things to do they are VERY detailed and specific and long. I will itemize every single thing i have to do in order for the bathroom to be clean, because just writing “clean bathroom” means half of it won’t get done. I can’t remember all the things i need to do as one lump, i have to separate everything.
so that’s my day. bit scary, bit exciting, bit of a relief. I’m hoping I can stop beating myself up for some of my failures soon that relate to these problems. I’ve been giving myself hell for being too stupid to work retail, or too stupid to not be broke or too stupid to tell time for years. My life is a bit of a mess, but it’s been getting so much better since I started this program. I’m becoming a completely different, much happier person. There was still something wrong though. Still something I couldn’t figure out. I feel like this was that thing. This explained so many of my issues that I had dismissed as part of my issues with anxiety and mental illness - the anxiety comes from an inability to do certain things and process certain things and just… use my brain. Jesus. Maybe I can start healing my anxiety with this information?
Everyday I feel like I understand so much more about myself. I have so much more hope for myself. I feel better about myself. I feel like I actually have a chance at a future.
Quite frankly, it's about god damn time.