I have never told anyone until yesterday that I am dyslexic. May be it was the stubbornness inborn in me that made me not tell anyone. May be it was just that I didn’t want any one’s sympathy. Most of all I guess I didn’t want Maria to call me
“Nina Thomas, deaf and dumb and dyslexic”( it rhymes too!!)
But growing up with an undiagnosed dyslexia was really hard. It felt like I was in a prison and I couldn’t break free. I had so many other imperfections and add to all that I felt I was plain dumb.
There was one time my school bus had a break down and didn’t come to the school to fetch the students after school. All the other students just walked home. I remember standing near the main entrance of the school, crying because I didn’t know how to walk back to my own home.
I was taught not to talk to strangers, not to follow anyone else. So I stood there crying and feeling so stupid, because everyone knew the way to their home, everyone but me. It was getting dark and there was nobody else around. I stood there thinking I am going to die, the lions and the leopards will come out any time to eat me.
Eventually Amma did come looking for me and I remember how much she scolded me. I can still hear her shouting” you are just so dumb” and I remember feeling, it is true, I am really dumb. Because there was no other explanation as to why I don’t know the way to my own home.
I used to get zero for all the spelling test at the school. I remember being mocked by the teacher and all the students in my class. In fact the girls in my class had such a gala time picking on me. We used to sit in a long bench( Kottayam) and because I am deaf, I had to sit in the front bench aisle seat. There were about 4 or 5 students sat in the same bench. Their leader was Reena mol. Every time, when the teacher leaves the room, Reena mol, would get all her friends to stand up together at the same time. Because I sit on the edge and the bench will act as a cantilever, resulting in me falling down. Everyone used to laugh. It was so painful to watch everyone mocking me and it convinced me further that I am dumb.
I used to be so mad at Reena mol. I knew everything about her, I knew she was abandoned at birth, that she has been raised by someone else, that she only had one set of school uniform. I could have/I wanted to tell the truth about her to her gang members. I didn’t, not because I am a saint, but because I felt, I am anyway deaf and dumb and blind, telling her friends truth about her isn’t going to make me ‘not deaf and dumb and blind’.
I remember my geography teacher laughing at me, because I couldn’t draw a map of India for the exam. I remember her telling me, even the beggars standing outside the school entrance knew how to draw the map of India. It was humiliating because I had no way of explaining to anyone, why I can’t draw a simple map. The only possible explanation was “I am dumb”
I still don’t know where Kottayam is in the geographical map. I still get confused between east and west. Although I know the history of most countries, the only three countries I can identify in the world map is India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Although I know all the states in Malaysia, I do not know where they are located on the map. I do not even know where Kuala Lumpur is on the map.
Once during the biochemistry practicals at the Medical college, I had to heat some liquid in a beaker and then cool it. I kept the beaker on the rack above the spirit lamp and heated it. To cool it, my super intelligent brain only knew one way, that was to remove the burning hot rack with the beaker on top of it away from the flame( burned my fingers too!!), instead of just removing the spirit lamp from underneath the rack. The lab attendant was watching me and he pointed to all my class mate guys how dumb I am!! I still remember how the guys in my class were shaking their head and telling each other how stupid Nina is!
Even my diagnosis didn’t come easy. When I first went to the Medical department, the doctors laughed at me. They had never heard of anyone who didn’t know where is east and west! They told me, I must be imagining it. One doctor even told me, I am just plain lazy. I knew he actually meant dumb, but didn’t want to use such a harsh word on a medical student.
It was a visit to Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Bangalore and a chance discussion with one of the nuns there, who was specialized in Childhood dyslexia, that finally changed my life. She was the first person to tell me that there is a perfect explanation for not knowing where is east and west is and it has nothing to do with my IQ. She referred me for further tests and I was diagnosed. Finally I knew, I am not dumb. The prison I am stuck in fianlly had a name. Dyslexia.
Living with a dyslexic mother is really hard on the kids.
My oldest daughter not only had to tell me, when someone is ringing the calling bell( I can’t hear at that frequency) or when my hand phone is ringing or when her baby brother was crying for milk, she also had to be the guide and concentrate on the road when I was driving. I had to depend on her to tell me, if I am travelling in the wrong road( mama, the house near Carrefour had a green gate! I can’t see that gate, I think we are lost!!).
Once I bought my son a hot wheels car wash set for his 4th birthday. It was something he really wanted. His best friend has the same and he used to beg me to buy one for him. I remember how excited he was, when he opened the gift wrap.
He opened the box , took all the pieces out and asked me to help him assemble it. I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to do it.
My son was too young to understand why his mother is so Dumb. He kept begging me to read the instruction manual. I read and read and read the instruction manual. I just couldn’t follow the instruction. He was so frustrated and eventually he kicked the toy and walked off saying I hate you mama.
I wanted to assemble that toy so badly, I wanted to get out of the prison that I am in. But the truth is, there is nothing that I can or anyone can do that would fix my dyslexia.
I could score the highest marks for medicine, I could tell you what I wore when I was 10 years old, I could even tell you what colour was the flowers on that dress, but I couldn’t fix a simple hot wheel toy! That is Dyslexia! That is what I live with each day!