Dyscalculia

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a neurological condition characterized by a problem with basic sense of number and quantity and difficult retrieving rote math facts. Often people with this condition can understand very complex mathematical concepts and principles but have difficulty retrieving basic math facts involving addition and subtraction.

OR why my day was ASS.

I have dyslexia.  I hate that word.  I hate it.  I hate it.  I hate it.  I hate my brain.

Hahahahahahahaha.

God is fucking funny.

Jackass.

Nothing really says good times like having to acknowledge this.  I do not want to, it is embarrassing on so many levels.  I am a writer.  For fucks sake.  I have dyslexia.

But it’s not dyslexia in the way most people associate the term with it.  In fact, most people would scoff at me, I am a writer.  I like words.  I am a good speller.  I like to read.

I like to read, a lot, because I don’t retain it very well.  There is a secret joy in this–I get to reread certain things and I always learn something new (One of my favorite books, Dune, I have read six, maybe seven times).  I can retain things if I put them on a different wave length in my brain.  I can retain visual images really well.  I can tell you a story.  I can tell you the colors in the plaid carpeting of the Angelic Brewing Company.  I could describe to you the way the back stair case at the Essen Haus, the one behind the stage leads up into this disorienting other world of glass steins and dolls that would creep out a horror movie producer.

But ask me to tally a check with tax and I am flummoxed.

Or, better yet, ask me to be in charge on inventory.

We did inventory at work today.  I knew it was coming, dreaded, this day in my heart.  In a way, I had prepared my GM for the inevitable breakdown.  I had opened up a little, a very little, about this aspect of my personality, or my brain, if you will, at my review on Friday.

He had talked to me about how I just suddenly am not present and I get really curt and my attitude is one of “cut to the chase and just tell me what you want me to do”.

And it’s true I do.  Because I don’t know how to tell some one that I can’t line up the bikes in order of size because the number of the bikes doesn’t make sense to me.  The bikes are not logically aligned in my system of understanding space and time and numbers.

Today it all came out, tearfully, horribly, awfully, disgustingly.  I was in a corner hiding behind the matting frame in Mrs. Fishkin’s office crying and trying to pull my shit together so that I could go back to work.  In fact, I haven’t stopped crying since I reached my capacity for being able to identify a number of lights in a sequence.

It’s really embarrassing.  I was counting lights, bike lights, those little wobbly bits of silicone that attach to your handlebars.  I was counting red lights and white lights.  They were in four rows, five rows deep, alternating.  I lost count.  I started over.  I lost count.  I started over.  I had too much information.  My brain did not know what to do.  Red first?  Or white?  They’re alternating colors.  And there’s too many of them and oh fuck.

It was like a brain hiccup.

I will never forget the first time it happened to me.  I was in fifth grade, Mrs. Cleveland was my home group teacher, and it was math time.  We were working on fractions.  And I did not get it.  I did not understand.  I could not conceptualize what was happening.  And I was good at math!  Really good.  I was always one of the fastest at addition and subtraction and multiplication.

But fractions?  Oh my god.  It just didn’t make sense.

Another secret.  I was a horrible speller until fourth grade.  I had done really poorly in a third grade spelling bee and I embarrassed my mom with my poor abilities at spelling.  She was aghast as I had started reading really young.  I wonder about this now and again, how “well” was I reading.

She sat me down for hours, hours I mean hours, on end and would grill me on spelling.  I could not spell squirrel for the longest time and she embarrassed me into remembering it.  I don’t know what happened exactly, but I remember the color of the couch, a funky green gold yellow faux velvet thing, that she was sitting on.  I remember the pattern of the fabric.  I remember that she was in sweat pants and was bare foot and was wearing a thin t-shirt and no bra.

I remember how she ridiculed me.

I forced myself to remember how to spell squirrel.

Another secret.  The QWERTY board is my saviour, it makes perfect sense to me.  Perfect.  My fingers fly.  I can type really fast.  The number pad on a calculator makes great sense to me as well, but numbers in a row, don’t.

I managed to bullshit my way through a lot of math.  I hit my real breaking point junior year in trigonometry.  I could not do it.  The negative and positive numbers running on a graph in four directions.

Fuck my mother.

Here are some of the things that I can’t do:

Right from left.  Horrible, do not every ask me for directions or go the opposite of the way I tell you.

Over and under.  No clue.  That one is above and beyond me, pun sort of intended.

Labeled lazy, dumb, careless, immature, “not trying hard enough,” or “behavior problem”

Trig teacher–I’m not letting you drop this class you are too smart, you’re just being lazy.  Three months of tutoring after school with a math tutor and still pulling a soft C.   Straight As in all other subjects.

Perfect oral score on SAT.  Repeat.  Perfect.  Not one wrong.

Math, however, was so embarrassingly bad I have blanked out what the score was, but it brought down my average, oh yes it did.

High in IQ

172 bitches.

Say it with me, works in a bike shop.  I-fucking-Q has meant jack shit to me.  Doesn’t serve, doesn’t help, what’s the point of having a high IQ?

Tests well orally, but not written

See SAT test and every other test I have ever taken.  Did I ever tell you about the one that said my future was going to be in dog grooming?

Feels dumb and has poor self-esteem

Duh.

Easily frustrated and emotional about school, reading, or testing

Yup.

Talented in art, drama, music, sports, mechanics, story- telling, sales, business, designing, building, and/or engineering

Check, check, and check.

Learns best through “hands-on” experience.

Almost embarrassingly true, I have to “drive the car” to understand what is happening.  You can’t just tell me.  I have to actually physically do the thing you are trying to teach me.

Confused by letters, numbers, words, sequences, and/or verbal explanations

BAhahahahahahaha.  Unfortunately, true.  My poor GM, I have given him the gaze of death unintentionally more than a few times, it’s not him, it’s me, but I can’t seem to get him to understand that I don’t understand what he’s saying.

Keen sighted and observant, but lacks depth perception and peripheral vision.

Really?  I still think I’m just stupid, but yup, this is really on the nose.

Has extended hearing; hears things that most people can’t hear.

I have supersonic hearing.  Ask anybody.

Easily distracted by sounds.

Please do not talk to me when I am trying to figure out the morning procedure, balancing the books from the day before.  Please don’t play music.  Please.

Computing math shows dependence on finger counting and other tricks

Oh jesus, how embarrassing is that, I count on my fingers, I count out loud under my breath.  You should have seen me doing the inventory today.

Hysterical.

Until I became hysterical.

Stutters under stress

I stuttered until third grade?  Maybe second.  My mom forced it out of me.  I don’t know how, but it was made to leave.  It will pop out when I am really stressed out though, freaks me out a little when it happens, I like being in control.

Can you tell?

Pencil grip is unusual

And I just thought I was terminally unique.  I have had doctors, teachers, and friends comment on it, I never thought much of it, but I do have an odd way of holding pens and pencils, I write so much long hand that you can actually see a callous on the top part of my middle finger from where the pen sits–it’s apparently on the “wrong” part of my hand.

Can be ambidextrous, and often confuses left and right, and over and under.

The trick to remembering left and right is to stand behind some one and pick up their right hand in my right hand and wave it.  This is how I differentiate left and right.

OR

Spend a lot of money and time with a very patient sensei.  Mister Andrew Kessle, first degree black belt when I was a white belt,  he who patiently taught me blocks one and two, which is left and which is right.  I cried.  It took me three lessons, private hour-long lessons, to get it.  I did not want anyone to know I could not differentiate the two.  But I got it.

I am also stubborn.  I never told a soul that I had this while I was training for my black belt.  I just made myself remember it with muscle memory.  The mirror was the worst–to suddenly be in front of a mirror and have to do left versus right, oh my god.  Scary.  Left and right should not cause histrionics, really.

Can count, but bad at counting objects and dealing with money

BAhahahahahahaha.

Who wants me to do Quick Books now?

Ha.

Can do arithmetic and math, but fails word problems

Story problems, ever hear of them?  Story problems are like sunlight to a vampire.  I am shriveling up thinking about it.

Cannot grasp algebra or higher math.

Repeat.  CANNOT.  Fuck you Mister math teacher in high school.  I hated you so bad I can’t even remember your name.  You were mean, mean, mean to me.  You and your stupid tassled loafers.

Excellent long- term memory for experiences, locations, and faces.

This is true.  Thank god for my memory.  I don’t think I would be able to be a writer without it.  When I write, I write from memory.  From my experiences, which is why I don’t write fiction.  I write some fantastical stuff sometimes, but it all comes from experiences I have had.

Poor memory for sequences, facts, and information that has not been experienced

I am sorry it took me three months to figure out that the 56 cm bicycle went on the right hand side of the bike rack.

Really, I am.

Extremely disorderly or compulsively orderly

Please don’t fuck with my space, I may freak out on you.  I have a system, don’t fuck with it.

Prone to ear infections

Had them all the time when I was little.  I can remember the worst one I had so vividly it makes my stomach turn even now.  Driving cross-country with my mom, my sister, and my mom’s boyfriend Chuck, in a VW Bug.  The bug’s radiator blew up somewhere in the Dakotas?  We stayed at a Holiday Inn with a pool and I swam and we ate cheeseburgers from room service.  I can tell you what the fucking pickle chips looked like on the hamburger, I re-arranged them, crinkle cut french fries, and Heinz 57 ketchup.  My mom in a white hotel bathrobe, brushing her wet hair.  And the slow, creeping, inevitability of the ear ache happening.

I can hear how the pickle crunches in my ear drum.

Prone to ear infections, that would be me.

And there’s a few other symptoms, but those are the tops.  But the best is this:

Mistakes and symptoms increase dramatically with confusion, time pressure, or emotional stress

Yes, which is what led to the final melt down, which ended me hiding behind the mat cutter in Mrs. Fishkins office.  I could not write down the date.  I had lost the ability to hold on to any more numerical information.  I even lost being able to say the date, let alone imagine picking up a pen and writing it.

I fled.  I left work early.  I came home cried off some more make up.  Then I said, you know what, this is good.  This is allowing me to be honest.  My mom is dyslexic, so is my sister and supposedly my dad, although I don’t know for sure.  My sister has it with words and letters.  As does my mom.  I did not suspect that I had it because I had difficulty with numbers not with words.  I love words.  I would like to take a word bath.

Wrap myself up in a red cloak of velveteen words and snuggle down into a heap of them like burnt autumn leaves flaming in the late afternoon sun on a briskly windy day in Wisconsin, when I am twelve and nothing is better than the smell of the oak tree leaves crumbling under foot and the sound of the whisk wire rake pulling them to me in fluffy piles.

It was not until I was in therapy describing the blind spot around numbers that seems to happen to me, this was in my mid thirties, mind you, that it was finally acknowledged and diagnosed by a professional.

Today, I officially acknowledge it.

Perhaps tomorrow I will accept it.

But I won’t count on it.

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