My first year at a four-year university (after a few years of junior college) I was sitting in the office with one of the coordinators for the “learning assistance center.” This center was not only for students with disabilities but was also a part of the entire campus tutoring center needs. I’m not sure if the school was too cheap to spring for a center solely for disabilities or the state my university was located just has some shitty education regulations when it comes to private universities and the disabled students that attend. I’m guessing it’s a bit of both. One of the coordinators sat me down and told me I should create an action plan when speaking with each of my professors. She told me to find an image or a description of my disability and how it makes me feel.
For those who are still unaware, I have a learning disability (Authority process disorder) this disability stems into an umbrella of other problems, such as dyslexia, the spectrum and other speech crippling issues. But my main diagnosis, “Auditory Processing Disorder.” This learning disability encompasses a range of speech problems. Especially involving hearing and speaking.
I told her and a select few professors (the ones I felt safe approaching) that it’s like I’m chained to a rock, a really heavy rock. It’s always slowing me down, dragging behind me. My little painful reminder.
This didn’t feel right to me though. I knew there was something else I was and another way to explain my disability.
I never really write about my disability. It’s hard to write about something so familiar to me, but that’s so strange and unfamiliar to many. It’s like if I walked around reading poetry about having gills, “you know what it’s like to breath underwater right?” And I would get that weird look and they wouldn’t say yes or no, just walk away.
The start of fall 2014 I really dove into visual poetry. Just a glimpse of “From the history of grade school” by Bob Hicok was enough to give that little kick into try something new. Visual poetry became an eye-opening vehicle to show a reader what the page looks like to me. Visual poetry was a different voice, a different language than English.
And this made me realize exactly what it felt like to deal with this disability. (Mind you it’s taken a few months to really lay out this idea and feeling).
Now I want you to remember what it was like when you tried to learn a new language. Think back to high school when you took French or Spanish. Or think back to a time when you traveled to another country or place where you barely spoke the language. Now think about how relieving it felt to know you could retreat back into your first language (whatever it may be). You never really think twice about your 1st language right?
Growing up with authority processing disorder made learning English feel like a second language but when I retreated at the end of the day I didn’t have a “first language” to fall back on. So my thoughts just sat in my head. It was crippling as a child to feel this and it’s still crippling in many ways. Sometimes I go home at the end of the day exhausted from trying to keep up with language, spelling, writing, communication. Not only trying to lay out complex ideas and examples but trying to hide my disability. Trying not to show the little glimmers that remain. There is nothing more exhausting than being trapped in your own mind. This is what it must feel like for people who cannot move their legs. You sit there, you see your legs, you see others using their legs but your body doesn’t work that way.
Or for me it’s: I see the word in my mind, I can hear it in my mind, but my tongue won’t slide across my mouth. When someone gives me a set of directions I forget a few steps, I’ll process a word incorrectly, you’ll struggle to remember how to spell “completely.” Most of my life has been spent sitting back, listening, watching and developing opinions.
At my four-year university, they gave me a laminated card (it’s important to make note of this) the need to laminate anything before handing it over to their students with disabilities. Like in first grade when I was handed safety scissors or the easy to read picture book. I decided to keep the laminated card and it sits in the top drawer of the side table by my bed. it’s a reminder of how much I hated the learning assistance center and how unhelpful they were. A card I handed over to countless professors, the apology to my lack of participation or the overall odd spelling and grammar errors I made.
It’s my little reminder but how even coordinators of a disabilities center can know so little about what it’s really like day to day. It’s my reminder Whenever a friend tells me I don’t have a disability anymore like I’m fixed now. Like my college degree fixed me. Because for the majority of conversations with me you don’t notice anything wrong.
These people don’t live my day to day. The moments I forget the differences between “now” and “know” or the moments I’m so exhausted I just break down in the car driving. The memories when I young and I prayed to God to “make me like everyone else, make me normal.”
There is no overcoming one’s own disability. It’s building resilience to deal with a society that insults us by expecting us to overcome a part of ourselves that we were born with.