I grew up in small country town in Victoria, just outside of Melbourne, Australia. I went to a small kindergarten and primary school and never had any learning difficulties that raised concerns for my parents or teachers. I was never terrible at school or excelled. I guess I flew under the radar in the education system. Although from Grade 2 onwards it was evident something wasn’t right, no one stopped to question. Like so many other people from my generation I was labelled as lazy, lacking attention to detail with my spelling, handwriting, grammar and inability to grasp maths concepts.
I was always an articulate and social kid, which I think masked the fact that I was struggling. I never thought to question why the letters on the page changed or why I didn’t understand things like other people. I always loved to read and even now it is my way of escaping from the world and take time out. That was probably another reason why no one picked me up, even though I was at the lower end of my class for reading and writing.
As I kept moving through school without any special support, subtle cracks began to show in my confidence and a fog of depression moved across my life. I was feeling hopeless, dumb and stupid. I had no self-esteem.
I always had friends, but I didn’t want to go to school, and by Grade 6 I was missing a lot of school. I hated secondary school. I moved schools three times, the third to a well-known private school. Everything revolved around sport and academia: two things I never good at! I really struggled with English and maths and had tutors for both subjects, still no one questioned that there might be something wrong. I was told to sit at the back of maths class and keep quiet. My instructions were that in a few years I could drop the subject, as there was nothing they could do to help me.
So that’s what I did, I scraped through by keeping quiet and hanging with smart people who would help me with my work. I reckon that’s pretty smart! But I began to lose more and more self-confidence and was anxious to go to school. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, I just created excuses not to go. We had to do cadets and I would be pulled out in front of my whole year level because when they yelled turn left and I would turn right, so here I was going the opposite way to everyone else!
Obviously, my self-esteem and confidence just kept getting worse. I had friends around me who helped a lot. It wasn’t deliberate, I was just being a normal schoolkid, but it turns out that I had put really good coping strategies in place. My mum always helped me and would proof read everything. I was terrified of having to read aloud in class and would constantly read ahead to see if there were words I wouldn’t be able to pronounce. I asked my teachers if they could stop asking me to read in class and they said no. They made a point of making me do it more as they thought it would help me improve.
In spite of all these challenges, and with lots of help and support from friends and family, I managed to complete my VCE and was accepted into uni to become a primary school teacher! The irony is amazing, but dyslexia continued to cause trouble. At the end of second semester I couldn’t complete the first year because, I still couldn’t pass the grade 6 English and Maths exams! And still no one questioned what the hell was going on. I was determined to make something of myself still but decided I needed to take a break because something wasn’t right. I had no self-confidence, but still knew I needed to do something. I still had the drive, I didn’t want to keep failing, there had to be something out there that I could do … right?