The Anxiety And Dyslexia Connection
I decided to write about a condition that's called dyslexia today. Now you might be wondering why I would write about dyslexia in a blog that's mainly about anxiety. Well, the reason is pretty simple.
In my experience, dyslexia and anxiety are like two different sides of the same coin... and if you read on, you'll find out why.
So today I want to explore the connection between these two conditions and at the end of the post, share with you a couple of useful tips and advice on how to keep the anxiety caused by dyslexia at bay.
So What Is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a condition in the brain that makes it hard to read, write or spell. It's like there's a problem with the circuit in the brain that connects the letters that you see written on piece of paper with the actual words in your memory.
You have probably heard about dyslexia before but you might think that it's not a very common condition after all, since it doesn't come up very often in the news or on the internet.
But did you know that 1 out of 10 people suffer from dyslexia? According to the Dyslexia Research Institute only 5% of those ever get recognized and treated. That means that for the most part, dyslexia is an unrecognized and untreated condition - which is why there is so little talk about it in the media.
Amidst this this general confusion there is one overlooked aspect of dyslexia that gets no mention at all.
It's that dyslexic people frequently suffer form anxiety as well.
Why? It's very simple.
Dyslexia is a very stressful condition. It basically means that you have difficulty reading a text, spelling a word, or doing basic arithmetic.
However, in our society today these are all basic skills that are taken for granted by all of us. So being unable to master these skills is incredibly stressful, especially for a young child or an adolescent.
Dyslexia a very stressful condition that can put an enormous dent on your self-image and rob you of your self-esteem.
However, for obvious reasons, most of us aren't really aware of what it feels like not being able to read fluently. We just can't imagine the struggle and the anxiety of someone dyslexic.
To change that, let's do a quick "compassion exercise." I invite you to step into the shoes of someone dyslexic for a minute...
The Everyday Stress of Dyslexia
I want you to imagine that you're a high school student and you're sitting in classroom with about 20 or so other students sitting behind you.
It's literature class.
The teacher is pacing the classroom and is about to pick someone to read a short passage from a novel in front of the class.
You feel a tight grip around your stomach. "Let it not be me. Let it be someone else."
And then the teacher says your name. It echoes down your ears, into your brain resonating to be registered...
After what feels like several minutes, it finally sinks in. You're about to read in front of the class.
You're perfectly aware that you're not going to be able to read the passage fluently but you still give it your best shot because you don't want to be embarrassed in front of the whole classroom.
It's not like it could get any worse than last time.
With trembling hands you turn the page and try to focus on the words in front of you...
An then it starts again.
They get jumbled up in front of your eyes as you frantically try to make sense of the wall of text splattered on the paper.
Awkward silence envelopes you in cold sweat.
Your classroom is waiting for you patiently.
And yet you can feel their eyes burning a hole into your neck as you're trying to find a sensible connection between the scrambled letters on the page and the words in your head.
How long is this going to take? How long before the teacher gets bored with your incompetence and tries someone else?
The teacher clears his throat in a thinly veiled attempt to urge you to start reading.
Your palms are sweating and your short term memory seems to be falling apart.
Someone lets out an impatient sigh in the back row.
What is it that you have to do again? ... Oh yeah, read... Right.
You force your senses on that white piece of paper in front of you with the dancing letters that seem to be playing tag right in front of your eyes.
And then you catch a word - "beautiful." Like a familiar face in a crowd of shady figures, you recognize it; it's the word "beautiful." There's no doubt about that.
You waste no time, in an attempt to feed the hungry silence, you take a deep breath and utter in a croaky voice the word "Beautiful..."
You hear the sound of jostling behind you - about 20 people have stopped staring at your back and started looking at their textbooks in unison.
They must be checking to see if what you just read is correct.
With your heart beating in your ears, you try to refocus on that first word again...
But it's too late, "beautiful" is gone. The letters seem to have rearranged themselves while you weren't looking. You can no longer make the connection between the letters on the page and the words in your head.
Why is this happening to you? Why don't they just give up on you? Don't they see that how embarrassing this is for you?
You can no longer ignore the teacher's incredulous gaze on your forehead so you lift your face up from your textbook and mumble in a coarse voice:
"I'm sorry, I can't read this."
And those heavy words; "I'm sorry I can't," echo in your mind forever. "I'm sorry I can't" stigmatizes your life and keeps you awake at night.
With a sense of defeat and shame bottling up inside of you, you can still hear the teacher asking someone else to read the passage from the novel.
And that other kid, as if he knew the text by heart, reads it fluently in a booming voice filled with confidence and pride.
How much you wish you were like him. If only.
When Stress Turns Into Anxiety
Dyslexia and anxiety are two sides of the same coin.
By definition, dyslexic people live under a tremendous amount of stress. They live in a world where the ability to read and spell is required literally everywhere. And having difficulty with both skills, they're constantly reminded of the insurmountable obstacles that they have to live with.
But the worst part is that dyslexic people often end up blaming themselves for their condition.
They develop a crippling fear of "public mistakes," whether it's reading problems or something else, they believe that it is ultimately their own fault that they are dyslexic.
After several years of blaming themselves for their public mistakes in school and at work, they start thinking less of themselves and become their own worst critic. Down the line this blame can snowball into a full-blown anxiety where their fear of public embarrassment makes them avoid certain situations at work or social interactions in general.
How to Reduce the Anxiety of Dyslexia
This is my best advice to people that are struggling with dyslexia and anxiety:
- The first step is understanding your condition. First of all, educate yourself about both anxiety and dyslexia. What causes it? What are the symptoms of it? How does it manifest in your life? In what ways is it interfering with your daily life? Ask yourself these questions and challenge yourself to clarity. Be as specific as you can be. I highly recommend you check out the International Dyslexia Association for some of the best information online about dyslexia.
- The second step is acceptance. Learn to accept your condition. Do not beat yourself up over your public mistakes. Treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend if they were dyslexic. Come from a place of compassion, forgiveness and support. Check out this article to learn more about accepting anxiety.
- And finally, seek help. Find a group of people that have had success overcoming their reading difficulties and ask them for help and advice. Surround yourself with people that share your experience and learn from their success. Also, don't be afraid to ask for professional help.
I hope you found this article valuable. Let's close today's post with an inspirational quote from a famous dyslexic, Caitlyn Jenner:
If I wasn't dyslexic, I probably wouldn't have won the games. If I had been a better reader, then that would have come easily, sports would have come easily... and I never would have realized that the way you get ahead in life is hard work.