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Anxiety and Learning Disabilities: My Story

Updated on September 2, 2017
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.

"Why is it harder for me?" My Story

After having an impossible time in second grade, I was diagnosed with perceptual impairment. The name sounds like it affects my sight; however, it's really my mental perception. How I comprehend information. My memory is affected, as well. Most people can be given verbal directions without having to write them down; unless they’re going an especially far distance. In my case, if there are more than two instructions, I panic if I don't write it down, or I have a GPS to rely on.

Do you have a learning disability?

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I used to think that people were right about me—I'm an angry person; however, that wouldn't make sense. I want to use my life to fight the oppression of others. I must be a good person. Why is it that I'm more tense than my friends, my family, and strangers? I used to think that, maybe, it is my learning difficulty, or maybe it's my anxiety. Really, it's the anxiety that I feel when my learning disability comes into play. It's because the people interacting with me assume that I process information the way that they do. Of course, no two people will be entirely alike when taking in the same information; however, as someone with a learning disability, that is exactly the presumption I've noticed society making.

I Can't Do This, But I Can Do That is a documentary on a group of children with learning differences. Personally, it helps to know that others like me feel overwhelmed and become angry as frequently as I do; instead of society working as a team, it scolds us. While I was in school, most students seemed calm and/or careless about their academics. I have always been determined to do my best, immediately. Any time that I struggled, I felt anxious because I didn't want to fall behind. Studies have concluded that many learning disabled people suffer from low self-esteem.

Deceptive Appearances

Perceptual impairment—now called something else—is not a commonly known learning disability like ADD or dyslexia. It is not physically noticeable like Down syndrome. To this day, no one knows that I have it until I tell them. Since my mom is an educator, she calls this "high functioning." It's a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I don't have to worry about immediate embarrassment because it isn't obvious. Meanwhile, when it does affect me the outcome is additional disappointment from others and less sympathy because I’ve shown my strengths in other areas without an issue; therefore, it isn’t taken seriously.


Preventing the Unpreventable

As a college graduate, my anxiety comes primarily from customer service work. At the same time, I do thrive on helping others—even in these situations. I strive for perfection because customers, coworkers, and employers expect it. While helping customers, I like to work at a fast-pace for a few reasons. One, I usually have other duties that need to be attended to. Two, I move quickly to avoid criticism for being slow—which I'll usually receive, regardless. Three, it releases the anxiety that I’m constantly feeling.

Have you ever felt stressed because you perceive things differently than most?

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The Bad

The first reaction I ever heard from a customer to my learning disability was years ago. I was having trouble memorizing the location numbers for their items. When the woman was getting aggravated, I mentioned, "I have a learning disability." It was so that she didn't think of me as lazy, stupid, or who knows what. Her response was to inform me that she has a relative who is learning disabled, and to suggest that write the numbers down.

I’m putting it nicely.

Her suggestion would have come out more helpful had she not spoken down to me; especially, since she is clearly not learning disabled, herself. Nor is she an expert on my type. In fact, she never bothered to ask which one I have. Apparently, we’re all the same. Like when a homophobe says, “I know a gay guy,” or a racist says, “I have a black friend.”

In past jobs, customers thought it funny that I sped through my work, not knowing that it's wasn’t for fun. Like I said, in part, I do work that quickly to help release the excess energy from the anxiety that I experience on a daily basis. All the while, my heart would pound so hard that I thought it would come through my chest, but they chuckled at it like it was a game. One comment that I received, and will never forget was, "Stop working so fast. You're making the rest of us look bad." What a knee-slapper that was...not.

The Good

I am going to dare to suggest that those of us with learning disabilities are as hard on ourselves as society tends to be. There was another time when I shared the unmentionable—that I have a learning disability. This time it was with a kind customer. It was when she was trying to have a conversation with me while I was attempting to enter the dollar amount into the credit card machine, but kept being too distracted by her words to do so successfully. I was open and honest with her in the nicest way possible. Then, the panic returned because I wondered, will she respond like that woman, years ago?

To my surprise and relief, she was polite and understanding: "My son's girlfriend has a learning disability, too." Furthermore, she explained a little about our similarities. She proved that some people are capable of having compassion for people like myself, whether they're experienced teachers or not. It touched me to be understood, rather than spoken down to, yet again, by a stranger.

The customer wasn’t trying to act like an expert, but as someone who has known others. She only wanted to be friendly. By opening up, it encouraged her to relate, not control. If everyone knew how to use knowledge in this way, imagine what kind of society we could have.

© 2015 social thoughts


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