Living with a Learning Disability

Last December I spent some time going down memory lane while I was helping my parents move. I sat with a box of old pictures and papers from my elementary years and found some old report cards. As I read what my teachers had to say, a common theme emerged. Every teacher wrote the same message, “Kelley is a pleasure to have in class, she lights up the room with her bubbly personality, however, her academics are struggling. She needs to spend EXTRA time with me after school.” It did not occur to my parents, teachers or myself as to why I was struggling. Most of the time I was called slow or lazy. Mostly lazy. Nobody asked why.

Three years ago at the age of 25 I was diagnosed with a learning disability. My life finally made some sense yet I was relieved, angry and scared. I was relieved that someone finally figured out why I struggled all of my life and why I had a hard time comprehending information particularly numbers. At the same time I was angry because no one else had figured this out earlier when I was in a position to get proper help. I was angry with my parents for not paying closer attention; maybe they knew but were in denial. But most of all, I was angry with myself for not speaking up. In the back of my mind I knew something was wrong, why didn’t I just admit to myself there was? I was scared because I knew at the age of 25 there were not a lot of resources or research done on adults who were diagnosed later in life. How am I suppose to LIVE my life with this disability? I was also scared because this meant that while in graduate school I had to re-teach myself how to learn and process information. Lastly, I was scared because I didn’t know what others might think about me if I told them or how my employer would be able to accommodate me. Would they think I am a bother? Slow? Needy? Was I ever going to be successful?

What is it like living with a learning disability as an adult? I’m not going to lie; it is hard as hell. I am always struggling with deadlines, being organized and writing reports/articles that are suppose to be close to perfect the first time around. I may have a better understanding of why certain tasks take me longer to accomplish but I still struggle with the method I use to complete them.

For example, I have a hard time with organization and processing information. If you give me paper I would lose it, if you tell me something in passing I would forget it, if you verbally tell me directions I would lose focus and forget mid sentence what you just said to me. Simple, every day tasks we take granted are so hard for me to complete. Every day I struggle with the fact that I have to spend more time on tasks than my co-workers. I have to schedule extra time into my calendar. Sometimes it works but most times it does not. I am in the trial and error phase and I am starting to accept that. It is hard when you have to adapt quickly to change and work in a fast pace environment, yet be able to process and relay information in your own manner to others. With this challenge comes many tears of frustration, growth and faith.

What I cannot allow myself to do is let my fear of failing because of my learning disability get in the way of my life. Since I was diagnosed, I have completed my Masters degree, which is something I never thought I would do. During the three years it took to complete my degree, I was in an environment that allowed me to experiment with different methods. Some methods include: a color coordinated schedule, receiving an agenda a head of time for meetings and a document complete with detailed step by step directions for my tasks. Some methods were short lived, others I have taken with me to my first professional job.

This summer I started my first full-time job. One of the hardest conversations I had with my new boss was sharing information about my learning disability with her. I am blessed to have a boss who understands my circumstances and is willing to work with my strengths rather than harp on my weaknesses. She has taken upon herself to make sure I always have the tools and information that I need to be successful in my job.

James Baldwin once said “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” I know that I cannot change who I am, but I have changed my life by having a more positive outlook on life. Instead of saying I cannot do this, I now say how can I accomplish this another way. One of the ways I have come to terms with my diagnoses is sharing my story openly with others. My hope by doing this is to create awareness and help others that may be struggling and show them they too can live a normal life.

Kelley McCarthy

Student Affairs - the First Years

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