“There was a kid, with a head full of doubt...”
@song by The Avett Brothers
If you are following the MIEND blogs, you know that this is my first two-part post. In Part 1 of “A Head Full of Doubt…”, I shared the challenges I faced in school from elementary through college. Reading problems impacted every part of my life, including damages to my self-confidence, self-esteem, mental health, relationships, success in school and work, and decision-making in adulthood. Some of my readers may see themselves in my story about struggling in school. Perhaps you have a child who is having difficulty in school right now. I want you to know that I eventually found answers, and I will share them with you in this blog, A Head Full of Doubt, Part 2.
I had a strong desire to continue my education after graduating with my bachelor’s degree, even though academic learning continued to be exhaustive and challenging. The desire to help people experiencing mental health difficulties similar to mine led me to search for answers to my learning problems. I sought professional help from a psychiatrist, and he suggested I undergo testing to see if I had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD.) And, I did. Learning there was a name for my learning disability was a massive relief for me. The doctor confirmed that my school struggles were real and that treatment was available. It was encouraging to know there was a name for my learning problems and a prescription medicine to help. I thought the medication would be everything I needed to continue my higher education in the mental health profession. Except, it didn’t work on one significant problem, my ability to focus and read. When taking the medication, I also experienced unpleasant body sensations. I felt jittery, nauseous, nervous, and had a dry mouth and body odor.
I started reading up on natural ways to focus and found that coffee and classical music would help. So that’s what I did. I went to St. Andrews University and received my Master of Arts in Counseling, all with my natural remedies. I did well in the counseling program, mostly because it was all writing and minimal testing. Even though I did well, something still felt out of order. My reading was still painfully slow. I couldn’t remember the content after a writing assignment or taking a test. Once again, I was putting in more hours than my peers. Trying to decide what direction to take after graduation was concerning. I knew there was absolutely no way to pass the state or national examinations that would qualify me for private counseling practice. Knowing this continued to play on my low self-esteem and mental health. However, those worries left me when I became pregnant. When my son was born, I knew that counseling needed to be placed on hold and that I wanted to stay home with my baby. I continued on the same path after my daughter was born. During this time, all my reading was around pregnancy, post-pregnancy, and parenting. What I didn’t know at the time is that my not continuing to use the tools I had created to get through school would significantly affect me after my divorce.
Becoming a single parent and having to think of a career after I had not worked in six years felt daunting, and it was. I went for many interviews, hopeful I would quickly land a job, but nothing ever panned out. Finally, a start-up company hired me. I was so excited. I knew this was it! I had never worked in sales before, but I was sure I was up to the task until the first day of work. Like most jobs, there was reading involved, but this particular company’s foundation was based on readership. I needed to learn everything about their articles to sell. But my reading and comprehension were worse than ever. I would read the material right before a team meeting and go into the office only to remember nothing. I would sit there with nothing to say. I remained quiet and felt embarrassed because I could not contribute anything to the team meeting. The old feelings of shame and worthlessness came back.
That job didn’t last long and ultimately didn’t end well. Getting fired felt like a replay of the feelings I had in high school, especially feeling stupid and incapable. More than that, I felt scared for two big reasons. It had been several years since I had worked in a business environment, and more importantly, now I was a single mom who needed to start earning an income to support my kids. I took small jobs here and there, but almost all required me to use skills-based on new technology. I had not been trained in software for building spreadsheets and other job-related tasks most 22-year-old college kids already knew. Employers would hire them for much less than what a single mother needed to support herself and two children. My mental health and self-confidence sank even lower. Once again, I believed I was the “something” that was wrong. Negative thoughts about myself overwhelmed me. It felt like everyone had their eyes on me. I thought my family, friends, and neighbors were all wondering and whispering about why I wasn’t working. I just knew that people were thinking I wasn’t trying hard enough to keep a job or that I was just coasting on alimony. Neither was the case. My reading and comprehension went from bad to worse, more than I could ever have imagined. Thoughts began to haunt me that I had some sort of early-onset Alzheimer’s or dementia. What if I were suffering from unknown seizures or mini-strokes? It became increasingly difficult for me to answer my kid’s questions or describe anything to them. How could I live a life like this? What was happening to me?
A few years after the divorce, I stopped drinking. About this same time, a friend shared with me her son's trouble with reading. She told me that he was seeking vision treatment. I didn’t think much about it until I went online to get help with my own reading skills. I completed a recommended exercise that I found on the website of a reading specialist. The directions had me cover one eye and read a passage with my other eye. Next, I repeated the same instructions with my opposite eye. I covered my left eye first and read with my right eye. Then, I covered my right eye to read with the left. I was stunned! With my left eye open and right eye covered, I read at the same rate as my five-year-old daughter. My reading was slow and methodical, and there was zero fluidity. It took everything I had to read even one word with my left eye, but I read well with just my right eye. Experiencing this was puzzling. In my first blog about my reading deficit disorder, I shared that I had 20/20 vision and could read individual words. Now I understand more about the complexity of vision. There was no way for me to fix this problem myself. I knew that seeking help for this chronic condition was necessary. It turned out to be a significant step forward for me, one that started with taking just one little step by completing a simple online eye exercise!
I immediately called my friend and got the name of the doctor who was treating her son. I scheduled an appointment for an evaluation. The first exercise seemed simple enough. Next, the doctor asked me to follow her finger to the bridge of my nose. Ah, not so simple! I was not able to bring my two eyes together toward a single focal point. The third exercise required me to follow a pencil with my eyes as the doctor moved it in front of my face. Once again, another simple test I could not complete. The doctor scheduled me for further testing, and the results were devastating.
I was below the 20th percentile for my age in 20 different visual processing areas. What does all of this mean? I have a visual deficiency processing disorder. The diagnosis came as a shock because I knew my vision was 20/20. What did the doctor mean that I had a visual deficiency?
My doctor explained in the following words what my diagnosis meant.
Vision is so much more than 20/20 eyesight. 20/20 eyesight
does not do much for us in the classroom if learning is primarily visual. Eighty percent of individuals with reading disabilities have difficulties with one or more visual skills.
My doctor added that having a diagnosis of a visual deficiency processing disorder may cause an individual to have severe lifelong reading problems if untreated. After I learned that visual deficiencies are potentially a genetic condition, I took my kids for the same evaluation that I had received. My son was fine, but my daughter was diagnosed with a visual deficit disorder. It was such a blessing to learn of her diagnosis at her young age. The early identification of her condition allowed me to get her the treatment she needs before this disorder seriously affects her ability to learn to read and her self-esteem. It is crucial to me that my daughter will never have to go through the struggle, pain, exhaustion, and feeling “less than” because of an inability to read well with understanding.
The reality of starting a career was not possible until I went through treatment which was hard for me to face. Therapy lasted one and a half years, and it was successful. I went from below the 20th percentile to 85-95th percentile in all 20 areas that were deficits for me. Undergoing vision therapy was a long and challenging process, but completing it gave me hope that my dream of helping others with mental health problems could still become a reality. It feels like a miracle that I can read well. I now know I can undertake many more exciting projects, the greatest of which is giving life to MIEND. Life intervenes for all of us, with both goodness and sadness. My inner voice called me to learn how to learn as an adult in graduate school. Later in the depths of depression from a broken marriage and the choice of alcohol for coping with emotional pain, I heard the whisper of God to go where He led, and I stopped drinking. I did the same for my visual deficits when I learned of a medical specialist from a friend and reached out for an evaluation appointment. Now I can read, comprehend, and move forward in life with confidence.
The visual deficit disorder affected my life over and over again. Now, I understand why. Don’t be afraid to seek help for life’s challenges. What if I had not taken time to listen to my friend who was worried about her son? No one in my childhood thought to look deeper into my reading problems. Perhaps the science of visual deficit disorders was not well understood when I was in elementary school, middle school, or high school. What if I had ignored the encouragement of my high school writing teacher? What if I had abandoned my dream of helping others? We do not know the future turns and bumps of our life paths. Seeking help may be the smallest and most significant step you will take for yourself, those you love, or even perfect strangers.
If you or someone you love is having a hard time reading, comprehending, and is feeling exhausted by learning, there is help. New research on the connection between brain function and learning success is being conducted daily across the country. Making an appointment for a no-cost consultation was my first step towards visual healing, and it changed my life. Help is out there for you, too, no matter your age. I received my treatment at Optometry Center for Vision Therapy. For more information, please visit their website, https://ocvt.info.