When I was born I weighed a pound and a half. As a preemie who had both retinas detach, I was lucky to be able to see, not to mention be alive.
My parents had me baptized in the hospital because there was such a high risk that I could die, and for the rest of my childhood they told everyone that I was a miracle baby. But while they thanked God for my recovery, I learned to thank the ability of good doctors.
What these doctors didn't tell my parents was how hard my life might be after I survived. Or if they did, my parents never mentioned it. In kindergarten I was held back because my fine motor skills were delayed and I had difficulties doing things like cutting paper with scissors. In elementary school I was slow at tying my shoes, had trouble holding a pencil, and couldn't do simple math problems or tell time. Yet, I continued to move up grades, had a high reading level and was good at track and field. I even got honours throughout all of junior high while I hung out with the straight-A students.
But when I hit high school everything changed.
My parents often complained that I was 'demanding' and 'needy.' At the same time, they were over-controlling and even babying, doing things for me instead of teaching me how to do them myself. Because my parents would get frustrated and yell at me when they were trying to help with my homework, I learned to stop asking for help. Instead I started drinking and smoking weed in an attempt to run away my issues. On one occasion a teacher asked me if I had plagiarized a paper, I guess because it was too well-written for a kid who had noticeably just smoked a bowl at lunch.
I understand now that my parents did the best they knew how with the resources they had, but because I didn't receive the care I needed my progress became even more delayed. I became accustomed to pretending my way through life. I nodded my head while I pretended to understand teachers, guessed on exams that I studied hours for and felt stupid every time I failed to retain information. Then came my first experiences getting fired during my high school jobs because I couldn't figure out how to fold a T-shirt properly or because I lost money while working as a cashier. And because I felt so different from others, I spent most of my time avoiding people like I was Cady in the bathroom stall of Mean Girls.
Somehow I graduated high school, and when I went on to a writing program in university I thought I would finally excel. But while I got A's on my papers, I didn't do well in my exams and failed some of my courses. I chalked this up to the stress of not being able to hold down a job because I was continuously told I was 'too slow' and 'not picking things up fast enough.'
But I still didn't think I had a disability. I concentrated on the mental health issues that surfaced in my early 20s, and soon I dropped out of school to take care of myself. As I continued my struggle to work after getting off student loans, I began the tiring, hoop-jumping process of going on welfare.
By this time I had started my magazine and began freelance writing, and although we were volunteer run and I worked mostly from my bed, friends and family assumed because I was able to do that I should be able to hold down a job. Best friends who I had thought were supportive pushed me to keep applying for positions that I knew would let me go within months or even weeks. They dismissed my constant losses as 'not trying hard enough.' But despite telling them that they needed to accept me for how I was, I was still learning to accept myself as well. Not only did I feel guilty for being on welfare, but it barely covered my rent and food. No matter how embarrassing it was every time I was let go, I still desperately wanted to be able to support myself.
So I stopped living in denial and started looking for answers. I needed to know what was holding me back from being able to retain information and how I could figure out a way to make a living. This brought years of countless doctors, hours on Google and days attending various social programs. I found out that my detached retinas meant I had strabismus, when your eyes don't work together, and this brought me to look into neurological disorders.
Finally, I did a psychological analysis with tests such as simple math problems, remembering lists of words and putting together shapes. Of course I failed all three. When I received the documentation, it confirmed my suspected diagnosis. Aside from terrifying phrases such as extremely low working memory and borderline perceptional reasoning, there was a familiar word: Dyspraxia.
Basically, dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that causes symptoms such as poor spacial awareness and short term memory, difficulty with buttons and shoelaces, trouble speaking and holding things and oversensitivity to stimuli and confusion between left and right. There's no cure for dyspraxia, but the younger you are the better your chances are of improving. It's common for preemies to develop dyspraxia, but we're not sure why. Also, symptoms of dyspraxia vary, so what some dyspraxic people may struggle with others may excel at.
After receiving the documentation, I developed enough confidence to finally start the long process of applying for disability, something my parents previously told me that I would never qualify for. The day I found out that I was approved, I bawled like I had just won the lottery – because to me I had. Finally after years of trying to convince people that I wasn't lazy I was recognized as someone with a severe disability. Doctors would no longer be able to blow me off, saying I looked like a capable young woman.
While the stigma of being on assistance will always be there, I'm working to break through it and am thrilled that I won't ever have to move back in with my parents again. I still want to be able to support myself and am working towards furthering my writing career and magazine, but for now it's nice to know that I'll be able to afford rent, three meals a day and save a little as well.
For the first time in a long time I see the possibility of a future for myself. My disability may be permanent, but I finally have the resources to not only take care of myself but to thrive. I still avoid analog clocks, get embarrassed when I have to count on my fingers and often need to take a minute to remember which is left and right. I have the short term memory of a goldfish, bang into walls constantly and get overwhelmed by the thought of planning to commute anywhere I'm not used to.
But I've learned to embrace my differences and work around them – planning a detailed to-do list every morning, writing down important thoughts so I don't forget them and using Google Maps ahead of time. And while I know many people will judge me for being on disability in the first place, the guilt I've had for years has finally gone away as I know that I work incredibly hard to give back to society in my own way and remember that the process of getting here was anything but easy.