March 10, 2024

Dyscalculia is Helping Me Love Myself. ~ Victoria Brandt


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“If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ~ Albert Einstein


“Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects a person’s ability to understand number based information for math. People who have dyscalculia struggle with numbers and math because their brains don’t process math-related concepts like the brains of people without the disorder.”

I recently went online and diagnosed myself with dyscalculia. Ever heard of it? I hadn’t either, but this past fall I met someone who shared that her daughter has it and as she explained what it is, I felt as if she was describing my brain.

As soon as I had the chance, I did what anyone in this cyber-age does; I googled “Free online test for dyscalculia.” After taking tests on several different websites, it seemed quite clear to me that dyscalculia was the explanation for my lifelong battle with math and, surprisingly, other things that don’t seem to have much to do with math, like…why I’ve gotten so many speeding tickets?

On all three sites I visited, I rated high on their scale for having dyscalculia, which tells me that I can either spend a lot of time and energy getting a formal diagnosis or I can go with my gut and assume I have it. I chose the second option, welcomed a new diagnosis to my ever growing list of “conditions,” and began work on discerning what all this meant for me.

I was actually quite surprised to find that the diagnosis was an absolute blessing; it gave me insight into so many of my lifelong struggles. But, more than that, I received freedom from continuing to bully myself into thinking there was something wrong with me. I understood that all those struggles are just my normal and there is nothing wrong with me; my brain just works differently. I was a fish who was feeling incompetent because I couldn’t climb trees.

After diving down the dyscalculia-research-rabbit-hole, I learned that besides the obvious math issues like figuring out the tip, discounts on sale items, or converting measurements on recipes, dyscalculia was the reason why I can never remember the names of streets and cities or people—even when I’m introducing two friends to each other. This also explains the mystery of why I get lost easily, why I can’t remember dates, and why being on time is a constant inner battle. Now I know why volunteering at concessions, or anything involving money where I have to add and give change with only the use of my mind and my fingers, throws me into utter panic. Why learning the dance steps in the high school musical was a disaster for me (thank you, Alice, for all your private lessons!) or why glancing at a buck and counting his tines is impossible for me, much to my husband’s disappointment. I now understand why I really enjoy cribbage and blackjack but playing them is painful, and why when I’m working in a spreadsheet, I have to color code the rows so I can see each line and not a page of gobbledygook.

I’ve spent my life telling myself that I was stupid, incapable, and useless. I thought there was something wrong with me and, worse, that it was my fault. I beat myself up when I was the only one in aerobics class fumbling along and felt like a total loser for not remembering the name of a good friend’s deceased brother. The things I have said to myself over the years are downright mean and the amount of stress I’ve yoked on my shoulders has been way too heavy to carry for this long.

Understanding that my brain works differently has freed me from the guilt and shame I’ve carried all these years. It was similar to my experience in my late 30s when I was formally diagnosed with ADD. Between therapy and weeks spent diving into books about ADD/ADHD, I found freedom from blaming myself. I realized that motherhood and running a house had forced me to learn excellent coping strategies and I was handling the ADD well on my own. That was, and still is, empowering.

But, for some reason, when that ADD diagnosis came along, I wasn’t able to make the big connection that I made a couple of weeks after the dyscalculia diagnosis. And that huge discovery was that I needed to stop blaming myself for all of the sh*t. (Insert forehead slap.)

This past year my husband and I took drastic measures to put my mental health ahead of everything else. I quit my job, we sold our house, and had been living in our camper up until a couple of months ago. I have had a lot of time to self-reflect and connect with people who are helping me on my healing journey. I had multiple people point out that I needed to be easier on myself and dismissed them at first because I always thought I was too easy on myself, but, as more people said it, I began to observe my self-talk and what I saw made me so sad; I am a total mean-girl to myself. I’ve had a constant voice in my head telling me “You should” or “You shouldn’t” or “What’s wrong with you?” or “You’re not good enough,” and worst of all, “You’re not lovable.”

All of the self-hate and criticism is so completely unnecessary and useless because, the truth is, I am right just the way I am. I am a human being—a perfectly imperfect human being. I am the divine; the divine is me.

I am going to silence those mean-girl voices in my head and I am going to love the f*ck out of myself.

I am going to play cribbage and count on my fingers, I am going to keep taking dance classes with my husband (his poor feet!), I am going to be gentle with myself when I get lost, and I’m going to be honest with people about why I forget important dates and names of things. In the words of one of my heroes, Mr. Rogers, I am going to remind myself that, “There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.”

It’s time for a self-love revolution, anyone want to join me?


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