Learning Disabilities: When Nobody Notices

What would you do if it suddenly felt like your brain stopped short and your eyes blurred over in the middle of class?

For most people, the video editing class I am in was no problem once they learned the software basics. However, for someone like me with visual processing issues, the class felt nearly impossible. Visually overwhelming material like a complicated computer program just doesn’t seem to register in my brain, no matter how hard I try.

At first, the beginner editing skills were manageable and I got off to a good start in the class. But when I tried to open the tab for more advanced editing and suddenly hundreds of options appeared before me, I completely froze up. It felt like my eyes had disconnected from my brain and I just sat there for a minute unable to readjust. I didn’t know how to fix it or make the new options go away — all I knew was that the program had become too visually overwhelming for me to even interact with it.

But my peers all kept working happily. The new features didn’t affect them in the slightest, so they didn’t notice what a hard time I was having. And why would they? Since they never struggled with the seemingly simple ability to process what’s in front of them, there was no reason they would guess how much I was suddenly floundering.

So I swallowed my pride and I asked for help.

I’ll admit that asking for help can be incredibly tough sometimes. Owning up to needing assistance with an “easy” task can feel embarrassing or demeaning. It can make my differences feel unsettlingly public and occasionally make me feel stupid. But I try to remember that my learning disabilities are part of what make me me and there’s no use in being ashamed of them. Everybody needs help sometimes, you just happen to need it in the classroom and that’s okay.

What do you do when you need help in class? Let me know in the comments!

A Plea To Parents: Be Proactive in Your Child’s Learning

In elementary school, none of my teachers realized that I had ADD because I wasn’t bouncing around the room. Few understood that ADD can manifest in subtler ways, so none of them knew I spent all day, every day completely spacing out in school. I would have conversations and walk away having no idea what I had just talked about. I wasn’t hyperactive, but I couldn’t focus or pay attention to anything.

Thankfully, my mom noticed what my teachers did not. After paying close attention to problems on my homework and my distractability, she decided to have me tested for learning disabilities and ADD in fifth grade. I am eternally grateful that she did.

Becoming informed on how I learn at such a young age allowed me to develop crucial strategies to work around my learning disabilities and thrive in school going forward. It completely saved my confidence in the classroom. It gave me the opportunity to seek the right help when I needed it. But it also taught me how to advocate for myself and my needs before I had even reached middle school. This ability has served me in every facet of my life and is one of the best accidental gifts my parents gave me.

So my plea to parents is this: be proactive in your child’s learning. Pay attention to their strengths and weaknesses and dig deeper into how they learn best. Instead of writing me off as bad at math, my mom looked through each math problem I got wrong to realize I was actually mixing up numbers as a result of visual processing issues. In fact, my parents even switched me to a more understanding school when my elementary school dismissed my ADD diagnosis, saying I was just “too social” and that I would “grow out of it.” Watching my parents stand up for and support my learning differences kept me loving school even when I struggled in class.

If your child has no learning disabilities, helping them figure out how they learn is still one of the best ways you can can prepare them for a successful future. I have gone on to do well in school and in the workplace, but I owe it all to my proactive mom.

Bipolar II: How to Control Hypomania

The first time I experienced hypomania (the kind of “high” that comes with bipolar type II) I honestly thought I’d hit the lottery. All of a sudden I was finishing projects I’d put off for months, organizing everything around me without being prompted to and sleeping less but feeling more alert during the day.

I honestly thought I’d been cured somehow. I’d kicked ADD to the curb!! Woohoo!

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the fun to stop.

I couldn’t turn my brain off. It felt like I was chasing a tennis ball around my brain about 100 times a minute. I was so scattered I didn’t even make sense half of the time. I made spreadsheets to organize everything in my life. And I hate spreadsheets.

Thankfully, my therapist identified my behavior as hypomania and diagnosed me with bipolar II – a really important breakthrough in my mental wellness.

(If you are unfamiliar with bipolar or would like to learn more, I suggest reading “Bipolar Breakthrough” by Ronald R. Fieve.)

So after going through spurts of hypomania a few times, I figured out the signs that I’d missed going in. So last week when I stopped sleeping and started rampantly cleaning, I knew I was headed back down the rabbit hole. While in some ways I know I have to let it run its course, here are three tricks I’m using to try to keep it from growing into buying-wifi-on-a-plane-because-I-cant-handle-being-sedentary-for-more-than-20-minutes (true story.)

  1. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

This has been the most important thing for me in combating hypomania. If I work to get my sleep schedule really regular it noticeably calms down the circus in my brain and gets it out of my system faster. Check out my sleep blog for my full list of tips on how to get to sleep faster and stay asleep.

  1. Take time to breathe.

Since my brain is so scattered I have a hard time calming down in any capacity. So it’s been really important for me to designate time to breathe and not fixate on getting anything done. If meditation is the trick for you – the Headspace app has proven to work well for me. If you have an Apple watch, the breathe function is also a great way to discretely pause your brain whenever you need it.

  1. Time yourself when working

Being so scattered, I can’t help jumping from project to project. So my therapist suggested I set a timer for 20 minutes and make sure I work on the task at hand exclusively for that time. After my timer I can jump around for a little while and then need to set another timer to work on another project.

How do you deal with hypomania? Let me know in the comments!