Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fear Itself

Some days it seems my entire life is about food.  I work with patients, discussing food and how it impacts their health.  I write about food.  I share new recipes with friends and family.  I tweet and Facebook and photograph food.  In the evening, I create beautiful meals from magazines or cookbooks or ideas that pop into my head.  I spend Saturdays making cake and crepe recipes gluten-free.  I love food.  I love every minute of every discussion about food and nutrition and health, but being a dietitian is only one part of who I am.

I'm also dyslexic.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 7 or 8 and it was actually a relief.  Suddenly I understood why learning how to spell the days of the week and months of the year was a herculean feat.  It explained my trouble writing individual letters and my difficulty distinguishing vowels in speech.  Dyslexia explained why I couldn't read.
Tinted glasses were thought to reduce symptoms of dyslexia
Once we had a diagnosis, it was a problem to solve, a mountain to climb, not an impossible wall.  I was put into reading therapy and eye therapy and had rose-colored glasses all through elementary school.  No joke--actual glasses that were tinted pink.  Reading and spelling and speaking weren't easy, and spelling lists were a nightmare my mother and I dreaded.  I would try and try and try and give up, tears of frustration streaming down my face, and then I would try some more.  The result of all this effort is that I can spell and say most words and only mess up my numbers 75% of the time.  I have to work twice as hard to read and memorize but I've always been in the top of my class.  I have a Master's degree.

I've been thinking about dyslexia because I've been reading a book called The Dyslexic Advantage that discusses how the dyslexic brain is different from a "normal" brain.  The authors posit that one isn't better than the other; the dyslexic brain simply processes differently, so dyslexics have different strengths.  It's all theory at this point, but it did seem to explain why Ben finds computers so intuitive and I don't.  Like most books in the business of trying to turn a problem into an advantage, it errs too much on the side of trying to convince me I'm lucky to be dyslexic.  I don't feel lucky.  I'm just me.  But reading an entire book about dyslexia made me really consider what it's like to live with a learning disability and I realized that one word describes my experience: Fear.

As a dyslexic, I'm afraid of so many simple situations and daily tasks.

In no particular order, I'm afraid of:

  • Dialing the wrong number on the phone
  • Saying people's names for fear of mispronouncing them
  • Transposing numbers on check and taxes
  • Handwriting anything because I can't use spell check
  • Putting money in the wrong slot at the parking garage.
  • Misreading road signs and directions
  • Giving the grocery clerk the wrong amount of money
  • Reading aloud
  • Speaking in front of people when I have to read from notes
  • Misreading directions on medication
  • Incorrectly writing down the weight and height of my patients
  • Posting a blog that hasn't been proof-read by Ben
  • Sending professional email
  • Misreading the time so I'm either early or late
  • Typing email addresses incorrectly (why do people combine strange words to form addresses???)
  • Spelling the word "convenient"

This isn't a complete list, but I guarantee I've been in every one of those situations at least once.  A couple of years ago I added the numbers wrong on the taxes and we owed $600 more than I thought.  Keep in mind: I had triple-checked the math.

Why do I bring this up on a nutrition blog?  I live in fear, and as it turns out, so do many of my patients.

I was talking with a patient the other day and she told me she was afraid to go to the gym because she didn't want other people judging her weight.  Another patient with celiac was afraid to talk to the waiter in the restaurant because she didn't want him to feel bothered by her specific food needs.  Another patient was afraid of what would happen if she actually lost the weight she's been carrying most of her adult life.

It seems like a whole lot of us are walking around terrified.  I say, enough!

I don't have a magic pill to make the fear go away, but the first step is to be aware of your emotional state.  Check in with yourself and see what brain state is dictating your decisions.  If you're avoiding a dance class because you're afraid you're too clumsy, it might be time to give the fear the ol' middle finger and try the class!

Journaling often helps in these scenarios, but if that's too much, take a moment and think about why you are doing what you do.  If fear is present, determine if it's legitimate fear.  Being afraid of a dark alley at night is perfectly reasonable fear, but driving around the block again and again until you find a  to avoid parallel parking is not.

We all make mistakes, and often the only person who really notices is you.  And if you make a big mistake, like I did on the taxes, I guarantee somebody will show up to tell you what you did wrong.  Just  because you might mess up sometimes doesn't mean you shouldn't try at all.  At the risk of sounding like a Nike ad, just do it!


  1. Well, I feel fat, but I'm hardly the most hideous person at the gym, so I slap on my swimsuit and go anyway. Most of my fears have to do with stuff that I don't really run into on a daily basis (black holes, whirlpools, waterspouts), but I do have my own demons. I don't tend to talk about them very much because they get me flak when I do, so I keep them to myself (and Patrick). But I'm still here, so it must be a viable solution. I hope your patients gain the strength they need to take the plunge and learn to love themselves! And I hope I do too.

  2. That's great that you're not letting the fear stop you Adrasteia! The real trick of it all is to not give into the fear, face the discomfort and try.