I am good at denial. I have a clear compassionate understanding of others but when it comes to me denial is a comfortable hiding place. But the nice thing about aging is that being vulnerable is no longer fearsome. Owning up to who you are is intensely freeing.
For years my lack of mathematical ability, confused, confounded and shamed me. At last I understand why. It seems I am Dyscalculic.
Dyscalculia as defined by the Department of Education: ‘a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures. Even if they produce a correct answer or use a correct method, they may do so mechanically and without confidence.’ (Literacy- Dyslexia)
For all of my adult life I have fudged my way through the simplest of arithmetic. I don’t connect with numerals logically or intuitively. I am all at sea when people start talking numbers. Whether the talk is tens or hundreds of thousands or discussion of temperature conversions from Celsius to Fahrenheit, or feet and inches to metres the value and worth of the numbers means nothing to me. I am powerless to contribute intellectually, as numbers are not like words where at will I can use, exploit and comprehend.
Like all people who have a form of illiteracy you learn to compensate and hide your lack of ability. I got by through the years, working and running a successful business, I protected my inadequacy with delaying strategies in any financial negotiations. ‘Let me get back to you,’ rolled off my tongue sweetly and swiftly if anything nearing finance was introduced in a meeting. If I had to speak of figures or percentages they were frozen into my mind with repetition and I desperately hoped no one would question them. Often I was caught out in my written work with constant peccadillos of reversing numbers but I bluffed them off as typos and blamed my high school geography mistress saying that she started my ‘bad’ habit by demanding map references be reversed.
Over the years I have hidden my shame of being ignorant. Only softening my self-bludgeoning with the rational that WW2 had severely disrupted my early education; after all I can do simple mathematics and others would never know the depth of my inadequacy. Guilt was another companion – I believed it was my fault, if I applied myself more at school I would probably be more capable.
Yes I can add up – very diligently and subtract ever more carefully and slowly. I know my multiplication tables, drummed into me as a child but I know them by rote and have no flexibility of giving an answer to what are 7 x 9 without reciting the whole of the table and if you were to follow with a 9 x 7 question I would still silently go through the 9 times table to make sure it was the same answer. Addition or subtraction always required sitting down with a paper and pen with infantile double upon double checks to make sure I had got it right. Division, percentages and other calculations are about as understandable as a black hole to me.
I have relatively mastered reading numbers in the thousands, providing that tens and hundreds of thousands have the prescribed comma denoting their worth but without that I am in a foreign land. If I have to talk numbers in a presentation I write them out fully (i.e. four hundred thousand) so when I’m under stress the numbers are not simply gobbly-goop jumping around on the page waiting for me to rope them in hoping they are in the right order. Over the last years with rising prices of property and lottery wins imagine my escalation of anxiety that speaking about millions and billions that are now commonplace. I simply will not document millions, I have absolutely no idea how many zeros are needed and if you were to tell me today, by tomorrow it would have no meaning.
Dyscalculia also affects me spatially. I could write books on getting lost by interpreting Street Directory maps and forget entirely me making sense of architectural or any other kind of plans they are like The Enigma Code.
No more pretense – I have faced my demons and taken ownership of my incapacity. I am no longer burdened with trying to be more than I am. I feel good, in fact very good indeed.
The flip side of this disclosure is that people that suffer dyslexia or dyscalculia are often found to be highly intelligent people. There is always a silver lining don’t you think?