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‘I Am Not My Dyslexia’

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By Rytzl D’Souza:  

Diving Into The Unknown

I’m seventeen years old. When I was eight I was diagnosed with severe ADHD, Psychomotor impairment and Dyslexia.

This is not a sad story about how hard any of those things can be. Honestly, I don’t feel sad about it. Or even angry, or bad, or any degree of self-pity. In fact, I’d say this is sort of like a happy story. It ends well and was never particularly traumatic, to begin with. I have lots of friends, I’m in 12th grade, my grades are great, and my family’s pretty proud of me.

Mine’s a happy story because I was among the lucky ones. The ones who got diagnosed on time, who had all the help they needed, who never got judged or called ‘stupid’, who didn’t even get sent to boarding school like that kid in Taare Zameen Par.

Things worked out for me. I suppose you could say, I’m the best case scenario. A what-happens-if-you-do-things-right. So if you want a peek into what it means to do things right, here’s my story:

Learning How To Write

In third grade, my handwriting sucked. I’d get sent out of class for not doing homework. I wouldn’t take any notes; I’d stare at the blackboard and do nothing. I was punished a lot, made to stand a lot. It never got very bad; there was always someone getting punished with me. At the end of the year, when the exam papers were returned to us with grades, I’d hide them. I never showed them to my parents.

Then my mum would find out from other kids’ parents that the papers had come in. That I’d flunked six out of eight subjects. Then my parents would yell at me, not because my grades sucked or my handwriting was atrocious, but because I’d hidden the answer scripts.

When my parents asked me why I hadn’t done my homework, I’d tell them that I simply didn’t have enough time. I was too busy, you see.

So they’d invest more time in me. My grandmother began to come over to teach me. My mum and dad would spend hours helping me learn after work. But the next term I got the same results. Nothing much had improved. This happened a few times.

So my mom took me to a psychiatrist. “Just in case,” she said.

At The Crossroads Of Life

The psychiatrist diagnosed slight dyslexia and psychomotor impairment, but most seriously, ADHD.

The psychomotor issues and dyslexia were the easiest to deal with. What a psychomotor impairment means is that I could not copy directly from a blackboard at all. There’s an interruption between cognitive and physical functions. It would take me ten reads of the blackboard to take down two words.

So we’d practice. My mom told my class teacher to make me sit at the front of the class. At home, after I finished studying, she’d make me copy excerpts from a newspaper. She’d give me dictation, lots and lots of dictation. I was also encouraged to play lots of sports, basketball, football, table tennis, touch rugby, swimming; you name it. There was also lots of dance. Anything to improve my physical responses to cognitive functions.

By seventh grade, all symptoms of the impairment were gone. Dyslexia too, with a teensy bit of extra attention, was no longer noticeable. (The word ‘Does’ used to give me a lot of trouble. I’d constantly spell it as ‘Dose’. But by seventh grade, I began to get that right as well.)

My Story Set Me Free

Then we began to find our way around the ADHD. Since I couldn’t study at my desk, I would study at the dining table – made sure it was an empty before I started to work. Even a single spoon has the potential to distract me for an entire hour.

Then I study. I can’t study for more than a couple of hours a day. That’s enough, usually. (I got 92.4% in my ICSE, so I suppose it’s not bad.) I do still have some trouble areas. My math is unfailingly miserable. In tenth grade, I couldn’t add fractions. I still cannot compute numbers at all.

I understand concepts; I understand how logarithms and trigonometry work. But I cannot add, multiply, divide or subtract. Numbers are to me what maybe German is to you.

Fortunately for me, kids with ADHD/dyslexia are given certain allowances during public examinations. We’re given an extra fifteen minutes to write per hour. (For a two-hour examination, that’s half an hour extra). We’re also given writers and calculators. The writers help solve the ADHD and dyslexia bit. The calculators ensure I’m tested for my understanding of concepts alone.

A writer is a student who’s two years junior. who simply writes everything I dictate to them during an examination. Sometimes, that can be a bit embarrassing. What if the kid who’s writing my exam is really smart and knows more than me? What if this kid knows I’m making a mistake but can’t point it out? How pathetic would that be?

But sometimes, having a writer can be fun. My best friend in school has dyslexia and used to sit behind me in a separate examination hall. I would sometimes dictate my answers really loudly so that her writer could take it down for her as well. It was fun.

All in all, school really hasn’t been that hard. At least in the schools, I’ve been to. I get that this is what privilege looks like and I wish everyone’s experience with learning disorders were just as smooth as mine were. Even the being-threatened-to-be-sent-to-boarding-school-bit.

My parents threatened to send me to boarding school lots of times. It’s not a big deal. I’m their only child. (Yea right, like they’d ever send me to boarding school. *rolls eyes*)

(As told to Sneha Vakharia)


About Trijog:

Trijog is a 360 degree mental health wellness organization that services individuals with mental health concerns across the spectrum, founded by Anureet Sethi and Arushi Sethi. Awake and Beyond is Trijog‘s campaign celebrating the stories of seven individuals and their tryst with mental illness, in the hopes that their journey will educate, inspire and help people understand what living with mental illness is like. Together, mental illness can be fought, conquered and overcome.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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