I Became Dyslexic in My 30s—Here's How I Deal

Woman walking through giant letters

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

When most of us think of dyslexia, a learning disability affecting about 15-20% of the population, we imagine hardship for children: Learning to read and write becomes a much more challenging task when letters, numbers, and words reorder themselves incorrectly. I, however, had no trouble with either.

Instead, I flourished as a reader, reading at least 100 books a year for nearly every year of my life since I learned how to read in kindergarten. And I've written copiously, from the first adult poetry contest in which I won a prize at only age 9, to the five books I've published, and many hundreds of articles.

This has all been possible not because I had better coping mechanisms than others with dyslexia but because I didn't become dyslexic until my mid-30s. I deal with it well because I grew to be a bit of an expert on overcoming health problems.

How does a person suddenly develop a learning disability as an adult, and how do I cope with my work life sometimes feeling like my brain is at the bottom of a bag of Scrabble letters? Read on to find out.

How I Became Dyslexic Later in Life

I've always been neurodivergent, as much of the population is. A highly sensitive person, I'm long used to doing things my way. But I did not ever plan on having to relearn how to do things I had already learned in the past.

My early 30s were a bit of a chronic illness circus show. First, I spent a couple of years with late-stage neurological Lyme disease, which western medicine doctors told me was so severe I'd never be healthy again. I recovered holistically, with the help of my family, without drugs. Months later, I moved into a new home...and proceeded to slowly get gassed.

A highly sensitive person, I'm long used to doing things my way. But I did not ever plan on having to relearn how to do things I had already learned in the past.

There was an HVAC issue in the building, and the downstairs neighbor's stove was routed into the floorboards of my apartment instead of outdoors. This meant that every time they turned on their stove, which they frequently did as a long-term work-from-home couple, the combustion byproducts were piped into my apartment.

After six months, more mold tests than I can count, and the untimely death of my ex's cat (caused by the problem), an HVAC specialist finally found and fixed the issue. Soon, my ex and I received carbon monoxide poisoning diagnoses from Cedars Sinai. Two weeks after the exposure ended, the oxygen levels in my blood still scored at "critically low" levels, and my brain was essentially fried. While it may seem rare, 50,000 people visit the emergency room annually because of CO poisoning.

Like Lyme, doctors told me I had little choice of becoming well again. A PET scan at Cedars yielded a written diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, which hit me very hard as one would expect. As someone with a once genius IQ, I scored in the literal bottom percentile of numerous cognitive and memory tests that my landlord's insurance made me do. Determined not to have fought my way back to health only to spend the rest of my life as a vegetable, I turned to my family and began employing holistic methods to help me recover once again.

A year later, I was pretty much OK again. My short-term memory was back, I lost the constant panic and anxiety I'd felt, my joints no longer felt like they were on fire, and I found a sense of purpose in combining my cooking and writing skills with my ability to get over obscure illnesses.

The Challenges Presented By Dyslexia As a Professional Writer

The one effect of chemical poisoning that I couldn't get rid of with food and supplements was the fact that letters, numbers, and words now had a long, windy journey from my mind to a computer screen or my mouth. Still reeling from the horrific experience of CO poisoning, I first noticed how hard numbers were to keep track of. For example, I'd go to the grocery store and purchase something from the bulk bins, but the code wouldn't ring up at the register because I'd gotten the order all wrong.

Determined not to have fought my way back to health only to spend the rest of my life as a vegetable, I turned to my family and began employing holistic methods to help me recover once again.

The more I got involved in working again, the more evident it became that this issue wasn't just about numbers. I spoke with words in the wrong order, I misspelled words I've never had trouble spelling, and I reordered words in sentences so that once written, they didn't make sense. I'm incredibly lucky that my brain works very quickly, and generally, I've been able to course correct the verbal issue. Once the wrong word is out, my mind can usually reform the sentence mid-play so that it's intelligible. With writing, though, it's harder.

Google Docs is my preferred mode of writing because it autocorrects so well. I'm able to keep typing, and words are resituated correctly as I go. Many content management systems have no such feature. I often have to use Google to figure out what my error is, adding time to my workday because the lack of autocorrect in this setup is, for me, essentially a lack of disability accommodation. It will underline an incorrect word, but because my brain is reordering what I see, I can't tell what my error is without the aid of an additional platform.

Challenges On Top of Challenges

A few months ago, I entered the first stages of perimenopause. One of its symptoms is brain fog, and for me, that presented as a worsening of my dyslexia. What had been a manageable problem for the last nine years suddenly spiraled out of my control.

I found myself speaking sentences out of order, unable to read at my usual pace, and having an impossible time writing articles. Panicked, I knew I had to get a handle on my hormones before I found myself unable to work. Very fortunately, I was able to do that, and the worsening of my dyslexia mostly abated. It's still a bigger deal than before, but it's back into the scope of where I can manage it.

This recent change to my body reminded me of how tenuous my grip on my well-being is, and how quickly the ground can be shaken for everyone. We are always just a moment away from everything possibly changing, and I have been thanking the powers that be for my ability to get a grasp on perimenopause before my symptoms worsened.

The Importance of Levity

The irony of choosing a career as a writer—as someone whose words and letters are frequently scrambled—isn't lost on me. But it's my choice regardless, and I've found that humor and forthrightness are my best bets to everything working out.

This recent change to my body reminded me of how tenuous my grip on my well-being is, and how quickly the ground can be shaken for everyone.

While I used to keep my dyslexia to myself, I've found that it's much easier to cope with, and feels much less imposing, when I speak up about it. For example, I've been telling friends in the moment when I misread something. Last week, in the car with my bestie, we passed a sign for a restaurant space that advertised it was "turnkey," meaning ready to be leased. Having read that word as "turkey," we had a great laugh about the idea of a restaurant that served nothing but Thanksgiving dinner. And I mentioned my dyslexia to editors when requesting that an existing article be reworded not to reference people who spell poorly as less educated or intelligent.

Everything in life is easier once we stop trying to handle it alone. My dyslexia is a reminder to use my voice and to open myself up to others. I'm grateful that I had several decades in life without it, and I'm able to consider it a daily reminder of what a marvel it is that I'm still alive, having survived so much.

3 Sources
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  1. International Dyslexia Association. Frequently Asked Questions.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease of the week - co poisoning.

  3. Shen Q, Rong X, Pan R, et al. Digit and letter alexia in carbon monoxide poisoning. Neural Regen Res. 2012;7(21):1675-9. doi:10.3969/j.issn.1673-5374.2012.21.011