My Learning Disability Isn't 'Just a State of Mind'

Dear Family Member,

I know you thought you were helping. I know you meant well when you told me that my learning disability was just a state of mind. I know that in your world of perfect children who do great things and maintain 4.3 GPAs it can be hard to accept that someone who seems so smart could do so poorly in school without it being their fault. I know you never meant to hurt me and invalidate my experience as a disabled person. But there’s so much you don’t know.

For the past 14 years of my life I’ve been told I’m lazy — that I just need to try harder. When you tell me my disability is all a state of mind, my anxiety lies to me and tells me everything everyone ever said about me is true. That I’m lazy and I cut corners and it’s such a shame that such “giftedness” was wasted on someone who will never live up to her potential.

As a sophomore in high school, I’m taking pre-algebra. When I glance to my left there is a 12-year-old sitting next to me soaking in all the material like a sponge, while to me, everything sounds like gibberish and my brain shuts off. I’m terrified of taking the SATs because if I fail them I’ve been told my life will be over. Some days I wish I could still be that lazy girl with the wasted giftedness because at least I wouldn’t feel like I’m perpetually screwed up. Some days I can’t even get out of bed because I don’t want to face the reality that no matter how hard I try, math will never be easy for me.

I cry at night because of thoughtless, ableist comments like yours. You would never tell someone who was in a wheelchair that their disability was a state of mind, that they could just try harder and will it away. So I leave you with this lingering question: “Why is mine any different?”

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