As I was taking a walk the other day on a level trail near our home, a cyclist approaching from behind called out, “On your left!”, which for most people would be a helpful warning. Unfortunately, here I am in my sixth decade and I do not know which side of me is left. I find the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ confusing. When the cyclist called out his warning, I had to stop walking and think for a moment to identify which side of me is the left side. Today, thinking about that incident, I decided to write about how it feels to be left handed and dyslexic.

Both of my parents were right handed. Apparently as a toddler I was already preferring to use my left hand and my grandmother – who thankfully did not live locally – attempted to punish the use of my left hand by giving it a tiny slap whenever I used it. My mother was a much more progressive person so when my stern grandmother returned to her home, she allowed me to develop as a lefty.

In first grade my teacher said I had ‘mirror vision’ because I wrote most of my letters backwards. The word ‘dyslexia’ had not yet been invented. First grade was difficult for me because I couldn’t understand what was wrong with my letters – they looked fine to me.

All through my school years I had minor problems like being uncoordinated with using scissors and finding the use of certain desks for right-handed people very uncomfortable. I had a smudge of ink or pencil along the pinky-edge of my left hand for most of growing up. I didn’t seem to have challenges with reading unless I was asked to read out loud. When I did, I would be scolded for reading words out of order or skipping words. This is an issue that plagues me to this day. As an adult I realized that I ofter read in chunks and sometimes will find that I’ve absorbed an entire sentence by reading from right to left. In various professional settings when I’ve had to read out loud, I become hyperaware of what I’m seeing to attempt to read properly.

In my role as a nurse, I’ve had to document where I’ve delivered injections or done dressing changes. Knowing I cannot tell right from left on my own body meant I knew figuring it out on someone else was close to impossible. I developed a system where I always confirmed with my patients, “I gave you the injection to your right arm, correct?” This system didn’t work when I had newborns as patients, so in those cases I just did my best.

When our daughter was two years old and she seemed to know her left from her right, I recall saying to my husband, “My God, she’s a genius – she already knows her left from her right!” His response was, “Everyone knows their left from their right as a child.” Funny, I still don’t know it! I’ve learned tricks, like making an ‘L’ shape with your thumb and forefinger, but in a pinch I cannot tell which hand has the correct ‘L’ because they both look similar.

I do wonder if being dyslexic stimulated my creative nature because from a very young age I’ve had to develop strategies to manage in life. I was always a good student so it did not appear to hold back my achievement. Did it also help me to be a more visually oriented person because I’ve had to work so hard to read and write?