Mom said that 18 years ago when I was about to be born, she and Dad wondered if I would be creative like she was or have his mechanical abilities. Would I have his or her eyes? Or hair? She confessed to me one day that I ended up being uniquely myself.
From childhood I have been a private person and have preferred other forms of communication than spoken words as a way of sharing my thoughts and ideas while maintaining a sense of personal privacy and seclusion. The earliest sign of this was how slowly I began talking as a child. Mom said she was frustrated at my tardy pace. I apparently never spoke very much until I finally began to have things I actually wanted to talk about, and then I began speaking in full sentences.
My mother has the mind, soul, and spirit of an artist. She can create amazing works of art in any medium. As soon as my siblings and I could hold a crayon or pencil, Mom began challenging us with little art projects. She turned a pantry door into a faux canvas and let us draw on it with chalk. She says that when I was only three, I began adding eyelashes, belly buttons, and other details to my little figures. When I was five and she was pregnant with my brother Jacob, I drew her as a stick figure but with a protruding stomach.
I was seriously dyslexic, so as I grew older genuine developmental problems began to appear. Creativity became an outlet for me, providing ways of handling my growing anxieties. I always had art books and notebooks in which I would record my efforts to process my frustrations and make some sense of the world that was becoming constantly more confusing. Art provided a way for me to fully experience life. It was a release. I was able to communicate experiences and emotions through my art and writing that I couldn’t express in spoken words. For example, when I was angry, I would draw angry faces and would draw tear-streaked faces when I was sad. I also wrote little sad or angry notes for Mom to read.
FINALLY LEARNING TO READ
Of course, being dyslexic meant that my early childhood attempts at reading were worse than difficult; they were pointless. My parents began to try to coach me to read before I reached preschool years. My kindergarten and first grade teachers continued the useless effort of turning me into a reader. Phonics was a completely empty category; I had no idea what they were asking for when they told me to sound out a word.
“I BECAME EMPOWERED BY MY GROWING REALIZATION THAT EVERYONE STRUGGLES WITH LIMITATIONS AND IMPENDING FAILURES, SO WE MIGHT AS WELL NOT BE ASHAMED OF THE PARTICULAR BATTLES WE ARE INVOLVED IN OURSELVES.”
Mom tried to engage me in her love for literature and she would read to me every day. I never grew tired of listening to her read things like, A Wrinkle in Time, Nancy Drew, and Dr. Seuss books. I guess I loved the sound of Mom’s voice, because she said I seemed to enjoy listening to her read The Ultimate Resource for Fitness manual as much The Cat in the Hat. Mom couldn’t understand why I loved listening to the written word but was unable to begin recognizing the words themselves.
Things finally began to turn around, fortunately, when I attended second grade in a charter school. The teachers and administrators were open to my problem and tried various approaches to the challenge of helping me become a reader. They finally discovered that the doorway into my mind was through images. They used a vocabulary build-up method based upon flash cards that paired a word with an associated picture. A card with the word “lamp,” for example, would have a picture of a lamp. A set of lights began to go on in my brain and I was suddenly able to begin picking out words on a page.
My artist mom caught on right away and before long our walls, doorways, and mirrors seemed to be generating a harvest of flashcards. The living room, kitchen, hallways, and my bedroom and bathroom were soon festooned with them. Mom used them to promote Spanish vocabulary along with English. A card on a mirror in the bathroom might show a picture of a window with the word “ventana.” The refrigerator door might have a card with the same image and the word “window.”
Those cards began to open a door into the joys of the written word and I began to read my first simple texts, beginning with books like Dr. Seuss’ amazing Green Eggs and Ham that had a vocabulary of 50 words. However, my vocabulary acquisition method had left some gaps because there were no cards for words like “do”, “like” and the word “and.” As a result, the sentence “Do you like green eggs and ham” was reduced to the three words “green,” “eggs,” and “ham.”
However, I began to see collections of words as blocks of thoughts and became adept at recognizing from the context what the various verbs, prepositions, articles, etcetera meant.
MEET HANNAH VREELAND
While growing up, my dyslexia caused enormous problems and challenges for me and for my folks. However, Mom’s whole life provides a good illustration of overcoming hardships as she coped with the great number of desperate challenges that, from childhood, continued to flow into her life in a steady stream. She developed the ability to convert limitations into gateways and used hardships to develop strength. At any rate, under Mom’s guidance and with Dad’s support, I eventually transitioned from being a frustrated failing student to ultimately completing my senior year of high school with a 4.0 average.
My successful battle in overcoming the limitations dyslexia attempted to impose on my life drove me into other areas besides academics. I became empowered by my growing realization that everyone struggles with limitations and impending failures, so we might as well not be ashamed of the particular battles we are involved in ourselves. I have always been reserved and private, so I searched for ways through writing, drawing, and painting to invite others to relate with what I was going through myself. For example, I wrote a poem in which I described freely and honestly my frustrations with dyslexia. “There’s something wrong with my mind’s connection,” I wrote. “I cannot simply flick the switch on comprehension.”
Then I added,
I’m told I’m not trying hard enough That I can do better
The poem went on to explore my feelings about how difficult life had become:
I get paper after paper back Staring at question after question that’s wrong, Wrong, WRONG
The poem ended with a statement of the assurance that I had developed at the end the struggle:
There’s nothing wrong with my brain I just learn a different way
I took advantage of an AP Studio Art class to explore and confront challenges other than dyslexia including the frustrations, depressions, and anxieties that many of us post-millennials are feeling while trying to cope with the demands and pressures of contemporary society. I made a detailed pencil drawing of Robin Williams, whose death poignantly illustrated the depths of depression and addiction to which the most capable and admired people can be driven.
I’ve come to be grateful for my struggles with dyslexia, because they taught me how to persevere. If I have a problem, I know now that I can work through it and figure out a solution.
I’m currently a freshman at LMC. I began as an Art major, but switched to Behavioral and Social Science because social work appeals to me; I want to actually make a difference in the world and to help people. At this point, my ideal career would be as an Art Therapist. I might be good at it, because people talk to me easily. I’m a good listener. Acquaintances and even strangers sometimes confide things to me that I could hardly imagine them sharing with their closest friend. I’m good at establishing boundaries. If it doesn’t feel right, I’ve learned not to do it. If I want something to happen, I make it happen.
Art is the background and foundation for all of that energy, so Art Therapy is a role that I can already understand and appreciate.
Photos By Casey Quist