Alumni Guest Blog Post Series
In each article, a graduate will tell us their story, their journey, their anecdotes, their regrets, their best memories or anything they would like to share with our community!
For this blog post, Michelle Young, BSocSc '11, Psychology (Minor in Communications), tells us about her journey and how she went from a student with learning difficulties to becoming an author and publishing books.
My entire life, I was told that I wasn’t good at math or science. People often told me to work harder, try more, and or to sit at the desk for as long as it took until the information sunk in. They called me lazy and distracted. After a while of hearing this over and over again, I started to believe it. The thing was, I actually loved learning. I just had trouble remembering specific information about what I’d learned.During tests, I would remember exactly which side of the page the information was on in the textbook and what picture accompanied it, but when it came to remembering terms, definitions or dates, my mind went blank. I spent most of my high school years thinking I wasn’t as smart as everyone else.
Discovering my learning disabilities
It wasn’t until the third year of my bachelor’s at the University of Ottawa that I completed a psychological assessment to determine if I had a learning disability.As it turned out, I had a poor working memory as well as dyslexia. This explained why it was almost impossible for me to retain terms and dates. Certain behaviours I’d picked up started to make sense, like why I’d been leaving Ppost-it notes all over the house. It had been my own way of masking my disability without me even knowing.
The psychologist told me after the assessment that he was surprised I’d graduated from high school, but that he didn’t expect me to complete my degree. My learning disabilities were just too pronounced. According to him, my reading level was that of a Grade six 6 student and my writing was at the level of a Ggrade nine 9 student. As someone who’s always loved language and writing, this hurt.
Embracing my learning disabilities
Rather than getting swallowed up by my new diagnosis, I decided to embrace it.What ended up happening was that instead of feeling ashamed of my disabilities, I started to talk openly about them. Talking it through with others allowed me the freedom to accept my different learning style. I realized I was smart, inquisitive, and even gifted in certain areas. All of this had been hidden from me behind a wall of insecurities and lies for most of my life. Once I understood my disabilities, I began changing how I retained information and how I worked. I stopped taking notes in class and focused my energy on listening and participating. Rather than trying to remember details by heart, I decided to understand the concepts and practice explaining it to others as way to ensure I’d understood the lesson. My grades improved and I graduated along with the rest of my class. I got a job right away, working as a recruitment specialist for a staffing agency one hour away from where I was living. I had to take the bus to get to my job and started reading on the bus. Both ways, that gave me two solid hours of reading time. As you can imagine, my reading improved dramatically, and I quickly fell in love with storytelling.
From reading difficulties to becoming an author
I started to write and shared my stories with close friends and family, but after getting diagnosed with infertility and not finding any books on the subject at local bookstores, I knew what I had to do. I wrote and self-published my first book, Salt & Light, with the goal of helping others going through a similar situation. Before long, the book took off and I was invited for book signings at big book chains in town. I’ve since published two other books and I’m the process of publishing my fourth book in three years.
"...I became an author, despite having a learning disability and having failed some university courses. Just because someone tells you that you can’t do something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. If you have a dream, find a way that works for you and make it happen. No one else will do it for you."
-Michelle Young, B.Sc.Soc.'11,
Psychologie (Mineure en communications)