Accepting and Respecting My “Can’ts”, by Anna

By December 11, 2020 January 13th, 2021 NVLD Bloggers

“I can’t do that,” I said, while sitting in the snow.

My hand reaching out to my ski instructor, hoping to be helped up.

I was a child, probably second grade, in my school’s downhill ski program at the local mountain in town. Skiing was very challenging for me, but I grew up in a northern rural town where everyone skied, so I was going to learn one way or another. After last season on the bunny slope, I was finally capable of snowplow/pizza skiing down the full mountain. But I wasn’t fully steady on my skis yet.

I had fallen to the ground at a bit of a steeper area, and I was hoping my instructor would help pull me up. I couldn’t tip my skis and stand up.

“We don’t say ‘can’t,’” my instructor said, like so many adults have said to me before and so many people have said to me for years since. I kept trying and kept not succeeding. Finally she saw me tear up a little bit. I was embarrassed the other kids in my group were being held up by me. I was also feeling a little scared about how long I was going to be left sitting in the snow while the adult I was relying on refused to help me. She helped me up, but I could tell she was annoyed. She “knew” I could do it. I must have been being dramatic, I imagine she must have been thinking.

Even as a child I remember a desire to achieve. I dreamed of some day having a career where I made the world a better place. After I learned to read my goal became making the world a better place through writing. I was highly motivated to do what needed to be done to be successful.

Before my official NVLD diagnosis, just before my 28th birthday, I felt I needed to make my specific symptoms improve or just keep trying at my areas of weakness over and over no matter how hard it was. No matter how it affected my quality of life. I had to just keep attempting “until.” Until what, you might ask? Until I was able to accomplish it. It didn’t matter that I had never been able to accomplish a certain task in the past or that trying a specific challenging skill over and over again could zap my energy, impact my mental health, or affect my overall ability to manage my life. I felt I had to keep at something… until. Because if I didn’t, I was giving up.

I didn’t know for sure if some of my greatest challenges were part of my LD. If these adults thought I was being lazy, maybe I was. I did sit in my IEP meetings in middle and high school, so I was an active part of my own LD management when it came to school. But if it was not part of education I wasn’t sure if it was part of my LD. And if it wasn’t part of my LD it seemed to me that if I was  not succeeding at things other people were I must be being lazy or not working hard enough.

Listening to those often well meaning voices hurt me. Pushing against all my challenges had damaging effects. If I was going through a day or time period in my life where I was up against more of my symptoms– learning a bunch of new-to-me computer programs taxing my visual-spatial skills or having to use an increased amount of fine motor skills– I would have found myself struggling at things in life that were not usually challenging. It was as if furniture  started jumping out in front of me. My poor toes got stubbed more in a week during those times then they have in all the years since.

Pushing against the symptoms of my disability affected more than my ability to navigate around objects. When I had too much of my deficits/ NVLD symptoms tasked too often, I would have trouble managing daily aspects of life that I usually did well. I would forget needed items at home. I would write a less clean copy. Overall, I would struggle with the things that I would later learn were symptoms of my NVLD and I would start to struggle with things that were usually my strengths.

After my NVLD diagnosis as an adult, I began to think a bit differently about how to be a successful person. I now knew I had specific symptoms of a condition and I felt I had a right to be kind to myself. I wasn’t being lazy and I wasn’t giving up on things that “everyone” found just as challenging. I allowed myself to put less focus on the specific skills I could now see validated on a medical report, and instead find other ways around it.

I had a right to respect my “can’ts.”

But not everyone was supportive of this new perspective that I found so validating and freeing.

“What happened to the positive Anna we used to know?” Some people said. “You can’t give up, practice makes perfect!” Others would say.

There have always been people that do not support my choice to accept that certain specific skills will never be obtainable to me. I don’t think my time is well spent practicing my handwriting, working on my math skills, or trying to find my way around without a GPS. People with this perspective will often use the word willpower. I don’t feel willpower is part of it, at least in any healthy way. I think in place of willpower, we should insert creativity. When I come upon a skill deficit getting in the way I pause and rethink what other ways I can achieve the goal.

I don’t feel I became less positive and I don’t feel I am giving up. I had way too much to accomplish to give up. I do feel, however, believe that I am creating a more happy and successful life for myself.

And how did the skiing story turn out? I kept skiing right up until I moved out of that region when I was 30-years-old. I even did some volunteer ski instructing in the same program I grew up with. I never did learn to get up after falling with my skis on. I fell very rarely as an adult skier. Don’t tell my instructors, but when I did fall I would take off my skis and slide, scoot, or sometimes walk to a more level area and put my skis back on from a standing position.

If at first you don’t succeed, do it a different way!


Anna has dreamed about making the world a better place for people who think differently her whole life. She has worked as a newspaper reported and in supported employment in community mental health to achieve these goals. When not writing her blog, This NVLD Life  ( she enjoys life with her husband and her cat, Mia. Anna is a Project Social Ambassador for The NVLD Project.

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