Not Again: Living with Selective Perception

Not Again: Living with Selective Perception
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If I’m not paying attention, I'll read something incorrectly or not at all, even if it’s directly in front of me and written in large print. This is why I periodically walk into men’s rooms by mistake, and how I broke my knee four years ago. I struggle to explain to people how I often fail to see things that are plainly visible, and I don’t completely understand it myself. To the best of my knowledge, my dyslexia causes my selective vision. My brain focuses on what is necessary and often eliminates everything else. So if I’m walking toward a door and looking at the door handle, my peripheral vision doesn’t register the sign on the eight-by-eleven-inch piece of paper with letters in forty-eight point font that clearly say, Do Not Enter.

If I’m preoccupied with my own thoughts, I occasionally fail to discern the difference between the men’s and women’s room signs. On one memorable occasion, I exited a bathroom stall and noticed the room was filled with men. Indignant, I thought, what are all these men doing in the ladies’ room! (This was decades before society became sensitized to gender fluidity.) Then I realized there were no other women present, and once again I had done my thing in the wrong bathroom. My self-righteous judgment shamed me.

My selective perception is also the reason I broke my knee. As I entered a store, I didn’t register the huge sign directly in front of me that warned, “watch for step.” Instead I looked at the door on my left. When I tripped on the step at the entrance to the store and then onto the brick floor, landing on my left knee, the alarmed sales lady demanded, “Didn’t you see the sign?” There was no way to explain to her in the moment that no, I hadn’t seen her huge sign. With a combination of resignation and shame, I realized I’d just experienced my first dyslexic accident. It felt like the equivalent of wetting my bed.

Aside from the humiliation of repeatedly walking into men’s rooms (less of an issue in the current decade of the twenty-first century than in the past), you might think this problem would make the world a dangerous place for me. But to date, it hasn’t been. Most of the time I know when to pay attention and when to relax. I’m a bad driver, so I’m always extremely careful behind the wheel. In the last forty-one years, since I began driving, I’ve only had one moving violation, and the insurance company determined the other driver was at fault. I’m very cautious on stairs, not because of mobility issues, but because I know I’m at risk of not seeing the last step, or the landing.

Going through the world knowing I may not see everything around me is a little freaky. I don’t mind seeing things backwards occasionally, which is also an expression of my dyslexia. I usually catch those errors quickly and double check whatever I’ve misread or misperceived. But even with vision corrected by lenses, I know I’m not moving through the world as most others do. I reconcile this reality by accepting that the world is full of dangers, both those we know about and those beyond our control. So I’ll do what I’ve always done, which is to hope that my mistakes are more humorous than dangerous. They usually are.

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