Dyslexia and Me: Get Some Hattitude!


I’ve always been a hat wearer. I absolutely love hats! While the stereotype of women is shoes and handbags, for me it’s hats. I have a couple of caps, some floppy hats, a beany hat with horns, a Frank Sinatra style hat, a couple of handmade hats from craft fairs… I LOVE HATS!!!

When it all began

I have memories of when I was 5 or 6 years old frequently visiting the GPs with earache. It used to become worse when winter came along and I can remember taking time off school because it was so painful. The doctor said that it was (from my memory) that the canals in my ears collapsed when the weather was cold. I have never looked into this, but it sounds fairly dramatic! I was advised to wear a hat to keep my ears warm in hope that this would stop the earache happening quite so often.

Black Watch Tartan

Black Watch Tartan

The first hat I remember picking out for myself was a Black Watch tartan floppy hat. I must have been about 9 or 10 years old when my mum bought it for me. It was the kind of hat that you’d expect to see Mayim Bialik wear on 90s TV show Blossom. I used to love that show! I had another hat of a similar style that was black velvet on the outside but multicoloured on the inside, so where it lifted up at the front there was an array of colours. My best friend in primary school had a very similar matching hat, but the colours on the reverse were slightly different.

My young activist self on my Greenpeace Passport for Rockall when I was 12 or 13.

My young activist self on my Greenpeace Passport for Rockall when I was 12 or 13.

When I started high school, my love of hats continued, though I don’t recall many of them standing out as much as my two hats I picked out in primary school. I do remember my mum throwing out a load of my hats though! I bought an awesome hat while on holiday (I guess this would have still been in primary school). It was a cap and it had a solar panel on it that powered a fan that was built into the front. I bought it to keep my face cool from the heat of the Majorca sun. My mum didn’t approve of it and it went in the bin. I had other hats and I did love my little activist hat. It was the 90s and it was a cheap imitation of the fashionable Kangol hats from the time. So very 90s!!!

I don’t remember any of my other hats from high school. I think I was too busy trying to push the boundaries with my other fashion at that point (tiaras and fairy wings to school, oh yes). When I went to college the first time around to study music, I got right back in there with some very funky hats. One that was bought for me at a craft fair that had two pieces of material you could either tie in a bow at the top, or let hang down. I still have it and it is so toasty and warm! I also bought myself a purple hat with a big star on the front that had almost tentacle like bits on the top with bells on each one that was tied together at the top. I still have it too, but it is very worn out now I’ve had it for 12 years!

Tentacle Star Hat

Tentacle Star Hat

I had hats specifically for the colder weather and hats for the summertime. They’d keep my ears warm and stop the earache, or block the sun out from my eyes. I started finding I needed them less to stop my earache when I started using earphones to listen to my music (another thing I have barely been apart from since high school is some sort of walkman; tapes, CDs, MiniDiscs and now MP3s). My earache has been vastly reduced because they are never fully exposed to the cold air like they used to be, though I am sure I recall being told I would grow out of having earache (I have no idea how that works, but there we go).

Why am I discussing hats?

Those cows are faaaaaar awaaaaaaaay!

Those cows are faaaaaar awaaaaaaaay!

Hats were always more than just a fashion accessory for me. They stopped my earache in the winter and they blocked out the sun in the summer. Since I started at university, I found that my caps were also helping me with my dyslexia and Irlen Syndrome. It was actually in my second year on my Erasmus exchange year that I discovered that wearing a cap helped to reduce my eyestrain and headaches when sat in some of the classrooms. Caps are made to block out the sun, but they were working very well at blocking the artificial strip lighting from hurting my eyes quite as much as they had before.

I find it very hard to work in a room with white walls, artificial lights and with a laptop in front of me to take notes. There is an imbalance of cones and rods in my eyes which is linked to Irlen Syndrome. I see in pixelated vision, as I mentioned in Dyslexia and Me: What you see, What I see. I struggle the most in rooms that are bright and with bare white walls or when I am in the dark. I was in one specific classroom on a Thursday evening 5-6pm after having almost consistent back to back classes from 10am until 5pm. I had two 1 hour breaks where I’d go home for lunch and a tea break. This final classroom of the day was white walled with artificial lighting, a white board at the front and I had my laptop for notes. There were a couple of times where I ended up listening to the lecture with my head on the table with my eyes closed hoping that my lecturer didn’t think I was falling asleep in her extremely interesting class!!!

A 'Viking' in Jorvik

A ‘Viking’ in Jorvik

I don’t know why I wore a hat to class, it’s always something I’ve instantly taken off when I’ve sat in a classroom. I remember kids at school being told off for wearing caps and guessed that wearing a hat in a classroom was disrespectful. I must have been having the bad hair day from hell! I got to the last class of the day and found that my headache wasn’t quite as bad as it had been in the previous weeks. After wearing my hat a few times in different classes, I found that it was blocking the harsh light from hitting my eyes and reducing the strain and the headaches/migraines.

I have overlays and I have ClaroView and ScreenRuler on my laptop but they only dull down the pixelations that I see a little. I still find it hard to read or even to look at paper/screens when I’m in a classroom that is so bright. I’ve had 3 different experts in the field tell me that the special glasses given to some with Irlen Syndrome would be of no use to the specific symptoms I have since the colour I find helpful changes periodically. Wearing a cap seems to help to take the edge off a little bit, but if I can avoid classrooms that are painted white I am far happier. Cream and magnolia walls aren’t quite so bad on my eyes either. The clinical white rooms in hospitals, offices etc seem to set me off too. I worry that when I start working that I am going to find myself in an office with clinical white walls and the inability to wear a hat for respect of the environment I am in.

More than just a fashion accessory

Rockin' my cap

Rockin’ my cap

It’s very rare to see me without a hat on. They’ve protected my ears from the cold to stop my earache and they are now shielding my eyes from harsh light to stop my headaches and migraines. I have had some very silly hats over the years, some very practical. I didn’t realise just how much of an impact they would have on my university studies when I was hiding under one due to a bad hair day. If you or someone you know do suffers from headaches and migraines that are linked to dyslexia or Irlen Syndrome, why not give it a try and see if it makes a difference. A cap really isn’t expensive to buy and if it doesn’t help to stop the headaches at least you can wear it to block out the summer sun.

Posted on March 23, 2014, in Blogging and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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