Zofia Attarmigirian believed throughout her whole childhood that she was stupid.
As a child she couldn’t understand her school lessons because her mind would always wander when her teacher started talking.
Now the Maple Ridge hairstylist is sharing her story in advance of the James Cameron School premiere of the film Normal Isn’t Real by award-winning filmmaker Krys Kornmeier, to show others with learning disabilities that they too can overcome them and lead a successful and self-fulfilling life.
Attarmigirian was born in Slovakia, and moved to Canada when she was four-years-old. She learned English during her first years of elementary school.
Not knowing what was wrong with her the five-year-old would return home from school crying and turned to food to make her feel better.
She was bullied by her classmates and by age 11 she hit 200-pounds.
“My weight then got the better of me and I just thought that food was the only way I could feel good, it literally numbed my emotions and my confusion. When I ate I didn’t think or feel,” said Attarmigirian, describing her addiction as her only escape route.
Attarmigirian didn’t know who to turn to for help, because, she said, everyone would tell her she just caused trouble.
“I felt very very misunderstood and that I didn’t belong in the world,” she said.
Things became much more difficult for Attarmigirian when she entered high school. She didn’t understand any of the school work being taught to her and she couldn’t understand why. She couldn’t even follow written instructions.
“My mind would just wander off and I would have to re-read something so many times that I just gave up,” said Attarmigirian.
And, she said, nobody ever approached her or her parents about her learning difficulties.
“They just assumed I was lazy at school work,” she said.
Attarmigirian eventually graduated from high school, but with very low grades. Thinking back she felt that she learned nothing academically. Attarmigirian said she learned more about life from her friends and social experiences.
After graduation Attarmigirian knew she wanted to become a hairstylist because she loved making people feel beautiful. She also knew that she was a creative person with a huge imagination.
“I knew I could see and visualize hair differently then the average person,” she said.
However, she was 18-years-old and still did not know that she had a learning disability.
Attarmigirian passed her mannequin and model work but failed all of her written exams. She said teachers, one in particular, would become frustrated at the amount of questions she would often have to ask to complete an assignment.
Attarmigirian was able to graduate and is now a successful hairstylist with a full clientele for the past 15 years.
She also lost the weight she gained after hitting her peak at 275-pounds when she was 28-years-old.
At 34, she has lost 110 lbs and has managed to keep it off over the past six years.
It wasn’t until she was 33-years-old that she found out she was dyslexic. Looking back, Attarmigirian says, it makes so much sense.
“I am smart, creative and talented and I now know I wasn’t ever stupid at all. I just didn’t have an understanding of how my brain works. My brain actually works in an amazing way. I’m thankful for the way I was created,” she said.
The documentary film Normal Isn’t Real: Succeeding with Learning Disabilities and ADHD follows the stories and successes of four young adults as they come to terms with their learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Each subject shares insight into their daily lives, venting their frustrations and revealing the strategies they use to manage their challenges in life as well as their strengths.
Filmmaker, Krys Kornmeier, made the film after her own son was diagnosed with learning disabilities and ADHD in the second grade.
Since its premiere in 2018, the film has been viewed at community screenings throughout the United States.
In high school, Attarmigirian said, she always looked at everyone as equal and was kind to every child. She didn’t believe in being mean to others for their disabilities or their appearance.
Now she wants others to know that they are not alone.
Normal Isn’t Real will be premiering at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 27 at the Hollywood 3 Cinemas, 19190 Lougheed Hwy. in Pitt Meadows.
The cost is by donation.
James Cameron School, founded in 1980, is a small school with about 40 students and 16 staff members that specializes in educating elementary school-aged children with learning disorders, primarily dyslexia.
The school will be celebrating 40 years in the community with a gala at Sky Hangar in Pitt Meadows, 18799 Airport Way, unit 170, on April 4. Tickets for that are $100 per person, or a table of eight for $700, with the goal of raising $75,000 to help fund new music and drama programs at the school, to build a bursary fund, expand their assisted technology programs, to purchase iPads for all of their students and begin a capital campaign.
Each ticket includes dinner, one cocktail and a paddle number for the live auction.
Deadline for tickets is midnight Mar. 13 and can be purchased at jcs.bc.ca/gala/.
For more information call 604-465-8444.