I hid my dyslexia at work for 25 years because I was tired of being labeled. Now I'm embracing it.
- I'm a dyslexic writer. It's something that makes people ask me one question: "How?"
- I hid my
dyslexiaat workfor 25 years because of that, and because I'd been labeled so often as a child.
Shame is described as a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. It's something we all experience yet rarely admit. With shame comes secrets and perceived hidden weaknesses — the things about ourselves we don't want anyone to know. In action, shame descends upon us like a fog invisibly finding its way into the very core of our being.
Recently, that fog found me as I was sitting at a virtual event listening to a panel of authors. The discussion centered around identity and shame. Some on the panel lamented what so many writers feel: Were they really writers? Did that feeling have merit, or was it merely unfounded imposter syndrome? Others talked about the trouble of writing about topics and being questioned if they had the right to represent them.
As they talked, I could feel my own shame — pinpricks finding their way into my consciousness about the 25 years I'd spent hiding my dyslexia as a professional writer. When the event opened to comments, I was tempted to raise my virtual Zoom hand and share my experience.
But I didn't. It seemed too big a secret and simultaneously too trivial to disclose, since I'd managed to hide it from editors and colleagues for so long and no one had ever been the wiser.
For years, I felt like any mistakes I made at work would be traced back to who I am: a dyslexic writer
Those two things are viewed the same way as oil and water; they don't mix. I know because the few people I have disclosed it to over the years always ask the same question: "How on earth can you be a writer when you have dyslexia?"
In the days following the virtual event, I thought a lot about my shame. Why would revealing my truth trigger it? It made no sense. I'd worked at editorial
Slowly, I began to realize that my shame came from a much deeper place than the here and now. Its origins were formed not in my adult life, but as a child.
Despite the struggles dyslexia posed early on, I always loved reading and writing
Proof positive: a recently found dog-eared copy of "Dubliners" by James Joyce from when I was a teenager with comments in the margins and sentences underlined, which I was reading in my free time.
Unlike math, creativity came naturally to me. I could see stories in my head before I put pen to paper. The act of putting words together to create something fed me in a way nothing else did. It always felt like my calling.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade, when my teacher noted I was still writing letters backwards and was utterly lost in math. In those days, the early 1980s, there were no accommodations — you either learned it the way they taught it or you failed. The school I attended had no support for children with learning disabilities, so the next year I was forced to transfer to another one where they had more resources.
School was isolating as a child with a learning disability
I can still picture the girl I was in the first year at my new school. I arrived friendless. A scrawny, freckled kid, who would have preferred hiding under my desk over actually having to speak out loud in class. Each day for a few periods, myself and a handful of other students were shuffled off to a small group class for students with learning disabilities. I remember being profoundly embarrassed by it, and after it was done, I dreaded going to lunch and hearing my classmates talk about the subjects I missed because my brain didn't work like theirs.
Despite this, by sixth grade I managed to make friends and miraculously started to find my footing. I trained myself to write letters in the right direction. Math still posed a challenge, but I grew more confident in classes with
What I didn't see coming was middle school: grades six through eight. There, classes were sectioned in three categories: Basic, Standard, and Honors. No matter what kind of a student you were, everyone with a learning disability was automatically placed in Basic in every subject, despite my A's and B's in English and history.
I'm not sure what shifted or how I gained the courage — maybe it was losing every friend I had from elementary school, maybe it was me knowing I deserved more, maybe it was having my bra strap snapped every day by the obnoxious boy that sat behind me — but I decided to fight it. I eventually won and got moved up to Standard classes, even if I had to work twice as hard as most of my classmates once I got there.
I thought as soon as my colleagues knew about my dyslexia, they'd see my work differently
College and the working world afforded me the opportunity to finally shed the label I fought so hard against in grade school. I was no longer defined by a file full of notes made by people who barely knew anything about me, except what they saw once or twice a year when they conducted mandatory observations for less than an hour. I was finally free. I would be judged simply for the work I did.
The problem was that by then, I was trained to believe that any mistakes I made were a direct result of my dyslexia. Looking back, it wasn't my bosses who were hard on me — it was me. I was still trying to prove to myself that I belonged.
In my late 20s, my secret weighed on me heavily when I was promoted to the position of managing editor at a magazine, because it meant I was responsible for the finished product. My desk was the final stop on the production line, and if I missed anything, it was on me.
I often wondered what my boss would think if she knew. Would she trust that I could perform the job as well as someone without dyslexia? My fear drove me to prove that I could. And as I settled into the job, and gained full access to the writing of others, I began to see that things like grammatical errors, repeated words, using too instead of to, were not the mistakes of a dyslexic mind but merely a human one.
Over the years, I've learned that my dyslexia is as much a part of who I am as my eyes, my hair, and my mind
My dyslexia has shaped me. It has made me work harder. I have taken what was viewed as a weakness and used it to develop strengths. And now, I will no longer hide it; instead I will wear it like a badge of honor.
That little girl I was would have never believed that one day she would succeed in a profession no one would have thought she could, and mine is a story she desperately needed to hear. Children like her need to know that they can be anything they want to be; that no one is allowed to judge you because a piece of paper says you are different; and when the system is set up to doubt you, you have every right to prove it wrong.
- EAM Jaishankar meets Australian Intelligence chief Andrew Shearer on sidelines of Raisina Dialogue
- Sustainable Tourism Practices
- Byju's shareholders vote to remove CEO, family; company calls vote invalid
- Engaging with competent authorities, use only genuine cheese, says McDonald's
- Apple's India revenue up 42% to $8.7 bn in 2023: Morgan Stanley