The other day I received a message from a nineteen-year-old woman thanking me for my outspoken stance on dyslexia. Here’s my stance in a nutshell. I have severe dyslexia but I don’t have a disability. My brain just works differently than other brains.
I talk openly and honestly about the horrors of growing up in a system that labeled me “Special.” I try to give support to parents and lead by example. I’ve become an unintentional spokesperson by helping people understand what dyslexia is and how to deal with it.
However, lately I’ve been feeling like a fraud.
Just because I’ve made it look easy doesn’t mean it was. Yes, you can become an author despite a limited reading ability, but it’s a tough journey. Dyslexia ranges from a few backwards letters to a fundamental inability to arrange letters, words and sometimes numbers in the correct order. It’s not fixable; you either have the ability or you don’t.
It never goes away. Sometimes you can figure out work-arounds but sometimes you can’t and you have to learn to live with it, which is embarrassing, frustrating and in some instances detrimental to your goals.
Some of the things I deal with are:
1. I can’t read aloud.
Words don’t make sense to me when I read aloud. It also takes an immense amount of concentration to say the correct word in the right order. For example: Librarian and Libertarian look exactly the same to me and if I say them out loud, I don’t know which word will come out. It makes my twitter feed interesting though.
I don’t do many book events because inevitably people will want me to read an excerpt from one of my novels. I’m honest when I explain why I can’t, but the shame is still present. There is still the eight-year-old girl in me standing in front of a classroom trying to get through a presentation.
2. I can’t spell.
It’s not the cute, there, they’re, their misspellings, but a deep lack of understanding of prefixes and suffixes, and many other spelling rules. This also ties into my inability to write by hand. I have a lot of childhood trauma around my handwriting and spelling ability.
I can’t write personal messages in my books. That one hurts because there are many supporters, bloggers, and reviewers who have supported me that I would love to give a special book to, but I can’t.
3. I read very slowly.
I also don’t read linearly, which may be why I can’t read aloud. I had to teach myself to read so who knows what my brain came up with.
I love to read, but it takes me about thirty hours to get through an average novel; compared to my fellow authors who can whip through one in about an hour and a half. I want to support my fellow indies by reviewing, but my list is already so long I’ll be reading for the next two years.
I justify my feelings by telling myself that I also can’t whistle, but no one will call me stupid for not knowing how to do that. Reading and spelling are easy to test so they have become the focus of our standardized testing culture. But the fact remains, if you have trouble reading you are considered dumb.
So as an author I stand on my soapbox and preach that people with dyslexia are creative and clever and survivors, but there is a part of me that feels judged, or more accurately graded. I have a stab of envy when I hear my fellow authors read from their novels. And I dread book signings.
But the point of this is that I do it anyway. I can’t be the typical author doing the standard author stuff. I have to interact more with people at signings. I have a friend read the excerpts from my novels at events and when I write a review for an indie, I mean every hard-fought word.
Having dyslexia makes things difficult but not impossible. I just wanted to share my struggles so anyone else struggling will hopefully not feel alone.
If you are never given “the box” you will always have to think outside of it.