Life with Dyslexia

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5 min readOct 23, 2021

A beginner’s attempt to normalize discussions about disability.

Photo of female author standing on a boulder in tie dye heart long sleeve with trees, brush and a lake in backdrop.

I recently experienced the first moment I was ever proud to be dyslexic. This spring, in February 2021, I joined Peninsula Open Space Trust’s Wallace Stegner Lecture live: “The Power of Community to Bring Change by one of my heroes, the amazing erin brockovich, and was deeply inspired in so many ways. Related to this post’s topic, she very casually shared that she was dyslexic and spoke briefly about the difference her teacher who recognized this made in her life. She didn’t share it as something she needed to overcome or a disadvantage, but rather simply as a small piece of her story and identity.

Selfie of author with her identical twin sister, Kate

As an identical twin, a huge piece of my identity has always been public. We’ve always stuck out and received undue attention. But as an INFJ, I’ve always preferred to make my mark quietly then melt into the background. Growing up, Kate was our spokeswoman. Also there’s an overwhelming ableist stigma in modern American society.

So while I knew I was different growing up, a little backwards or mirrored, due to conformity’s pressure and my backstage preference, I’ve never before identified as a disabled person. I don’t check the box on forms and never wanted to be a diversity metric or to be given special consideration.

As someone with an invisible disability, it can be easy to fly under the radar; silence can be extremely detrimental though. So in the interest of visibility, here are a couple of ways my disability manifests in my life:

  • It takes immense focus for me to write, and I cannot multitask when doing so (besides listening). I unknowingly wiggle my jaw when intensive writing, and the results are often messy handwriting, with jumbled letters, made-up abbreviations and mixed in capitals.
  • I was a Spanish major going into college but did not succeed in the field. During a year abroad in Buenos Aires, I realized that developing true fluency in the foreign language was honestly an obstacle that I was not equipped to overcome. This was a tough pill to swallow at the time and took a while to unpack.
  • I sometimes have to re-read sentences multiple times to comprehend and resultantly am slow to read. For this reason, I rarely complete full books, read multiple titles at one time and skew towards Medium or magazines for fresh content. Grand displays of folks’ book challenges sometimes make me feel incompetent.
  • Aloud I frequently struggle to retrieve words, trip over myself speaking, confuse names that sound alike, flip numbers/letters and have difficulty pronouncing unfamiliar words.
  • I have trouble making out the correct change at a cash register, which is increasingly important in my career these days.
  • I do not perform well when put on the spot, am easily distracted by competing noises and am occasionally accused of zoning out.
  • I often don’t understand sarcasm or figurative sayings so can quickly feel lost in a group conversation.
Selfie of the author wearing a long sleeve shirt reading “Disability is not a bad word”

It’s only now into my early thirties that I’m finally confident enough to share all of this, that I am dyslexic. I first publicly, nervously shared this piece of myself earlier this year through the inspiration of Francisco Oller Garcia and the recent ERG he had formed at Drift: Possabilities. I was sweating profusely as I typed my first intro to the slack group (kinda like I am right now TBH), but I’ve learned so much from this amazing community over the past few months and would like to pay it forward because representation matters.

Like Erin, I’ve come to appreciate dyslexia not as a trait to hide but one I own with pride, and I hope my fellow disabled folks can join the celebration. With appreciation, here are a few common dyslexic characteristics that make me who I am:

  • I’m an out of the box thinker, who’s good at grasping the big picture.
  • I have an extreme work ethic and am noticeably resilient and able to adapt, often seeking new challenges versus stagnation.
  • I have a strong ability to sense the emotions and energy of others and have been praised for exceptional emotional intelligence and warmth.

By being an engaged member of this new welcoming community for only a few months now, I’ve learned many foundational lessons already:

  • Disabled people need to be treated with fairness and equal respect but that doesn’t mean we’re all the same. Even when invisible, disabilities are real, and everyone’s experience with it is unique. We need to get past the over-simplified ‘Be Kind’ strategy and “pay attention to the human person in front of you.”*
  • Don’t assume a disabled person needs help — if you’re inclined to assist, always ask first.
  • Never doubt, belittle, attempt to validate and/or joke about a disabled’s person’s experience. Leave all decisions around disclosure up to each individual.
  • Disability is not a bad word! It’s important to surface, to share our experiences and to see each other in all our uniqueness. Learning the behaviors, pressures and communication styles related to various disabilities will help you understand and empathize.
  • Be aware of traditional ableist language that’s part of our everyday vernacular, avoid words like: dumb, crazy, insane, lame, blind as a bat, fat, short…
  • It’s estimated that at least 10%* of Americans have some sort of invisible disability; it’s time to celebrate all of our strengths.
  • 15%† of the global population and 61 Millionº adults in America have a disability — let’s raise our voices and lift each other up!

This is just the beginning of my no-longer-invisible disabled journey. If you have any learnings or an experience to share, I’d love to hear.

It’s never too late to learn more about others’ disabled experiences. Here are a few resources that got our team started:

Thank you so much to everyone who’s shared visible courage lately, especially to Erin Brockovich, Francisco Oller Garcia, Elizabeth Glavan, Nick Rachielles, and the whole Possabilities team!

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🌲 Small town outdoorist + entrepreneur 📍 Boulder Creek, California - unceded land of the Coastanoan + Amah Mutsun Tribal Bands ✨ she / her