Nearly a year ago, I watched a mini-documentary on Joe Biden’s stutter during the Democratic National Convention. My first thought was, “I had no idea he had a stutter!”
My next thought was how inspirational this was going to be for people all over the world who are fighting their own battles of adversity. Here was someone who is respected, intelligent, empathetic, and who is tasked with one of the greatest challenges of our time—and he has a stutter.
After light was shed on Joe Biden’s stutter, it felt like the stutter’s power diminished. There was understanding and support as he paused to collect his words or even went on to stutter on national television. Months later, when he gave his victory speech, I watched through tears, knowing his fight would inspire so many people who are worried they can’t accomplish their dreams because of a disability.
I was deeply moved, because I struggle everyday with my own disability: dyslexia. Dyslexia is a phonological processing disorder, and according to dyslexiaresource.org, “affects the organization in the brain that controls the ability to process the way language is heard, spoken, read, or spelled.” In essence, I see things, hear things and say things differently, due to the way my brain processes information. For much of my life I have hid my dyslexia from the world, trying to protect myself from being rejected, scrutinized, or shamed.
In fact, throughout my life I have hid many parts of who I truly am. I slowly started to realize this once the pandemic began, as forced isolation lent me plenty of time for reflecting. With the help of many hours of therapy, I recognized that I often cover up a lot of who I authentically am—either to avoid the discomfort of admitting that I am actually not doing well, or because I think that my physical appearance is a reflection of my self worth (which is incredibly painful having gained the COVID-“19”).
I hide by putting on a smile when I am actually sad and spending hours layering on make-up to cover up my melasma, ache, and scarring. By straightening my coarse, curly hair and cramming my toes into 6″ stilettos to add extra height.
…and by never admitting my disability when I say the wrong word, spell something wrong or deciding not to take part in something because I’m afraid of someone discovering the extent of my disability. Sadly, this was the reason I ultimately decided to change my major and not be a teacher, a dream I had since I was in second grade.
For the sake of my emotional wellbeing, I have started trying to be more authentic, admitting to friends and family that I struggle with depression, anxiety, and have a hard time connecting with people. This has opened up the opportunity for deeper conversations and in turn made me feel accepted for who I truly am, not the smile I was putting on to make others feel more comfortable. Now I try to connect on a deeper level, ask more questions, and be honest. I am more okay with saying that I do not know what to say, or admitting that I struggle with social anxiety if I do not want to go to a party.
When it comes to my physical appearance, I have embraced my coarse, curly hair, letting my hair straightener collect dust, and going days without putting on make-up. My heels have all been given away and I am finding myself choosing comfort and clothing that resonates with who I authentically am, not what’s on the cover of Vogue.
It is in these moments when I am being authentic that I have found a deeper connection with people (and myself!) I’ve also realized how impactful and different it feels to be complimented on something that is authentically me. In the past, I would spend hundreds on an outfit and spend hours getting ready (expensive make-up, hair extensions, spray on tanner, teeth whitening strips…) and when I would get complimented it would feel great, but it was fleeting. I think I knew deep down that they were not complimenting me, but instead who I was dressed up to be.
Looking back over this year, I have focused primarily on being more honest about my emotional wellbeing and unapologetic about my physical appearance. For the most part, I have still been too scared to admit the extent of my learning disability, instead putting so much energy into hiding my dyslexia. I worried that if my peers found out the extent of my struggles, I would be labeled as stupid and my disability would define me. I feared I would be unable to get a promotion or jobs in the future.
By admitting that I have struggled with this disability for my entire life and will for the rest of my life, I hope that I can diminish the power of my dyslexia and the shame. I share this in the hopes of promoting understanding. I want to show people what took me over 30 years to learn, something I wish I could tell my seven-year-old self: Dyslexia is about neurology, not intelligence, and having it does not diminish your worth as a human being.
But it is time to take the next step in being authentically me, as no one can accept who I authentically am, if I do not share the true me.
Stay Tuned! This is the first post in a series – over the upcoming weeks I will be sharing more about my dyslexia and how it has affected me. I share in the hopes of promoting understanding of this disability – which affects everyone who has it differently. This series of posts has taken me over a year to write and I’m terrified to share so much about who I authentically am because it means I can no longer “hide”…not behind a smile, a layer of makeup, or sit something out because I am afraid of my dyslexia being discovered…this is me, the real me.