I am a writer. But I am also a dyslexic. And if you have read some of the previous post here, you may have noticed that. And yes, I love spell check programs, but they don’t catch everything. (Spell check program. Isn’t that a fantastic name by the way? A program that makes sure that your magic is correct.)
So, writing and dyslexia. Strange combination one might think. And in a way I suppose it is, but at the same time I think my dyslexia has actually made language and writing even dearer to me. The fact that I had really had to struggle for it and never took it for granted made me realize just how valuable it is. Because learning how to read didn’t come easy to me. I was not one of those kids who just pick it up on their own. For me it was a fight. But I wanted it so badly that there was never even a question about the outcome. I entered that fight to win. And I did. I finally conquered the art of written communication and there hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t cherished and celebrated that victory. To me learning how to read was like being given your own set of keys to paradise. After having been confined to guided tours I was now free to roam the world of books and stories when ever I wanted. I finally had the key in my own hand and it changed my life. I can still remember the pleasure of reading my very first real book. What a high that was! What a complete rush. I must have been seven at the time and I really felt like I owned the world. I had access to unimaginable amounts of information and countless fantastical adventures. I could now read any book I wanted when I wanted. As long as I can remember I have been obsessed with stories and I used to perpetually pester my mother and my grandmothers to read to me and tell me stories and now I didn’t have to do that. I wouldn’t have to do that ever again. The power was in my hands now. It was all within my reach. It felt like freedom.
And that’s pretty much how it continued. I started to devour books. But soon I realized that there were still books that I couldn’t read. Books in other languages. And I actually think this is part of the origin of my fascination for languages. There were books out there, stories that people had to tell me, were no translations had been done. Stories I couldn’t read. So frustration played a big role in my decisions to learn new languages and the rewards for my efforts were almost always books. Getting through your first real book in a new language, it’s a similar high to that from completing the very first book. And because of the dyslexia there is a certain element of fighting involved every time. But I know I’ll win and I know that the prize will make it worth all the efforts.
So in some strange way I think my dyslexia played a big part in my love for words. When you have to fight for them not only do they become more precious, but it also forces you to really examine them. You notice all the little building blocks in them and how the fit together across the different languages. So I think my dyslexia has made me observant on language. And when you are a writer that helps. Or maybe it’s actually necessary, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I do notice, in fact one could argue that there are some obsessive elements present. I have described myself as a language fetishist on more than one occasion and to be honest I think that’s a pretty accurate description. If you give me a dictionary to look up a word, one word, I will get stuck. Because in the process of looking up that one word I will see other words and I will look at them. And they will lead me to spot new ones. And then there are all the synonyms that also have to be considered and investigated. Thoroughly. If you give me a thesaurus there’s no need to even try to communicate with me within the next hour or so. I will not hear you. And when I come across a nice sentence, one of those really elegantly phrased lines that just manages to hit it all right on the spot, it’s like a sensual experience. I will stop and read it again and again. I will devour it. And when I manage to formulate one of those sentences myself that feels like a real victory. A sense of accomplishment and immense satisfaction. Because I honestly believe that you can change the world if you just use the right words. Language is a powerful tool. And I think it was partly my dyslexia that taught me that.
There are different types of dyslexia and the ways in which it manifests itself in your perception varies. For me it took years before I even realized I had it. I mean I always suspected there was something somehow different about my perception of written language, but I had no idea what it was. It wasn’t until I came across a text about dyslexia that I realized that was the issue. I wasn’t lazy or arrogant or stupid like they told me, I just couldn’t see the mistakes I made. And it didn’t matter if I did what they always told me and checked everything I had written carefully, it was no use because I couldn’t see it. I just don’t have that ability. Because my dyslexia is on a visual perception level. I know what letters are supposed to be in a word but I just can’t tell if I have put them in the right order and if I have put enough of them in there. A word like utilitarianism is a challenge. Or illumination. They are long and all the letters look very similar. And those are the trickiest. With a word like power it’s easy. Sure the p and the o have their similarities, but the word is short and you don’t get lost in it. There’s only four letters to keep track of. I usually say that is the limit, four. Four is how many similar letters or numbers I can deal with to still be able to distinguish them all separately if I concentrate. And in that sense I suppose I am the very opposite to Rain man. Anything more than four and I am lost. Then I have to try to group them. And if there is no way to group them I just can’t see them. They become one indistinguishable blur. Phone numbers are a bitch like that. Especially mobile numbers. They are long as hell and a lot of people just give them to you in a long row of letters. I hate that. Because numbers are even more difficult than letters. I have no connection with numbers, none what so ever. I can’t remember them unless I have a visual image of them. Like house numbers. I have to have the actual image of the number as it is placed on the façade of the actual house to be able to remember it. The other way is an image of the way it looked on the paper I had written it down on. I have to have an image otherwise it’s impossible. Back in the days before cell phones I used to remember phone numbers by the visual image they created when you dialed them. One of my best friends had a number that made a y. Another way I used with phone numbers was the melody of the number when you said it. Like a rhyme. And if none of those ways worked I just couldn’t memorize it. No matter how often I used it I had to look it up every time. And these days, when you have all numbers in your phone, I am totally lost. I never dial them and I never say them. And with my own mobile number none of these tricks work. I have had the same number for 3 years and I still don’t know it by heart. I know some of the numbers that are in it, but I’m still never sure about the order of them and if I have enough of them. And I think my dyslexia is just more prevalent whit numbers because I have no relationship with numbers. I love words but numbers are completely indifferent to me. That’s a fight I never picked. It just never seemed worth it to me. There was nothing great to be gained. And I realize that mathematics is a fascinating subject, some even call it a language, but it just never caught my interest. What you could communicate through that language didn’t interest me. Numbers couldn’t be used to say the things I wanted to say. But words could. I can relate to letters, the mean something to me, but numbers don’t. And I think that’s why algebra was the first, and possibly the only, thing I found easy in mathematics. See I can deal with letters. I don’t mix them up and there are no commas and zeros and other things to confuse me. I can see a’s and b’s and above all I can see how many of them there are. And seeing how many numbers one is dealing with is pretty much key in mathematics. The loss of a zero can have quite severe consequences for the solution of a math problem. My math teacher found this transformation very freaky. He was actually seriously bothered by being met not with the usual blank stare of complete confusion but by a face that showed all the signs of agreement and understanding. He even went as far as to ask me what had happened and I tried to explain to him that we were dealing with letters here and as opposed to numbers letters actually make sense, they mean something, but he just looked even more worried and exclaimed, with notable traces of desperation in his voice, something about that fact that it was “all the same”. But it’s not. It’s not the same at all. I have conquered one but not the other, and that makes all the difference. Maybe there is really some truth to the expression that you don’t cherish things that come easy, I don’t know. But I really do think my dyslexia has influenced my love for language and in a most positive way. And I think that’s key to winning as well as learning, you have to really want it.
But all of this was actually supposed to be a side note, as you can tell from the name of this post, this is supposed to be about the advantages of dyslexia and my initial idea was actually to make a list. Everyone knows the disadvantages, they are pretty obvious, so that’s why I wanted to do a list of the lesser known advantages of having dyslexia. And if you have made it this far, I think some of them are pretty obvious to you by now. But there are more. For instance:
You dial the wrong number a lot and sometimes you end up have interesting conversations. Granted, it’s mostly annoying to dial the wrong number, but there are exceptions and as a dyslexic you have more of those.
You can blame any spelling mistakes on your dyslexia. Even those that are actually just a result of sloppy typing. No, it’s not very noble and yes, it is indeed lying, but who will ever be able to prove it?
The world becomes more interesting. For instance license plates. The ones I see are always funnier than the ones my friends see. And yes, we are looking at the same license plates. And when I went through a phase of devouring fantasy books at around 12 – 13, the characters in my books always had more interesting names than in my friends’ copies of the same books.
You get very good at finding the spell check in any computer program. And in those programs where there is none you know exactly what the workaround will be.
You also get very open to change your mind about an ever-changing reality. Are there five zeros in that number or six? It varies… And that makes you realize that you can never be sure if things are the way they appear to be because appearances change. You get very good at questioning.
Actually you get good at lots of things because you to find ways to make sense of a world that you’re not really adjusted to. And I think this may apply to most other deviances from the norm too. You compensate and in order to do so you have to be creative. You have to think outside the box as the expression goes. And you have to do it because you just don’t fit in the damned box. And I think that’s good. Because it teaches you to question. When people told me I was lazy and arrogant and stupid I knew they were wrong. In fact I knew for a fact that they were full of shit. And when you know you’re teacher is so wrong about you it makes you wonder what else they are wrong about. Because logic tells you that they if they are that wrong about one thing they have to be wrong about other things too. So you start to question them. I think most people assume everyone’s reality is the same, but I know for a fact that my reality is different. And that leads me to the conclusion that every person’s perception of reality is different. It has to be. And that’s why words are so important, because with language we can describe our reality, our perception of our reality.