It’s also a post with bonus heaping helpings of navel-gazing, because hello, it my blog, so don’t say you weren’t warned.
The springboard to today’s topic is little self-indulgent graphic I made a long while back:
Right after I posted it, I got this response from my friend and mentor and all-around spectacular, talented, kind, and generous human being, Tina Jens:
“I think that’s what makes me love your books so much: you write about people with disabilities and pain believably, but never cast them as victims. I haven’t encountered another writer who does that well and consistently, other than Lois McMaster Bujold.”attibution: a Facebook comment from way back when
It’s quite the compliment. I have added it to the small shiny-stones collection of remarks I open up and re-read when the anxiety rats gnaw through my ego armor and chew holes in my confidence. It pleases me immensely to know I wrote books that other people with disabilities find relatable.
But here’s the thing. When I wrote those books, I had no clue I was writing anything about disabilities. Zero idea. None.
All I did was follow the advice of The People Who Give Writing Advice. They say, “write what you know,” and “write the stories you want to see,” so I wrote complicated adventures (the kind I like to read) for characters who had lots of traits I could relate to.
It’s taken a lot of wonderful conversations with readers since then, plus a lot of time spent on the internet, and yes, some informal discussion with mental health professionals (hi, fam) for me to get comfy with identifying as disabled. (Still no comfy with it. But this post is part of trying.
I’ve written about my physical issues at length. Mostly because they annoy me and I like to complain a lot. They’re also unavoidably visible. So it’s been easier to accept that they disable me.
But today I’m gonna go into some depth about Unccoperative Brain Things.
First example: I’m dyslexic. Just writing it makes me feel like a fraud, but I am determined to stake my claim.
I had major difficulty learning to read. It was one of Those Family Stories, how my younger sister was reading at a higher level than I was when she was in preschool, AND it was a known thing that my father was officially diagnosed dyslexic. Still, I somehow never put those points together to create the obvious conclusion, not even when my wonderful geometry teacher had to go over quizzes verbally with me because I kept mixing up the letters of the theorem abbreviations.
Additional elements were there all along too. I have hella major dyspraxia–couldn’t tie my shoes until I was 7+, unable to perform simple hand-eye games into my 20’s despite constant practice, for two examples. And I don’t think in words. I could explain complex concepts from an early age because verbal rules allowed for wandering down digressions and through parenthetical thickets with ease. Getting those same thoughts into comprehensible written word form has always been like wrestling worms. Before the existence of word processors, my paper drafts looked like complex sportsball diagrams with arrows & symbols and blots everywhere.
Once I took enough education classes, it was obvious that I had been dyslexic as a child, but did it matter as an adult? I figured out ways to sneak around my word comprehension issues. I became an exceptionally fast reader, I was a high-achieving student, and I’m a freaking writer to boot. I’ve never pursued a formal diagnosis. It would be tedious, time-consuming, expensive frustrating, and to what end? I don’t need help reading.
So claiming the label feels a lot like selfish humble-bragging, taking attention away from people whose dyslexia means they struggle hard every day.
But let me tell you, learning Irish is kicking my ASS because I’ve discovered can only write it OR listen to it, not both at once. If I listen, I cannot see the words right. (This also explains SO MUCH about why I routinely flunked listening comprehension in my French & Spanish courses. Dyslexia is strongly associated with proprioception problems, and I have those in heaps, with a literal impact on my daily life. I am forever bruisingly unaware of my body’s position and speed in real space. I never did master legible handwriting. The list goes on and onnnnnn.
So yeah. Anyway Dyslexic here. Just lucky enough to have support that provided me with the many schema needed for mitigating its educational effects (this is a theme for me)
Second, there’s the ADHD. My parents acknowledge I only missed official diagnosis because elementary schools didn’t screen for it until I’d hit middle school. I was officially labeled a hyperactive child, and a “high strung” one. My many sensory processing issues, need for constant motion & stimulation were all documented. Plus I was all about hyperfocus & topical obsessions to the detriment of social & emotional development.
But I was never told I was too lazy, or crazy or stupid to succeed. How could it be a disorder if it wasn’t getting in the way of me living my life, right? Simple question.
Thanks to those determined & supportive parents, one thing I internalized super early was that failure is never a reason to stop. Not by itself. Failure is an expected thing that happens to everyone. Sometimes it’s a step on the way to success. Sometimes it’s a sign that it’s time to change paths or turn back. But on its own? It’s like the sun coming up or rocks being rocks. There’s no fault to failure, no blame, no shame.
My energy & focus issues were accepted facets of me, not failures of action or omission. If my traits came between me and achieving a goal, it was never me that needed changing, not on any essential level.
So my gut-level reaction to failing (a thing I do A LOT) is simply fall back, regroup, review, move on. Life is a challenge of finding ways to make being me and reaching my goals compatible. And since I am a competitive little shit at heart. I loved finding ways to meet those academic & some of the simpler social challenges. (I still do love competeing. Too much, in some ways.)
But there’s a significant difference between coping with a problem and not having a problem at all. Things I cannot do have shaped & limited my career, my social options and my finances. I have made choices.
Who’s to say what path my life might’ve taken if I’d been diagnosed and externally supported by a system? What if I’d gotten counseling that saw past my immediate choices to the root causes for them and offered booster assistance for goals I could not reach without external help? (F’rex I steered clear of corporate office jobs as a graduate because I could not BEAR the idea of sitting at a desk.) A good counselor these days would have a whole list of high-energy, low-detail-reading-required career possibilities, not just corporate vs academic vs sales.
I shouldn’t deny the challenges I’ve faced merely because they didn’t defeat me.
All this is to say, yeah, okay, I am disabled.
Or I’m a person with disabilities, if you prefer “person first” phrasing. I don’t. As this whole post demonstrates, disabilities are one of many facets that describe me, not things with me that I can ever or have ever put down. But I digress. That’s a whole post on its own.
It took writing about characters fighting together to navigate a world unsympathetic to their needs for me to recognize I’d been doing the same thing all my life. It’s taken years longer to accept that I’m still doing it.
It’s hard to look at things that make me…me…and call them disabilities, but on the flip side, refusing to acknowledge the massive influence they’ve had on my life? That would be dishonest and it would be disrespecting all the work I’ve done to become who I am.
I try to be honest, once the truth hits me in the face enough times.
This post has been a long time on the composing. It’s time to drop it into the ether and let it go.