Dyslexia and me
"We understand what you’re trying to say" my teachers would write in the margins amongst my typos, strange sentence structures and letters swapped round.
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I found out I was mildly dyslexic on the last day of my final year of University. I was gutted: I’d read somewhere on a student forum that you could get a free laptop if you were dyslexic. Jokes aside, I really wish I had made sense of it before. I'd struggled through my entire English course for three years, but I had just assumed everyone had because it was hard. I got my degree in the end, but I found myself making more mistakes than others. I remember being really au fait with the ‘BOD’ mark at school. It meant "‘benefit of the doubt” — a mark given when you’re not quite correct, but it is judged to be more correct than incorrect so they give you the mark. "We understand what you’re trying to say”, would be the line they’d use, because amongst the typos, strange sentence structures and letters swapped round, most of the time I would be delivering quite a good story.
I found out on the day I was supposed to be celebrating. It was my last Summer there and I would be receiving my final degree mark soon. I was in my tutor’s office, getting feedback on my dissertation, a piece of work I’d spent months and months on. It was 12,000 words, an essay celebrating homosexual relationships in modern literature, and the longest piece of writing I’d ever worked on at the time. It had been written with sweat, blood, tears and can after can of Redbull. When I went into Peter*’s office, my tutor at the time, he threw it across his desk and said “either you were very tired when you wrote this, or you’re dyslexic.” Written in bright red pen, my mark was terrible. He was cold in his delivery and when he turned back to face his computer, it was obvious he had nothing left to say. I went outside and cried in the arms of my best University friend Meera. This was not a good moment for helping me believe I could be a writer one day.
It wasn’t until years later that I joined the dots, even though Peter had hinted at it. I did an online test and then had a more formal diagnosis that tied it all together: my atrocious sense of direction, my confusion when too many instructions are given to me at once, the way I mixed words up in a sentence, how I lose my place when reading out loud and my spelling mistakes when writing anything out by hand. I was relieved, because it all made sense.
I realised at that moment, how invisible dyslexia is to the Internet generation. I just typed ‘dlsyexia’ into this piece on Word, and then a red squiggly line appeared underneath it, and then I corrected it. Lucky for us Millennials, we grew up in the 90s with the paperclip 'Clippy' who helped us with our spelling and grammar. I rely on autocorrect on my phone a lot. I often get called out for my typos in my tweets. I confuse words sometimes; I said ‘vivacious reader’ instead of ‘voracious reader’ on one of my podcasts recently. I turn down opportunities to do live readings from books. I have a podcast because I can re-record my introductions or adverts until they are correct. I am not always getting things right, and the literature world often comes with a splash of snobbery, which is something I try my best to ignore. I tell my stories anyway. They reach people anyway.
Next year, I will be publishing my sixth book. I’m also now proud to be dyslexic. Research suggests dyslexia sufferers (which is approximately 10% of the population) tend to be of above average intelligence and often go on to out-perform their non-dyslexic peers. I’ll take that, thanks! I’m also thrilled to say that my novel OLIVE was published in May with Clarity Books, established in 2018, a publisher who print-on-demand, dyslexia-friendly editions of books. Their goal has always been to make reading accessible to everyone and they believe that everyone deserves the right to easier reading, regardless of any difficulties. This made me so happy, that my book on a topic I care deeply about (women who are child-free by choice) is going to be accessible to more readers.
On that note: earlier this year, OLIVE was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Prize, alongside authors like Patricia Lockwood, Megan Nolan and Rachel Cusk. I found out when I was on a weekend away with my friend Meera. I was crying in a carpark with her again, but this time with sheer happiness.
OLIVE has been published with Clarity Books, a publisher who print-on-demand, dyslexia-friendly editions of books. Find out more here.
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