The 1997 movie, As Good as It Gets, has a line of dialog that made a lasting impression on me. In the movie, the protagonist, a man that suffers from OCD, played by Jack Nicholson, barges into his psychiatrist’s office and demands to be seen immediately. He was told to make an appointment and then summarily dismissed. As he exits the doctor’s office through the lobby full of depressed psychiatric patients, he pauses for a moment and then says loud enough for all to hear, “What if this is as good as it gets?”
I’ve recently reached that point in my life with dyslexia, a realization actually, that this is as good as it gets. What do I mean by that? Although I have definite strengths that I’ve been able to use to my advantage, there are quite a few things that I’ll never be able to do well or quickly.
I get frustrated when I’m just finishing the first chapter of a book in the time it takes the average person to read the entire book. Then there’s my difficulty with sequencing—I’ll never make a good file clerk because I’d be reciting the alphabet all day long to remember where each letter falls in the sequence. I have problems with my sense of direction—determining the points of a compass while driving never works well. Sequencing issues also show up while driving and trying to follow directions. If I’m told more than 2 turns ahead, I can’t keep it all in order. Or the searing panic and frustration I feel when someone sends me a lengthy document and breezily says, “I need your feedback on that in 10 minutes.” And the list goes on.
I’ll never read faster than I do right now. My spelling will always be inconsistent, and words never look quite ‘right’ even when I haven’t misspelled them. Writing, like reading, will always be laborious and time consuming, never automatic. These are areas where I have to accept the fact that this is as good as it gets.
Owning it is not an easy thing to do, especially when you’ve spent a lifetime dancing around the problem, trying to compensate, doing your best to appear ‘normal’ so your vulnerability doesn’t show. Owning our own ‘stuff’ is the only way out of the shame that has accrued throughout a lifetime as a result of ridicule. Coming to terms with the things we can’t change is an important part of authentic maturity, and fosters a peaceful heart that can learn to cope with the fact that life is never going to be fair.
Perspective is a great place to start. For example, around 151,000 people die each day. If any of them were first offered an opportunity to trade places with one of us dyslexics for a chance to live even a little bit longer, they would jump at the opportunity, no matter what the cost or what kind of a hot mess our life might seem to us. Life is precious and oh-so-finite, averaging a mere 27,000 days long, and the better we can become at appreciating the good things we have and can accomplish, the more we can learn to be ok with the things we would not have chosen about ourselves.
(Check out this video that represents the days of our life in jellybeans for a quick jolt of perspective.)
Do we have two working eyes with which to view the sunset and the faces of our loved ones? Or two ears that can hear the breeze rustling the leaves this fall, or birdsong, or a Bach partita? Are we mobile enough to get around on our own steam? Can we still enjoy a delicious meal with good friends? Have we ever performed an act of kindness for a fellow human or even for an animal? Of course we have. All these things are miraculous gifts. They connect us with our world—and that’s key to coping with many conditions where one feels isolated and alone inside their own less-than-perfect head.
For older children and adults that didn’t get the right kind of assistance at an optimal age, what would be of practical help? Here’s a list of practical tips as well as links to some of my previous blogs that may provide further details.
- Understand what dyslexia is and isn’t.
- Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Ask a trusted friend for input.
- Leverage your strengths by crafting a learning/working environment designed for success.
- Celebrate victories and accomplishments, certainly, but also validate yourself for diligent effort. Dealing with dyslexia involves valuing effort, not just results.
- Identify and acknowledge what you are passionate about to boost motivation and drive action.
- Identify work-arounds and tools dyslexics can use to make life easier. (i.e. using a computer to write, using e-readers with special fonts, dictation software, navigation tools, audiobooks, etc.)
- Develop tenacity: there are aspects in the lives of all humans where we have to work a little harder than others to accomplish required tasks.
I’d love to hear your stories about coming to terms with dyslexia or other challenges you have faced.