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Coming Clean

By: Debra Brooks

Today, I told my boss that I am dyslexic.

It was the first time in my entire life that I've come clean right up front. No waiting until I get in trouble and then bringing up my dyslexia. This time I've decided to just tell it like it is right from the beginning. Maybe this time people will understand why they watch me get lost in the halls or forget how to log on to the computer for no apparent reason.

Today I pushed past the shame, fear and trepidation of being judged for my difference. I tried to remember my unique abilities and skills. I thought of my successes rather than my failures. I held my head up, took a deep breath, looked my boss in the eye and told her the truth about me. "I am dyslexic; I learn differently than most people around here. This does not mean I can not do my job as well as any one, no, quite the contrary." I spoke in a clear calm, steady voice. "As a matter of fact", I continued, "you will never find anyone as loyal and hard working as me. It may take me a bit longer to get it, but once I do you will be very happy that you hired me." I smiled and she smiled back. It was as if I'd grown ten feet in two minutes. Hiding my dyslexia had always made me feel small, helpless and vulnerable.

My boss is a kind person, so I knew she would not be rude, but what was going on in her mind when I let her know who she had really hired? Would I get "punished" later? My brain was feeling fuzzy and not working well. Was she figuring out how she could get rid of me without getting sued? Is she mad at herself for hiring me? Did she even know how my being dyslexic would effect the work or the team?

At that moment, the pain of the secretive past had shut my connection to what was happening in the present. Survival was all I could focus on. No longer do I remember what my new boss actually said, but I know it was not hurtful. I knew that this person was going to try her best to be patient.

It's been almost a year now that I've been at this job. There have been many nights that I've driven home from work talking to my self. "This is not for me, I can't do this job. It's too complicated for me. Too much detail, too much to memorize. This job is for those that are sharp, not just creative."

My boss must feel unbearably frustrated with me at times. Teaching someone who learns differently takes nerves of steel, tolerance and the belief in the worth of the person and relationship. It is an investment in the team and the success of the business. Coming clean up front has made a remarkable difference in my life. The anxiety, headaches, stomach aches and sleepless nights that often occurred in other situations were absent this time. Thanks to the support I've gotten from my entire team, I've noticed I am beginning to perform my job quite well.

I am not wasting time, energy or good brain power on the fear of being found out. In other jobs I was constantly fretting; scheming to assure my secret was safe. This time every one from the director to the administrative assistant knows the real me. They have chosen to invest in me. My stead fast determination, drive and strength surprises even me. My boss and colleges are grateful that they knew learning the details would take me longer. Training me has been a learning experience for the entire team. Even the way we communicate has become more casual, transparent and simple, less conventional, proper and masked.

Here is a list of tricks I've adopted over the years. Everyone has there own list, but we can learn from each other.

  • Make a "TO DO" list every evening or morning depending on what your best thinking time of day it is. Keep the list short. Check it often.
  • Take short breaks - get tea, get a snack, and then get back to work. (5 - 10 minutes will make all the difference in the quality of work you end up producing.)
  • Get away from the office during lunch. Go outside. Your brain needs down time.
  • Prepare every night for the next day, at least think about what is going to happen the next day.
  • Try not stay out past 9:00 pm on a week night. It's best not to go out, after work, more than twice a week, especially if you have a family. We need a lot of time to organize for the next day. We hate it, but it's one of those needs to happen things.
  • When you feel yourself getting a little tired at night, stop what you're doing and start getting ready for bed even if it's only 8:00 pm - so what.
  • When starting a new project, make notes on the one presently being worked on before you start on the new one. If there is a deadline, write the date in bold marker on top of the file. Keep it in sight.
  • Only keep three open, unfinished projects going at a time. Once the number gets over three, stop and organize.
  • Keep dictionaries (thesauruses, medical dictionary,) close.
  • Copy and paste instead of coping. You are less likely to make mistakes.
  • Be honest about mistakes. Admit you've made a mistake and apologize and figure out how to fix it. Fixing it is not the boss' responsibility.

As long as we can laugh together, we will not only succeed, we will prosper.

Brooks, D (2006 Sept). Coming Clean. Diversity World, Diversity Network.