The Unseen - Dyslexia and Depression

I would like to talk about something serious: dyslexia and depression. NO, these two things are not the same, and one doesn’t cause the other, although some people may experience both conditions. I want to talk about the way we as a society (when I say society, I’m including myself) treat people with dyslexia and depression. It is shocking to me at how similar our reactions are to each of these two unseen conditions. 

This post will be about those similarities. Please understand that I’m by no means saying dyslexia and depression are the same thing. It has been my experience that how and what we say about these conditions are unsettling and eerie when you look at them side by side. 

Let start with the basics.

Our Brains: Both dyslexia and some types of depression deal with the way our brains are structured or not structured. We sometimes lose sight of this when we tell people things like, “If you just tried harder you could read,” or “if parents would just read to their children there wouldn’t be an issue.” We do the same thing when we see people struggling with depression. We might say, “Just get over it, pick yourself up by your bootstraps” or “just think happy thoughts.” What we are forgetting is that it starts in the brain and both conditions can be inherited and are very complicated. No two people are the same who deal with dyslexia, and the same is true with depression. Yes, proper treatment helps both of these conditions, but most times, it’s not an easy fix. Let’s stop thinking we can fix these two complex issues with simple platitudes. They don’t help. 

Research: Did you know that dyslexia is one of the most researched learning disabilities and it’s the number one reason why a bright child will struggle in school? We have over 40 years of research on dyslexia, and yet we still struggle to see the warning signs in our children. Or should I say that I didn’t see the warning signs of dyslexia in my own child. Did you know that depression is the most researched mental health issue? And yet we can still struggle to see the warning signs in an individual that we might be in contact with on a daily basis. Getting this information into the hands of people who need it and would benefit from it is still a challenge. 

Myths and Misconceptions:

We can cure it: Dyslexia and some forms of depression is not something we cure. We live with it, day in and day out. Yes, treatment helps and is needed, but dyslexia and depression is not the chicken pox. You don’t beat it once, and it’s gone. It’s something you live with; it’s something you live in. It’s a roommate you can’t kick out. Sometimes that can be hard to understand and explain to others. We treat dyslexia with proper intervention at school or with private tutors. We treat depression with a combination of medication, therapy, and support groups. Dyslexia and depression manifests itself in different people in different ways for different reasons. These are human conditions and should be handled with our understanding, empathy, and love. 

It’s not common: Dyslexia and depression are not common. This is so untrue. Dyslexia affects about 20% of the population. It is estimated that up to 15% of the adult population will experience depression at some point in their lifetime. There are different degrees of dyslexia from mild to profound and other co-morbity disabilities. There are many types of depression, including but not limiting to postpartum depression, seasonal depression, and persistent depression. There is a good chance if you are reading this article, you know someone with dyslexia or depression. It’s that common!

It’s not a type of person: How often have we heard in the dyslexia world, “Your child can’t have dyslexia because they are so bright or she doesn’t look dyslexic.” We do the same thing with people who suffer with depression. We might say things like, “He can’t be depressed, he is always so happy. Or he has everything going for him, how can he possibly be depressed?” Dyslexia and depression do not discriminate. It hits all ages and social groups. We are human beings, and we all have burdens to carry. Let’s not make them more burdensome because of our own limited understanding of the conditions or put the blame on the person who is struggling.

What happens when we believe these myths and misconceptions: 

Stigma and shame: This can be crippling for children who have dyslexia and can carry on well into adulthood. Children can feel the shame, see the disappointed looks, experience people making fun of their spelling on social media or in a text, they hear the whispers in the hallways or the name calling. The stigma is very REAL for both dyslexia and depression. This shame is what keeps people from reaching out to get proper treatment. Many parents won’t get help within the school because they are afraid of a label. That is why so many adults want to hide the struggle of their dyslexia or depression. We live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast. If you tell someone you can’t read, you instantly feel their judgment. If you share with someone you are depressed everyone runs the other way and you become an outcast. We are so accepting of any body part breaking down or being different except when we talk about our brains. So we hold it inside, and we try to hide it even though it can make our lives feel empty. We have created a world that doesn’t understand dyslexia or depression. We tend to push it inside so no one will see our struggles, put it in the corner and hope if we work harder, try harder, it will just fix itself. Well, it won’t. 

The start to the solution: 

So how do we change things to help serve others who might have dyslexia or depression? I wish I had the answer. The first step in finding a solution is recognizing there is an issue. We have to be willing to step out in the light so that others can see our pride in ourselves even with all of our struggles. We all know what it feels like to hurt, and we all understand the importance of asking for help. We all need to embrace our adversity and stop the intolerance and start talking freely. We need to stand firm together and lend a hand instead of judgment. 

I have had both of these conditions affect my life with people that I love. It has taken the diagnoses of my child for me to understand that I too have dyslexia. I no longer feel the stigma as often because I’m now willing to talk about it freely and step out to help others despite my own challenges. Many family members that I love struggle with depression. It is real, it hurts, it sometimes may seem hopeless, and sometimes tragically can cost the life of a loved one. But I’m here to say there is always hope because we are people who care for one another. I, for one, am willing to do my part. Your battle might only be dyslexia, or maybe it’s only depression or both. Know that you are not alone and there are people out there to help. Seek out help and know you are not only helping yourself but you are helping future generations so that we can end the stigmas.

People reading this might think this post lacks hope. I disagree. I believe that hope is created when we share all sides of dyslexia and depression and we are 100% honest as to what it’s like - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Believe it or not, there is good with both of these conditions but they don’t come alone. To this day, my spelling is not always reliable and it may stop me in my tracks but I accept it now and work at it everyday. I still transpose numbers when looking at them on a piece of paper. I can’t quite figure out how my brain does it, but it does, and sometimes that can be very frustrating for me. Reading out loud still haunts me, and it has to be the right situation for me to do it. Some of the things that I know I can do very well are art, visual spatial mechanics, and empathy for others. By sharing my talents and my struggles side by side, my hope is it will stamp out the stigmas and lead to hope for others. 

Social media platforms don’t promote these issues because they are not the happy things in life. Would you be willing to post that you or someone you love struggles with dyslexia or depression? Would you share this post on your personal page outside your private closed facebook groups for dyslexia or depression? I would encourage you to do it. We need to start an honest dialog. 

Just to make sure I do my part in shining a real light on dyslexia, I wrote this piece with three rounds of edits, used Grammarly for my final edit and then asked a colleague and close family members to read it one more time before posting it.

That is my reality -- All is well, Eileen