An Award Winning Bestselling Dyslexic
First, I’d like you to understand something very fundamental and important about me; unless it’s a box with a new pair of shoes (preferably swanky boots or trainers), chocolate, or better still, some bling, I hate boxes! Metaphoric boxes that is. I hate the labels, but more than that I despair that mankind still believes in categorising people into them.
I am many things these days: a mother, a nurse, a writer, a publisher, and a wife. But this is not the entirety of my identity and neither is the fact that I am dyslexic. It pains me that people believe a diagnosis, skin colour, the language you speak or your country of birth is reason to single another person out, whether to degrade or uplift.
I was diagnosed fairly early in life thanks to my awesome mom. Kindergarten was spent with other kids who had learning disabilities. Missus Zenolli, was my teacher and I will never forget her. Much taller than my five year old self, grey soft short curly hair and round framed glasses with a smile that lit up the darkest room, and life. I clearly remember those years because she filled them with so much fun. Learning was fun!
But as we all know, life is not filled entirely of fun and games, and soon I was old enough to go to Grade 1. My first year of primary school was spent with a teacher whose name escapes me but the memory of her long blond hair and scrutinising brown eyes does not. Grade 1 would be the first year of many where life taught me the gift of adversity. PS adversity is not a bad thing–okay!
Grade two and standard one (or 3rd grade) was spent in a ‘special class’ called the A-Class. We were essentially a part of the school, but separate too, and because of this separation the other kids looked down on us. It wasn’t their fault, nor the fault of the well-meaning teachers who wanted to give kids like myself a better chance at learning and practicing our brains to think, take in, and digest information like everyone elses. It’s human nature, although it did take me a few years to understand this.
Standard five (7th grade) handed me one of the greatest life lessons ever. A teacher, I’ll call her Miss Owl for the purpose of the story, took an immediate dislike to me from the first day I entered her class. Without a “how’s your mother”, she put me in the corner of her classroom and told me I was unteachable, that I should make peace with the fact that I’d end up no better than a street sweep. (PS. Street sweeps are awesome–I once met a lady who drove those machines and loved Tolstoy!). At the time, her words and disdain for my inability to learn conventionally almost broke me. She refused to teach me English, sighed whenever she marked my work, handing it back with huge fat F’s scrawled across the pages and pretty much protected any child who decided to pick on me for being, ‘dumb,’ or ‘stupid’, the list goes on.
Buoyed by the determination to prove Miss Owl wrong, I started writing and printing my own books in primary school. I even wrote a short play based on ‘the washer woman’ from Enid Blyton’s, Far Away Tree, and performed it to my class. My dad’s office Xerox was the most amazing thing since sliced bread, and my friends loved their weekly photocopied and stapled together books of stories and my awesome (not really) graphics. They were always about a little girl and her weekend adventures – no guessing who the lass was, eh?
Miss Owl and her hatred for my dyslexia, I soon realised, stemmed from a lack of education. A fear of, If I can’t teach this child it will reflect badly on me. It took time to realise, it wasn’t me – it was never me! It was her, and the moment I realised this, my world began to change, evolve, and take shape for the better.
Highschool was a blur of hormones, rock bands, boys, and trying to pass math and science. I scrapped by on my bum. Back in the day you did as your folks said. Mine told me I’d take math and science till matric (year12/12th grade). Don’t gasp, they weren’t bullies, they were my parents, and as we all know (and by we I mean parents) it’s not the easiest thing to know what’s good for your kid – now is it? In saying this, if it weren’t for their persistence I’d never have been allowed entry in to Nursing.
Nursing had been one of my passions growing up. To heal the sick and love those who were unloved. I used to perform endless surgeries on my poor Oupa (grandfathers) banana trees and use all my mom’s band aids and bandages on her aloe’s and my tree in the back yard. Even our poor dog got bathed in mercurochrome and bandaged up like a mummy. I wrote quite a few manuals on how to heal a dying banana tree and how to ease an old dogs arthritis – poor things.
After being unceremoniously kicked out of beauty school (my dad’s idea cause I was too much of a tom boy), then travelling Europe and Israel, I decided it was time to begin studying. By this time, I was already at least 4 years older than all the other students and thoroughly afraid of failing but what I lacked in the ability to take in information on the same level as my peers, I made up for in gusto. Also, I was blessed with the most amazing lecturers. But I did fail my first year. I simply couldn’t grasp the complex terms and equations, (pharmacology has equations people) staring back at me from the textbooks and I was sure as hell not going to let anyone in on my secret either. I wish I could explain what it feels like to look at really long words. If you’ve ever watched the first Percy Jackson movie or read the book, it looks like that – where all letters looked jumbled and upside down – and unfortunately I’m no daughter of a god or goddess (though Mom is an absolute angel – which is better). Well that’s what all the medical terms did to me. They jumped and turned inside out. Add math to it and well…
It still happens on days when I am too tired to get my brain in to gear. There’s the odd occasion when I really am exhausted, I battle to make sense of what someone is saying, and I have even been known to talk funny and write upside down – literally.
In practice I was a goddess (still am), it was always the theory which hindered me. But I found ways around this. And yes, I had another Miss Owl. Funny how these super intellectuals sniff a weakness a mile away. I’d barely walked into her lecture hall and she’d sussed me out. She taught nursing Ethics and Research, no images and stories to be had here. Like my primary school Miss Owl, Lecturer Miss Owl went out of her way to try and fail me. I didn’t get flying colours in her subjects but thankfully with Ethics it’s like parrot work – there is only one answer. As for research… got there by the skin of my teeth.
Fortunately, our head of Faculty was an old nurse with the spirit and mind of a twenty year old go getter. It was because of her and her amazing staff that I passed. She recognised the problem—and the solution. The lecturers gleefully accepted their challenge. I was allowed to rewrite my exams after they gave more of their time to paint me pictures. No, art wasn’t involved. We discovered that my brain loves anatomical images and the stories which go with them. By studying the images as my lecturer spoke my brain automatically memorised them. Pharms was as easy. Spending the day with a GP in the community I walked out understanding what was in our textbooks and much more. What was even more amazing is some of the girls would come to me to explain complex case studies. The way my brain digested and regurgitated information, it turned out, was what helped so many of my peers understand their work. I even ended up giving some lectures which in turn taught me more. Cool how a bad thing can be swung round in to absolute awesome!
All this adversity added to my prickliness about being singled out, misrepresented, misinterpreted and mistreated. I got called into more than one disciplinary hearing for speaking down to a superior. Even though I was in the right, I’d had to learn that there was this thing called diplomacy. This was harder to learn than math by the way. I’ve always made a point of advocating for my patients, especially when they could not do so for themselves. I formed bonds others could not, simply because I saw life differently. I was, and still am, focused on uplifting not judging.
If you’re wondering how dyslexia affects me as a nurse these days, please know that just because I am dyslexic does not mean I can’t read and write (you do know I am an award winning author?). But it does cause frustration particularly as everything is computerized and programmed these days. My eyes and my brain take longer to adjust when I am booking in a patient or adding notes to a file.
The fear of failing returned when I decided to write my first book. Fortunately, and unfortunately, in the beginning I ran in to a plethora of Mr. and Ms Owls – at first it hurt and I almost gave up. But as any writer will tell you – your story will never give up on you. Every moment I could spare I used to practice my craft. I joined a thriving online writing community filled with people from all walks of life, many who didn’t care that I was dyslexic, and showed me that really it doesn’t affect my writing abilities one little bit. I’ve come a long way since, and know I have a longer way ahead – but I do look forward to it.
So, through all of these difficulties and the heartbreaking approach of the Mr and Ms Owls of the world, what is the lesson you learned? I hear you ask. Well the lesson was that others do not determine my fate, my destiny, or my future, and nobody will ever tell me I can’t do something.
As you can see. I’m no street sweep, but sure as the sky is blue I am a Nurse, a mother of triplets, and an Award Winning Bestselling Author! (Capital letters are there for a reason.) These days, I am writing stories left right and centre baby! Did I get any special treatment along the way because I am dyslexic? Hell no! Did I want any? Double hell no! And why? Because I have learnt that nothing except yourself stands in the way of you succeeding. I’ve never allowed dyslexia to be my undoing, in fact I call it my super power. I get to see the world from a different perspective. It’s like standing upside down – how does everything look now? Pretty awesome huh?
At the end of the day, if you want to tell the world a story using pictures, or words on paper, or videos, nothing and nobody should stop you – well maybe there are a few rules to be taken into consideration (because ain’t nobody want you spewing drivel and hate), so hey, go for it!
Be kind, be true, be loving to yourself and when you are you will see how easily it flows out of you and into others.
Thank you so very much for this inspiring and uplifting share, Michelle. Wishing you all the best with your latest book, and all future books! – Camilla
To see Michelle’s ‘Meet the Author’ interview previously published on MTA, go here …
Michelle Dalton is the bestselling and award-winning author of three women’s fiction novels. Michelle juggles married life with triplet sons with the demands of a busy nursing career, her passion for writing, and her publishing house, 3 Umfana Publishers. Michelle speaks openly and passionately about the challenges and rewards of dyslexia.
Can Calla acknowledge the truth of her past, accept her gift, and embrace an open invitation to love?
On the anniversary of her father’s untimely death, forensic anthropologist, Doctor Calla Conroy, is thrown in the deep end of a murder investigation.
To complicate the situation, the voice in her head has returned.
With everything to lose and no time for a psychotic break, Calla ends up in the small highland’s village of Lairg. Here she meets the handsome Detective Hamish Bell, who elicits powerful emotions that frighten her.
Can Calla make peace with her traumatic past and the reality of her gift? Or is she simply losing her mind, her heart, and possibly her career?
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