Adult Dyslexia/Diagnostic Labels: “I Don’t Want It to Imprison Me”

I was having lunch with a friend the other day. He’s a brilliant, super-creative guy who has a very complex history with his chemical makeup. He could have easily been one of those guys who bought into the “I’m Broken” model. You know…The “There is something wrong with me at my core” kind of guy. “I’m nothing more than a diagnostic code.” But he didn’t.

My friend shares the attributes that many very successful people who, oh by the way, have some challenging chemicals floating around their brain. He is fiercely persistent and never gives up. He was also fearless about following his passions (music, art, photography) wherever they made lead. Frankly, it wasn’t always pretty and a lot of messes were made but he worked hard to be true to himself.

We don’t really engage in light conversation. We generally go right to it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the double-edged sword of diagnostic labels and asked him how he felt about the labels thrown his way. Without skipping a beat, he said he rejected them because “I don’t want it to imprison me. If you accept a label it keeps you there.”

Wow. “It keeps you there.” I can yak all day about the plusses and minuses of diagnostic labels, including dyslexia, but those four words truly do speak volumes.

It has to be said that oftentimes when one is diagnosed and given a label there is a huge sense of relief because now they know what is “wrong.” However, I would argue that living with the way your brain is wired is a process and you go through stages. Early on, go ahead and embrace the label if it gives you comfort or gives you a map of understanding. Later, though, you’re going to want to make sure that you do not limit yourself by over-organizing around the label and forgetting that you are a whole person with lots of other parts. Letting the label define you robs you of the opportunity to explore your life to the fullest. Don’t buy into views of others who do not understand you. Don’t let it “keep you there.”

I’m thankful to my friend for really distilling the language for me. And I won’t forget it. You might want to listen too.