Dyslexia and Self-Compassion

Why are two dyslexics having a deep conversation about Buddhist psychology, compassion and learning disabilities while lying down on astroturf? The answer will reveal itself.  Check out my conversation with Sarah Entine.  We were at a party and got talking and I was like, let’s video this conversation and see if other people are interested.  We went to the patio and then the rest unfolds from there….



See Video at: Buddhist psychology, self-compassion and dyslexia all walk into a bar…

NINA:  So I wanted to interview Sarah Entine because we were having this wonderful conversation outside of a bathroom, and I thought this needs to move to the video and move to YouTube. So I decided I would interview her on–Well, many of you know, I have this wonderful iceberg that I took from Dr. Sheehan. So he has the iceberg, where there is stuttering, but then underneath that, there’s denial and social isolation and all of these things. Really, you can take the iceberg, and look at it that way. But then you can turn it around and look at it in a different way. That different way could be that maybe stuttering is, that it brings community. Maybe there’s pride. Maybe there’s a different way to look at that. Sarah has done some work in Buddhist psychology, and she had a really interesting way of looking at dyslexia and maybe even general disability issues. So I wanted to have an opportunity to talk with her. Plus, you know, dyslexics kind of do things kinda weird. We’re at a party, and we are doing it in their backyard. And nobody knows. So that’s why we’re here. All right, so.


So you were telling me about self-compassion?

SARAH: Self-compassion, yes.

NINA: Tell me about that and how that worked with you having LD and what that meant.

SARAH: Well, for me, I came across this book by Kristin Neff, who’s the author of this book about self-compassion. It was so incredibly helpful because she has these three main points of acknowledging, sort of like mindfulness when something is difficult. Just being able to just acknowledge something’s hard. For me, having dyslexia or word-finding issues or sequencing or working memory stuff that comes along with my package with dyslexia, I find that there are these moments that are challenging and really hard. Just to be able to just recognize:  this is a hard moment. Just that in and of itself is one step in sort of acknowledging my experience. And then–

NINA: And you mean that like not everything in having a learning disability is fun and wonderful and great. You can acknowledge when you have a difficult time.

SARAH: Exactly. I mean, that’s I think, one of my pet peeves that I sometimes feel like I come across in the LD world and community in a sense, that there’s such a desire to want to make us feel good because in some ways, there’s sort of an understanding that this is hard.

SARAH: But they’re kind of wanting to make this jump or this leap to well, what are our strengths or what are our islands of competency or what’s our super power or what are the other ways that we can thrive? Which isn’t bad. I mean, it really isn’t bad.

NINA: And you need those things because if you get I wanna say “shit on,” but I’m trying to come up with a better word. But if you’re getting from school that you’re not good enough, that you’re not smart enough, all of these things, and you need those islands of competency to show you some other way. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t stop hurting.

SARAH: Exactly.

NINA: Because when you experience those things, you still hurt.

SARAH: Exactly. In those moments, it hurts, and then sometimes for me, it just feels like I’m being kind of pushed along to get to a happier place or an OK place faster than I’m at yet, kinda thing. So just to be able to first acknowledge this is a moment of difficulty, or this is a moment of suffering or challenge or whatever word we wanna use, you know? And then her second point is looking at experiencing this is like our shared, common humanity of life and that whether we have learning differences or not, we all have hard times, you know? Just to be able to know we are part of this human condition, that this is not an aberration. This happens in life, you know?

NINA: And for me, especially as a person who stutters and who has LD, my stuttering, I feel, is more communal, in that I can share that experience, that people seek that out because it’s a hard thing to hide. LD is a totally easy thing to hide.

SARAH: Totally, totally.

NINA: For me, it’s been really hard to find that community. I think that’s, in part, why I’ve been so active in the disability community, because I see that we have a shared experience. But I also have a difficult time finding those people that have LD who are like me, who think like me, and I really think we’re in the closet. Sometimes it’s hard to say, “Oh, it’s so advantageous to come out,” cuz it isn’t always. For me, stuttering, I’m half out of the closet. I have one foot out all the time, but for LD, you have that experience in isolation. I think that, for me, is the hardest part about having LD. What you’re saying is that it puts it into the context that everyone has those issues. So maybe did it help you feel that you weren’t so alone?

SARAH: Exactly, exactly. I think you’re totally right cuz I feel like I have this invisible difference. So no one’s expecting my sequence to be whacky when I’m speaking or a word-finding moment or just kind of going blank, trying to communicate or something. It may not even be that noticeable to other people. It might not be that big of a deal. But for me, I feel it.

NINA: Mmhmm.

SARAH: I can tell when I’m sort of in rhythm, and when I’m not.

NINA: Yes!

SARAH: When I’m not, it really is kind of like, I don’t know. It’s just an icky experience, I would say, in a lot of different ways.

NINA: I think that people don’t always understand that. I’ve been sick this entire week, and since I have Central Auditory Processing Disorder, I’ve been functioning like somebody who is Hard of Hearing. So people have been talking, and all I hear is, “Wah wah wah wah wah.” I’m like, “Ha ha, yeah,” and faking it. Because I cannot process language this week.

SARAH: Yeah, yeah. That’s a thing is it’s so easy to fake stuff.

NINA: Mmhmm.

SARAH: I mean, I definitely know that feeling, and I’ve done that many times in many conversations. And as my comfort level has grown, there’s times where I’m totally fine with outing myself about things. And there’s other times where I don’t want to, and I’m just gonna fake it till the moment’s over or something. But the shared, common humanity piece of it, I think, is really important. And then the last piece of the self-compassion, which is really kinda where–I mean, it’s all important, all three components. But this last piece is how can we turn towards what’s hard and be kind to ourselves?

NINA: Mmhmm! Mmhmm!

SARAH: And that’s not easy.

NINA: Yeah.

SARAH: We can have many years of not knowing how to do that and it being really self-critical.

NINA: And nobody’s ever modeled it.

SARAH: Not typically, yeah.

NINA: I mean, when I was in Catholic school, that totally was not modeled, so.

SARAH: Totally. I mean, it’s not modeled. I can’t think of a place. It’s very rare, I would say. So imagine if a good friend was really hurting, how would we respond to them?

NINA: Yeah.

SARAH: Can we show that same level of kindness towards ourselves? Sometimes that can just be like just having a kind phrase that we say to ourselves. Or it could be just physically, like putting a hand on our chest or some other place that just kinda like, “Ouch!” or “I just need to be nice to myself right now.”

NINA: Acknowledge.

SARAH: Acknowledge it, and “Can I just give it a moment here and just notice this is how it feels?”

NINA: Yeah.

SARAH: That has been really helpful. Even sometimes it can be like, “I don’t even know what to do; this is uncomfortable, you know?” That’s still sort of a drop in the bucket in that direction versus just ignoring it or powering through life or just distracting ourselves and getting on to something else and just stuffing it. It doesn’t, I mean, these things just kinda fester, especially because these issues are systemic issues, like this is how my brain is wired.

NINA: Yeah!

SARAH: This isn’t going away. So I need to find a way to work with something that’s gonna stay with me.

NINA: Well, and it’s systemic in that it’s systemic here in your head, but it’s also systemic in our society too, that there are barriers out there. When I have to look up a book using the Dewey Decimal System, yeah, that is a systemic thing that is always going to mess me up as a person that has dyslexia. It’s important that the society acknowledges that there are these different kinds of brains, but also we need to acknowledge that too. I mean, I think we ask people to accommodate us, but we don’t always accommodate ourselves in that emotional way.

SARAH: Totally, totally. And accommodations are important. I mean, all these things are–I’m not trying to say what I’m trying to share is more important than thinking of accommodations or thinking of what are the ways in which we are successful and have some other strengths in another area in our lives? That’s great, but to be a whole person in all that we encounter, I think having more social-emotional awareness and then some skills and some capacity to work with the difficulties that come up in life.

And just being able to be OK with it. I think parents are so well-meaning and have so much on their plates. And same with teachers. But I think it can also just be painful to see their child or student suffering and just wanna bypass this and get to what’s the strategy that’s gonna help fast?    Or how can we just get the homework done so we can feel good about ourselves again?

I think that, again, it’s just sort of like, “OK, this moment is like this. This moment is hard. Can we just hold it for what it is?” We still have to do homework, unfortunately. But can we–it’s like the attitude that we have about it. So that, we have some ways of working with it, and our attitudes, there’s–I’m losing my train of thought now. Eek! Edit, edit, edit!

NINA: And we’re gonna leave that in because this is the process.

SARAH: This is the process. So true. It’s true.

NINA: And it’s OK when you lose track.

Everybody edits that out. We’re not gonna edit that out!  So deal with it!

SARAH: Deal with it. Exactly. Yeah, I guess I’m sort of just thinking about the Buddhist psychology side of things and how we, the habits in how we think about ourselves can be really confining, especially when we’re just sort of stuck in it. So we’re sort of stuck in reaction mode. But when we’re able to give a little space and awareness, and we can choose an option, and we can choose, we can know this is really hard, but it’s not gonna last forever.

SARAH: Cuz we know. We can see that. Any emotion that we have, it kind of starts up, it peaks, and then it will eventually go away.

NINA: “This too shall pass” can apply to an emotion but also apply to difficulty when you’re doing your bills or difficulty when you’re doing those things that your dyslexia or your LD impacts you.

SARAH: Exactly, exactly. And a moment where I’m trying to describe a talk or just an idea right now, and it’s not coming out as smooth as I want–

NINA: And you say the thing! You know the thing!

SARAH: You know the thing!

NINA: The guy with the thing and the other thing.

SARAH: Right.

NINA: And I understand you when you say that.

SARAH: I’m glad you do [laughs].

NINA: It’s these people out there.

SARAH: Not everyone does. Or just like sensing other people’s impatience or something. We can’t control other people, but we what have more control over is what kinda relationship are we gonna have with ourself?  And that’s pretty major, you know?

Because that’s the most, I don’t know–We can have a more stable relationship with ourselves versus feeling like we’re at the mercy of what happens to us, just kind of naturally.

NINA: Well, and because so many of us experience learning disabilities in isolation, we may be that only individual that we know that has LD. So that is even more important. The community starts at home, and you really need to practice that.

SARAH: Definitely, definitely. And when I think about my own experiences, I figured out, I learned about this almost when I was 30, and then I started going to all these conferences. So again, I was trying to learn more about myself, but it was also, kinda similarly, it was like where’s my community? Where are these people?

Because it is true:  when you’re in school, it’s in some ways easier to have that because–I mean, easier? I don’t know. Depending on, if you go into a school that specializes on certain topics, you’re a part of a community, and you know it. But it’s through school. So you don’t know that.

NINA: But when I was in Special Ed, we were all in there. We were 30 kids in this class, or 15 or whatever, but none of us talked about it.

We were all in there. We didn’t know why we were in there. We just knew we had issues, and then we would act out on each other because we were acting out our issues.

SARAH: Right, right. Yeah, no, there’s so many kids I went to school with–I shouldn’t call them kids cuz we’re adults.  But we were kids then. I’ll be like, “You were dyslexic too?”

No one talked to each other. No one knew about it. And it wasn’t until I made my film, and I was talking to people about it, they’re like, “Oh! You know, I have this too.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?!” So I think that is totally true. But I guess I’m also thinking there are schools like Landmark College or wherever where you’re all there for the same reason, and it’s very much front and center in the curriculum and what you’re talking about and stuff, so.

NINA: And also, those schools create an environment where it’s OK to be that. I just wanna recognize that not all teachers are educated in that same way. I’ve been in some Special Ed rooms that don’t work on that principle [laughs].

SARAH: Totally! That’s the thing is it’s such a smorgasbord of what’s out there.

NINA: And unfortunately, sometimes privilege–

SARAH: Exactly. I was about to say that.

NINA: –will, yeah, denote that.

SARAH: Like if you have resources, you can afford to go to some really pretty wonderful schools and experiences that I think can be pretty empowering. And then there’s some great public schools, and there’s some terrible public schools. And there can be some terrible public schools with a few great teachers.


NINA: I wish that everybody got that same experience of, “You experience this. It’s OK that your brain works this way. Sometimes it’s really hard,” but that emotional piece too, of like, “Yeah, there are things that you can do,” which I don’t think that everybody gets that in the same way. Which I think is really unfortunate.

SARAH: Right.

NINA: Which we’ll talk. I have a story for you once this is turned off.

SARAH: OK [laughs].

NINA: All right. OK, so that is Sarah Entine. Check out her movie…

SARAH: “Read Me Differently.”

NINA: “Read Me Differently.” And thanks for doing this, Sarah.

SARAH: Thanks, Nina. This was great!

NINA: So do you have a website?

SARAH: I do. It’s ReadMeDifferently.com.

NINA: All right. And I just wanna say, it’s a good thing we didn’t wear low-cut tops.

SARAH: Yeah, it’s really good.

NINA: Yeah, because we didn’t expose anything other than our souls.

SARAH: [laughs]

NINA: Thanks.


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