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Workplace disclosure as an editor with dyslexia

Darcey Gohring was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child. But she didn’t feel comfortable disclosing her dyslexia at work until she was a manager. She was scared her co-workers in the editing and writing world would look at her work differently. Now, she teaches writing classes and is an editor at Zibby Magazine.

When Darcey was diagnosed, her father didn’t believe that her dyslexia was real. He thought that she just needed to “try harder.” This shame followed her into adulthood. And it made her worry about what her colleagues would think of her learning difference. But when she got her promotion, she realized she didn’t need to worry. Now, as a manager and teacher, she supports others in being vulnerable and sharing their stories. 

Listen in to hear more about disclosure in the workplace, and how Darcey’s own life experience inspired her upcoming novel. 

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Transcript

Darcey: It could be dyslexia, it could be something else. But when you have a challenge like this, I mean, there is something healing about writing your story, even if you never put it out there. But putting it on the page or, you know, typing it in the screen and, you know, sort of examining it and being like, "Look what I've gone through." I also think it's an opportunity to see, you know, how far you've come.

Eleni: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "How'd You Get THAT Job?!," a podcast that explores the unique and often unexpected career paths of people with learning and thinking differences. My name is Eleni Matheou, and I'm a user researcher here at Understood. That means I spend a lot of time thinking about how we find jobs we love that reflect how we learn and who we are. I'll be your host.

Darcey Gohring is an editor at Zibby Magazine and also hosts their online writing community. In addition to helping writers polish their stories for publications in Zibby, Darcey leads community discussions and teaches the craft of writing. And, like many editors, Darcey is also a writer herself. She recently published an essay in Insider about being an editor with dyslexia. And while she's mostly written nonfiction, she's also working on a novel inspired by her own dyslexia experience. Welcome to the show, Darcey.

Darcey: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Eleni: We've actually had a variety of different writers on the show already with dyslexia. We've had a novelist and a comedy writer. And, you know, as you acknowledge, it's not necessarily a career that you would expect of someone with dyslexia. So, how do you think that your dyslexia actually makes you a really great writer and a good editor?

Darcey: I mean, I think for so many, dyslexia is one of the biggest things that, you know, even as a child is that you have, my imagination worked differently. I was creative from the very beginning. I think they always talk about being able to see things in pictures as opposed to words. So, writing stories, being able to envision the way something, you know, would read and how it would hit somebody came very easily to me in this job. Obviously, there were challenges when I was diagnosed in third grade and ended up having to leave the school I was in, go to a new school because the first school did not have any accommodations or any help for me. And, you know, there are a lot of challenges that go with that. But I think that as I grew, it just, it was so apparent that I loved movies. I loved books, I love stories. That was really where I wanted to be, was doing something in that capacity.

Eleni: I think it's really interesting to make the distinction between it's almost like the physical act of writing a word and spelling a word out versus like the bigger picture of like coming up with a story and like creating a narrative. People sometimes get those things conflated, but I think the way that you described it really kind of exemplifies the difference there.

Darcey: Yeah, and I think that when we, in the editorial field, we talk a lot about like copy editors versus editors versus storytellers versus writers. And I don't know if you know, the general public is as aware, like a copy editor’s job is to like, account for every comma and make sure it's all, you know, grammatically correct. I always think of the copy editor more as the mathematical mind. It's a very nitty-gritty. You really have to pay attention to every little detail, to really, you know, as someone with this, I mean, I'm using what I think of as GIFs to create stories and to help other people tell their stories.

Eleni: It's almost like the editor is like the strategic thinker, like, you know, I think about how that works, like in a, in a product setting, and that's how I would think of it too. So, that's really interesting. I know that you talked about, you know, having to advocate for yourself in school and people making assumptions about you because of your diagnosis and there being stigma around perhaps like what your ability or capability because of your label. I know that because of that stigma that you faced, you didn't talk about your dyslexia for a long time. And I know that you've written an article about how now you kind of feel like you no longer have to hide it. So, I would love to hear, like, what that turning point was for you and like, how did it feel like letting go of, you know, some of that shame and stigma, you know, and letting go of the secrecy and being a little bit more, like out and proud about it?

Darcey: Yeah. I mean, it was always something that I really held close to the vest. I wasn't wanting to tell people about it, particularly because of the field that I was in. I think for a long time, especially when I was a very young writer and editor, I would make mistakes and I would often wonder if it was because maybe I shouldn't be doing this job. Maybe this isn't the right field for me, you know. But I, I mean, I got more comfortable with it. And especially, I mean, the aspect of being an editor allowed me to see other people's writing, too, and to see that it's not the dyslexia that's making the mistake. It's that we're human beings and we make mistakes and everybody does them. I actually was listening to an author panel of a group of writers, and they were all talking about, you know, sort of shame around writing, some of it to do with, you know, when we're telling our personal stories, it's a hard thing and you're being very vulnerable. You're letting people into like know things that you wouldn't normally tell them, and you're doing it in a public fashion.

And, you know, another being just this whole idea that a lot of us writers have that's called imposter syndrome, which is just that, you know, "At what point will I feel like I'm a real writer?" So, I was listening to this conversation, and I was trying to connect it to my own life and think about the things as a writer that I've felt shame around. And it just kind of came over me, almost like a fog. It just hit me that the dyslexia was the thing. And I actually had been working on a book simultaneously, which I recently finished. And, you know, I had decided that the main character was going to have dyslexia, but it didn't really play that much into it. And I just started to think of the opportunity of talking about this and also, you know, making the dyslexia play more into the plot of the book because I, it occurred to me that I had never as a child, you know, the book is really, follows a character from 17 to early twenties. And I had never read a book with the main character being dyslexic. And I just thought, you know, that would have meant a lot to me. And so, a lot of the essay that I wrote was just sort of me thinking about this and saying, like, I think it's important for me to be now wearing this as almost like a badge of honor. Like, I'm proud of it.

Eleni: Totally. I know that you talked about writing nonfiction and memoir and personal story. What was it like for you writing a fiction novel?

Darcey: It's been a really rewarding journey, writing the book, the novel. I had sat down and just I wanted to write this story sort of the coming-of-age story of some things I had gone through with not just the dyslexia, but, you know, my relationship with my father. You know, when I was growing up, my father, who's no longer alive, he really didn't believe in dyslexia. And that was a huge challenge for me. He really felt that it was sort of a made-up diagnosis and that it was just that I wasn't trying hard enough, or I wasn't doing, you know. So that really played into a lot of how I felt about it because it was so, you know, enmeshed with shame.

You know, that was a huge element to the book, was just, you know, sort of like giving a story to how it feels when somebody doesn't really, you know, believe in what you're saying and doesn't support it. You know, he didn't understand why I had to have accommodations or why I couldn't go to a certain college. He wanted me to go to a really big college. And it was, you know, by all accounts, not a good idea that I, you know, really I should have been in. And I was, I did go to a college that had much smaller class sizes, and it was a much more nurturing environment. And that was probably one of the most important decisions I ever made because it was really where I blossomed. You know, it was like where I was taking English classes and I was in this, you know, small classrooms with maybe 20, 25 people. And I stopped being afraid to speak out and started talking. And I got so much feedback from my professors. So, it was really important.

But that element of the story, it's a really important element of the book. Is sort of this relationship between her and her father and the fact that that was, you know, something that he really didn't believe in. And I felt I was able to write about it because I lived it. I knew exactly how that felt, you know?

Eleni: Yeah. Yeah. And I think it's important to acknowledge, like, the impact of, like, minimizing or like pretending things aren't happening. It kind of falls under that like, "Let's sweep it under the rug and pretend that it's not there." And like, that's where like, then the shame comes up.

Darcey: Oh, yeah, "You're just being lazy. You're not listening," you know, "You're not…," all those things. And none of that was true. So, it definitely played into the book and into, you know, sort of I mean, I think when you go through something like that and you don't have the support, you can either, you know, it can really knock you down or it can drive you to show them that they're wrong. And in my case, I was lucky enough that I was going to prove that I could do, you know, what I wanted to do and all that stuff, so...

Eleni: I hear that a lot in my research too, where it's like it's extra disheartening when you're told you're just lazy and not trying hard enough when it actually feels like you're trying harder than like all of your peers. It's like, "Well, I know that's not true. Like, I'm putting in twice as much effort, but it's like that like the outcome isn't actually reflective of the work that I'm putting in."

Darcey: Absolutely.

Eleni: I think visibility or presentation, having role models, is super important. It's pretty amazing that now that you can be in that role and be that person both like as a role model in terms of the work that you do and then also like creating these characters. I think that's wonderful.

Eleni: You briefly mentioned teaching, and I know that that's been a recent endeavor really since COVID, and I would love to hear a little bit more about how you got started on that and, you know, how your dyslexia might contribute to you being a good teacher.

Darcey: Well, I had written a lot of articles. I actually had breast cancer in the first few weeks of the COVID lockdown. And so, I had written a lot of articles about that. And I had also been a contributor to a book, an anthology book. So, I began to do speaking engagements for that and, you know, readings for the book. And it really sort of transformed into workshops that were workshops based around writing your own story, you know, writing your personal story. And then, you know, obviously that kind of led to doing the classes and being an instructor. And I just love it. I love working with people. I love hearing everybody's stories. You know, I think it makes you look at people in the grocery store differently because you realize that every single person has a story.

Eleni: Definitely.

Darcey: Every single person has their own challenges that they're dealing with. And I just love like helping people be able to tell their stories. And I mean, you know, I know how healing it is for me. I think there's value, even if, you know, when you have challenges like this, it could be dyslexia, it could be something else. But when you have challenges like this, I mean, there is something healing about writing your story, even if you never put it out there. But putting it on the page or, you know, typing it in the screen and, you know, sort of examining it and being like, "Look what I've gone through." I also think it's an opportunity to see, you know, how far you've come.

Eleni: Is there anything that you think that you do differently in terms of how you approach teaching, like because of your experience and like the way that you learn? Like, has that influenced the way that you then pass on knowledge?

Darcey: Yes, because I think what it's done is that I always knew that I was the kid with the biggest imagination and the most probably going on in my head in the classroom. But I was also excruciatingly shy and very quiet as a young person. Growing up I always knew that I had so much going on in my head, but I just wasn't brave enough to share it. And so, working with students, I think I understand that I want to hear from all of them. I want to hear all their experiences. I want to know because I know what that feels like to be sitting there and wanting to contribute to the conversation but feeling too scared to do so. It has made me someone that in any classroom I'm in, in any situation, I want everyone to feel comfortable. I want them to feel that they can be themselves and that their stories matter and that, you know, it's OK to be vulnerable and all those things.

Eleni: I know we already talked about it being, you know, a bit of a relief for you to, like, shed your label and like not talk about dyslexia for a long time. And, you know, I'm curious about whether you were still able to get the support that you needed without like talking about the dyslexia and like now reflecting back and examining where you are now, like if there's anything that you wish that you had asked for earlier in your career.

Darcey: Well, I will say I do think that we've come a long way. It's a very different time. I don't know if I had told people when I first started out what the reaction would have been. I don't necessarily know if what I was doing was, you know, in a way, it was sort of protecting myself. You know, and it's funny, I actually when I wrote the piece for Business Insider about the dyslexia, one of my first editors, actually the man that hired me as an intern, my first job ever, he was one of the first people to comment on it and say, "I had no idea. You did an amazing job. Like, you know, none of us knew and you shouldn't have worried about," you know, kind of thing because, you know, it wasn't apparent at all. So, I guess what I'm saying is I think things have changed enough now that I feel comfortable sharing it.

Eleni: Yeah.

Darcey: But I don't know if that would have been the case early on.

Eleni: Yeah. One thing that's come up a lot in my research is, you know, whilst self-advocacy is really important, actually, what's also important is having the self-awareness to know when it is appropriate or not to disclose. And if you're in an environment that will support you or will actually, you know, stigmatize you. And as you said, you know, Judge, whether or not you can do your job, you know, there's like there is like an element of self-protection that needs to happen too. And like, ideally, we want to be in a world where, like every environment is supportive and like, everyone's response is positive. But the reality is that, you know, there are workplaces that won't be as understanding and accommodating. And really, it's just like putting yourself in the environments that will be, you know. Yeah, until we get to a place where everywhere is great.

Darcey: Yeah. I mean, this is funny because as you're saying that, I'm thinking, you know, as a writer, we often talk about that, is that how important it is for us to surround ourselves with people who, like other writers, who understand and sort of support you and what you're doing. Because it's a funny job, and especially when you're writing a book, I think, because, you know, it's sort of like if someone's never done that and they don't understand it, they're like, "Wait, so you're locking yourself in a room for, you know, an entire day and, you know, for a year?"

So, I think there is that element of, you know, what you're talking about that is sort of like to be around people that maybe get it. But it is amazing to me how many people, like I said, since I wrote this article, since I've been more open about telling people how many people say, you know, "Oh, I have dyslexia too, or I have a child with..." is like, I mean, I do think that's why the conversation is so important, because...

Eleni: Totally.

Darcey: ...it touches so many people. And, you know, you want them to know that. It's not like there's no I do know that, you know, from having friends that have children with dyslexia or other learning disabilities that it's often feels like they're especially in the first few years of school, that, you know, "How is this all going to work out?" And I think that it's so important for people to hear like "It will work out. You're going to be OK."

Eleni: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story, Darcey.

Darcey: Yeah. Thank you. It was great.

Eleni: You've been listening to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" from the Understood Podcast Network. This show is for you. So, we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at thatjob@understood.org with your thoughts about the show. Or maybe you'd like to tell us how you got THAT job. I'd love to hear from you.

If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out our show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode. Also, one of our goals at Understood is to help change the workplace so everyone can thrive. Check out what we're up to at U.org/workplace. That's the letter U dot ORG slash workplace.

Understood.org is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at Understood.org/mission.

"How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is produced by Grace Tatter. Briana Berry is a production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. Margie DeSantis provides editorial support. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our Editorial Director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director and Seth Melnick is our executive producer, and I'm your host, Eleni Matheou. Thanks again for listening.

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    leads user research for Understood. She helps Understood to center its work on the lived experiences and voices of people who learn and think differently.

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