How I pushed past fear and self-doubt
When I was six years old, I joined a Dance Studio, and every day since then I felt awkward and wrong. Following directions, while counting and remembering the steps was a hard task. I am sure my dyslexia was part guilty of that, but since nobody knew I was dyslexic, it was all on me. It was just the way I was: a little lost, always distracted, not focused enough. Even after we discovered I had dyslexia, we never related it to dance. I found that relationship only now in 2019 as I sit to write this story — Dyslexia affects the areas of the brain that deal with direction, language, and processing information. It can cause difficulties with not only writing and spelling but also with following dance routines, as it can affect turning and the ability to remember sequences and steps — My life, in a nutshell, my frustration with dancing answered by google thirty years later.
Front, back, left or right, where do I go now? My dad had it on tape; he recorded every single performance. Hours after the embarrassing moments, I was able to see it in action. The shame was delivered fresh, accompanied by my siblings and friends ready to laugh again when I came crashing full frontal with the other dancer. You could see my face puzzled with the many tasks at hand and the certainty that I would screw it up one more time.
Dancing was my hobby. It was the focus of my life. The classes, the seasonal shows, the big performances at the National Theatre, the costumes, and the excitement, it was so much fun. But I was so self-conscious and afraid that I didn’t enjoy my time on stage. As we grew older, the team evolved, and we became the pro team, the best dancers, but I sure didn’t feel the best. I believe it was then when the Impostor Syndrome began to inhabit my self. I am not a dancer. I am not that great. Why am I in this team with nothing but the best? It was too much to handle, and I quit. Quitting was hard, but I put on a mask and pretended as if I was ok with it.
I was good at soccer. I was a striker. Agile and fast, until the Impostor Syndrome took over me once again. I was featured in the school newspaper as the striker of the first few games, but I didn’t feel like a good player. I had no coordination, and even though I made up for it running fast and fearlessly shooting at the goal, it wasn’t enough, My teammates seemed to be experts, stopping the ball with their chest, passing it right and left. I wasn’t good like then. So once again, I quit.
Throughout those years, I coped with life stress, traumas, and self-consciousness by writing poems. When I was writing, I didn’t compare myself to others, and my dyslexia was hidden, contained within my notebook. During those lonely moments, there was no outside world, and only I could judge myself. It was how I survived my dyslexic, self-conscious, rebel, teenage days until it was time to graduate from High School.
To graduate from High School, I had to prepare a Senior Project. It could be a project on any subject. I chose Spanish Literature, the only class I liked. I told the teacher about my poems, and we came up with the idea of a poetry book. I collected the poems, refined them, and wrote new ones to complete the book. When I saw the first draft, I panicked. How I dare do this? Reading, writing, spelling, and grammar were not my forte. I couldn’t write one sentence without spelling mistakes. I never volunteered to read out loud because I would skip lines or say words that weren’t on the page. I was about to freak out, but then I remembered the feelings after quitting dance and soccer — moments like those made me feel like a failure and like I was abandoning a dream just short of achieving it. To make things worse, I kept the feelings to myself, feeding the monster of fear and self-doubt, coming up with excuses that made it ok to quit.
The good news was that I had learned. I learned that failure, when kept secret, becomes unbearable, and the feeling of quitting over fear is even worse. The poetry book was too important, so I cling to those moments to remind myself how bad it felt when I gave in to fear and self-doubt. This time I would have to deal with them in a whole new way, trying hard and asking for help.
My mother was my greatest supporter. With her help, I got to talk with two Nicaraguan writers, Blanca Castellón and Sergio Ramirez. Blanca gave my book the name, Sol para Vivir (Sun to live). She organized the poems into chapters and wrote the prologue of the book. Sergio read all my sixty-two poems and ranked them: A, B, and C. I still remember the time when he returned the graded poems and with a big smile said: “continue writing,” but even with all their help and encouragement, I was frightened. The Impostor Syndrome came back. I thought that the people who helped me were just being nice. It didn’t occur to me that my poems were good and that they saw some sparkle of fresh writing in them. I was hesitant about every word and comma. Every line on the paper was a doubt on my mind, but I had to deliver. So I kept seeking help and showing my poems to whoever wanted to read them. I practiced daily, writing and rewriting, reading, and repeating until the day finally arrived.
To my surprise, the presentation was flawless. I finished on time and answered the questions. I read the poems like a professional and managed to make my teachers cry. I scored an A+, one of the few in my student life. The teachers offered to buy my book if I decided to publish it. I was happy and relieved. I had done it. I had put together a book with my most intimate feelings and dared to read them aloud. In the process, I had forgotten about my dyslexia and its developmental threats.
I graduated thanks to my perseverance but mostly to the lessons I learned after quitting soccer and dance: try hard and ask for help. Repeat until you succeed, continue until you feel supported by yourself. Seek what you need to get out of the paralyzing feeling of fear, reach out to anyone that will listen and give you advice. Take it all and ask for some more. Trust the process, trust your process, trust the timing, trust yourself. Push through doubt and keep going through the hard times.
Today the fear of people laughing at my typos, and the fear of seeming dumb because I said the wrong words while reading aloud, are long gone. What remains is the joyous experience of reading my poems, and a beautiful book sitting on my bookshelf. I’m still nervous about sharing my thoughts, but I am aware of the joy that writing brings to me. So, every day I decide to overcome new fears, like the one of hitting publish on the top of this page.