THE BLOG
08/29/2011 12:08 pm ET | Updated Oct 29, 2011

We're Not So Different, You and I

As of this moment right now, I am learning-disabled, immune-deficient and unemployed... basically, I'm a triple threat. I always knew on some level that at any point I could be two of the three, but to be all three? That's not something I could ever imagine.

Being diagnosed with my learning disability at a young age, I was told that I could never be an architect, graphic designer or basically anything in the art profession because my drawing skills were poor. Mathematician was never going to happen because while historical facts seem to take up permanent residence in my brain, any math skills tend to fly out the window, and then the window is slammed shut and boarded up, offering no chance of reentry.

In fact, my math skills are so poor that when I go shopping with someone, I make them stand beside me to make sure I'm getting the right change and that I'm not being overcharged. It happened one year just before Christmas, and I had the mother of all panic attacks with my aunt beside me. I had to go and sit with my head between my knees while she went back and fixed everything.

My family has made an attempt to teach me algebra, but I thought my uncle was going to slap me, and I raised the blood pressure of my mother's cousin so high and stressed her out so bad that I gave her a nosebleed. After that, I thought, forget it, I'll just use an app for figuring out the tip and hand my money over to my family. Let them figure it out rather than being known as the nut at check-out 12 crying because she can't figure out whether she's being overcharged for a sweater.

My nonverbal learning disability (NVLD) put a limit on what I could do because, well, if I couldn't do math, that means science was out; I'd have hated being known as the kid who accidentally blew up the building because I couldn't figure out a kiloliter from a kilometer. So, history and reading became my passion.

From an early age my father had been pumping me full of history. It was like he was the wizard and I was his apprentice. From an early age he taught me about Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra, FDR and Elvis. It was like the best of the world combined, and because of that I was exposed to things kids my age had never heard of: Ella Fitzgerald and Janis Joplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lenny Bruce (Lenny because my father is the eternal hippie and would break out those records and hold me against my will). Before the age of 10, I knew who Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison and Andy Kaufman were.

In fact, when I would go for my yearly testing to check my disability, my reading levels would be off the charts, which was unheard of for a kid younger than 12 with NVLD. At 15, when most of my classmates were still on basic books, I was reading "Valley of the Dolls." I didn't understand half of it, but I still read it.

My father denied I had a learning disability because I could argue with the best of them, insisting that I was "smart." For some reason he saw my learning disability as some sort of imperfection, and being an only child and only daughter, why, it was just ridiculous to him. I would get upset about him not taking it seriously or dismissing it, which created this huge rift for years before and after. But when we weren't battling, he would teach me about Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, and he would purposely aggravate me to test how much I had learned. When I was around 17 and went nuts after one of his "tests," he claimed I had passed and stopped; I think he was afraid I'd go for his throat if he didn't knock it off.

So because I was told I couldn't follow these certain careers, I had to forge a new path. I tried being a comedienne, but I realized I had horrible stage fright. Being a film historian didn't pay, and my mother popped that balloon the moment I thought of it, after she read what a film historian does and how it doesn't come with benefits. So I turned to writing and research, which didn't limit my disability or abilities. I found out that when it came to some of the stories I had grown up hearing, people loved them, and I loved telling them.

So now I've found my path, but my immune deficiency requires me to go to the hospital for an infusion every four weeks, which poses a dilemma: how do I explain that to a potential employer? It's bad enough that I have to explain my learning disability, but to explain that I have to disappear on the fourth Tuesday of every month for something that's unexplainable to those who won't take the time to understand? It's impossible. Plus, I hate the mock sympathy that I get now when someone I haven't seen in a while asks how I am, and I spill out what happened.

Some situations are just not worth the explanation, so my mother and I came up with an idea: at least from September through June, when I have to explain to any employer why I'm taking off that particular Tuesday, I'll just say I'm taking a class -- keep it simple, and no one questions it.

The explanation of my learning disability isn't as bad, I think. Besides, I've had a few jobs where they never knew as long as it didn't require a cash register.

Right before I got sick, I had an opportunity to work for a PR company, which would have been a dream, and it wouldn't have clashed with my learning disability, but unfortunately, I had to give up that job possibility because I had no clue when I'd be able to work or even if I would be able to. There was talk that I'd be out on permanent disability, because the doctors couldn't get it under control. Then too much time went by, and other problems crept up, and when I finally got the thumbs up to go back to work, it became nearly impossible to find a job.

I know we all have quirks that we have to deal with. Nobody's perfect, but sometimes I get the feeling that I seriously pissed off someone in a past life, and now I'm paying for it with this life.

Do you have a quirk that, given the opportunity, you'd give back in heartbeat?