Marisa Donnelly

@marisadonnelly | contributor
I'm a full-time writer/writing coach, editor, tutor, and bonus mama to a wonderful ten-year-old with learning disabilities. I'm passionate about sharing stories from the heart about love, relationships, and guiding ourselves through the messiness of life.

How Dyslexia Can Affect a Child's Self-Esteem

Anxiety, depression, ADHD and dyslexia are learning disabilities that are often silent. From looking at someone, you can’t tell they struggle to see words or sounds. You can’t identify that his mind is working 10,000 miles an hour. You can’t tell that under the surface, she is itching to break down or simply escape. Sometimes our difficulties and disabilities are silent. And sometimes people say or do things, even unconsciously, that do more harm than they realize. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that it’s something he hides well. When you look at him, you can’t see that he’s frustrated. He puts a little smile on his face and keeps pushing on. He says, “OK,” with a quiet genuineness that’s hard to see through. He opens his book, turns to the page, lets his eyes can slowly and deliberately. But that doesn’t mean he’s reading. He nods yes, and turns left at the corner like you told him to. But that doesn’t mean he knows his right from his left. And every time you shake your head and roll your eyes, “No, your other left,” he hangs his head, feeling inadequate once again. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that sometimes it’s the little things. It’s not his reading level being grades behind. It’s not the frustration that happens when we sit down to try to complete homework. It’s not even the way his peers bully him for not knowing what the poster says. It’s turning the knob on the washer the wrong way. It’s reading, “shift” as a swear word and turning bright red. It’s not knowing the instructions when everyone else is already on question five. And it’s not because he doesn’t care or isn’t paying attention. Often, it’s because he’s just not sure or is too embarrassed to ask for help. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that it’s exhausting. And not just for you, as his teacher. Not just for you, as his reading instructor, his tutor, his classmate reading the math word problem for the fifth time. It’s incredibly exhausting for him. It’s exhausting to wake up every day and try to remember the next step in getting ready for school. It’s exhausting to have that 15 minutes of silent reading time in class and only get through two pages. It’s exhausting to try to configure assistive technology independently, to ask for help again, to go from class to class and still feel lost, only to come home and have homework and tutoring that despite progress, still feels so far behind. He’s not exhausted after doing three problems because he’s “being difficult” or “not trying.” He’s not pretending because he wants you to do the work. Sometimes even the smallest things are infinitely harder. Sometimes he simply wishes to have a break. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that he’s trying. He’s trying so hard. And maybe it doesn’t look like it from the outside. Or maybe it doesn’t look like there’s anything “wrong” at all. Or maybe what you think you know isn’t what’s there. Maybe if you look beyond the stereotypes, the levels, and the scores you’ll see a child just trying to find his place in the world. A child who is just as worthy as anyone else, even if he is a little behind.

How Dyslexia Can Affect a Child's Self-Esteem

Anxiety, depression, ADHD and dyslexia are learning disabilities that are often silent. From looking at someone, you can’t tell they struggle to see words or sounds. You can’t identify that his mind is working 10,000 miles an hour. You can’t tell that under the surface, she is itching to break down or simply escape. Sometimes our difficulties and disabilities are silent. And sometimes people say or do things, even unconsciously, that do more harm than they realize. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that it’s something he hides well. When you look at him, you can’t see that he’s frustrated. He puts a little smile on his face and keeps pushing on. He says, “OK,” with a quiet genuineness that’s hard to see through. He opens his book, turns to the page, lets his eyes can slowly and deliberately. But that doesn’t mean he’s reading. He nods yes, and turns left at the corner like you told him to. But that doesn’t mean he knows his right from his left. And every time you shake your head and roll your eyes, “No, your other left,” he hangs his head, feeling inadequate once again. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that sometimes it’s the little things. It’s not his reading level being grades behind. It’s not the frustration that happens when we sit down to try to complete homework. It’s not even the way his peers bully him for not knowing what the poster says. It’s turning the knob on the washer the wrong way. It’s reading, “shift” as a swear word and turning bright red. It’s not knowing the instructions when everyone else is already on question five. And it’s not because he doesn’t care or isn’t paying attention. Often, it’s because he’s just not sure or is too embarrassed to ask for help. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that it’s exhausting. And not just for you, as his teacher. Not just for you, as his reading instructor, his tutor, his classmate reading the math word problem for the fifth time. It’s incredibly exhausting for him. It’s exhausting to wake up every day and try to remember the next step in getting ready for school. It’s exhausting to have that 15 minutes of silent reading time in class and only get through two pages. It’s exhausting to try to configure assistive technology independently, to ask for help again, to go from class to class and still feel lost, only to come home and have homework and tutoring that despite progress, still feels so far behind. He’s not exhausted after doing three problems because he’s “being difficult” or “not trying.” He’s not pretending because he wants you to do the work. Sometimes even the smallest things are infinitely harder. Sometimes he simply wishes to have a break. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that he’s trying. He’s trying so hard. And maybe it doesn’t look like it from the outside. Or maybe it doesn’t look like there’s anything “wrong” at all. Or maybe what you think you know isn’t what’s there. Maybe if you look beyond the stereotypes, the levels, and the scores you’ll see a child just trying to find his place in the world. A child who is just as worthy as anyone else, even if he is a little behind.

How Dyslexia Can Affect a Child's Self-Esteem

Anxiety, depression, ADHD and dyslexia are learning disabilities that are often silent. From looking at someone, you can’t tell they struggle to see words or sounds. You can’t identify that his mind is working 10,000 miles an hour. You can’t tell that under the surface, she is itching to break down or simply escape. Sometimes our difficulties and disabilities are silent. And sometimes people say or do things, even unconsciously, that do more harm than they realize. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that it’s something he hides well. When you look at him, you can’t see that he’s frustrated. He puts a little smile on his face and keeps pushing on. He says, “OK,” with a quiet genuineness that’s hard to see through. He opens his book, turns to the page, lets his eyes can slowly and deliberately. But that doesn’t mean he’s reading. He nods yes, and turns left at the corner like you told him to. But that doesn’t mean he knows his right from his left. And every time you shake your head and roll your eyes, “No, your other left,” he hangs his head, feeling inadequate once again. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that sometimes it’s the little things. It’s not his reading level being grades behind. It’s not the frustration that happens when we sit down to try to complete homework. It’s not even the way his peers bully him for not knowing what the poster says. It’s turning the knob on the washer the wrong way. It’s reading, “shift” as a swear word and turning bright red. It’s not knowing the instructions when everyone else is already on question five. And it’s not because he doesn’t care or isn’t paying attention. Often, it’s because he’s just not sure or is too embarrassed to ask for help. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that it’s exhausting. And not just for you, as his teacher. Not just for you, as his reading instructor, his tutor, his classmate reading the math word problem for the fifth time. It’s incredibly exhausting for him. It’s exhausting to wake up every day and try to remember the next step in getting ready for school. It’s exhausting to have that 15 minutes of silent reading time in class and only get through two pages. It’s exhausting to try to configure assistive technology independently, to ask for help again, to go from class to class and still feel lost, only to come home and have homework and tutoring that despite progress, still feels so far behind. He’s not exhausted after doing three problems because he’s “being difficult” or “not trying.” He’s not pretending because he wants you to do the work. Sometimes even the smallest things are infinitely harder. Sometimes he simply wishes to have a break. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that he’s trying. He’s trying so hard. And maybe it doesn’t look like it from the outside. Or maybe it doesn’t look like there’s anything “wrong” at all. Or maybe what you think you know isn’t what’s there. Maybe if you look beyond the stereotypes, the levels, and the scores you’ll see a child just trying to find his place in the world. A child who is just as worthy as anyone else, even if he is a little behind.

How Dyslexia Can Affect a Child's Self-Esteem

Anxiety, depression, ADHD and dyslexia are learning disabilities that are often silent. From looking at someone, you can’t tell they struggle to see words or sounds. You can’t identify that his mind is working 10,000 miles an hour. You can’t tell that under the surface, she is itching to break down or simply escape. Sometimes our difficulties and disabilities are silent. And sometimes people say or do things, even unconsciously, that do more harm than they realize. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that it’s something he hides well. When you look at him, you can’t see that he’s frustrated. He puts a little smile on his face and keeps pushing on. He says, “OK,” with a quiet genuineness that’s hard to see through. He opens his book, turns to the page, lets his eyes can slowly and deliberately. But that doesn’t mean he’s reading. He nods yes, and turns left at the corner like you told him to. But that doesn’t mean he knows his right from his left. And every time you shake your head and roll your eyes, “No, your other left,” he hangs his head, feeling inadequate once again. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that sometimes it’s the little things. It’s not his reading level being grades behind. It’s not the frustration that happens when we sit down to try to complete homework. It’s not even the way his peers bully him for not knowing what the poster says. It’s turning the knob on the washer the wrong way. It’s reading, “shift” as a swear word and turning bright red. It’s not knowing the instructions when everyone else is already on question five. And it’s not because he doesn’t care or isn’t paying attention. Often, it’s because he’s just not sure or is too embarrassed to ask for help. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that it’s exhausting. And not just for you, as his teacher. Not just for you, as his reading instructor, his tutor, his classmate reading the math word problem for the fifth time. It’s incredibly exhausting for him. It’s exhausting to wake up every day and try to remember the next step in getting ready for school. It’s exhausting to have that 15 minutes of silent reading time in class and only get through two pages. It’s exhausting to try to configure assistive technology independently, to ask for help again, to go from class to class and still feel lost, only to come home and have homework and tutoring that despite progress, still feels so far behind. He’s not exhausted after doing three problems because he’s “being difficult” or “not trying.” He’s not pretending because he wants you to do the work. Sometimes even the smallest things are infinitely harder. Sometimes he simply wishes to have a break. What I wish people knew about my son’s dyslexia is that he’s trying. He’s trying so hard. And maybe it doesn’t look like it from the outside. Or maybe it doesn’t look like there’s anything “wrong” at all. Or maybe what you think you know isn’t what’s there. Maybe if you look beyond the stereotypes, the levels, and the scores you’ll see a child just trying to find his place in the world. A child who is just as worthy as anyone else, even if he is a little behind.

What I've Learned You Shouldn't Say to Someone With Anxiety

I don’t have anxiety. I’m not an expert on it. And I’m not here to claim I know more than someone who struggles with it personally. I just want to be clear about that. However, what I do know is that you don’t have to fully experience or understand something to care about it. And that’s where I’m coming from. I’ve seen the effects of anxiety on the people I love. I’ve watched people I care deeply about crumble and battle against the demons in their own minds. I’ve watched loved ones cry, try to fight through life’s messiness and become even more discouraged by well-meaning words from friends and family members. And even though I’m not an expert (in a world where it feels like everyone knows everything — am I right?!) I feel compelled to share what I think is important and a personal responsibility as someone who doesn’t struggle with anxiety. Because I’ve been that well-meaning-but-way-off person. I’ve been the one who said things she shouldn’t have. I’ve been the helper who didn’t actually help. And I want to change that — for myself and others who may walk in my shoes. So, whether you think you’re saying the right thing and want to improve, or have harbored guilt about saying something that made everything worse — this is for you. Here are three things you should actually stop saying to someone with anxiety: 1. “Just breathe.” Breathing is great, don’t get me wrong. But telling someone with anxiety to “just breathe” can be condescending, not to mention painfully obvious. Sure, learning to regulate your breathing can be helpful. But it doesn’t always work the same for every person in every situation. Sometimes the situation doesn’t allow for a pause of rest. Sometimes that person’s mind is going 10,000 miles an hour and the act of breathing sounds physically and mentally draining. Or sometimes the person actually can’t focus on breathing because they’re not ready to leave the emotion or the moment. Even if you think you’re doing the right thing by saying “breathe,” make sure you understand the limitations that a person may feel and why this seemingly simple task may feel monstrous. (And why that’s OK, too). 2. “Just forget it.” You can’t “just forget” anxiety, especially if it’s chronic or severe. You also can’t always ignore situations if they’re present and need to be addressed (think of a workplace or emergency situation). Although it may seem productive to help a person refocus their mind, it may actually be limiting the individual with anxiety’s ability to cope or work through an emotion if you tell them to “forget it.” It’s also not easy (or sometimes not even possible) to simply forget something that’s happening in the moment. This may even contribute to more anxious feelings because pushing the moment out of their minds feels like a heavier burden to bear than just dealing with it. 3. “Just focus on something else.” This is basically the same thing as telling someone to “forget it” and is actually counterintuitive, especially compared to what a therapist might suggest. Sometimes ignoring a problem makes it worse. And sometimes people have individual techniques or means of getting out and through their anxiety that actually don’t coincide with the methods you suggest. Many times simply ignoring an anxious feeling doesn’t actually reduce it. It buries it under the surface which may actually create more long-term stress. Sometimes helping that person figure out their own sense of balance is far more important than getting his/her mind on something else. While it may feel encouraging to tell someone with anxiety to “let it go,” or “think about another idea/topic,” you have to understand someone with anxiety might not benefit from that advice (no matter how good you think it is). So here’s what you can do instead: Rather than trying to tell someone with anxiety what to do (especially as someone who doesn’t struggle), try to be a part of their support system. Instead of saying “breathe,” start breathing deeply and encourage the person to breathe along with you. Remind the person you’re there, you care and you’re ready and willing to do whatever you can to help. You may feel powerless, but that’s OK. You’re not meant to be a savior, you can’t “save” someone from their anxious feelings and this moment isn’t about you anyway. But you can be by their side. And sometimes that’s all this person wants, and may be all they actually need.

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How to Support a Loved One With Mental Illness

Mental illness is not something that can be easily defined or understood, especially when someone you care about is struggling and you feel powerless to help. The truth about depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other mental illnesses is that they affect people differently. And sometimes you can pour yourself into people fully, but that still might not be what they need. If you’re not sure how to support a loved one with mental illness, here are six ways to understand and truly be there. 1. Stop trying to solve their problems. Caring about someone doesn’t mean solving their problems. And unfortunately, when it comes to mental illness, there’s nothing to “solve.” A mental illness is something that shapes a person’s everyday life. It’s not something that can be simply “cured.” And as a friend or family member of someone struggling, it’s not your job nor your responsibility to do either of those things. As much as you might be tempted to offer answers, solutions, “ways out” or even words of comfort — you have to understand that the person battling the depression needs to find their own coping mechanisms and strategies for survival. You can be there, but you can’t be their crutch. 2. Understand that sometimes there are no answers. Humans want to rationalize — it’s a way of understanding and making sense of things. But mental illness isn’t rational. It doesn’t always make sense. And the way in which it challenges and changes people doesn’t always have an explanation. That’s why if you really want to support a loved one with mental illness, you have to stop questioning the “why” and “how” and start accepting people for who and where they are. 3. Know that you can’t fix (and shouldn’t) and that’s OK. You can’t fix someone. And someone with mental illness isn’t broken. Someone who’s struggling with depression, for example, might have a tainted view of the world and react to situations and circumstances differently, but that doesn’t mean it’s your job to heal them or “make them whole.” Having a mental illness doesn’t make that person any less. Stop trying to fix them and start loving them without restrictions, expectations, or judgements. 4. Show up. When you say you’ll be there, be there. When you make a promise, follow through. When you offer to do something, do it. Showing up is one of the most important and valuable things you can do for someone who’s battling a mental illness. Knowing that you’re in their corner is the greatest support of all. 5. Learn to listen with a quiet mouth. Sometimes people just need a listening ear, one that doesn’t come with advice (no matter how well-meaning it may appear). Sometimes it’s about pouring their heart out and knowing someone cares enough to listen. 6. Realize that your presence is enough. There is no manual for how to properly support a loved one with mental illness, but as long as you’re actively being there for them, actively making your presence known in their lives, and actively letting them know that you love them —no matter what— then that’s all you can do. Know that mental illness doesn’t have to define or dictate you and your loved one’s relationship. It is a part of that person, yes, but it’s not the entirety of them. And it never will be. To read more of Marisa’s work, visit her website marisadonnelly.com, her blog wordandsole.com, or her parenting blog mymomishmoments.com.