This week’s conversation draws our attention to the plight of undiagnosed Dyslexia through Simon Rumney’s life of shame and the inspiration it brings to his writing.

Whether it’s coincidence or fate, I am not sure. However, in my ‘Vulnerability and Shame’ Shortcast on Sunday I shared my experience of being regularly shamed for being ‘lazy’ about reading and writing at school. At the time of recording I was unaware that Simon’s podcast was also scheduled for release this week. I find it fascinating that the synergy of this conversation and my Sunday podcast have been so naturally aligned.

Simon Rumney has battled with low self-worth, shame and guilt his entire life.

“I was a failure in the womb.” 

It all stems from a loveless childhood with traumatised parents and undiagnosed Dyslexia which left him unprepared for the world. Although he has managed to be hugely successful with his career and prospects, he consistently sabotaged it. Only now, at the age of 66, does he feel close to getting on top of his chronic shame and self-deprecation.

What Simon brings to this conversation is a wealth of inspiration for people with learning disabilities and insight for those who live and work with them. Moreover, it gives the rest of us an opportunity to open our eyes to the ways we communicate and understand each other.

A Deprived Childhood

Born in the 1950’s to parents who were both suffering from their own demons and unable to show him love or affection. Simon was a child of the British post war generation that had high ideals and expectations for their children.

In the case of his father, a natural empath, it was PTSD that stole his capacity to show affection. With his mother, Simon says:

“My Mother sadly was a psychopath… she was just born like that. She had no empathy, no ability to love.”

However, despite this they still had big plans for their children’s future, even before they were born. In fact Simon was named after the character ‘Simon Sparrow’ who was a respected Doctor in the film ‘Dr At Sea’. In their minds, that was it. Their baby would be called Simon and he would be a doctor.

But by early childhood it was clear that Simon would not meet those expectations. Due to unrecognised Dyslexia, his teachers classed him as lazy and stupid. I grew up with similar teacher judgements, so I knew exactly where he is coming from as we shared our stories.

Unlike Simon, my saving grace was supportive parents and a better education system. Simon did not have that luxury. Living in a post war rural area, his teachers did not come from University graduation stock. They were just the most educated in the village and therefore fell in to the teaching profession.

Much to his parents disappointment, Simon left school at 15 unable to read and write, and with no qualifications.

“They despaired, they thought I was going to die… They couldn’t see how I could possibly go into the world without them and survive.”

The Highs & Lows of Success

His father was a successful businessman and decided that the best thing for his illiterate son would be to pay for him to attend catering College. His view was that Chefs did not need to read, write or do maths but could still earn good money. Simon hated it, so upon leaving college he took any job he could rather than become a Chef.

What followed was a range of different jobs from farm work, building site labourer, to airport baggage loader. He just took what he could get, wandering from one thing to the next.

“And then I drifted into sales and that was incredible!”

Because he shared his father’s skill of empathy Simon found a niche in sales and despite the Dyslexia he was good at it. In fact he did so well he reached the position of CEO in some big organisations. But sadly, the early conditioning still had a hold on him. Simon was convinced he was still a failure waiting to be found out. Rather than let this happen, he self sabotaged every success with a pattern of drinking, drugs, over spending and womanizing.

“The better the success I had, the more I felt they were coming for me… It was like, you know, get a better suit, bigger car, better house, better girlfriend. I used money as fuel.”

Eventually the self sabotage led to him leaving England to make a new start in Australia. But, no matter where he went the demons came too and so he kept repeating the same patterns of destruction.

Finally, caught up in a destructive relationship with a Narcissist, Simon was pushed into therapy.

A Lesson Learned

Although this was a turbulent time that just seemed to get worse the more entrenched it became. Looking back Simon now brings a different perspective to that period of his life.

“The thing I’ve learned now is that giving somebody as insecure as me money is like throwing petrol on a bonfire. The best thing you can do is keep people like me poor and make them face who they are. As long as you’ve got money, you can always do something more drastic and stupid. And that’s what I did.”

A Painful Revelation

Throughout his life, Simon had managed to find clever ways to avoid reading or writing. With work, there would always be a PA and personally he found other options to writing notes or love letters.

“I’ve never written a love letter or postcard or anything where anybody could see my writing. The shame was too deep, so I worked out techniques.”

However, whilst he was in therapy, an occasion arose in which he needed to write a business letter. He took a draft copy to his therapist to ask if it conveyed the message he wanted it to.

“I was told You have Dyslexia.”

Simon protested. His parents and teachers had always told him that Dyslexia is writing backwards. It had never occurred to him that he had ever been anything other than stupid and lazy for not being able to read and write. So this revelation was a staggering relief.

“I just wept for an hour. I just could not stop sobbing. It was extraordinary.”

From that day on he just started writing. Although he couldn’t spell conventionally and had no understanding of sentence construction, paragraphs or chapters, all the words he had been holding back came pouring out of him. It was a cathartic release of a lifetime of grief, pain, insight and revelation. Although the writing was prolific, he had not considered sharing it with anyone, it was just therapy for him.

A New Relationship With Writing

Eventually someone convinced Simon to let them read something he had written and they loved it. Gradually sharing his work led to him being convinced he should do something more with his writing. So although his relationship with Editors, Publishers and Grammar Nazis is turbulent, he has now managed to publish three of the seven books he has written.

“I’ve been shamed lots of times for my grammar issues. I’ve had people say to me ‘I can’t read your text, it’s painful to me’. I understand that there are some people on the autistic spectrum who experience it as pain… but… you get these Grammar Nazis, who say, ‘If you can’t be bothered to spell, then I can’t be bothered to read.

Knowing it is not his ‘fault’ that he has Dyslexia, Simon has taken his own pain and grief into fiction by creating characters and stories about people who are incredibly intelligent but have very low self esteem due to being put down as a child. His characters may be of a different gender and background, but effectively they tell the story that people are rarely willing to hear from real life characters such as Simon.

Helping Others

Some people find the books challenging to read but as his therapist says, this is the most interesting aspect because it gives us a first hand experience of what it’s like to be insecure. Simon uses his books and subsequent Facebook page ‘Dyslexics Unanimous’ to actively support his mission to champion the cause of early intervention for children with learning disabilities. 

“Parents and teachers may not say, as they did to me ‘You’re lazy and stupid’, they just show genuine concern because they love the child and they feel, oh my God, the child’s going to fail. They don’t say it, but the child picks up on it…

“I never was a failure. Nobody, no kid is ever a failure.” You only believe… “You’re a failure because other people have expectations and you’re afraid you’re not meeting them… My objective with this Dyslexics Unanimous is to re educate parents and teachers.

An Ongoing Battle

Despite all Simon’s past and present success, he still faces the daily ongoing battle with his self esteem. When I asked him about his current success model, his contribution to himself and what the meaning of life is to him, his answer was always the same, mental stability and a still mind.

“That’s all I want. A still mind.”

In fact, prior to our conversation Simon really took the time to look at the podcast’s Five Questions. Although I ask this of all my guests, it is rare for anyone to give them such deep consideration before the show. He is clearly very committed to overcoming this battle with chronic mental torture and willing to put the work in to achieve it.

When I asked Simon about the one question he wished people would ask, his reply was:

“I really read these five questions, I really took it seriously and I didn’t know how to answer that without sounding glib or you know, blah, blah, blah. But the answer I came to was ‘I would like somebody to have the power to say to me, would you like to do it all again?’ I wouldn’t want anything different. I’d be the same person, same place, same everything, but with self esteem and just how good it would have been, how great it should have been all the way.”

And yet, I can’t help thinking that (although Simon believes, as I do, that no child should suffer in this way) our current world would be a poorer place without his willingness to openly share his experiences and his vulnerability. It is a gift that offers great insight and healing to others and I think on some level Simon recognises this.

Further Information About Dyslexia

Thank you for joining me in this vulnerable, heart wrenching conversation about Dyslexia with Simon Rumney. In the podcast I mention the Davis Method: Here is a link to this and the British Dyslexia Association:

To learn more about Simon, Dyslexics Unanimous and his three books, follow the links below to his Facebook pages.

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