Book review: Embracing the Monster
Among other things, the term “hidden disabilities” refers to ADHD, learning disabilities, and mental disorders that result in a person having lots of difficulty with functions most of us take for granted. It’s not obvious to anyone else that the person has extraordinary challenges in doing certain tasks, paying attention, or controlling emotions. A person with these hidden disabilities often is labeled as “stupid,” “slow,” “lazy,” “spacey,” “a hot mess,” and so on.
Especially if the disabilities haven’t been diagnosed, the person feels misunderstood and frustrated. He or she may be as intelligent and eager to succeed as anyone else, but has these invisible barriers to success. Furthermore, the person may not understand what’s wrong and doesn’t know what accommodations would help him or her to function better.
The book Embracing the Monster: Overcoming the Challenges of Hidden Disabilities by Veronica Crawford gives insight into hidden disabilities like no other book I’ve encountered. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone whose life is touched by invisible disabilities.
What makes this book special? Largely it’s because the author herself has several hidden disabilities, including learning disabilities, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and sensory integration dysfunction. Veronica didn’t just write about it from the outside looking in: she chronicles the events and feelings of being “different” in each stage of her life, from preschool to college to adulthood. It wasn’t until college that she received diagnoses, guidance, and accommodations for dealing with the “monsters” within – which, unrecognized and untreated, had driven her to despair and big-time unhealthy choices. In the book, you’ll see how she journeyed from the lows of her teens and early 20s to a successful career. Veronica is now President at the Life Development Institute in Glendale AZ, helping others with hidden disabilities achieve their potential.
I attended a presentation Veronica made at the annual Learning Disabilities Association conference in 2014. She spoke about how to disclose a hidden disability to an employer, which prompted me to spread the word in this blog post. While I was writing it, she was kind enough to answer my questions and read my draft via email.
I’m very glad to have read it. I only wish I’d read it sooner, especially as our sons were growing up. Parents who have observed mystifying struggles in their children, as we did, will no doubt cringe in recognition as they read about how grown-ups missed signs of Veronica’s hidden disabilities. You’ll also cringe at how her spirit was crushed time and again by her failures, despite trying as hard as she could to do a good job.
On the flip side, I cheered (to myself!) when reading about how Veronica used her positive traits and skills to get by at all stages of her life. Her personality, helpfulness in the classroom, and musical talent helped her dodge some bullets. Even some of her bad choices were ways to get by. For instance, as a teen she chose to abuse alcohol and drugs, in part because she felt it was better to blame academic failures on being drunk or stoned than to have others realize she couldn’t read or do math even when sober.
Along with her life story, Veronica includes a chapter where she lists potential warning signs of hidden disabilities at different stages of life, and ways one might be able to help. She compiled the lists based on her own experiences and those of others she has helped. I’d recommend this summary to any parent or professional who wonders what might be going on with a struggling-but-intelligent child or student.
Besides getting to read Veronica’s firsthand account of living with hidden disabilities, at the end of each chapter we also get insights from an eminent child and adolescent psychiatrist. Dr. Larry B. Silver, who specializes in learning disabilities and ADHD, met Veronica when she was a struggling young adult and kept in touch with her over the years. His clinical commentary helps put her struggles, triumphs, and survival strategies into perspective for all of us. The book ends with a chapter written by Dr. Silver, in which he explains several hidden disabilities in clear language.
When Veronica was growing up, many adults in her life wrote her off, or they saw that she had problems but didn’t take any steps to try to help her. One of the major themes in Veronica’s story is how very valuable it was to have true friends, mentors, teachers, employers, and professionals (like Dr. Silver) who saw beyond her failures – who saw a real person with much to offer, deserving of love, support, and opportunity. In fact, she admits that without these angels in her life, she may have given up on life entirely.
It took courage for Veronica to persist through her struggles, and it took courage to write this book. She says in the introduction that the intended readers are professionals, and parents who are agonizing about their child’s future, and most of all individuals with hidden disabilities who feel alone and hopeless.
Here are some excerpts from the chapter, titled “Happy in My Prime,” that closes her life story:
Every day I wake up and still struggle to read, to write, to listen, and to remember. I realize it is a part of me, but only a part of me…..
I am … laughing about the fact that that I can’t even read my own book very easily – not in the traditional manner anyway. I hope that by sharing all of this pain and all of this success … readers will either find someone who can help them or find the strength in themselves to look in the mirror and realize that there is a way they can achieve success or help others with hidden disabilities do the same.