My Changing Relationship With Dyspraxia
We all have things about ourselves that we hate – for me, it was a strange little demon called Dyspraxia also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD). Basically, it’s a neurological disorder that affects the way I process the inputs of the world around me; it’s an odd little condition, and one that is always mistaken for or overshadowed by dyslexia, but it is no less serious.
To the outsider I’m a little clumsy, take things too literally, or forget things mid-sentence, so to them, that’s all Dyspraxia is, just a thing that makes me wobbly and eccentric. But it’s so much more than that. It’s an insidious invader that has inserted itself into the liminal spaces between my brain and body. It slows things down, scrambles the messages and makes it so that my body is not my own. I often feel like I’m plugged into a VR machine, the things I tell my limbs to do happen in a general sense, but not with the refinement I intended.
It’s plagued me for my entire life. As a kid, I was always dropping things and getting caught up in my clothes, and this was fine before I started school, but as soon as I was around others my own age the differences began to show. I was always the slowest to get dressed, the slowest to find a page in a book, the last to pick up lines in the school play and the one who always forgot something. Add on top of that an inability to tie my shoelaces and a relationship with maths that I can only describe as oil and water then you can see how a negative self-image can develop. A self-image that was being constantly reinforced with every negative experience and missed milestone. Because you see it’s not just motor function and learning that this thing affects. Dyspraxia also grants me low muscle tone, hypersensitivity to the cold and a brain that can only take so much input at once before it just shuts down. The very act of learning sometimes physically wears me out, and social interaction can take a long time for me to process. The older I got the more out of step I felt until I just gave up and stopped trying. I retreated into myself, to books and science fiction and my imagination – if the world was moving out of sync with me then I would try to move at my own pace and do my own thing.
But you can’t escape society, soon we hit exams, then post-secondary education, then the job market and then life – the worst thing about trying to escape the world is the fact that you simply can’t. By the time I left secondary school I had no conception of who I was as a person – I was just this clumsy, frustrated thing that moved unhappily through the world – an accident of nature just waiting to be corrected. I would need every finger in a football stadium to count how many times I just wanted to dash my head against a wall or find a way to tear out the part of my brain that was holding me back, but it wasn’t possible and it was that realisation that changes this story.
One night in 2012 I was alone in my room, screaming into a pillow out of frustration – I’d just been rejected from another job, and I felt hopeless. After a while, my frustration burned itself out and I started reading the back of a packet, and I started to wonder who wrote it. For as long as I can remember I have been writing or creating imaginary worlds in my head. The realisation that everything we read around us was written and imagined by someone hit me like a sack of wet clothes. That night, I sent away a few prospectuses, and before I knew it I was doing a-levels for the first time, getting class-topping grades and then I was in the passenger seat of my dad's car on the way to university - the greatest experience of my life.
I made friends who I shall never forget, but importantly I started to succeed. In every module, I got praise from tutors, and my marks kept getting higher as my social circle widened. I was no longer out of step, I was part of the vibe, and sometimes I was even leading the way. I was in a purely creative environment and all the skills I’d refined by trying to keep myself out of the world helped me slip into one I never knew existed. My unique way of processing the world, and the novel way I experience life were now strengths, and over time the Dyspraxia didn’t seem to be a complete negative. I started to realise its benefits, and weirdly enough there are quite a few.
Because of the struggles I had when I was younger, I have found myself to be empathetic to a point that some find scary. I have learned how to deal with and learn from failure and developed a unique way of learning new skills that others have also found helpful. The coping mechanisms I created to just keep myself afloat are now strengths, and they make me an asset in the workplace. My creative instincts and writing skills have been used so much over the years that I’m now firmly on the path to becoming a writer (I’ve recently begun a masters in the subject), and my odd way of thinking and perceiving the world make me a great lateral thinker. I’m now able to see everything different about myself not as something to hate, but as something to celebrate. I still sometimes get frustrated about myself when I can’t grasp something, but I’ve just stopped expecting perfection. There will always be downsides to having Dyspraxia, and it can be annoying, but it doesn’t mean that every good thing is overshadowed. The key is to find an environment where you will flourish instead of trying to change yourself to satisfy the expectations of others in a situation you are unsuited for.
I think a lot of people with Dyspraxia just resign themselves to an unfulfilling life because they believe they are incapable of keeping up, but that is so far from the truth. Internalised helplessness is a difficult hurdle to overcome, and there needs to be much more support for people with Dyspraxia beyond primary school and in the workplace, but no one should ever settle for less when they are capable in ways that they probably never realised. It’s not easy, but it’s doable, and all it requires is a bit of self-belief.
So, if given the chance would I cure myself? No, if it wasn’t for the Dyspraxia I may not be the intelligent, creative and empathetic person I am today, and at the end of the day who wants to be normal – normal is boring.