I know millions of people have an opinion about Lemonade and there is literally nothing new to say but it is #IWD. And most of the songs I’ve thought were empowering before this, on reflection, women are still the victim, or they are apologetic, or grateful or “crazy”. Lemonade means so much to so many people and my white, straight opinion is low on the list of opinions that matter but it still meant something important to me. She is unapologetically mad. And as someone who has previously felt ashamed for being angry, sad, crazy because of one of the men on my list.
Yesterday I had a wax. It had been a few months and so I wasn’t looking forward to it. The longer you leave it the more it hurts and I was going for a full leg wax too, so I knew it was going to be there for a long time.
I tried somewhere new because I hate going back to the same place. When I lived in East London I went to ‘My Brazilian Wax’ in Brick Lane. It felt anonymous. More like changing rooms than a salon.
Being fat I always imagine beauticians take one look at me and think they have their work cut out.
“Maybe she won’t be too hairy,” they think but I disappoint on that front too. I try and keep things light humoured with self-deprecating jokes but it’s hard to keep smiling when you are holding your arse cheeks apart. I often leave salons thinking “never again” but also wondering whether I’ll run out of places to go to.
I found a new place not too far from me, although when I got off the bus Google maps tried to convince me it was behind a pretty shabby mini-market It wouldn’t have been the first time I had been misled as to what a salon would look like IRL.
I kept walking and found my place. I was reassured. Someone had taken real care about how this place looked and without wanting to sound like a snob, that stuff matters when you are going to spend the next couple of hours getting hairless from the waist down.
The owner clearly loves Audrey Hepburn who was plastered everywhere. Although I like Audrey, I’ve never bought into her as a beauty or style icon. That isn’t to say she isn’t both of those things but she doesn’t represent the beauty I aspire to whatever that is. I’m more Liz Taylor. I like big jewellery and opulence. I like breasts and full lips. I like brash. And the petite elegance of Hepburn has always felt too far removed from me and who I am.
Also, let’s be honest, loving Audrey Hepburn in 2017 is a bit basic. Sorry Audrey, not your fault but it is absolutely true.
So I get there and am starting on getting my nails done when they interrupt me and ask if I’ll have my Brazilian now instead so they can use the room for a massage when I’m done. I say yes because I’m not a dick and away we go.
The room looks like a spa room and I can tell they take this stuff eriously. There is a CD player for whatever hippy stuff they play while they are kneading your back. I’m about to do something less relaxing but happy the bed has a towel on it. Brown to hide the stains but still, it’s a towel. God I love towels, I’ll willingly pay more for towels but oh wait – no, the clinical paper roll goes on anyway – above my towel.
I lie down and she starts using the strip wax. That is the wax they remove with a strip of material. I haven’t had a strip wax down there in a long time. It turns out that this is just for the outside area (essentially, my leg) and as she moves into the very intimate area she advises that she will be using the hot wax. Thank God.
So the hot wax goes on and it is hot, which is fine. Clue is in the name, etc. But hang on – no, this is really hot. This is, ouch. JESUS. THIS IS HOT. I bear it. She knows it is hot; she keeps blowing on it before putting it on. That’s right keep blowing. Then she starts blowing on it while it is on – you see, it needs to solidify and cool before she can rip it off. This is weird; I’m paying for a service that involves a grown woman blowing on my fanny.
She carries on while I grin and bear it until it reaches a point where it is now unbearable and I yelp. “That is REALLY hot!” I tell her and she explains that she can’t control the heat because there is only one setting. According to her, the problem is my sensitive skin and although I do have very sensitive skin, THIS IS NOT MY FIRST RODEO.
“It’s never been that hot before. I’ve had this before and it has never been this hot.” I’m kind of indignant now and she apologises. She says they leave it on all day and that might explain the heat. And it does. She carries on, and I don’t really want to leave it undone but the heat is more painful than the wax itself.
She starts placing wax on her hand to test the heat. I almost feel she is attempting some kind of solidarity with me but hot burning wax on your hand is nothing like hot burning wax on your fanny and so I just feel more pissed off.
Now she is blowing on my fanny a lot to stop me losing my shit and her blowing on me like this has lost its sense of ridiculousness. Now all I am thinking is that she better not be asthmatic. Keep blowing. Do not run out of puff.
When the front is done she tells me to turn around and as usual, I take a lot of that paper roll with me. You don’t always need to turn around completely; sometimes you can just go on your side. However you do it, you’ll be asked to help pull your butt cheeks apart. Doing this while you are lying flat is no easy task. Especially as you have to do it long enough for that burning hot wax to cool down. I keep feeling my hands slip and willing the whole thing to be over. And wondering why, why do I do this?
Of course, I know why. Rightly or wrongly, I feel better afterwards. I endure her telling me I’m not the hairiest she’s seen before as goes on to lists the one or two nationalities she thinks are hairier than me as a rule (you get this a lot when you are apologetic about being hairy in a place that charges for the removal of unwanted hair). As she rips out the hair from my undercarriage she also speculates whether I might have too much testosterone? Just a thought.
You’d think after an experience like this I would feel a bit depressed but I always feel euphoric. Because it is done. I endured it. And I don’t need to see those fuckers again.
On the way home I get a bottle of Prosecco and 6 hot wings to celebrate. Until next month. Or the month after. Or you know, whenever.
I got assessed for dyspraxia early last year and for a long time I have wanted to write a post about getting a late assessment.
It’s something children have, right?
If you are reading this as someone who also got assessed as an adult or as an adult who thinks they might have dyspraxia, then like me you have probably found a lot of the information available for the condition is targetted at children. That’s understandable to a point as early diagnosis is going to make the life of someone with the condition a lot more manageable. However, there is a noticeable imbalance of information available for adults even though there is no cure and if it has never been recognised, it undoubtedly has caused a great deal of suffering for any adult to now be asking: is this me?
I didn’t know what dyspraxia was until my twenties and as soon as I did, I had my suspicions. When I looked into it, I saw it referred to as ‘clumsy child syndrome’, and most of the discussion online was centred around forums for parents. I couldn’t easily see how the NHS would support a diagnosis at my age (they don’t) and taking it further almost felt like an indulgence, after all, I had got this far.
Mourning for my childhood
Since being assessed, I have spent a long time thinking about my childhood in the context of having dyspraxia and there is no denying that being a child makes the condition especially tough. Mostly because as a child you do not have any agency, and with dyspraxia, you do not even have agency over your own body.
It is hard to explain how everyday things terrified me as a child. Someone throwing a pen for me to catch would make my heart beat fast. I was scared of sports to the point of obsession. For a short while, I tried. I wasn’t overweight then as I am now and couldn’t quite understand, perhaps unkindly, why I was the slowest runner in the class. You notice these things at school, these things matter. I was painfully shy and awkward then, and after time, the mickey-taking from other pupils and teachers alike made P.E. a thing that caused me twice-weekly dread.
I managed to convince a newly qualified teacher to not force me to attend the swimming classes each week at Clapham Pools. Instead, she let me sit beside the pool as she tested herself on Spanish vocabulary.
My next teacher wouldn’t let me get away with this, and she was probably right in hindsight, but she offered no alternative course of action to handle my very public fear. She was the one teacher that fed back concerns to my parents about my abilities. She mentioned my sloppiness and my awful handwriting. I’m not sure she was thinking of dyspraxia, I actually got the distinct sense she didn’t like me very much, but at least she clocked something was up.
I was a bright a child, and for most of my teachers, that was enough. That was plenty. They had other children to worry about. My mother was the school cleaner and teachers frequently congratulated her on what a model student I was. I was obsessed with history from aged 7. I was quiet, polite and curious. Sure, I wasn’t a fan of sports, but that was because I was a bookworm (I actually wasn’t – there was an assumption I read all the time which simply wasn’t true). My handwriting was incoherent, but you can’t have everything. True, I was very sensitive, bursting into tears at the drop of a hat, but that was all part and parcel of me being a clever clogs.
I spent a significant part of my childhood in fear. At home was a different story. I wasn’t an introvert at all. I talked incessantly. The youngest of four sisters I soaked up knowledge from all around me. Adults, knowing I was smart, didn’t baby talk me. I watched old films and adult television. Home life wasn’t necessarily blissful, but it was a haven. School terrified me and my inability to fit in or look the part led to years of bullying from girls who were not quite sure if they could tolerate an association with me.
I didn’t have many friends, and by the time I left London to go to University, I had been drunk only a handful of occasions, and only really drunk once. I didn’t belong to any scene. I didn’t know any clubs. I thought the next few years would be the same. I didn’t look forward to University and barely put any thought into where I would go, choosing the same university as pretty much my only friend at the time, my boyfriend.
Everything aligned when I went to university on a social level. I embraced my independence, and I made friends instantly. I made myself single early on and spent the next three years making friends and living. I was a bit of a dick at the time, frequently poisoning myself with too much booze, getting obsessed with boys and spending all my student loan on nights out, but I lived those years. And if I fell over a lot, well I was often tipsy…
I do wonder what difference an assessment would have had during that period of hedonism. I wasn’t present enough for anyone to notice but had I started university with my dyspraxia diagnosis, I think I would have engaged with it a lot more. The concentration difficulties, the struggle for comprehension, reading slowly and short term memory, were too much for me to confront alone when I was experiencing some form of arrested development.
I didn’t know what dyspraxia was at the time, but I barely engaged with academic life. I found lectures hard. I made many notes but couldn’t make sense of them afterwards. My mind wandered, and I soon went in less and less. About half-way through I may as well have been studying my degree remotely. Somehow I scraped a 2:1, but I am not sure how. I procrastinated and spent nights awake doing everything that bit too late. I still have nightmares about having failed after all or having my degree taken away from me.
The gender myth
I recently read an article about the late diagnosis of women with autism, and in it, the National Autistic Society found that twice as many women as men were undiagnosed. The reason I mention this is that dyspraxia is often thought to be more common in men, but there is no reason to explain why this is. There is one theory, and I subscribe to it, that women are less likely to be diagnosed.
There were so many symptoms in my childhood. The physical ones were evident – my fine and gross motor skills remain poor. I have no sense of spatial awareness – my inability to judge distances makes crossing the road extremely stressful, and I don’t understand the physical space I take up (which being a fat adult can be especially problematic). My problem with speech, my memory and my difficulty with sequential thinking should have been apparent as a child. When I was being assessed as an adult, I was told I was ‘textbook’.
Yes, awareness of dyspraxia is an issue, but I cannot help but feel that if a boy exhibited the same problems with coordination and the same visible stress when asked to participate in sports, some concern would have been raised and they may have worked out what the problem was.
I knew I had an anxiety disorder before I knew about the dyspraxia. I am not sure it is a chicken or egg situation. I think the dyspraxia exacerbates the anxiety rather than causes it. It certainly has knocked my self-esteem. After a time, the jokes about your disability wear thin. As does the anger of the fellow pedestrian who shouts at you because you seemed to make a beeline for them when you really didn’t mean to. Being back to front and inside out nine times out of ten is exhausting.
Being 33 and unable to tie your laces, use cutlery or ride a bike doesn’t do wonders for your pride. And although you don’t have to be unfit or fat as a result of dyspraxia, it is more likely that you will be. I wrote here about my struggles with grooming and from early childhood I was acutely aware of being unpresentable and a scruffbag.
Low self-esteem and high anxiety made relationships with men in my twenties especially tough. It wasn’t until I met someone who helped to make me feel comfortable with myself that I could start reflecting on the things about me that I always put down to me being shit.
Not finding the words
It became increasingly important to me to know whether or not I had dyspraxia. I knew something was up. I found myself getting frustrated as I mixed up words or couldn’t remember them at all. I was worried about how I was being perceived by others, for being judged as inarticulate. I shied away from public speaking, and I increasingly found self-organisation a nightmare to manage, made worse by my willingness to always do something new, something more.
I wanted the assessment to understand myself in the same way that knowing about my anxiety was a huge relief. It made me kinder to myself as I’m an extremely harsh self-critic.
Most importantly it would give me words to explain all the differences I felt. The way simple tasks just took longer. I wanted people to understand I wasn’t intentionally scruffy. My desk is messy for a reason. I fall up the stairs, I spill coffee everywhere and wear my clothes inside out because of something. It isn’t cute. Not that anyone thinks you are too cute when you are a fat woman in her 30s but clumsiness is often presented as adorably kooky, especially in the minds of men who fantasise about manic pixie dream girls.
I thought long and about this as it isn’t something you can afford to do with discretion unless you can afford to be privately assessed. I couldn’t. I looked into it with HR and given that a diagnosis might lead to more understanding and finding adjustments to make aspects of work easier to manage, it seemed a sensible route to take.
I did deliberate about whether this was the right thing to. What if I wasn’t dyspraxic? Maybe I have the symptoms but not the condition. Maybe I have no excuses, and I am just shit after all. Or if I am, will people think less of me? Will they think I cannot cope with my job? Will they see me as weaker or as being a problem? Will they find out about my anxiety? Who will I have to share all of this with?
I didn’t really find peace with all of these worries and concerns. I just knew that I needed to know and that I would work everything else out. And that is what happened. I did end up needing to talk about my anxiety as part the process. It isn’t that one causes the other, but they can’t be discussed entirely in isolation from one another either. I just realised that people knowing things about me which had previously remained private meant a lot less to me than me knowing about myself.
Well, yes. I’ve been very candid about it, and it feels a part of who I am now. I am proud at how I’ve coped with it and found strategies of dealing before I even knew what it was. It has helped my self-esteem. Made me feel more generous about the things that terrify me but it hasn’t meant that I now have an excuse to avoid although, avoidance is an issue for me.
People’s reactions are interesting. I think some of those close to me realised quickly that it made sense, it explained things. For others, I am not sure it matched the version of me they know, and so it has been more of an eye-opener. A lot of people tend to tell me they’ve suspected themselves or people they are close to as being dyspraxic. And there are others who I suspect don’t really know why I bothered to find out.
I would like there to be a greater understanding of what dyspraxia means and how it can manifest itself in different ways. How the combination of the many ways it can express itself can drive you to distraction. How it can rob you of your confidence or willingness to move outside of what makes you comfortable. How it can lead someone to spend their life avoiding things that are without explanation, so much harder than they should be.
I’ve joined the Dyspraxia Foundation, and I started this blog as a way of starting to do something useful with this new information.
I haven’t always wanted a dog but when I started to want one it became all I could think about. It wasn’t practical until we moved and maybe it still isn’t but soon after we had moved it happened.
I knew my dog would need to be named after my hero, Bette (pronounced ‘Betty’) Davis (unfortunately not quite the same as my new surname ‘Davies’). I also knew it had to be a Shih Tzu given my obsession with Marnie the Dog. Stop judging me. Stop it.
I read about the breed incessantly. Being small, Shih Tzus are well suited to apartment dwellings. IDEAL. They are friendly, affectionate and also stubborn. They are little divas, and I love me a diva.
I fell in love with Bette immediately but it has been tougher than I imagined. She has a big personality and as a puppy, she is full of energy, considerably more so than I had bargained on. The first few weeks were tough as she slept intermittently, defecated everywhere and bit me constantly. All to be expected if you knew what to expect.
Despite my naiveté, Bette Davies has been a tremendous force for good in my life.
There have been times when I’ve been struggling with the pressures of life and having her here has made a difference. When I’ve not wanted to get dressed or leave the flat. She is the reason I have. When it’s just been me in, it’s been me and her. And when me and my other half are together she makes us being together even better. I know. Better get a bucket…
A long weekend in Wales saw us chasing after her along the beach as she got entangled with dog after dog. She is ridiculously social, and that has made us more sociable. People talk to you more when you have a dog, and you find yourself doing the same.
I know I’ve spoken obnoxiously about how it has changed my life to people who are parents to actual human beings, but you know, it’s all relative. In fact, I’ve been surprised by how non-maternal I now feel. I’ve always had significant maternal feelings. From work experience at a primary school in my teens, to working in a nursery and a school during and after university – all the signs were there and I always imagined having children by now. Lol.
Life works out at a different pace than the one you expect and maybe it’s because I know myself better now that I can’t imagine having children. I’m still too self-involved. I know time is ticking by faster than I am growing up but having Bette feels like all the responsibility I need right now.
I really have to stop comparing pets to children. I am going to get myself in some real trouble for being a dick.
So my hot take is this: if you are an impulsive idiot like me and get a puppy without realising quite how relentlessly energetic they are, stick with it. Having a dog is bloody brilliant and you’ll love your dog more than you will question what you let yourself in for. They will bring you out of yourself. They will make you a better human. They’ll also eat their own poo and lick your face. DO IT.
Also, you can catch up with Bette and her antics on Instagram. Oh yeah. That’s right. Don’t be a hater.
I am not positive about my body. I am positive about other people’s bodies. Not mine. I do accept my body, though.
I was an 11lbs baby. Doctors and nurses popped by to have a look. I had a head of hair and a monobrow.
Telling that story as an adult often gets a knowing look. Then I explain I wasn’t always fat.
I was a slim child and a slim teenager. Then I started getting fat.
Slim or fat, I spent my childhood, teens and twenties loathing my body.
Now I spend a lot of time reading blogs and tweets by fat women I admire. I love their bodies. I don’t really care for my own. It’s a bit too close to home.
However, I don’t hate my body anymore. At some point, and I don’t know when it began, I started accepting myself. Being easier on myself. I’d love to say it was more than acceptance, that it was love but it isn’t. A lifetime of self-loathing doesn’t switch overnight, but I don’t look back and wish I was a younger, thinner version of myself. That version of myself was riddled with anxiety and self-doubt. That version of myself was so sensitive it often felt that several layers of skin had been stripped back. And I have a low pain-threshold.
So for me, acceptance is an excellent place to be. Acceptance is being naked in front of someone you love. It is going swimming. It is holding your large, wobbly legs up while someone waxes your undercarriage. It’s going out on a summer’s evening when you are sweaty, and your make-up has long faded. It’s posting a selfie you know doesn’t do anything for you. It’s making your Instagram profile public. It’s looking yourself in the mirror without sighing.
This doesn’t mean I like what I see. I never have apart from special occasions. I want to be healthy, but I don’t equate that with being thin. I equate that with not losing my breath after climbing a flight of stairs.
The reason I want to be thinner is that being a fat woman is really tough in a world that doesn’t really like fat people or women. People make assumptions about your character, about your lifestyle, your work ethic, even your romantic status.
There is only one story my dad ever tells me about me. It makes him proud. After two weeks holiday as a child, I must have been nine or ten, I came home with a tan (it was the only time, I almost always go tomato-red). He walked me to his old stomping ground in Camden Town and bought me diet cokes in the pubs he used to frequent. My brown hair had hints of blonde, and my green-blue eyes contrasted my tanned skin. And I was thin. And that is the proudest he has ever been.
When you are a woman, there is no doubting your worth is tied up with your appearance. If your dad was born before WW2 in a country that doesn’t allow a woman an abortion, you can bet your bottom dollar that he measures it out the same way.
There is a Tony Harrison poem called ‘Book Ends’. It was in the GCSE English Literature Anthology in the late 1990s. As a teenager who quarrelled with my dad about politics, religion and would you believe it, vegetarianism (had me for five years, came off the waggon in 2002 when I ate a chicken kebab in Fallowfield) the poem was very relatable. The first half ends:
Back in our silences and sullen looks,
for all the Scotch we drink, what’s still between ‘s
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.
And that’s what I thought it was. Books. I was really obnoxious back then. Now I know it was actually ‘looks, looks, looks’.
And those looks get between me and others still, but I notice less. I’m not asking the world to love me anymore. I know that I did before and it was a real fucker when the world told me it wanted to shag someone else instead.
Back then, the smallest of remarks could send me into a spin. Now I laugh when a beautician assumes by my appearance that I’ve had children. Lots of them.
No, I’ve destroyed this body myself through gluttony and a reluctance to move. Decades of eating, and more recently, drinking my emotions gave me those stretch marks. No child is at fault. Don’t blame the kids.
Although I am inspired by those who are positive about their bodies, I don’t think I can ever take it that far. I can only be myself. And as I once tweeted, God cursed me by making me painfully self-aware and also a bit of a cunt.
A bit of a fat cunt. Who doesn’t mind so much these days?
Dyspraxia makes it hard to wing it. If I need to think on my feet I struggle.
Events or public speaking are prime examples of me simply being unable to wing it, but maybe that isn’t a bad thing.
Why should you wing it when surely this should be a last resort?
Knowing that I struggle with thinking on my feet means I make sure I don’t have to. This isn’t always achievable, but I try.
The more difficult I find a task, the more I plan for it. As a result, I write detailed briefs. I think about all interested parties. I make plans. I don’t always stick to the plans, but I need something to hold onto when everything feels chaotic or out of control. It is true that I might write a detailed project plan and then forget to follow it, but I feel comforted to know it is there – like a handrail I probably don’t need to hold.
So to some extent, I believe that my dyspraxia makes me organised, or forces me to be more organised out of necessity. There came the point in my career where I realised everyone is kind of winging it. Everyone is making it up as they go along and I can achieve similar results with a little forward thinking.
Socially, I think this explains why I enjoy being a planner when meeting friends or going away. I like to know what we are doing and to have plans because I know I can’t make it up as I go. I forget where things are, I struggle to navigate around streets I should by now know well, and so it helps to have a plan. Luckily my husband likes to plan these things out too, and as a result, when we have gone away, we’ve eaten at some brilliant restaurants, from the food itself to the incredible views.
As you get older, you do start to know yourself better, and before the dyspraxia assessment, there was a lot I already knew about myself. I knew I hated crowds, using public transport, being put on the spot, that I worried about falling over or getting confused. I knew I wasn’t a practical thinker and that I would rather plan than do.
There is something to accentuating the positive. Having recently been assessed for dyspraxia I’d fallen prey to focussing on the negative but the fact remains that I have used my strengths to get by and to exist very much outside of my comfort zone both professionally and socially. Those things have made me whatever I am today, and I like that person. I like me a lot more than I liked me when I was younger and that can only be a good thing. Age, knowing yourself – whether that is your limitations or your strengths and finding your own solutions, possibly not the conventional ones – all these things make you into someone who lives every day and who is mostly living life pretty sweetly.
For some time I have been sure of having dyspraxia, but without an assessment, I felt like I was a fraud. My reading of online forums felt voyeuristic. I couldn’t talk about it without feeling self-indulgent having not gone to the trouble of getting assessed.
Most of what I read online was aimed at children. The message I took was that it was something you learn to cope with and it stops mattering. This was confirmed by how difficult it is to get an assessment if you are an adult. You will most likely need to pay privately, or if you have a supportive employer as I have, you may be able to do this via work.
The reason it has taken me so long is that for most of my life I didn’t know what dyspraxia was and it is fair to say that a lot of people still don’t know what it is today. So what is it? Part of the problem in finding understanding is describing it. Here is the definition from the Dyspraxia Foundation (https://www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/about-dyspraxia/):
Dyspraxia, a form of developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It may also affect speech. DCD is a lifelong condition, formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation. DCD is distinct from other motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and stroke, and occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. Individuals may vary in how their difficulties present: these may change over time depending on environmental demands and life experiences.
An individual’s coordination difficulties may affect participation and functioning of everyday life skills in education, work and employment.
Children may present with difficulties with self-care, writing, typing, riding a bike and play as well as other educational and recreational activities. In adulthood many of these difficulties will continue, as well as learning new skills at home, in education and work, such as driving a car and DIY.
There may be a range of co-occurring difficulties which can also have serious negative impacts on daily life. These include social and emotional difficulties as well as problems with time management, planning and personal organisation, and these may also affect an adult’s education or employment experiences.
Many people with DCD also experience difficulties with memory, perception and processing. While DCD is often regarded as an umbrella term to cover motor coordination difficulties, dyspraxia refers to those people who have additional problems planning, organising and carrying out movements in the right order in everyday situations. Dyspraxia can also affect articulation and speech, perception and thought.
It is often confused with dyslexia, and there is an overlap regarding the symptoms.
I do not have dyslexia, and that is pretty obvious to people who know me, and as such, people close to me have been confused by my assessment.
I got an A* in GCSE English Literature and English Language. I even picked up a prize for English Literature at my secondary school in the final year. Little did anyone know that I didn’t really read many books. Still don’t. At Manchester University I took an English Literature module and got a First. It was based on an exam where I had only read one of the books, ‘Trainspotting’. I blagged the other half of the exam by reading a ‘Hard Times’ study guide.
The reason for the lack of reading is my attention span. I have to re-read to comprehend, and occasionally I get so absorbed by an author that I will persevere but generally, I tend to give up quite easily. However, I get so wrapped up in what I do like that I am able to sound well-read. If you know me, you will recognise over time that I tend to wheel out the same old authors again and again.
I have always been academically bright, and this masked the other difficulties. I was a star pupil throughout school, but things got harder, and it wasn’t so easy to blag. At university, I struggled with lectures and attended few of them, almost no seminars. I found it hard to concentrate or make sense of my notes. I wrote the essays and took the exams, but I may as well have done it remotely. Miraculously, I got a 2:1, but I still have nightmares about having my degree taken away from me as a result of poor attendance.
I should mention that I was also incredibly lazy. I don’t want to blame that on the dyspraxia although it probably plays a part. I had a great time during my university years, and that played a bigger part in me disconnecting from my studies. I had, until I met my husband, the very best years of my life there – so no real complaints and I came away with the kind of degree you would expect from someone who had put the hours in so it didn’t turn out badly.
At school, I didn’t put the hours in but it wasn’t laziness, I was too conscientious for that, it was pure fear. School terrified me, and a significant factor was sports. I hated P.E. to the extent I cried myself to sleep, and I was ‘sick’ a lot. I missed more than 40 days in the academic years I can find school reports for. At Secondary, my attendance was better tracked and so I made up appointments as well as being sick. I also forgot my kit a lot.
It is hard to explain how much I struggle with both fine and gross motor skills now as I avoid most activities that require them. It was, or at least it should have been, very evident in my school years, and it created a lot of anxiety. I hated swimming. I don’t think I can actually swim to this day, but I can get from A to B (so long as B doesn’t involve climbing out of the pool). I remember losing a swimming relay race based on me not being able to get out of the pool. We came last. Everyone waited for me to get out and then, the git of a swimming instructor had enough of waiting, and they left. I followed.
I have a memory of being in Reception and trying to open the foil lid of a bottle of milk. Everyone else was on the carpet for story time, and I was still trying to open the fucking milk. They were incredulous and so was I.
In that same class, a boy kept pushing me down some steps in the playground. He dared me to push him back. It was a game, but I misjudged the force, and he fell on his face, needing stitches in his chin. The teacher grabbed me by the shoulders and shook my small body against a wall repeatedly until I wet myself where I stood. I didn’t tell anyone. I was terrified. It was my fault or so I thought at the time.
I always looked scruffy too – self-grooming (and it was self-grooming from very early on in my case) can be tough for those with dyspraxia. My hair was a knotty mess (not a lot has changed) and my clothes stained (ditto). I struggled (and still do) with buttons, and so my blouse was often done up incorrectly. My clothes often inside-out (there is a theme developing here…). Children picked on me when I was very young – they messed my hair up even more than it was which was quite a feat and slapped my face for no other reason I can think of other than not fitting in. I was incredibly anxious at this age and said nothing about these little shits.
I grew in confidence as I got older and at home, I was pretty confident all the time. In fact, at home, I was probably precocious. It was evident to teachers that I was clever and I think other things – not being able to tie my shoelaces or hold a pen correctly – were overlooked as a consequence. Maybe they thought I just wasn’t that kind of smart. That’s certainly how I perceived it. I figured I was bright, but always knew that I didn’t have common sense. I wasn’t practical. I was awkward.
In a pattern of behaviour, I dropped Art in Year 9 because I knew I wasn’t any good at it regarding technique. I was right but it one of many examples of me avoiding things I enjoyed or had the potential to experience because of my lack of confidence. Instead, I got one Health & Social Care GNVQ. It did nothing for me.
My primary school did pick up on speech problems, but I don’t know what happened after an initial assessment. My Spanish teacher also noticed me struggle with pronunciation. I loved Spanish and got an A at GCSE, but I didn’t take it any further because of the speech difficulties.
Being a teenager was tricky. I didn’t exactly blossom. I had a monobrow when Oasis were at peak fame. I held on to that eyebrow until a good friend separated it into two. I had braces which did nothing for my confidence or for my speech. I wasn’t a natural at applying make-up. I poorly administered ‘Sun-In’ bleach to my knotty hair. My shoes and my bomber jacket were too big for me – even when I was thin I couldn’t make clothes sit right on me.
I look back at those years and just remember being always anxious, but at the time, I didn’t use that word to describe it. I considered myself a worrier. Maybe I would say I was nervous. Or at my most unkind, I just thought I had a rubbish personality. It was the best explanation for how little things upset me so much, and it was a reason I carried with me through to most of my adult life.
Little things still do upset me. Crowds are tough. I get in people’s way. That dance you do with a stranger when you are both trying to get out of each other’s way? That used to happen to me all the time. I adopted the method of being more determined when I walk. I get out of people’s way a lot less than I used to. I possibly look rude but it avoids the dancing, and with those poor gross motor skills, I am pretty bad at that too.
I was dancing at a party at my friend’s house when I was fifteen years old. It was for her Confirmation, and her cousin kept asking why I was so bad at dancing (not realising I could understand her in Spanish). Years later my drunk university friends would try and dance with me and then instantly regret it – I have zero rhythms. More recently I tried Zumba at home – it wasn’t great. The sad thing is, I actually really like dancing, but it is only something I do by myself or somewhere very dark if I can help it. Scrap that – if I’m pissed I will dance anywhere.
So what does this all mean now? I think it is critical to clock dyspraxia earlier on as you can develop alternative ways to do the things that don’t come naturally to you with the right support. Dyspraxia is better understood now than it was when I was a child but as I mentioned, it still needs more awareness raised.
Of course, even without assessments or support, you can find ways to cope. I found a cheat’s way to tie my laces and most people probably assume I am left handed by the way I eat but fuck it, I just eat like that. It might be uncouth, but I’m going with eccentric. At the end of the day, my laces get tied, and my food most definitely gets eaten so what does it matter?
On a serious note, had this been assessed in childhood I think it would have made a significant difference in my life. I would have made different choices along the way. I would have understood why I hated lectures; I may have found other ways to take in information and maybe even pursued academia. Or maybe not. I probably wouldn’t hate all kinds of sports and be intimidated by gyms. I would have more methods for doing things my way. It isn’t that I can’t keep up with life, be that work or personal, but I have to work very hard at it. Again, if it had been diagnosed earlier, it would have impacted on my confidence, my self-esteem and probably even some of the choices I made about other people. It would have helped me to be less anxious doing everyday things, like crossing a road or running for a train.
I am also fat, and I think some people have less tolerance for fat people. I know they do. I can’t help but feel that when I get in someone’s way, I am judged more harshly because of my size. People are more forgiving of slim people. I’m not cute. I am in the way and given I struggle walking in a straight line, I am going to be in the way more than your average fatty. It’s something to remember, not every mannerism of a fat person is down to them being fat. I am not crap at running or walking because I am fat. It was like that when I was slim. It was like that always.
Another aspect I haven’t mentioned is frustration. I get so fucking frustrated with the simple things I simply cannot do: buttoning clothes, remembering to close doors or turn off taps, remembering what things are called, judging the distance of a car, not bumping into people, etc. So many of these things make me feel stupid, and I know I am not an idiot. I don’t want to laugh and shrug it off as being clumsy or dizzy or even a woman. I am smart. I can’t ride a bike and my dinner often lands down the front of my clothes, but that says nothing about my intellect.
The last thing I will mention is that due to the lack of information about dyspraxia and confusion with dyslexia when you explain it to other people they may not get it. They are likely to think that is just clumsiness: that it’s not a thing.
Well, it is a thing. And it impacts on almost every aspect of your life to varying extents. There are other ways you can get around the things you struggle most with, but without having an understanding of the underlying reason, I think there is a danger that the biggest impact will be a person’s confidence and self-esteem.
Knowing is important and making other people aware matters too because if you are as old as me (33 – as old as Jesus!) or older, it may very well have gone unobserved.