I couldn’t help it. It was something I was born with after all and I had, apparently, had no choice in the faculties I had been furnished with at that moment; the moment of birth, or the nine months or so preceding it for that matter. Dyspraxia still doesn’t have a suitable definition, which makes it a very slippery customer. Many have tried so it’s certainly not for the want of trying. Even my partner in crime, (the other 50% of The Two Dyspraxics), Matthew, and I have tried to come up with a definition that describes as closely as possible the difficulties, stresses and strains as well as the positive aspects of the condition we have both had since birth, (or before, if you want to be pedantic). Eventually, we settled for something that was close enough without being entirely satisfactory.
Don’t get me wrong, if there were such a thing as a pill that I could take to get rid of ‘my’ dyspraxia once and for all, I wouldn’t take it. Quite apart from the likelihood that I’d be freaked out by a totally new way of experiencing the world around me, I have learned to embrace dyspraxia, together with its positive and negative aspects, as the only way of being that I’ve ever known. There are times, though, when it rears its ugly head and makes the more irritating aspects of its personality only too obvious.
Take this morning, for instance. I was due to meet up with some friends who all share a common bond; a love of writing. The plan was to spend a day together, in a room, with a supply of tea and coffee, just writing and nothing else. Well, I suppose that’s a slight exaggeration. There’s always a lively discussion or two when we get together and I welcome that, if I’m really honest with myself, in spite of the fact that I tend to get more writing done when I’m alone than when I’m in a group. Anyway, I digress. Because dyspraxia affects my co-ordination, organising ability, fine and gross motor skills, short-term memory and countless associated tasks, I have to plan an outing like this as though it were a military operation and would normally do so at least a day in advance.
Just to give you an idea of how dyspraxia affects my daily life, I’ll ask you to think about your thought processes when you want to walk across a room, eat a meal or brush your teeth and I’ll bet you couldn’t tell me, (unless you’ve studied such things in an academic context, but that’s another matter). The fact is, most people are able to carry out these common everyday tasks, as well as many others, without having to think about them at all. It just comes naturally. To someone who has dyspraxia, however, it doesn’t come naturally. I’m reluctant to generalise so I’ll tell you how it affects me, personally. I have to think about how to walk across a room, particularly if there are ‘obstacles’ such as tables and chairs that I have to navigate around, though just the act of walking, itself, is a complex task that I have to give some attention to. This becomes obvious to others at times, when I’m walking and chatting, for example, as that’s when I’m most likely to bump into my companion or inadvertently ‘jostle’ anyone who might get in my way and become an obstacle.
Eating can be another tricky act to negotiate and, certainly in my case, has caused much discomfort and varying levels of anxiety throughout my life. Because of the complex range of movements needed to get food from a plate into my mouth, particularly when cutlery is involved, I have to consciously slow down the act of getting manageable sized morsels of food onto my fork, (or spoon), and guide it, consciously, towards and into my mouth. If I didn’t think about how to do this, while I’m eating, I would miss my mouth and make a mess which, of course, would be acutely embarrassing, especially if I happened to be eating in public. In fact, when I was a teenager, I was so aware of the potential for making a mess that I would often say I wasn’t hungry and go without food rather than risk embarrassing myself. Over the years I have had to develop the skills necessary to cope with the anxiety that this, alone, can cause and, fortunately, slowing everything down into ‘bite-sized’ (sorry!) tasks is how it works for me.
Brushing my teeth is another process that I have to really consciously focus on and, again, I have found a coping strategy for this. I use an electric toothbrush which is pressure sensitive because knowing how to apply the correct amount of pressure is something I struggle with. The same is true for climbing or descending stairs, closing cupboard doors and just walking, which I’ve already touched on.
Finding my way around is also a challenge, as it is for many people who have dyspraxia. In fact, it’s a commonly held belief that it’s impossible for a dyspraxic person to learn to drive but it’s actually perfectly possible. As with most skills and tasks, it can be more difficult and take longer for a dyspraxic person to learn but, provided the motivation is there, it’s definitely achievable. I passed my driving test on the third attempt in 1980 and, nearly forty years later, I have never had any points or endorsements on my licence, in spite of the fact that I drive regularly, and have also driven extensively in France. As far as finding my way around is concerned, for unfamiliar journeys I use a satnav and can’t imagine life without one now. I also use Google Earth, in advance obviously, so I can see my destination, and at least part of the route, to give myself a fighting chance of finding the location without too much trouble. However, I’m in danger of digressing again. I’m not sure if that’s due to the dyspraxia or whether it’s just a characteristic of mine. I don’t want to blame dyspraxia for everything!
So, as you can imagine, in order for an outing to take place, it really has to be planned in advance. I marvel at how some people (most people, or at least most neuro-typical people?) seem to be able to just decide to go somewhere, get in their cars and drive, arriving at their destination by something that looks like magic to me.
Anyway, back to this morning’s shenanigans; bearing in mind that, under normal circumstances, I would have planned everything down to the last detail in advance. I would have already decided what I was going to wear and have the clothes ready to wear the following morning. I would have decided exactly what to prepare for my packed lunch and ensured that all necessary ingredients were available. I would have known exactly what time I would need to leave and have allowed an extra fifteen minutes or so for unforseen circumstances, working back to establish the time I would need my alarm to go off, and have it set accordingly, though I normally wake early and would have no problem getting up in time anyway. Because today’s event was based on writing, I would probably have some idea of what I would be writing as well as making sure my notebook was fully charged and in its case, together with the charging cable (just in case), and mouse. In other words, under normal circumstances, in order to make the outing at all, I would be prepared.
However, partly thanks to the fact that I had chosen to add a complication to the mix, all usual preparation was sadly lacking, and that’s an understatement. To be honest, all usual preparation was non-existent. The complication I had added came in the form of arranging another outing immediately following the writers’ retreat day. I have become very fond of a man I met recently. I really enjoy his company and because I was keen to meet up with him again and the next opportunity when we were both free was this evening, I was more than happy to arrange to meet him then. When he asked if I would prefer to meet him straight from the writers’ retreat or go home first, I chose the former. I was keen to spend as much time with him as I could. We were never short of things to discuss and, anyway, I enjoy his company; I know I’ve already said that once, but I really, really do enjoy his company. There; I’ve said it three times now!
With the benefit of hindsight, I realised it would have made much more sense to go home first. I would have been in a better position to prepare for the evening then. But, I didn’t and, thanks to a series of events, I had what could only be seen as a fairly disastrous morning. The first in this series of events happened a couple of days ago, when a particularly violent storm caused the middle section of roofing felt to fly off the roof of our shed, exposing the contents to the elements, thanks to a gap between the two sections of the pitch roof. Obviously, that situation had to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. Attempts to attach a piece of plastic to the roof of the shed with the wrong kind of nails proved to be a complete failure when the piece of plastic suddenly blew away. We still haven’t located its final resting place, so it could be anywhere by now. Anyway, thankfully, the following day; yesterday, was dry and sunny so perfect for effecting repairs to the roof of the shed. I had to use ‘Google’ to determine that the kind of nails we’d need are called “Clout nails” and, by the time I had located some and taken the necessary shopping trip to get some, helped my son to re-attach the roofing felt, then prepared to see a client, who was due to visit me in the afternoon, and then made the grocery shopping trip that had originally been scheduled for the morning, arriving home, eventually, thanks to the inevitable traffic jams at that time of day, prepared and cooked dinner and eaten it, frankly I was knackered! This is a very roundabout way of saying that I had no time to carry out the usual preparations needed for the two outings I had planned for today.
I’m sure I knew better, really, when I decided that I would be able to organise everything in the morning before leaving for the writers’ retreat. However, in spite of that, I set my alarm for 7.30, convinced that I’d probably be awake by 6.00 am at the latest, as per usual. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this morning was an exception and I was rudely awakened by my alarm, as I was yelling expletives at another driver in a particularly weird dream. After the usual round of checking emails, messages and wishing people a Happy Birthday on Facebook, via my phone, in the warmth and comfort of my duvet, I was inevitably side-tracked and had spent more time than I could afford, chasing ‘relevant’ information that I could add to conversations, on the internet.
When I finally realised that I had to start moving and had to do so without all the planning that would normally go into a day like today, I shifted into panic mode. I shot out of bed, and decided to sort out some clothes to wear. I couldn’t find the jeans I wanted to wear. They could’ve been in the laundry bin, or anywhere else for that matter. How could anyone possibly know where they had got to? I grabbed the rainbow-coloured top I had decided to wear, that was conveniently nestling on the back of the sofa. It was wrinkled. I muttered yet another expletive, under my breath this time. I decided that the top would gradually become wrinkle free while I was wearing it and would magically assume a pristine appearance by the afternoon. You never know; it might work, I reassured myself. I also needed a tee shirt to wear under the top which, on its own, was definitely not suitable for what could turn out to be a fairly chilly day. To access the chest of drawers that housed my tee shirts, I had to first remove the obstacles in front of the cupboard door. Did I mention that the chest of drawers is actually inside a cupboard? No? Don’t ask. I don’t really know why either.
The obstacles are there out of necessity, mainly because my dyspraxia means that I struggle to know where to put things that don’t have an obvious ‘home’. It’s a filing nightmare, as I could be absolutely convinced that a particular item belongs in a particular place one day and then, on a different day, be equally convinced that it belongs somewhere else, resulting in being unable to find said item. This probably wouldn’t make any sense to a non-dyspraxic or neuro-typical person but to a dyspraxic person, unfortunately, it’s a way of life. So, the empty boxes, (I can’t part with them yet in case the items they originally contained go wrong and have to be returned for replacement or refund), the potentially re-useable padded envelopes, and the couple of items of clothing that I just couldn’t be asked to put away in the drawer inside the cupboard because it would have meant moving all the other obstacles; all of these things were in the way. I moved them all out of the way, including the clothes that hadn’t made it into the drawer because they were in the way. I’m quite sure that a non-dyspraxic person would have taken the opportunity to actually put them into the drawer but there was no chance of such a thought occurring to a dyspraxic in a hurry.
I found a tee shirt, some socks and a different pair of jeans, closed the drawer and the cupboard door and replaced the obstacles, (including the clothes that hadn’t made it into the drawer), one by one. At least I had some clothes to wear so that was a step in the right direction. It was then that I realised I hadn’t sorted out any underwear. Dagnabbit! I had to go through the whole process of moving the obstacles and rifling through the drawers all over again! It was then that disaster struck. I couldn’t find any underwear. I really wasn’t keen on the idea of ‘going commando’ but I had no option but to close the drawer and the cupboard door and replace all of the obstacles yet again, on discovering that there was no sign of any underwear in the drawer. Had I been organised, I would have made sure that all necessary laundry had been done, but I’m not organised and it hadn’t.
I decided to prioritise having a shower and getting dressed over everything else I had to do so, grabbing my bathrobe, I went into the bathroom, hoping that, by chance, I might locate some clean underwear in a strange place. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all. I had my shower but, realising I was now way behind schedule, I didn’t have time to wash my hair, which is quite long and needs a good amount of time to be spent on washing, rinsing and conditioning it. I hoped it wouldn’t look as manky as it felt!
After my shower, I put the bathrobe on and immediately noticed that there was a bulge in one of the pockets. Eureka! It turned out to be a pair of clean knickers I had deposited there previously, when I’d had the opposite problem, of having two pairs but no inclination to go through the trauma of replacing one pair in the drawer inside the cupboard.
Thankfully, wearing a bathrobe meant that I didn’t have to spend extra precious time getting dry, but I could prepare my lunch and maybe even grab a quick cup of coffee while the drying process just happened as a matter of course. Preparing lunch was the next major hurdle I had to contend with. I’m vegan and that doesn’t normally present me with a problem if I’m preparing my own food but, for a number of reasons, today was different.
Thanks to the difficulties with eating that I’ve already explained, I would normally prepare avocado and hummus wraps, as they’re relatively easy to manage, and rarely make a mess, or rather, I rarely make a mess when I eat them. However, the man I have arranged to meet would not appreciate me having garlic breath and, of course, hummus normally has its fair share of garlic. Because of this I decided, instead, to make avocado wraps with salad and a little salad dressing to prevent them from being too dry. Unfortunately, it seemed that every one of the salad dressings I had available contained garlic! I eventually settled for ‘dry’ avocado and salad wraps, a couple of fruit and nut bars and a banana. In fairness to the man I was meeting, he asked if I would need to eat if we were to meet straight from the writers’ retreat and I had, for all sorts of reasons, declined, convinced that I would have enough ‘packed lunch’ to see me through. Finally, I had food prepared and clothes to wear though I wasn’t actually dressed at that point.
I decided to check my phone and saw that I had a message, wishing me ‘Good morning’ from the lovely man I was due to meet. We exchanged a few messages, which was a very welcome relief from the chaos that had ensued since I had got up. Then I quickly got dressed and combed my manky hair.
The chaos continued. I decided that I would need to be able to brush my teeth after the writers’ retreat and before my date. I flung my toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash into a bag and placed it with my packed lunch. Remembering I hadn’t charged my notebook, I searched for, and found without too much drama, (thankfully), the charging cable and managed to cram it into the little bag that housed the notebook and mouse. Surveying all the stuff I would have to take with me, I realised I would need a bag large enough to take it all. I knew there were bags in the cupboard; yes, the same cupboard that contained the chest of drawers so, once again, I removed the obstacles and opened the cupboard. After some degree of rummaging I found a shopping bag and a more presentable shoulder bag. I decided on the latter because I thought it would look weird if I turned up with a shopping bag! I closed the cupboard door and replaced all the obstacles yet again before discovering that the shoulder bag was too small to fit everything I needed into it! Dagnabbit! To be honest, the words that left my mouth at that point were a little bit stronger than “Dagnabbit”!
After, once again, moving the obstacles out of the way and replacing the shoulder bag in the cupboard, I grabbed the shopping bag and shoved everything into it that I thought I’d need for the day. Suddenly, the whole thing started to vibrate noisily. It was my electric toothbrush. It had switched itself on! It had done that once before, when I had been travelling on a tube train, aware of the noise but being blissfully unaware that it was coming from my rucksack until I discovered I could still hear it clearly after I’d got off the train and walked some way down the platform. On that occasion, it had run the batteries right down and rendered itself virtually useless. I knew I could do without that sort of complication today, so I removed the toothbrush and toothpaste from the shopping bag and decided that a rinse with the mouthwash would have to be adequate to sweeten my (non-garlic) breath before my date.
It wasn’t particularly warm, so I decided to wear a very warm jacket that was, you’ve probably guessed, in the cupboard that was guarded admirably by the obstacles that I had already moved and replaced countless times. I moved them again and opened the cupboard door. Fortunately, the jacket was easy to find. I took it out and closed the cupboard door, and then replaced every single one of those wretched obstacles. They’re going to have to go. They really, seriously are!
“I’ll need some tissues”, I thought to myself, so I took a handful out of the box in the kitchen and put them into the pocket of my jacket. I made sure I had everything I needed. I wouldn’t need the satnav because, fortunately, I had suggested meeting at a place I knew well, after the writers’ retreat, so that was one potential agony I had spared myself.
It didn’t feel quite so chilly, probably due to all the rushing around I had been doing, so I decided against the very warm jacket and plumped instead, for the poncho that was, thankfully, already in my car. I had forgotten about the tissues in the pocket.
Finally, I got into the car, complete with shopping bag and set off. I arrived at my destination; the British Legion Village, in Aylesford, parked my car and proceeded to look for ‘Base Camp’, which was where we were due to spend the day. I strolled into the building at the end of the car park and approached the reception desk but, to my dismay, there was no sign of a receptionist. When someone eventually arrived, I was told I was in the wrong building and was directed to where I was supposed to be; a building with a huge sign marked, “Base Camp”! At last, I arrived, frazzled, but in one piece and that, dear writer friends, is why I was half an hour late.