Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run training week 3… (mostly post Covid vaccine euphoria…)

May be an image of tree, nature, grass and lake

I had my final Covid vaccine last Sunday, which made me very happy, but interrupted my planned running schedule, because even with this sudden burst of motivation, a vaccine and a run in the same day felt like a step too far. I made up for it by running four times this week, a vaccine was worth celebrating, alongside my sisters 22nd birthday who sadly couldn’t be with us due to the pandemic. But we had a takeaway curry in her honour anyway.

Owing to generating Covid immunity, the week got off to a slow start, I didn’t have any side affects but felt a bit tired and running didn’t seem wise. Work was also exceptionally busy this week, and I’m starting to worry (read: ‘panic quite a bit’) about training for this half marathon while working a full time job. How will I fit everything in? How will I not burn myself out? Helpful advice from lovely people on twitter tells me to use weekends as long run days, to pace myself, find a running buddy, stick to shorter runs during the week and not to beat myself up if it doesn’t always go to plan. At the moment I am a woman with a plan, and so far I’m mostly sticking to that plan. Even pushing myself to go running when sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine feels like the preferable option. This week I’ve been completely re-designing my works newsletter, which has meant turning what was once a simple bulletin, into an all singing, dancing magazine. I’ve written the thing in a week. Magazine journalism training has certainly come in handy, although at uni we had months to write and design a magazine, with a whole team. Doing similar in a week has been wild. I need to keep reminding myself that I’m A) not working for a magazine publishers and B) not chasing that 1st at uni now. In typical ADHD style this has lead to a lot of hyperfocus, working more hours than I should, and feeling knackered in the evenings. Running has sometimes felt like the last thing I’ve wanted to do, but once I get out, it has always been absolutely the best decision.

My plan was a Tuesday evening run, but after ending up working late (Yay ADHD fuelled hyperfocus!), missing my running clubs start time and not feeling up to running on my own, I resolved to getting up early to go for a run the next morning. On Wednesday I wasn’t really feeling it, but as soon as I saw the sun shining through the window, and my cats meowing at me as if to say, hurry up and feed me and then go running, I found the motivation from somewhere. It was a beautiful morning. I enjoyed the first proper outing of Spotify premium as I headed towards the local nature reserve. It was also still the school Easter holidays, that I had forgotten about, until I wondered why it was so quiet and there were no kids out on the way to school. ‘Excellent, more pavement for me!’ I thought. As the dopamine started to flood through my brain I suddenly felt very awake. I paused briefly to admire the ducks who looked pretty disappointed I hadn’t arrived with a morning snack. I apologised and ran on. I did just under 5k with was enough for my first proper morning run in a long time, and with the knowledge I had a lot of work waiting for me at home. I definitely run slower when I’m on my own than with people, as I briefly spotted my pace on my watch as I trotted along. I then remembered being told not to think about times, just concentrate on getting there. I did. I focussed on the novelty of finally having Spotify premium, the warm shower when I got back and that I can actually run. The fact that I’m doing the one thing I was told I couldn’t do, (I was virtually banned from joining the school athletics club or Duke of Edinburgh Award at school because I wasn’t good enough,) will always make me smile.

The endless news coverage referencing the DoE Award has prompted lots of reflections this week, and not for the reasons you may think. I’ve thought about accessibility, the importance of just letting young people have a go and the impact telling someone they “can’t” can have on a young person, even many years on. The whole reason I’m running this half marathon is because I was finally told “I could”, and the enormous difference that had on me as a young woman working out who I wanted to be. I’m in my 30’s now, have a good job and I’ve learned to fall in love with running, but I still think sometimes about being denied opportunities because I’m dyspraxic, and because it was assumed to be beyond my capabilities. They couldn’t comprehend the thought of me reading a map, stomping through fields, camping and all of the things expected of young DofE explorers. But there were lots of things that happened in the early 2000’s that I hope wouldn’t happen now. I think that 14/15 year old Alice would firstly not understand the thought process behind me training for a half marathon, but would then be very proud I’ve eventually been able to push on to do something that was once beyond me. I might struggle to walk across my bedroom without picking up an excellent bruise to add to my collection somedays, but I can still bloody well run. And no one can tell me I can’t now. Hurrah! I ran home with the energy and clear head I needed to start a day of work.

May be an image of Alice Hewson and brick wall

Thursdays run happened after work, with a small group from my running club. I ran just over 5K, slowly. Like a snail because spending so much of the week in hyperfocus has been draining. So much of this week has been fuelled by the euphoria of finally being fully vaccinated. I still feel wary, and the anxiety won’t go away over night, but I now have a sense of calm and peace of mind I didn’t have before. There’s less fight, flight, freeze, going on in my brain. I met up with four other women and the run leader for a gentle five K loop. When the route was explained to us I was a bit wary because it involved a route I hadn’t ran before (despite knowing the area like the back of my hand), and involved running along roads, and crossing them, with a confusing roundabout, making it difficult to see which way the cars will go. My awful spatial awareness makes me cautious about crossing roads around other people, (unless they know me well), because it’s so obvious I sometimes struggle and I don’t want to look like a fool. I can run good distances quite happily, but I panic when I see a road because I worry about getting squashed. The saying “you’re more likely to get ran over than….” probably doesn’t help. Yay anxiety. We set off and one of the girls said she would run with me because she wasn’t planning for a fast one as she had a race at the weekend. We ran along, the cars at the roundabout behaved themselves, but I wasn’t happy about how long the road felt, you don’t think it’s that long, but it went on forever. And if I’d kept going I would have eventually ended up in Consett. I didn’t though. We turned onto the safety of the Derwent walk, away from any drivers tempted to beat their horns at us, and put us off. It has happened before. I nearly crashed into a wall. Drivers: please leave runners alone. once we reached the paths, I felt my speed increase for a bit, but I could still hold a conversation. I worked out during the chat that I probably need new trainers. “My feel hurt, and they shouldn’t hurt,” I said. “No they shouldn’t, Alice.” I’m going to phone one of the running shops in town to get a gait analysis, the last thing I want is to do damage because my trainers are too old. I haven’t managed to get through yet, they must be busy with other runners having the same post lockdown problem. I enjoyed Thursdays group run, but I didn’t like the low sunlight as much, not being able to see where I was going at times isn’t helpful for someone who already struggles with balance and coordination. My dads solution to that problem is to get a cap. I have never owned a cap in my life. As we ran back around to the finishing point of the car park, I felt pleased with myself, I always feel accomplished after a run. The rest of the group were much faster than me, I was at the back of the group this time, but that didn’t matter, I got there too. “Thanks for not leaving the slow person behind!” I commented on a post in the clubs Facebook group. “No one gets left behind,” I was told. And that says it all. The reason why I joined this running club is there. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to turn up. And even if you don’t turn up for a while, someone will always message to check you’re okay. Brilliant people.

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Women can do running!
May be an image of Alice Hewson and outdoors
You have no idea how pleased I am here

On Friday it was my little sisters birthday, she turned 22, how I’m old enough to have a 22 year old sister I will never know. She’s in Scotland and we’re in England, and as we’re still under Covid restrictions, we couldn’t see her. My morning started with face timing her as she opened her presents, and wishing it wasn’t her first birthday without family around. She’s had a cracking time with her small uni bubble, so I didn’t need to worry. Virtual birthday presents done, I then headed up to my desk for the day. I spent another day in hyperfocus trying to get a draft of the magazine finished and sent to my manager for proofing. I did it! But it also meant I worked slightly over the hours I should have, and I was pretty knackered by the end of the day. I’m sure I was seeing magazine pages in my head as I headed down the stairs looking for food. I had a Friday night run on my plan, but I was so tired, and it was Friday night, can I just skip today? No. My need for routine would not allow that. We were going to get a takeaway curry in honour of my sisters birthday, despite her not being able to be here, and so I decided to run to pick up the curry. I needed something to aim for. The restaurant I was running to was a bit further than my usual runs, and away from the safety of the nature reserve. There would be more people about, and a few weeks ago I would have absolutely avoided going anywhere near there. There’s no way I would volunteer. Something made me run there, I mean I was literally running for food, the best kind of motivation. At the nature reserve, I knew I had to go on ahead, I listened to my music which was an excellent distraction, and there wasn’t as many people as I thought there’d be. It got a bit tricky when there was some people at the traffic lights, and I considered turning round and running home. Flight response trying to kick in there. I didn’t though. “I’ve had my second vaccine. It’s not common to catch Covid outside,” I chanted in my head over the top of the music. It helped. I pushed on. Anxiety didn’t win. And y’know what? I’m so bloody proud of myself.

May be an image of Alice Hewson, tree and outdoors
Knackered but beaming with pride

Sundays run, and the fourth run of the week. I had spent most of Saturday thinking about this, planning my route and being determined that I was going to go. Last night, I entered the virtual Blaydon Race to give me a 10k to aim for in June. This morning, after debating if I should go, if maybe running a GNR was a step too far, and then telling those negative thoughts to bugger off, I ended up running 8.5K, the furthest I’ve ever ran, and walking 2k home, which turned into a nice cool down. It wasn’t quite the plan to run that for, my legs just kept on moving, the plan was just to get out of the door. I began being able to run further and faster, although I did break into a walk at points. Before I set off I was worried about too many people being around, not being able to do it and bailing at like 3K. But I did it. And I’ve never felt more proud of myself (and knackered!). Spotify helped me keep going and singing along helped me to regulate my breathing. I’ve reached the stage of not caring what people think, I was out, having the best time, when a few weeks ago, I could barely walk around the block without panicking about Covid. It was a great end to a good week of running. For the first time, I’ve actually believed that I can run this half marathon. I am capable of conquering GNR. I just need to keep on going.

If you’ve got this far, and have been following my mission over the last few weeks to use running as a tool to feel better about going out as we emerge from this pandemic, it would mean a huge amount to me if you could consider sponsoring my half marathon. GNR emailed earlier to say, at the moment it’s still going ahead, but if it does need to get cancelled again, all 2020 roll-overs will be eligible for a place on the 2022 GNR. SO I WILL RUN IT EVENTUALLY! And even if you are unable to sponsor me, sharing on social media will be super lovely too.

Feel free to look back on this blog for week 1 and week 2 training updates if you missed them. Thank you so much to everyone who has been supportive so far, I really feel I can do this.

Posted in ADHD, Adventures, Covid-19, Dyspraxia, Education, Great North Run, Mental health, Running | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run training week 2…

“It’ll be snowing next week,” I was told. It bloody well did.

Thank you to those of you who have said nice things and read my first post about beginning training for the Great north Run, and more poignantly using running to deal with my anxiety about restrictions easing as we emerge from this pandemic. You can catch up on week one here, if you missed it.

This week started with much colder feelings than last, just as I was starting to get excited about my summer wardrobe, I found myself in oversized wooly jumpers, and shivering by the fire, AGAIN. Running this week has been so much harder weather wise, but so much easier in other ways.

Tuesdays run, was a run alone as I was working late and wouldn’t get to the start with my running club on time, so I aimed to jump into my running kit as soon as I finished my online session at half 6, and head out the door. An online session that took an unexpected turn when we ended up doing plank competitions and having mini egg eating competitions with our young people, there’s no better way to prepare for a run, or make people think that you are, actually bonkers. I was very proud to get my headphones to cooperate with the bluetooth on my phone this week, so I didn’t have to run in silence on my own, however lovely the birds singing to me in the trees were last week. In fact, I was so pleased with myself after Tuesdays run, that I upgraded to Spotify premium when I got home. About a decade behind everyone else, but now I can make an excellent running playlist, that isn’t just Scandinavian, Scottish and Northumbrian folk music – hurrah! Feel free to suggest excellent running songs that will encourage me to keep going.

As I set off on Tuesday, I quickly realised that A) I wasn’t expecting it to be so chilly and B) I haven’t quite got my kit right for freezing running. I really need to invest in a long sleeved running top, at points I was mildly concerned that I might literally freeze. I do have some running gloves, but forgetting to wear them isn’t much use to me, or anyone having to hear me complaining about the cold. That sentence makes me sound like a terrible northerner. I was more surprised as I should have been by the cold. I had been watching it snow on and off all day from my window as I worked, even screaming “bloody hell it’s snowing!” during a staff meeting. Armed with this knowledge of snow and that this usually meant it would be accompanied by cold, I plodded on, out of the door and down the hill. I remembered to press start on my Fitbit this time, so I can attempt to properly monitor my runs and progress. I’ve never really been bothered about pace, or times, or if I’m doing it “right” before. I decided that if I focussed on any of that, I wouldn’t feel motivated to run and I would spend all of my time worrying, instead of just doing it. I don’t really know what pace means or even if my pace is alright for someone aiming for a half marathon. I’m sure I’ll know if the people who come out to watch me on Great North Run day, give up and go home because I’m taking too long. Remembering to press play on my Fitbit will be useful in tracking my progress and prompting any happy dances for minor, or major achievements.

As I ran on Tuesday, the wind was biting, my hands felt like they were going to fall off and I thought I was going to get blown into the road at one point, but I carried on. I kept a steady pace so I could keep myself warm. The cold made me want to run for longer, maybe because I wanted this run to be over quicker, or because it was just a sensible option given the circumstances. I learned very quickly to make sure I’m dressed for the weather, even if I am running, and will likely warm up. I ran past a field of kids playing football, and freezing parents standing on the sidelines, probably wishing that outdoor sport wasn’t back on. In the field I saw daffodils and blossom coming out on the trees, all the signs of spring, which felt juxtaposed against the cold arctic wind on my face. The music in my ears was helping me to push through to the next tree or the lamppost up ahead. Thea Gilmores “beautiful day” came on and I welled up, it really was a beautiful day, I felt knackered from work, the cold was irritating but I was surrounded by spring and families out having fun. It was beautiful. I was enjoying running. And I was aiming to do a beautiful thing. Something that years ago felt impossible. I managed to run 5K, and gave up going any further because it was just too cold, and I was still worried about the path getting narrower and seeing too many people. I keep having to remind myself that it is highly unlikely that I’ll catch Covid outside. The only people I really did see were the kids playing football on the field quite far away from me, so my anxieties, as always, are disproportionate to reality. As I headed home, and tried a bit of hill running (I live on a very steep bank), I felt proud of myself for motivating myself to run, when curling up on the sofa with a film or book felt preferable after work. I’m still getting my head around new priorities that come with starting a new job, and running is helping me to process that. It gives me space where I don’t have to think about anything else other than getting to the next landmark.

On Friday, and my second run of the week, I ran with Red Kite Runners after work, I was tired from the long week, but I was on a mission to complete my minimum of three runs every week. And no one can stop a dyspraxic/ADHD woman on a mission. I made the annoying error of forgetting to pick up a banana as I left, so spent the whole walk to the start line wishing I wasn’t so forgetful, and dreaming about how I’d feel if I’d eaten that banana. I walked fast to get there by 6, which I found to be a helpful warm up prior to running. The walk gave me the dopamine I needed, and I suddenly felt very focussed as we set out to run. I met about eleven other Red Kite Runners, who like me were getting back into running as a group again, and also like me had chosen a Friday night to do it. After the group warm up and obligatory photo, we set off. I kept to my steady pace, and found a spot comfortably in the middle. As the run progressed, I felt I was getting better, I aimed for landmarks, avoided dogs, and ignored the lad who blatantly laughed as I went past. “Well, if only you knew where I’d come from to get here”, I thought. I remembered the dips in the path, and where I needed to weave around any puddles of water, I’m extra careful about not falling over these days, probably too careful. I thought about why I was running, why I was going out whatever the weather to push my legs to go that bit further. I was doing it for Gateshead Youth Council and every young person in the North East. Youth Work; my profession matters, and I matter, and running is quite a wild way to show it. I told mum about considering getting my school on board, her response was: “Well, girl who was shit at PE, runs half Marathon, has quite a ring to it”. That says it all.

Towards the end of the run, I heard, “You’re doing great Alice, keep going.” It was Paul, our run leader, behind me. He ran with me towards the end, and like last week, told me I was doing well, and that I could do it. We talked about times and he said to just focus on completing the distance. “You can do it Alice” “keep going” “only 1K to go,” he kept telling me. Our finish line was the bins, so I focussed on that on the final stretch. Using landmarks as a way to measure my progress helps to motivate me, I feel that I can go that little bit further and feel proud of myself for doing it. As we cooled down, we were told to keep getting out, meet up with others to run and motivate each other. Red Kite Runners is mixed ability, with people who run marathons and ultras, to those of us who are just pleased to be enjoying running. There’s no pressure, or competition, the only competition is with yourself, and to do what makes you feel comfortable. If I’d had this kind of support with exercise years ago, maybe my PE days at school would have been slightly different. I can be a runner. Anyone can be a runner. And that’s the most important lesson my 30’s have taught me. After the run I walked home and the temperature suddenly dropped, so it turned into a very brisk walk. The walk there and back, alongside my run, totalled to 10k according to my Fitbit. 10 happy K. I got in, collapsed and ate pizza.

Tomorrow is Sunday run day, and also second vaccine day. A day of big feelings I’m sure. I’m writing this now because tomorrow, I’ll likely be too exhausted or too full of adrenaline to think straight, let alone form coherent sentences for you to read. I really can’t wait to be fully vaccinated. In the morning, I plan to get up early to go for a short run, my training plan tells me to do 1.5K so I’ll probably do just over that. Running post vaccine might be slightly problematic, and I’m sure avoiding will be wise, but I’m determined to fit a short trot around the block in before. Yay to running! Yay to vaccines! All of the feelings. If you’ve stuck with me through reading about week two of my running adventures, it would mean a huge amount to me, Gateshead Youth Council and my past hiding in the corner at PE, uncoordinated self, if you could consider sponsoring my half marathon. And as always sharing on social media and encouraging me in other ways, or telling me how mad I am, is super lovely too.

Will report back on the post vaccine feelings…

May be an image of one or more people, people standing, outdoors and tree
Posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Education, Great North Run, Mental health, Youth Work | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Running my way out of a pandemic: Great North Run training week 1 – it really begins! (take two..)

May be an image of one or more people, people standing, road and tree
I’m in the purple at the end, feeling very chuffed with myself…

In 2019 I entered the Great North Run ballot, thinking there’s no way I’ll get a place, and then they announced more places for the 2020 GNR AND then I bloody well did get a place. It really felt like a weird kind of luck. I took up running at the age of 30, after first trying to run badly on my own, and then joining a running club, who took me through the Couch 2 5K, and awarded my first running medal. And an award, I have an award telling me I’m the “most inspirational female runner”, still baffled why people voted for me. All I know is that they, the people who I ran with every week, believed something I didn’t at the time. I’d previously had years of anxiety, bad managers telling me I didn’t fit in, being laughed at by PE teachers and people making assumptions about my abilities, so it felt great to finally hear people tell me that I could do something.

Running became the one thing that has been able to consume me as much as Folk Music. I began getting up early to go running on Sunday mornings, in public, with other people. I’d race home from work to go running, often opting to go running rather than to the session, placing exercise over playing my fiddle would have been unheard of in the past. It had taken until my 30’s to fall in love with a sport, that I wasn’t great at, but I could still do. In March 2020, when Covid happened, and the national lockdown was announced, running, the sport I loved so much suddenly left my world. I began to focus on my work, that involves supporting vulnerable families who were all having a tough time in the pandemic. The young people I work with became my priority. Doing anything for myself suddenly wasn’t important anymore. I was scared to go out, people made me anxious and social distancing whilst running felt impossible. So I just didn’t go. The only link I had with my running club, is the “Red Kit Runners Bakers” dropping round with baked goods, to try and keep everyone connected in the midst of lockdown. The GNR was then postponed, and we were given the option to role our entry over to the 2021 race. Without thinking, I postponed my run until 2021. I can do this, I thought optimistically. And here I am now, aiming to face one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had. To run 13 miles, after a pandemic, when going into a shop for a pint of milk still feels too much. This sums up me perfectly: “unable to do the little things in life, but the big things feel totally achievable”.

Last year I printed off a beginners training plan from the Great North Run website and stuck it on my wall, it has been there ever since, staring at me every morning. The plan builds the running up gradually every week, mixing running with walking, and slowly increasing the miles over 16 weeks. It should feel like I’m not doing too much too soon, and hopefully won’t break me. Then before race day, I will have just under a month to practice the bigger mileage, to make sure I’m comfortable. It sounds so organised in theory! I’m the most disorganised and distractible person ever so I’m sure there will be slip ups, if not literal ones. When I’m running I feel so focussed, it’s like all that matters in my world is getting to the next tree or the next bench, everything else, all of my worries or anxieties, disappears. I’m hoping that If I feel like this when running 5Ks, it will stay with me when I finally get up to 13 miles. I’m running for Gateshead Youth Council, who changed my life as a teenager. Last year I wrote about why they are my chosen charity, if you’d like to read more about them, you can do here.

On Tuesday, I went for my first run, with actual people in over a year. I was, as anyone would be pretty nervous but I was determined to use running to emerge from this pandemic. Restrictions easing has caused all sorts of thoughts, I’d got used to not seeing many people and being almost as isolated as I have been when I’ve experienced serious mental health dips. I enjoy working from home, not having a commute, being able to manage my time and space to suit me needs, so things changing again has felt overwhelming. And that would be very much an understatement. I met eight other Red Kit Runners on Tuesday evening, straight after work, on what felt like the hottest day of the year so far. “It’ll be snowing next week!” Paul the run leader said. I wouldn’t be surprised.

We made our way up out of the carpark to the top path to start our group warm up. There was a few people around but it wasn’t as busy as I’d expected. As I stretched and got ready to run, my mind wandered, I thought about how big a thing just being there was for me, and even if I did feel anxious, I had turned up and was about to run. Paul gave us a talk, about running at your own pace, and focussing on what you can do, and not worrying about how fast others are. “It’s about getting comfortable running together again,” he said. I’d never heard a truer word, it wasn’t about other people, it was about what I could do. We set off, and I cautiously stayed at the back, attempting to maintain a slow but steady pace. And walking for sections if I needed to. Our run leader, ran with me the whole time. I wasn’t right at the back of the group, but I was almost there, and that didn’t matter because I was pushing myself to run after a year of being terrified to leave the house without a member of my family. As I was running I heard Paul saying, “You’re doing great, Alice.” “Keep going” “You’re a star.” “Just around this corner now.” “A few minutes to go and then I’ll blow the whistle, keep it up.” Throughout our 40 minute run, I had a constant stream of positive comments in my ear. Words of encouragement that made putting one foot in front of the other seem achievable. I said at one point that I think I’ve forgotten how to run, to be told that I’d get it back. I successfully negotiated dogs, bikes, other people and horses, during this first run. I felt more pleased with myself than I’ve felt in a long time. I didn’t run very far or fast. But I was there and I got to the end. If I can see the GNR like this, I’m more determined to do it than ever.

My second run of the week happened on good Friday, and that it happened is a good thing. We ran along the Derwent again, for 20 minutes and then returned on the sound of the whistle however far we got. This meant that we can start and finish together as a group. One thing that’s always worried me as a runner is getting horrendously lost, and turning into a tearful mess in the middle of a forest. Here though, I am confident with our regular 5K route, and if I just have to do several loops of that when I get to the bigger runs, I will. When I go running with the club, I’m reassured that there’s always someone at the front and a tail runner, so even if I’m somewhere in the middle by myself, there will always be someone not far away. Fridays run felt better than Tuesday, I ran further than before. I ran for longer and walked less, and I was somewhere comfortably in the middle of the group. I expected it to be busier, but by 6pm, everyone seemed to have gone home, leaving a clear route for me. I had a bit of a disaster with my headphones before the run, with the bluetooth on my phone refusing to cooperate so had to run without. I could hear the pounding of my flat feet on the pavements and the birds singing in the trees, with the chatter of other runners around me. I looked ahead, giving myself little goals to get to the next tree or run a bit faster to that bench. It worked and I started feeling comfortable with running again. On the way back I saw the runners at the end of the group in the distance, and tried to run faster to catch up with them, pushing myself, but sticking to my rhythm. it felt good to be out again, really really good, and I realised why I’d fallen in love with running. As we finished I was asked, “How did you find that compared to Tuesday, Alice?” “Well I ran further?”, I said. “Well that’s a good thing,” she told me. That made it all make so much sense, it was about what I can achieve against myself, other people’s times and pace’s don’t matter, it was all about me proving to myself that I can do it. I’m sure as my training progresses I won’t always feel this way, and there will be some wobbles in the lead up to the Great North Run. It terrifies me in more ways than I’m excited at the moment, but right now I’m just pleased to be out running with people again. On Sunday I plan to go for a short run by myself, that will eventually be my longer run day as my training intensifies.

There are of course some training worries, that have been in my head since I got the ballot place:

  • Training with a full time job. I know people train and run long distances with jobs, kids, a dog and several other commitments I’m not even close to having, but fitting in training, on top of working full time is something, I wish my brain would spend less time overthinking. I was talking about trying to buy a house earlier this year, but that might have to be put on hold until there’s less in my life to think about. Working from home would be ideal for training, as I can be more flexible and I don’t have to worry about a knackering commute, but this won’t be forever. And when I get back to the office, how the Jeff am I going to cope?
  • Raising money. Fundraising is hard when you don’t have the connections at the best of times, but raising money, post pandemic when your friends have either lost jobs/not been able to work/or generally don’t have disposable income, isn’t the easiest thing. I’ve chosen to raise money for Gateshead Youth Council, because they are awesome, and I have a very personal reason to fundraise for them, but there’s only so much asking I can do. I even thought at one stage to get my old school on board, we’ll see.
  • Not falling over. This is a worry for anyone who’s arms and legs aren’t the most coordinated, and thinking about it I have only fallen over once spectacularly since I started running. And that was a cyclists fault. So hopefully, I can get to the start line, without breaking myself in training first. I’ve started running slower to avoid this, but I really want to overcome this fear, and of dogs, and cyclist to improve my pace by GNR day.
  • Trying not to let people down. This sounds ridiculous written down, but I don’t want to fail people, or myself. I want to do what I set out to do. This might hark back to the years when I didn’t feel good enough, and always feeling the need to prove myself. Whether it was academically, musically, trying and failing different sports, or just with writing. And lets be honest, no one has two Masters, unless they think a tiny bit like that. I also want to do Gateshead Youth Council proud, I want young people to see that if I can get from where I was to where I am now, they can too. A lot of pressure on myself. My ADHD brain needs pressure to function, helpful or otherwise. My sponsors and friends who are already promising to come and watch need me to complete this run too, I don’t want to let them down.
  • Sticking to my training plan. I have ADHD, sticking to anything has always had mixed results. You only need to see the route I’ve taken in my career to understand that. Running with the club is massive motivation, but sometimes I’ll have to run without them or after an exhausting day at work. I do wonder if I’ll be able to do it, or run well because there is so much more going on in my brain too. The training plan staring me in the face is being good so far at reminding me of my goal, crossing that finish line with a massive smile on my face.

I haven’t mentioned post pandemic worries, but that goes without saying, running isn’t the same as it was a year ago and I’m sure you don’t need me to go into all of the details. It’s a massive challenge I have ahead of me, and I’m pretty petrified about how I’ll do, if I’d be able to do it, or if this is just a step too far. So please please offer any encouragement and support you can from now until September.

And if you’ve read this far and are able to please consider sponsoring my half marathon, and tell all of your friends! Gateshead Youth Council are a fabulous charity, who changed my life, and if they didn’t do what they did all those years ago I might not be undertaking this run, or even writing this at all. So there you go. And if you are unable to donate, I’m sure you can think of other ways to keep me going. Just by reading about my journey (I plan to write about how my training is going every week) and sharing my story where you can will also be absolutely fabulous.

“It’s not about how fast or far everyone else goes, it’s about what you make of the run for yourself,” – a piece of wisdom I was told recently…

Posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Great North Run, Mental health, Running, Youth Work | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reframing your world after an ADHD diagnosis is tough; and that’s more than okay.

May be an image of Alice Hewson

I’ve been been wanting to write this for a little while, but I haven’t found the words, and I don’t know yet if I want to share beyond my small blog following. I’ve had the thoughts, probably too many thoughts, but the words, they only sound coherent inside my head. Shouting the loudest. Competing for attention. A little bit like my internet trolls, except I can’t block my own thoughts with a click of a button. Or can I?

A few weeks ago I wrote about Processing the answers: When everything starts to make a bit more sense, and things are much clearer, they really really are, but the world also feels more confusing and I know I won’t be the only person feeling this way. So, I wanted to write about it, because writing is the only way I know to process big feelings. I wanted to write this because I’ve been in neurodiversity circles for a long long time, I should know things, I shouldn’t feel this way. I’ve spoken at conferences, set up a support group, written about it all for years and led assemblies at my former school on mental health. People looked up to me, told me I’d helped them, told me I’d given their kids a sense of belonging. And all of this time I was just being me, I’d got to the stage when me was enough, I felt enough, I was valued. I had friends who I cared about, and that feeling was mutual. I was years on from feeling just being me wasn’t good enough. I told young girls about the pitfalls of looking up to older women, wanting to be them, believing they are better than you. I’d been there and I desperately didn’t want to be that “older woman” young girls look up to and aspire to be. Because I was just me. And I wanted them to be just them too. Except without the just, because no one should be “just” anything. I did all of this knowing I was neurodiverse and feeling very comfortable with that fact. I didn’t go through school with zero support, but it wasn’t exactly support that would win any awards either. I’ve known I was dyspraxic for years, I always knew I was different. Finding the words to explain has become easier as the time has gone by, but I always always knew. So why has an ADHD diagnosis in my 30’s hit me like a ton of bricks? I have never known that the “me” also included ADHD.

I know quite a few people, some friends and some I see online, who were diagnosed with dyspraxia as adults, or came to suspect it in adulthood. I felt in the minority, with my childhood diagnosis, and SEN statement. People told me how they had to reframe their whole life with a dyspraxia lens, they had suddenly in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s or even older, been given a label to explain why they do things the way they do, how their brain works and that those feelings of inadequacy were for a reason. Hence my mission to support young dyspraxic girls to believe they are more than okay, because so many of us don’t reach that realisation until much later in life, if we ever do. I didn’t have the “Oh shit I’m neurodiverse, where do I find my tribe?!” questions, because dyspraxia is nothing new. I did have a period as a teenager of reframing what my life might look like as an adult, once I accepted I needed to understand this dyspraxia thing, that until then had been hanging over me like an unwanted smell, a period in my life that felt very much like a bereavement. I got through it by getting involved in as much of the neurodiversity world as I could, starting with tentatively reading the “dyspraxic teens” forum and lots and lots of therapy.

In November 2020 at the age of 31, I heard the words; “and that concludes an ADHD diagnosis,” I’d gone into the assessment suspecting this would be the case and hearing the psychiatrist say those words suddenly made my suspicions very real. Difficulties with executive function and my thoughts never shutting up that I just thought was a by product of dyspraxia, had its own name. I felt the feelings of relief and validation many people describe immediately post diagnostic assessment, texting my friend who’d been diagnosed a month before me the ‘good news’, “I’m so pleased you have that answer,” she told me. I then felt very very sad, that my gender, focussing on the diagnosis I already had and being predominantly inattentive meant my ADHD wasn’t picked up at school. I began to understand the feelings of those with a late diagnosis of dyspraxia. I found myself trying to look at things with an ADHD lens. It made sense, so much more sense. It also scared me, and explaining a well known diagnosis to people was tough, everyone has heard of ADHD, but it’s still stigmatised and poorly understood. I was not a little boy who can’t sit still, I don’t take part in risky behaviour, I’m not outwardly hyperactive, but the internal hyperactivity and restlessness is like having a constant night club in my head. How do I explain something to people they can’t see? You can’t see my dyspraxia, but at least most people can tell when my coordination has gone to pot. I’m not lazy, I’ve never been scatty, or disorganised, or uninterested, I just have too much going on in my head, to decide what is important, or what needs to come first. I’m not rude because I haven’t replied, I just got distracted. ADHD has been much harder to explain than dyspraxia. I understand that dyspraxia is poorly understood, but ADHD, especially in girls and women, is very much underrepresented in the conversation too. This is before we get onto discussing medication. I’ve been off meds for a week because I suddenly got very very scared, partly down to hormones but mostly down to the stigma of taking stimulants to make my brain quieter. The meds really really helped, I have never felt so quiet and still. The kind of eerie quietness of the countryside or the moon. I mean, I’ve never been to the moon but I don’t imagine there’ll be any noisy raves up there.

Following diagnosis I joined a few Facebook groups and started following people on twitter, I was welcomed into the ADHD tribe, I’d found my people, others who understood my brain probably better than I did at the time. There were explanations for everything. People seemed to be really owning their diagnosis, just like I did for the young dyspraxic girls. I didn’t feel I owned anything at the time, it felt like unmedicated ADHD owned me. I also started feeling overwhelmed by advice from all directions. On starting Elvanse, I made the mistake of searching that specific medication in a Facebook group, getting all sorts of “this has changed my life” stories to “this was the worst thing I’ve ever done” side of the spectrum. I then decided to take time away from this new community, and focus on speaking to friends, and working out what was right for me. I’ve also read several pieces about an ADHD diagnosis in adulthood being life changing, I read about the positive impact knowing about ADHD had on people and a piece about ADHD in women that really made me reflect on my own life. I felt that these people were speaking to me, yet at the time, I was still confused about how I felt about it all. Alongside the listicles of “THIS IS HOW TO CONQUER ADHD” or “TAKE THIS VITAMIN AND YOU’LL FEEL ON TOP OF THE WORLD.” There wasn’t, and I feel like I’ve searched all of the Internet, any pieces depicting how I felt, the confusion, the fear, already understanding neurodiversity, yet feeling lost. There was nothing for me. I didn’t want to go into battle or “conquer” anything with this new diagnosis.

My feelings, and I’m sure many of yours do too, stem from the need for things to be accessible, not having to over-explain your difficulties in situations where you’d prefer not to. Train stations, inside taxis, at work, at the shops, at parties; places where the ground swallowing up is often preferable. Many of us don’t want to explain intimate details of our medical history to complete strangers or people we don’t know very well, yet because our differences aren’t understood we often find ourselves in situations without a choice. With my new diagnosis, alongside the feelings of relief and pride, I just saw more explaining to do. When you’ve had a life time of explaining, this prospect just feels exhausting. I didn’t want to have to send an email to my boss and say “I have ADHD now, (well not now, I’ve always had it), this is what I need.” I didn’t want to sit down with my family to explain the benefits of taking legal speed. I didn’t want to send an email to someone who supported me a lot when I was younger, to tell her I have ADHD, and that explains X,Y,Z. It all felt too much, and I’m done with offering those explanations, just to be on a level playing field with everyone else. I’m mostly drained with having to understand more about my brain, and that’s okay, we can’t all be bouncy about a new diagnosis all of the time. I can assure you, none of us ever are, and if we appear that way, our masking skills are on point. I’m very good at appearing a certain way, to people who need to see me that way, and leaving the “real me” for those who can cope with that side of the coin.

An ADHD diagnosis in my 30’s has made me evaluate not just my world, but the world we all inhabit and what we want from this world. I remember years ago, a friend told me in the middle of an anxiety attack, “you will be okay”, I didn’t believe her at the time, how could I be okay, when my world seemed to be falling apart? But I was okay in the end, with intermittent periods of feeling like everything is imploding again, and I’m confident to tell you that with several ND diagnosis’ or one, you will be okay too. The world needs to adjust to our way of being, not the other way around.

Posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Education, Mental health, Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Processing the answers: When everything starts to make a bit more sense

I made myself a promise to stop justifying myself to others in the next decade, and then, I acquired another diagnosis as an adult.

“If only you could flex your style!” A former boss told me following a Myers Briggs personality test. Perplexed and confused, I tried to fit in more. I was made to believe that I wasn’t a “typical” youth worker. I always knew I was different, the childhood dyspraxia diagnosis told me that. But it always felt like a piece was missing. Something didn’t fit. And it was me. Or so I thought. I threw myself into work and more education, training as a journalist alongside working as a youth worker. I got up earlier than I needed to make sure I could be somewhere on time, without forgetting something vital. I littered the house with post its as reminders to remember my work ID or purse. These strategies, however much I tried to “flex”didn’t always help. I struggled to organise myself, reply to important emails, do the important thing without getting distracted, and not appear like a completely uninterested friend or colleague.

I could deal with not walking in a straight line, bumping into objects or people, never being a great badminton player or feeling inadequate for not being able to turn our broken oven on without help. The obvious diagnostic criteria for dyspraxia, things that I grew up learning were just me. Things that made me different. And sometimes made me feel conscious about not fitting in. I found it harder to explain the thoughts bumbling around in my head, the stuff you can’t see. I recently learned as a very young child I often appeared to “zone out” and was investigated for epilepsy, as it was thought I was having absences or seizures. Numerous scans and tests later, were inconclusive. They couldn’t find anything “wrong” with my brain and everything came back “normal”. I always felt somewhat of an anomaly, that just couldn’t be explained. I now recognise those early zoning out moments, as a feature of distractibility, typical of ADHD. No one considered this at the time because A) I was a girl B) It was very subtle and C) I wasn’t a problem to anyone, I didn’t misbehave, I was just quiet. I also believed that I was tested as much as any child or young person could be, and there wasn’t anything anyone could do for me. I was just dyspraxic, and over the years I began to mould to this “just” label, yet still felt something wasn’t quite right.

As I progressed through education, and onto university, my brain became noisier. it wouldn’t shut up at times, and I often had constant thoughts in a blender on the fastest speed whirring around in my head at night. I would find it increasingly difficult to pay attention and focus in lectures, until eventually I gave up on making notes all together and hoped for the best. Hoping for the best worked out okay in the end, as I came out with a 2:1 at undergrad, purely by fluke. I hadn’t been able to focus on reading a whole book from cover to cover the three years I was there. Something that still fills me with embarrassment, especially with my most recent Masters being in Journalism. I remember my tutor saying: “the most important thing is to remember to read like a Journalist”, I have never been able to read like a Journalist, despite absolutely adoring reading, alongside writing. Something doesn’t quite add up right?

I was diagnosed with ADHD a month before my 32nd birthday, and I have been reflecting on why, how and what this means since. I only pursued diagnosis after reading articles about inattentive type ADHD made sense to me, sharing similar experiences with friends and feeling that I can only sustain myself in life and at work for so long. I went into my virtual assessment with an open mind, this may not be the answer and I have just wasted hundreds of pounds, or this is exactly the answer I need and I will have to work out a way to deal with it. It was of course the latter, my inattentiveness, distractibility, chronic procrastination and inability to judge how long something will take, actually had a name. There was a reason my brain behaved this way, and it wasn’t Just down to dyspraxia. It felt like the jigsaw piece that had been lost for so long had finally been found. I learned that despite my difficulties not completely being missed, and being very much in the SEN system, some things can still not be picked up, or not accurately recognised. In my case it was put down to the diagnosis I already had, and a “hypothesis” of NVLD, assumed to explain all. In the 90’s and early 2000’s anxiety and mental health wasn’t given as much attention as academic achievement or physical difficulties. There was more concern about my fine and gross motor skills than my executive function or how I felt, anxiety was brushed off for years as migraines and a solution of paracetamol or ibuprofen advised. Over years of trips to my GP as a young person, with what I now recognise as clear symptoms of anxiety, mental health was never mentioned, the thoughts and feelings that I’m sure weren’t made any better by undiagnosed and untreated ADHD.

But you’re in your 30’s, you’ve done well so far, why get help now? I’ve thought the same, and sometimes still do. I thought even if my unconventional brain has a name, I’ve reached this far in life and have managed to get through things just about. But it’s the “just about” that has always been the sticking point, I didn’t want to be “just about” anything, I wanted to be the person my brain was preventing me from being. My psychiatrist told me that ADHD is caused by a lack of the chemical dopamine in the brain, the neurotransmitter that is responsible for feeling good, prioritising, organising and getting stuff done. People who have low dopamine, and therefore ADHD, tend to get stuck on a loop, unable to do things they really want to do. It wasn’t down to anything I’d done, or how my parents brought me up, or my diet, it was simply how my brain was formed. I’ve always had ADHD, and will do for the rest of my life, I just didn’t know it until four months ago. Those words: “That concludes a diagnosis of ADHD” hit me like a tone of bricks, despite gearing myself up for that likely outcome, and friends being diagnosed before me, I didn’t know what the world was going to look like now. What was I meant to do with this knowledge? Despite already knowing that my brain wasn’t weird because of my dyspraxia diagnosis, I suddenly felt that it was even less weird, that my life could suddenly be explained by four simple letters. The imminent explaining of ADHD to friends, colleagues and family, suddenly felt like the biggest mountain I had ever seen. How do I explain that my brain has less of a chemical it needs to function, and that this has been a thing since childhood? How do I deal with the internal stigma of doubting the diagnosis every second? I still don’t have the answers to those questions, everyone’s journey is different, but I can absolutely say for certain that I do not regret being diagnosed in my 30’s, in the middle of a pandemic, and just before starting a new job. It would be very much uncharacteristic of ADHD if I didn’t have all of those things to contend with, alongside a shiny new diagnosis. A turning point for me has certainly been listening to and reading other women’s stories, who like me got to their 30’s or 40’s or 50’s, and felt a bit stuck. They felt increasingly overwhelmed by life, and the need to stay afloat and look functional. I am in awe of how many women with ADHD I’ve naturally gravitated towards, without knowing we both have ADHD in common at the time of meeting. Our subconscious always knew.

A week ago I started being medicated for my ADHD, I essentially take legal speed every morning to give my brain the chemicals it needs. I was hesitant, and it’s early days, so I still am, but the effect it has had in a week is something I didn’t know could be possible. I wanted to write this because ADHD is still so stigmatised, especially in girls and women, who are traditionally seen as the organised, efficient, multitaskers, keeping families together. And as a woman, when we aren’t any of those things, we’re misunderstood. People still relate ADHD to “naughty boys” and once you get to adulthood without a criminal record you’re seen as okay, and that’s before we even begin discussing medication, additional stigma that I’m sure prevents many people from getting diagnosis, treatment and support. It certainly made me hesitant about jumping in to see if stimulants would do something. I kept my tiny box of pills unopened for weeks, hoping that one day they’d jump up and tell me what to do. Could they really change things? Eventually, I caved, and tried them. And they have, they really really have. I feel calmer than ever before, and the noisy brain I described earlier, has gone quiet. I’m able to get stuff done, focus for longer and not feel so overwhelmed. I’m in a better routine of eating and sleeping, and I actually feel competent, and less of an unreliable friend. I now know what my brain needs to function, and how I can make it function better, not just medication, but time, exercise, sleep, regular meals, understanding and people who will listen. I’m still very much me, and I will always be me, but this tiny pill I take every morning is starting to help me to be more of me. The Alice, I’m sure some of you reading this will want to be around. And know if you have or suspect ADHD as an adult, you really are not alone.

The fog has cleared. Everything finally makes more sense.

Posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Mental health | 1 Comment

Why explaining my neurodiverse brain has been the hardest thing

How big is the brain? Who knows—even our best efforts to calculate its  capacity are flawed and meaningless.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently, and more so since my ADHD diagnosis almost two weeks ago at the age of 31. Something I’d contemplated being a possibility for quite a while, after reading about intelligent women, holding down professional jobs, but seemingly drowning in everyday activities that everyone else does without a second thought. I was, despite all of this knowledge, and being around in the neurodiversity community for several years already, still hit hard by this new diagnosis and wondered why it hadn’t been picked up earlier, that I’d been dealing with untreated ADHD for so long, somehow still gaining two Masters degrees and being able to make it to India and back at the age of 21. I only got the application in for India after a night fuelled by hyper-focus and I remember my undergrad dissertation running on red bull and several all nighters, not advisable if you can help it. On the outside for those who weren’t a fly on my wall, I looked very together, I was clever, had lots of education under my belt, developed a good circle of friends, appeared to have a plan and in later years was always travelling up and down the country having a jolly time. But this you see, was also the problem.

When I was seven and first diagnosed with dyspraxia, neurodiversity was a word no one had really heard of, it was first coined in 1998 by Judy Singer, and only became a commonly used term much later than that. As a child everything I struggled with was pulled apart and examined, mainly physical difficulties and educational attainments. Executive function was another term I became aware of much later. It made sense, with this focus on my failings and difficulties at school, that I wanted to focus on everything I could do well as an adult. I’d been examined and tested more than the average young person, and became acquainted with most professions from psychiatrists to neurologists and OT’s, so by 16 I wanted a break and to be left alone, to do my own thing. And doing my own thing worked for a while, as most people in their 20’s are a little bit chaotic so I blended in just fine, finding ways to hide my inner monologue of chaos or laughing things off when actually I really struggled, and wished someone would understand.

We’ve come a long way in understanding the neurodiverse brain, more people have been speaking out online about their different way of being and experiencing the world, and this is really reassuring to see. It helps if you’re newly diagnosed, or diagnosed young but still don’t understand your brain yet. It makes you feel quite a lot less of a freak and in some ways normal, or good enough. It make us, as the neurodiverse squad feel that we belong, or fit in somewhere. We are able to explain why something happened or why we reacted in a certain way, as I realised after my ADHD diagnosis assessment. This new found community is great – it really is – but it doesn’t help when sometimes, having a conversation is one of the hardest things. We can talk amongst ourselves till the cows come home, but we all get it. The people who don’t quite understand are those who need to be involved in these conversations, and that isn’t always an easy task.

Over the last few years I’ve tried to navigate adulthood, build a career, work out what I want and where my brain fits, I’ve stumbled across several things and the ADHD diagnosis has made much come to the fore. Firstly I am a woman, and as a woman expectations are put on me by society that say, my younger brother doesn’t have to justify not meeting by a certain age. As a woman we are meant to organise everyone else, alongside ourselves. Moving out is expected, children, relationships, running a home. If you choose to be single, people don’t understand why. If one of your primary difficulties is organisation, I’m sure you can see the problem with the expectations to be organisation queen, cooking a three course meal, whilst breast feeding a baby and applying for a mortgage. I struggle to focus in work zoom meetings most days, so moving away from the North East, despite wanting to, is the equivalent to climbing mount Everest with a cow on my back to me. Exhausting. A male colleague once said; “I can’t multi task because I’m a bloke,” expecting me to pick up his work, because I’m the opposite gender and would clearly cope fine. A former boss commented on my personality and suggested “I change” because my Myers Briggs profile wasn’t what she wanted in her staff team. I didn’t change. She hounded me for months until I finally left the organisation. There will be more examples like mine, subtle biasses and prejudices because our brains don’t fit in with the expectations of society. And it’s often difficult to challenge people, and talk about some of the most intimate details of our lives to explain yourself, and justify why you can’t do something the way someone wants or expects. I kick myself often, when I wish I’d just opened my mouth and said something.

I’ve had mixed responses following announcing my ADHD diagnosis, some have been pleased and supportive, others have remained silent and the rest have expressed pity. Some people are so used to me writing about dyspraxia and neurodiversity online, that ADHD is just another thing that doesn’t warrant much attention. I haven’t got round to explaining it in an employment situation, and I’m unsure if I will for a while. Most people assume the stereotype that ADHD is something that affects hyperactive boys, and have no idea how it can manifest in women, so explaining that will be tough. I haven’t even got round to doing much of the explaining to people closest to me yet. As a child I was embarrassed by even the mention of the word “dyspraxia”, it carried with it connotations of failure and not being like everyone else. There was much internal and external stigma about having a disability too. As an adult I’ve carried with me some of that embarrassment but also realised it’s often about not wanting to express your vulnerabilities in front of other people ALL OF THE TIME. Explaining your dyspraxia or ADHD or neurodiversity, will mean in some ways exposing those vulnerabilities. I’ve lost count of the times when taxi drivers have asked intrusive questions meaning I would have had to expose details of my medical history, I even went along with one assuming I’m much younger than I am, because explaining that I’m actually in my 30’s and not where he expected me to be in life felt too painful. After years of trying to fit in or hide where we struggle, shining a spot light on being vulnerable isn’t something many neurodivergent people are comfortable doing. And that’s okay. Before I started a day in the office, in the days before Covid and working from home, it often felt like I’d done a days work before I’d even begun. Getting out of bed was often a struggle, after a night of little sleep, because my brain doesn’t easily turn off. Everything I’ve done that day, or forgotten to do is always going round in my head on repeat. I’m knackered before I’ve even had breakfast or fed the cats, even before I’ve worked out the order to get myself ready in the morning and allowed enough time to get out of the door, making sure I remember my phone, purse, keys, work phone, lanyard and office keys. My brain is already overloaded as I set foot in the office. So, I can see why sitting quietly, and getting your head down, rather than explaining all of this is preferable to most of us. Appearing chaotic and struggling to meet deadlines or remembering appointments often means we have somehow failed as a woman. Until we read up on inattentive ADHD in women, then we realise that our perceived failure is very much not the case.

When I turned 25 and I left university for the second time, after almost failing an MA, I made it my mission to be as vocal as I could about my difficulties, after years of hiding it away and pretending being dyspraxic didn’t exist. I disclosed at work, on application forms, to friends and on another volunteering programme overseas, and experienced discrimination, stigma and ridicule because of this. I felt judged, that my life was on show. And instead of my abilities being judged by what people didn’t know about me, the opposite happened, assumptions were made because people knew I had dyspraxia. I learned the hard way that being open isn’t always the best way. You only have to look on Internet forums and Facebook groups, to see experiences similar to my own. We are told to disclose, be proud of who we are, educate people, and when we do many neurodivergent people are exposed to trauma that takes years of therapy to heal. Sometimes having a conversation is the worst thing we can possibly do. Some spaces are of course safer than others. Boundaries are only something we develop a deeper understanding of as we get older, and our responsibilities change.

In the future I hope that conversations are made easier for all, that neurodivergent people don’t have to do all of the explaining and that everyone else will make it their mission to learn, to try and understand. And if they don’t understand, to admit this, rather than assuming things far from reality. As a dyspraxic with ADHD in the mix too, I’ve realised that explaining my brain should come at a time, where I feel comfortable, in a space that it is important for others to know and when fear of discrimination or assumptions don’t outweigh the benefits of having that conversation. Starting a conversation is tough, but finishing it is even harder. And if your friend/relative/colleague feels safe enough to express their vulnerabilities, it says a lot about their ability to share with you. Make sure you really listen, that conversation will be on a loop in their head for a while after. Working together is the only way we can make having and initiating these conversations less of a mountain to climb.

I’ve written this piece because I’ve felt overwhelmed by the pressure to explain “why” over the years, the pressure to fit in and the instances where I’ve found myself laughing with others at something directly linked to my ND brain, because it’s sometimes easier than the alternative. I’ve worked out when I do and don’t want to share or announce my difficulties, but I’m still not quite there and the ADHD diagnosis has knocked things off kilter again. We’re all learning more about ourselves and finding spaces to feel included. When inclusion works, it can be one of the most moving and powerful things. The circles I’m in offer that feeling of safety and understanding, but away from these circles having a chat about your brain becomes more tricky. We’re all learning. Accepting a diagnosis has been easier the second time round, and I know, however much or little you are able to explain your neurodiversity, it will all be okay in the end.

Posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Mental health | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Why tweeting a cat photo is easier than replying to your message

Sometimes a cat photo helps everything make sense…

“You have time to tweet a cat photo, so in my mind you have the time to answer our questions,” She said.

I thought I was incompetent. That I should respond quicker. That I had somehow failed. That I would never be a good journalist. What I didn’t know is I hadn’t failed or let anyone down, the cat photo was by no means a fair comparison, or indicative of anything other than that I thought Twitter could do with another cat pic.

A few years ago, I finished uni for the third time, and was on the brink of going into business with friends who I had graduated with. We were good at what we did, writing was our thing and were able to create a magazine that everyone we told were impressed by. We thought our concept could really go somewhere, we even passed a prestigious enterprise pitch to prove it. Except there was one problem, my new colleagues were concerned about my commitment to the brand because I had supposedly “ignored” messages. I loved writing and adored our magazine’s ethos, but this wasn’t enough.

When challenged about my tweets one day versus my lack of responses to their Facebook messages, I felt defeated. That it was my fault, “why couldn’t I just reply faster?” “Why did I forget they had sent that message?” “Why was I feeling so overwhelmed by group chats?””Why couldn’t I keep up? Everyone else can.” I felt deflated. They eventually told me to leave the magazine, we were setting up together as a social enterprise. Demonstrating “lack of commitment” by “ignoring messages” was cited as a reason for them not wanting to work with me anymore. I haven’t done any journalism since.

The cat photo required less energy than any lengthy Facebook messenger response, let me explain why. To tweet a cat photo, you normally have to be in the presence of a cat. A cat that is often a distraction from everything else you have to do that day. Assuming the cat is in position, you take out your phone and snap. One click of a button and your cat (or someone else’s) is now on a screen. You then, impulsively (as it doesn’t usually take much thinking or planning) upload and press “send tweet.” Your cat photo is now in full view for all on twitter to enjoy. You’ve probably forgotten about that chore you were about to do or phone call you had to make in the process, but yay! at least twitter has ANOTHER cat photo. You then begin responding to people tweeting you about your cat, so end up down the twitter rabbit hole for another time that day. It is now 3pm. Ugh! you’ve missed lunch. Again!

Now think about replying to a message. What are all the things you have to do? What does your brain have to do? What are you really thinking about? How many things do you have to do whilst deciding what to say? So, you read the message, you understand it requires an answer. So far, so good. We go through an intense process of planning, prioritising, organising and focusing before any reply is actually written. It’s easy to understand the urgency, but understanding and doing are two completely different things. You may see the message, start replying, and then get distracted by literally anything that feels more pressing. You then forget there was even a message to reply to in the first place, or even think that you’ve already replied, until someone reminds you, usually angry that they are still waiting for a response. You get round to it again with this reminder, but don’t have the energy to plan and organise a response. You have no problems with writing, and often beat yourself up as “this shouldn’t be something you should struggle with” but what you lack is the focus. And this lack of focus is exhausting. Motivation often comes with an immediate deadline, often with consequences. “Tell us now or we don’t want to work with you again,” or “Well you managed that cat tweet earlier, we know your priorities.” Except tweeting about cats requires an entirely different set of executive functions and energy, than this response, a response that sometimes we didn’t even know was needed because it had been forgotten. We are not lazy, or unmotivated or lacking commitment as you assume. We are not a bad friend or colleague because we don’t reply to a message as quick as you’d like. We are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed that our brain doesn’t work as quick as we’d like. That intentions are very different to actions. And proving that we are motivated is exhausting. So we didn’t “ignore” you, our brain was just distracted by a different task. And that’s more than okay.

What I didn’t understand then, and I understand more now, is that we have a set of executive functions, that help us plan, organise, prioritise, remember and concentrate. And sometimes the messages in our brain telling us to do these things get blocked, and we can’t work out what comes next or how long something will take. Our abilities to carry out these core functions are what many of us use to judge the capabilities and commitment of our friends, family and colleagues. When these functions look more chaotic than yours, we assume laziness, lack of commitment, being uninterested or rude. Everything must be as easy as a cat photo, right?

At the time, I didn’t understand how ADHD can affect women, and that for many it goes undiagnosed, and if at all, diagnosed late. I didn’t see the the relationship between me and something that supposedly affects hyperactive boys. Women and girls often have the inattentive type of ADHD, so there’s not always external hyperactivity or fidgeting to spot, but the internal restlessness and constant thoughts are exhausting. I listened to the comments about my commitment to the business and couldn’t see where I had gone wrong. I could hyper-focus on writing articles for hours, working hard to make the magazine the best it could be. I cared more about making that magazine a success than they ever realised.

I didn’t realise then that I just might have ADHD too, like many women diagnosed before me, and there was a reason I didn’t reply to that message that day.

There can never be enough cat pics…

Posted in ADHD, Mental health, Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What therapy and a pandemic has taught me about connections

Like many people this year, I’ve gone back to therapy. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to make that re-referal now, sometimes It takes a bit of prompting from others and other times, I just know. I know it’s that time again. I think of it like a kind of MOT for my brain when I feel I’m getting a bit off-kilter. And there’s nothing like a pandemic to give us more than our fair share of that.

In March we were encouraged to “DO EVERYTHING” a bit like giddy teenagers who can’t bare to be detached from their mates for five minutes. “Go to that virtual pub quiz” we heard. “Join that WhatsApp group!” ” Go for drinks with colleagues on teams after a full day of work and meetings… on teams”. “Ooh there’s an online gig you should try..” “Have you considered virtual E learning?” “Online YOGA. you totally want to try online yoga!” “Festival time! Get virtual festival ready!” It went on and on. I didn’t oblige to all of the above. But I did do my fair share. And this was on top of the usual people I’d keep in touch with pre-covid. We didn’t know how long the world would be this way, or indeed if we’d be sitting here in the middle of a North East lockdown, in October, unable to physically see anyone in person outside of our household. Yet here we are. We were encouraged by society, and probably social media, and partly the government, to socialise and form connections like never before. The governments contribution to this of course was the “rule of 6″and “eat out to help out”, cue every woman in her 30’s wondering if they have five friends, they A) like enough to dash out to see and B) live close enough to for socially distanced park dates. Most of us don’t get a jackpot of both A and B in this pub quiz. After thinking really hard I can probably only list about three people I’d want to desperately see if geography allowed.

There was then of course the extra activities or hobbies we thought everyone was taking up, learning languages, intense exercise regimes, origami, knitting a giraffe, baking a five tier cake. To form connections with ourselves and those around us. Despite briefly contemplating learning to crochet, the reality is that on good executive function days I can just about hold down a full time job and remember to make lunch on half the days in a week, never mind “building a living plant wall,” (no idea what this actually is, but google told me it was someone’s lockdown project.)

They say as you get older your circle gets smaller, although mine was never actually massive in the first place, in a pandemic it certainly shrinks further. One thing that took me back in the direction of therapy, is identity and understanding where I belong not just in a Covid world but life before working from home became the norm. Connections lay firmly at the heart of this. Who do we feel connected to? What is important right now? What really matters? Do I matter? I’m sure we’ve all been wondering similar, as we judge which zoom call to join or if reading a book and turning our phone off is a better option.

My relationship with people and things to fill my time has been pretty sporadic, and as my therapist put it I seem to have spent a lot of time cultivating “unhealthy relationships” that as you can imagine by the description, weren’t exactly beneficial. I’ve jumped from one thing to another quickly whether that’s in friendships or activities, I don’t know why, it’s just part of my life that’s always been there. I applied to go to India on a whim, not actually believing I’d get a place, (another 2am application jobby) and then haven’t spoken to or seen many people who I shared that intense experience to India with since. So, like most of us, I have wondered what friendships will still be sticking around when we can see others in person again without the fear of a deadly virus. Will the way we form connections change? It already has in a way, we’re streamlining our time, and I’ve certainly focussed on the friends who have kept in touch throughout. Although I still consider those who I’ve known for years but speak to maybe once a year as some of my very best friends. Keeping those people in my life is a healthy kind.

As we are eight months in, with little sign of an end, I’ve learned to prioritise everything. We all have more to juggle, and working from home in particular has taken longer to do things. We are distracted more, always thinking or wondering about the next thing. Is lockdown imminent? Do I need to stock up on pasta? Since the “everyone must be more sociable than ever!” frenzy, I’ve focussed on people who I have a two way connection with, and places I feel valued and appreciated. I’ve kept in touch with a solid four, and intermittently contact others. I still feel under pressure to do it all. We all do. Doing it all is all our society has every known. But therapy is exploring not doing it all. Taking it slow and putting on the brakes. A bit like the pandemic has taught us to do.

Suddenly we can’t just go somewhere, it now takes meticulous planning to walk out of the the door. Of course we’re going to miss things and the life we once had. I don’t think I’ve ever longed for a hug from a mate so much. I’ve grown up playing folk music, it’s what I’ve always known, and I know it’s where I can be me. Much of folk music is about connections, and most folk songs, if you can get past the constant theme of death, dying and bad relationships, you get a sense of hope, a feeling that we are all united in some way. I miss the times I spent playing in a session in the tiniest pub ever, playing tunes until the early hours, huddled around a table, drinks flowing and laughter in the air. It troubles me to think that the one activity where I felt my safest most of the time, and a constant in my life when many things come and go, could now be a risk. And I’m sure many things we once did with the people we love and care about the most, resonate with this. I really do worry for the arts, and hope it can evolve.

Therapy has made me reflect on not what I have lost, the abandoned hobbies, the jobs that didn’t work out, that girl from uni who suddenly stopped talking to me; but everything I have gained. We spend a lot of time ruminating over the things we have lost, I’ve had more than my fair share of loss over the years, and dealing with that is certainly a thing I’d recommend. But if we come out of the next six months, with at least two brilliant friends, who’ve stood by you, listened when needed and made plans for the less socially distant future, that really is everything to be celebrated. Anything else is a bonus.

As autumn turns to winter we’ll need to hold this close to us. It will get better.

Posted in Adventures, Covid-19, Dyspraxia, Mental health, Music, Politics | 2 Comments

I stand with the women who are exposing the darker side to folk and traditional music…

violin

(TW sexual abuse/harrasment. And it’s important to note; given the world I’m about to talk about, where everyone knows everyone. Despite my best efforts to keep identifiers to a minimum, some of you might recognise places or people. Especially if you know me. Do get in touch if you feel that’s appropiate).

Inclusive. welcoming. friendly. understanding. These are all words I associated with the world I grew up in, a world I felt valued and accepted. A world where I could really develop my love of traditional music. A world where I felt free.  It was of course, all of those things, but there was another side. A side that was rarely talked about then and if it was, no one really knew what to do. Or the right thing to say.

I spent my teenage years and most of my 20’s carting my fiddle around to various sessions, summer schools and festivals. I was over the moon when I was finally old enough to go and play music in a pub.  I spent my summer in awe of often well known musicians. Some I considered friends. Many of whom I’d met in person. And even shared a drink or tune with. I never really understood people who idolised pop stars or longed to meet celebrities, because I was in a world where the people I was in awe of, I actually knew personally. They taught me. We hung out together. And many even became IRL friends and on social media.

Over the last week, I’ve become aware of the #Misefosta movement in Ireland and read similar accounts of young women over here in the UK too. There is as much a problem on the English Folk scene as there is in Irish trad. And I stand with the women in Ireland who have chosen to speak out, and so candidly so. I’m not a professional musician and I wouldn’t be good enough even if I wanted to be, and so it hasn’t affected me in the way that this is literally some women’s livelihoods. But I have grown up in a world surrounded by professional folk musicians and this is my experience of that world. I really wish I’d recognised this years ago. But recognised or not, I’ve become distant from the folk scene over the last few years for these reasons, that I’m now coming to terms with.

It all started when as teenagers, other girls would warn you about the “sleazy men” in folk clubs or at sessions. “Thats what he’s like”, they would say. “Be careful of him,”. We all knew really. But it was accepted as the norm and something as young female musicians we had to put up with. But no one, whether they have a fiddle in their hands or not should have to tolerate abuse or harrasment. At a summer School we were told, the only answer is “yes with a smile,” whenever someone asks you to dance. So I grew up thinking that I couldn’t turn down a dance with anyone. If you were seen sitting out at a ceilidh, it wouldn’t be too long before someone got you to your feet. And this was great to encourage young musicians into traditional dance, and I became a cracking ceilidh dancer because of all this dancing, but it was also an easy way for people to begin to take advantage or try to take things too far. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been inappropriately touched, groped or harassed while literally in the middle of a ceilidh dance floor. Or while sat shoulder to shoulder in a session with a box player. It almost always started with, “do you fancy a polka,” I may have said yes to the dance but not to your wandering hands, or anything else for that matter. You always dreaded someone asking you to dance “The Rosza,” especially if they didn’t know you well. And as young women, we laughed it off but also enjoyed the attention. It was behaviours that were very much normalised. But it shouldn’t be; the normalisation of, “sleazy  men” should not be normal or accepted anywhere.

One day I received a message on social media, from a man I only knew of who said, “I’m randomly adding folk fiddlers, fancy hanging out?” I’d never met him, but I knew exactly which band he was in, I’d even seen him at a festival some years ago, and he knew lots of the people I knew. His mutual friends were many of my friends. The folk world being so small can lead you into a false sense of security. And as a woman in my early 20’s at the time, I was flattered he wanted to hang out with me. We met once, but something didn’t feel right and I felt incredibly uncomfortable, so I made my excuses and escaped to the safety of home. I couldn’t tell any friends, because they knew him, and if his name came up in conversation I’d look away and zone out or pretend I didn’t know him. Another man, an equally well known musician, I became utterly infactuated with, we exchanged endless messages over a number of years and other women joked about “what he was like,” in passing. It was even rumoured that he was in a relationship with a very famous folk musician. He kept sending me messages, trying to get me to come out for a tune and a drink. “Come to the session tonight!” he’d say. “I miss you, when can I see you again?,” “We need to hang out, anytime for a *insert name* today?” These messages didn’t stop and became more and more demanding, despite my resounding NO being as obvious as I could make it, as I made excuse after excuse why I couldn’t see him alone. Sometimes I obliged, we met up, sometimes at sessions, sometimes in town. He sexually harassed me. Made advances I didn’t want. And made me feel guilty for almost encouraging the attention. I wanted to feel liked, but don’t all young women? When a friend told me he’d come onto her while away at an over night event, the night after he sent me an entirely inappropriate text message, I decided to tell someone. I was ignored, by someone who had pastoral responsibility for us at the time. I tried to reach out. To get help. To talk to someone. But it was so so normalised, that men who are often extraordinary musicians, whether people know or not, are often allowed to get away with making young girls and women feel uncomfortable. Later that year, he told me he was moving away for a big opportunity and asked to meet, devastated that he was going away, but pleased about his good news, I agreed to see him at home. I then found myself in a situation I didn’t want to be in, but I will always carry with me that it could have been a lot lot worse. His advances; I didn’t ask for or consent to. I felt trapped. That day I was emotionally vulnerable, I’d had an anxiety attack on the way that he had seen. He knew about my mental health, and would often use this to take advantage. I actually believed that he cared. I made my excuses and left before it could escalate any further. I was vulnerable and confused. At that age, I would speak to everyone who would listen about my problems. This could have been prevented if people had listened to me. If as women we took a stand. And if the men who knew exactly what was going on stood up to their mates too.

Folk and traditional music, whether it’s your hobby or profession, is a very social scene where literally everything revolves around alcohol. Boundaries become blurred and everyone feels like your friend. At sessions you drink, after workshops you drink, during ceilidhs you drink and at festivals there is a beer tent on every corner. Folkies are well known for liking real ale, some are even well known for drinking it on stage, and I tried to fit into that world. Everything I did with my folk friends involved a pub. I didn’t drink much then, and I don’t drink much more now, but I still went along. I have however since gone off real ale. It could be anything from sitting a bit too close in a session, a hug that lasted a bit too long for comfort or groping you under a blanket at someone’s birthday bash. No other profession involves this much drinking, there may be drinks after work in many places, but not literally all the way through it. And this is what these folk musicians were doing, and as young women who hung out with them we were in some ways in awe of the attention but in others, utterly terrified of it. What do we do? Who do we tell? Few spoke about it, but something that was so obvious, no one challenged this some how normalised behaviour. Many of my male friends knew, they even saw, but challenging them often meant jeopardising their bands and potentially careers. “Oh he’s just like that,” it was laughed off. It really was a difficult balance. I remember explicitly telling a male friend how uncomfortable his band mate made me and several friends feel over a number of years, but got no where. I was still invited to things when he was there, and there was no escape at folk festivals where everyone knew everyone. No women should feel uncomfortable in a world that in other ways was so beautiful, the songs, the tunes, the dances, they all had stories and meaning to me. They were all part of how I grew up. They will remain a cherished part of my life. And many people I met on that scene, I will always hold dear to me. But this. This can not go on. Men need to have honest conversations with their band mates too, to help women feel safer not just in folk music, but everywhere. Have I fallen out of love with folk and traditional music? I don’t know. But I do know, the world I adored, was also the world I was terrified of talking about. I don’t love that. And I know, what happened to me could have been a lot lot worse, and for some women it sadly was.

Folk music should be a safe space for all. I’ve been accustomed to talking and writing about challenging subjects, but nothing quite as tough as this. But if more of us unite to confront these challenges, as is beginning to happen, maybe we will see real change on the folk scene.

And thank you to all of the women who have already spoken out and made me feel able to share my experiences too.

(I’ve found this the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write because I’ve hardly told anyone. But I feel I have a duty to do so. In solidarity with all of the women who have already told their stories…)

Posted in Music | 12 Comments

Do I fit in here? On questioning a sense of belonging…

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“I really admire your tenacity to conquer adversity,” I’m told. I’ve accepted these compliments, that my achievements have been noted and that I’ve had some degree of impact on other peoples lives. We all crave attention. Human connection. To feel appreciated. Other people really do matter in shaping who we are. But adversity? Now in my 30’s, I’m at an age when people ask more emotive questions with difficult answers. Many with few clear answers, if they have answers at all. I should understand who I am. There should be a plan. And one thing people don’t give you, is the tools to reconcile the fact that you’ve “conquered adversity” by the age of 31.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about belonging and what it means to belong somewhere, to feel connected to others, to a community. We often, if you’re anything like me, hope to have more friends who understand, who get it. People who you don’t have to over-explain things to. One of my earliest memories of belonging, is my involvement in a youth organisation, the woodcraft Folk. A much better youth movement to scouts and guides. A hippy version if you want a comparison. Through woodcraft we’d go camping, and create communities. These communities were made of young people and adults with shared values, built on an ethos of friendship, peace and cooperation. The lyrics of one of the songs we used to sing around the campfire have stuck with me all these years;

“This shall be for a bond between us, that we are of one blood you and I, that we cry peace to all and claim kinship with every living thing, that we hate war and sloth and greed, and love fellowship. And we shall go singing to the fashioning of a new world.”

A song I sung around a campfire, as a round, is more poignant today than ever, the inequalities that covid-19 presents, the Black Lives Matter movement, Brexit, Trump and June being pride month. I was singing for a better world in 1995, a world where everyone could be included. We should have sung louder because I don’t think everyone heard at the back. Quite a heavy song for a seven year old to be singing, and of course I didn’t understand all of the nuances of it at the time, but I understood that it meant we must be kinder. If a seven year old can get that, what does it say about people “protecting” statues that don’t need to be protected? What does it say about grown adults who troll other adults on social media? People who think workplace bullying is acceptable? Or that their disability is an excuse for harassing others? or adults who demand that their story is the right story and the only one that must be told. That other lived experiences don’t matter?

I’ve always felt some kind of otherness, that I was different to other people. Explaining your summer to your classmates at your middle class school, where people often don’t leave the North East, let alone the small suburban village. Most people I went to school with went to the local uni to study business studies, married someone from school, buy a house in the same village, bring up children there, who then go to exactly the same school. The only connection I have there now, is I’ve been going to the same hairdressers since I was about fourteen. I was very very different to the people I went to school with, and these differences were very much down to dealing with “adversity” and developing the social values because of this. I very much cared about other people who felt different too. I knew I didn’t always fit in with school life, so I found my belonging elsewhere.

I always remember a conversation I had with a late friend, about 2am one August morning. He told me that he worried that he was too quiet, that he didn’t always fit in and people wouldn’t notice if he wasn’t there. We went to the same music summer school, he played fiddle like me. For the first time in my life I found other teenagers on mass who liked folk and traditional music too. There has always been an inclusion in folk music, I haven’t felt anywhere else. We could connect to other people, not just through a shared interest, but through the music we played together.

I told him that he always always had a place within our group of friends there and that it wouldn’t be the same without him. I’m glad, we got to have that chat but I wish I could have said more. Knowing what I know now, I really wish I’d given him more time. Since our conversation, I made an extra effort to ensure he felt included and that anyone else I met had somewhere they could belong too. I made sure he was invited up here when I had people over and that no one ever felt left out. We clicked because we were both a bit different. He couldn’t make it to my 21st because my birthday is at a ridiculous time near Christmas, and making plans is always near impossible, but I made sure he knew I wanted him there. I sent him a message so he knew he would be missed and we would make plans for the new year. That’s important – making the effort to invite people – even when you’re certain they won’t be able to come. It’s all about the inclusion. Those words “I don’t always fit in” have stuck with me. They’ve stuck with me, because there have been times in my life when I’ve felt exactly the same. That I don’t always belong too. And now, I’m at the stage of reassessing my belonging again. 

I’ve dealt with my otherness by making sure other people around me feel included. And have a place to call their own. I went into a line of work where inclusion is at the heart of what we do. Ensuring young people can belong. Creating communities that come together. Developing the human need of connecting with other people.

I’ve volunteered to give others a place to fit in too. All of my life because of that one conversation, I’ve made sure friends and strangers alike are given a platform to participate and belong. In my 20’s I went back to Woodcraft to volunteer as leader, I took children and young people away on camps, facilitated wide games, bivyed out under the stars and cooked pasta for the masses, because I believed so strongly in continuing my search for a new world. My days with Woodcraft came to an end when my friend died, and I looked up to another woman a decade older than me, who it turned out was ultimately bad for my mental health. Grief compounded this. Ending that friendship probably more dramatically than neccessary was something I’d needed to do for years. She led me into a false sense of belonging, an unhealthy sense of belonging.

Since recognising that I do have this difference called dyspraxia that won’t go away, not like involvement in a youth group or a music session, that I can literally stop attending. I can’t walk away from myself, as much as that sounds appealing sometimes. I’ve done the opposite of denial as a teenager, and really accepted who I am. Supporting other people to understand themselves too. It was great until I started questioning, why? Why did I do this? Why have I spent years talking about a difference that for all of my adolescence I’d kept hidden? As you may know, and I can talk more openly about this now as I don’t have any volunteering responsibilities, I’ve been trolled, bullied and harassed online by people from a community I thought I’d belonged. A group of people I’d really invested my time in. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve questioned who I am, like really questioned my identity, and distanced myself from anyone who felt like a reminder on Twitter. Do I feel more at home in the neurodiversity world? Is mental health twitter better?

I desperately wanted other people to feel like the could belong too. That inclusion was at the heart of it. I’ve always done it for other people, and never myself. Being so invested in one community has made me forget something important, that having a diagnosis of dyspraxia is only one part of my identity, who I am, where I belong. I would never force friendships on people just because they have dyspraxia too. Having more to talk about means conversations can last three hours and don’t dry up after ten minutes. Those shared connections go further than something, that is intrinsically who I am but isn’t all of me. My friends are writers, musicians, vegetarians, cat owners and self doubters too. Some have “conquered adversity”. Some have not.  They are people I want to meet up for coffee and not feel like we’d run out of things to say. And dyspraxia, whether they are dyspraxic or not isn’t always mentioned. I’ve now realised that it isn’t, and was never my responsibility to make myself belong.

Belonging is something we all have the responsibility to achieve. Not for ourselves but for other people. I learned that it was up to me to include my friend and other friends who felt different too. No one should have to feel that no one would notice if they weren’t there. We should all be able to fit in somewhere. It’s other people who create those barriers and make that seem impossible for some. People who talk about themselves but rarely about others. Shouting that their story is more important. It’s never you and always about them. Since trying to work out where I belong (or don’t belong) again, that 2am conversation is more vivid than ever. It was about eight years ago but doesn’t feel that distant.

I learned to really really value my friends. And that other people’s actions make people feel excluded, we all have a responsibility to include. And listen. Listening is important because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t know all of this. Or maybe I would but it would be all about me. We all have the responsibility to listen. To include. To make fitting in less of a mountain to climb.

I wish more people understood that responsibility.

 

 

 

Posted in Covid-19, Dyspraxia, Education, Mental health, Music, Politics, Writing, Youth Work | 2 Comments