I wasn’t going to blog about this just yet, as I have about three other blog posts on the go and thought it would be best to bring them to some kind of conclusion, before I embark on another one- but I didn’t do that, and here I am. Overthinking is definitely the best way to sum up my life- even my blogging logic. Over the last year or so I’ve become more open about my Dyspraxia than I thought would ever be possible, and have started to meet people who should really have been in my life years ago. These new people and this new understanding of myself has forced me to reflect more than I have ever done before, even more than when I was at uni when reflection was something that every trainee youth worker had to accomplish- and do well. My reflective diary often looked like my brain had exploded onto a page – making sense to me, but not many other people. I pity those who had the joy of marking it and trying to understand the thoughts in my head, that should really stay there for very good reasons. I’ve learned, more than anything since the years when I reflected on reflecting that there are others who understand, I can (just as I had wished for in my teenage years) find somewhere to belong and feel accepted for my differences. Fitting in was a very rare occurrence when I was younger, so on the few occasions when I do find somewhere that I can belong, it is a really wonderful feeling. A friend recently said to me ‘I don’t have to worry about being weird around you, because you’re a bit weird too’ This is exactly how I feel, but maybe in a slightly different way. Three words that have made me more happy and content rather than confused and full of too many unanswered questions are; time, empathy and understanding. All three have given me more awareness of myself and the world around me, that I wish I had sooner. We all deserve a bit of time,empathy and understanding in our life- especially those of us with Dyspraxia or other specific learning difficulties.
A few weeks ago I travelled down to Birmingham to attend a conference organised by the wonderful people of the Dyspraxia Foundation. So far I have attended three conferences specifically related to Dyspraxia, all of which I met some great people, many of whom I’m still in contact with now. The first Dyspraxia Foundation event I attended was in Manchester in April last year, this was the first time I had ever seen so many people with Dyspraxia in the same room, it felt very surreal and slightly terrifying at some points- but in other ways opened so many doors for me. At this first conference I was pretty quiet and reserved, taking in everything around me- finally realising that it’s okay to talk about being different and that there are others in the world who will understand. Up until then I’d been pretty fortunate with my group of friends (post 18- pre 18 requires a whole separate blog post) being who they are and respecting me for everything that comes with being friends with an Alice. At the beginning of such friendships (almost ten years ago now- pretty scary!) it became apparent that you couldn’t take me anywhere without me saying ‘I don’t know’ at least ten times but as I started to become more sure of myself and confident with who I am, those words used together became banned from my vocabulary. Following my first Dyspraxia related event, the feeling that there are people who actually understand, was quite something- I didn’t expect to suddenly feel so comfortable, after years and years of hiding. I came home the weekend after the conference and excitably wrote about the time that I found people who understand – it felt wonderful and I wanted others to know this too. Previously I had ran away from the realities that my Dyspraxia had brought to me. I was scared, ashamed and extremely embarrassed. Will they still like me if I tell them? I wondered. Will they still treat me the same? and Why can’t I just be like everyone else? Were the questions that often buzzed around in my head while I lay in bed awake at night like an uninvited wasp. It’s almost impossible and very uncomfortable to bring up the fact that you’re Dyspraxic over a pint, and so much easier to laugh at things you find difficult and then go home and cry about it later- I did this for years, not a very healthy decision I found. A friend recently told me that he likes me just the way I am- so that finally lays those original (pretty distant) fears and unanswered questions to rest.
Travelling down to Birmingham had all of the travel anxiety that comes with the uncertainty of going to a new place to meet more certain people. If you’ve ever been to New Street, you’d know how much of a nightmare (for someone who’s rarely been there before, with the directional abilities of a sheep) of a station it can be. Once I’d made it off the train, I just had the not so straightforward task of finding my way out of a busy station and avoiding an anxiety attack. I’d asked about seven different people for directions, before I finally found an exit. Once I’d made it to the hotel I had booked into the night before the conference, drank all of the free tea and shared some tweets with the twitter crowd who understood the frustration I felt towards travelling, I quickly became calm and happy again. That weekend I got to meet and spend time with the lovely Rosie, she’s recently written a blog on Dyspraxia and a sense of belonging, which I’m sure will mean a lot to anyone who’s ever felt that they haven’t belonged somewhere- even if you aren’t Dyspraxic. My sense of belonging started in Manchester, but really began to make sense in Birmingham. The night before the conference was full of sharing stories, experiences and understanding over dinner. It was great to chat so openly in the way that we did. In the morning we headed over to the conference venue, where we met with some of the youth group and participated in a consultation around Dyspraxia and mental health- something that has always been close to my heart. A recent piece I wrote for MindTank captures (I hope) just how strongly I feel about the links between Dyspraxia and mental health. Despite this we can be very resilient people, which became more apparent than ever before in Birmingham. It was so empowering to see everyone speak so openly and share experiences, that in a different context would be very difficult to talk about. The one thing that has always struck me when I meet other Dyspraxics is the pure honesty and compassion, that is frequently driven by confusing and often uncertain backgrounds. When given the space and time to do so, we can all get there. The conference also launched the new youth website, that is becoming a platform for young people to share advice, coping strategies and achievements with others who understand. Something that I wish I had growing up, it would have certainly made my life less confusing and possibly contributed to understanding myself sooner, so I’m pleased that our next generation have this opportunity. As a teenager I just wanted to be me and for it to be acceptable to be me. Years later, I have finally got there.
This weekend was a bank holiday- Easter has always been an odd time of year, as children it revolved around finding chocolate in our jungle of a garden, it then meant shit exams are close, lets revise to the point that I can’t think coherently anymore and as I grew up it became less important to run around the garden digging out eggs from the weeds. This weekend I spent it with two of my favourite people at the seaside. I wanted to include a write up of my time by the sea, because more than anything I think it shows the importance of being given time. I was given the time to be me and have been accepted for my differences, that made this day out possible. Easter Monday, was the day when we seemed to be some of the few people in the entire country who avoided the rain and storms- perfect weather for the beach. In the back seat, I asked not as repetitively as I would have liked if we were nearly there yet, we finally approached the sea and I pointed out a castle far too many times than necessary. As the castle came into view, we stopped for an ice cream before driving on to find a beach. We used my terrible sense of direction but knowledge that there is a beach ‘somewhere’ and my friends slightly better map reading skills to navigate ourselves to one of the most beautiful beaches, hidden by a short walk across farm land.
As I looked out onto the horizon and fooled around with a bucket and spade, I had a moment of reflection, and realised just how wonderful this world can be if you are given the time to show what you can do. I’ve been given (almost) ten years worth of time by some people to get to know me, to understand and accept. I once really believed that no one would ever like me and that I’d feel lost forever. My teens may have been a write off, but my 20’s despite being difficult at times have been more than I could have ever asked for. This is all because I’ve been given the time to be me and the empathy from a few who have really made the difference. I didn’t have to conform or change my personality to fit in- I was just accepted for being Alice, and as the years have gone by and I write more about my experiences, my friends have started to understand. The most wonderful feeling in the world, and I realised this at one of the most wonderful places in the world- the seaside. If you’d told 18 year old me, that I’d be where I am today- I would have probably laughed it off and told you to stop being so ridiculous. I would never have imagined any of what was to come, and that eventually I would be able to just be me and be happy with that. The day ended with some great chips and a walk along the harbour before the drive home. Brilliant memories that meant more to me than anyone will ever imagine. (But I hope these words sum up the joy those few hours brought me)
I have recently been nominated for positive role model for disability in the National Diversity Awards. If my blogs have meant anything to you, it would mean the world to me if you could vote for me here. I am still overwhelmed and touched by this nomination, slightly confused if I’m honest too. Finding happiness and acceptance has been my main priority in life, both of which are almost there. The world can be a really scary place to be when you feel that you don’t belong or fit in anywhere, it can be so overwhelming. We all deserve to be happy and I know that there will be a place for everyone in society- it’s just finding it that can be a bit tricky. I’ve become more determined than ever that no one else should have to feel alone, and through writing and speaking about my experiences I hope I have expressed this determination. I didn’t realise there were so many others out there who understand and ‘get it’ before you even have to say a word, so thank you all for supporting me to get this far, either personally or through a more distant means.This nomination wouldn’t have happened without this blog, and this blog wouldn’t have taken off in the way it has done without you all reading and taking an interest in what I have to say.
Time, empathy and understanding are the ingredients we all need to be on the road to happiness.