I have Dyspraxia (a specific learning difficulty that affects spatial awareness, coordination, organisation of thought and emotional sensitivity) and a secondary condition that I’ve developed, as a result of being utterly confused about myself and why I am different, is anxiety- particularly social anxiety. The two alone are widely misunderstood- how does it feel to have a diagnosable anxiety disorder? Is a question that the few who experience anxiety daily can only answer. Isn’t anxiety just being worried? Is another question I get asked often, well yes it is- but being worried about an exam and being terrified of going to a friend’s party for fear of becoming ill are two very different things. What exactly is Dyspraxia? Well if you’d like the full answer to that question, you’d better pour yourself a drink. People don’t quite believe me when I say that my Dyspraxia affects every part of my life. So as you can imagine, if you put anxiety, Dyspraxia and the odd episode of depression into the mix, you get some very confused people and more misunderstandings than I have cups of tea. The scariest misunderstanding I’ve encountered to date, is that of those in the mental health profession- they often don’t see the connection between being seen as different, not feeling part of society and struggling to fit in with my anxiety, yet they will see millions of people every year with Specific learning difficulties, who are sadly overrepresented in the mental health system (because of obvious reasons) but few even know what Dyspraxia is yet how to best support someone with Dyspraxia and co-occurring mental health conditions.
My anxiety makes me scared of the unknown, the unpredicted and the future- since the bereavement of a friend who sadly passed away almost two years ago when we were all in our twenties, and well enjoying life- I’ve become terrified of what is to come. I feel guilty for not seeing him as much as I would have liked and guilty that his death affected me as much as it did as most of our contact was mainly online, living in different towns made it a sense of occasion to see each other in person. The last conversation we ever had keeps going round and round in my head like an overplayed record. So bereavement, Dyspraxia, anxiety, depression has made me very confused, sometimes not the best person to be around but no less determined. Since I was a young child (and by young I mean eight years old) I felt suicidal, I’ve self-harmed and lost focus and motivation. This was largely due to the destruction of bullying because I stood out to be different, often struggling to decode social cues in the playground. I’ve also felt happy, generally anxiety free and accepted my disabilities, in a way that in those dark, distressing moments I didn’t think was possible. I regularly write about it now and talk to others who have been there- this has helped me to feel free, develop a sense of belonging and has opened up a whole new world that had previously been closed to me. Above all anxiety makes me angry- angry that I have days when my duvet is my best friend and angry that I’m convinced I’ve let my friends down. Hiding is the best adjective I can find to describe my experiences to date, I’ve hidden my Dyspraxia diagnosis from so many people, for so many years and different reasons and I’ve hidden my anxiety from myself and others around me- for fear of being seen as hard work, weak and vulnerable.
As I’ve got older, I have been drawn towards the most wonderful of friends, without them being over a computer, at the other end of a phone or in person I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today. Since I started disclosing my mental health and difficulties associated with a diagnosis of Dyspraxia I am often met with the most comforting words and the warmest of hugs. I’m often told ‘you’ll be okay’ and as hard as it is to believe when I am in the middle of an anxiety attack- I know that this is the best thing anyone can ever say to me, because in the end it will be okay, it may be hard and difficult at times- but there are people who understand and if they don’t they’ll always make time to listen. It’s so important for more people to feel that they can be open about their mental health difficulties and disabilities, as there will always be others whether near or far, who feel just as you do and can empathise in the most powerful of ways. I’d love to see the day when such topics of conversation are as common as discussing the weather, because it is okay to admit that you’re not okay, and talking about it makes you realise that you will get there eventually. My Dyspraxia has taught me that opening up about how anxiety actually feels for a Dyspraxic, can bring you towards an innate sense of belonging, something quite special and as a depressed teenager felt a million miles away from reality. The greatest benefit to me has been meeting and speaking to other Dyspraxic women around my age who have also developed anxiety/depression and have been through largely similar experiences to me, the amount of ‘me too’s!’ I’ve shared lately has been quite extraordinary, but no less comforting at times. I know that whatever you are feeling now, tomorrow is another day, there will be people somewhere in the world who can understand and as my friends have wisely pointed out to me so many times, ‘you will be okay.’
(Originally written for the Mind Tank blog: https://mindtank.co.uk/2016/03/08/youll-be-ok/)
In some ways I think anxiety is even harder to explain than depression, because most people at least dimly grasp that depression is different from “feeling sad”, but there is no word for feeling anxious when there’s nothing to be anxious about, or feeling so anxious that you’re not able to function. So someone who says “I have anxiety” is heard as though they’re saying “I worry about things” which is, like, everyone worries about things. It sounds so innocuous. “I have anxiety.” If depression is starting to be recognised as a gaping emotional wound, anxiety is seen as a paper-cut.
I really resisted the idea when someone first put forward that they thought I was suffering from anxiety rather than depression, and I still feel that depression is my main issue. I’m not sure why I disliked the idea of an anxiety disorder, other than that it just didn’t sound big enough to encompass how hard life was. If I can’t leave my flat and it’s too difficult to read the news and I’m scared to go near the windows in case someone sees me, I feel like it needs a bigger name than “anxiety”. Non-specific paralysing terror disorder or generalised insurmountable fear syndrome, something like that.
You will be okay. We will be okay. It will be okay. Sometimes what you also need to hear is, “this sucks and it is really hard”. Not “don’t worry” or “there’s nothing to be anxious about”. It’s real and it’s horrible and it will, eventually, get better.
Good to read, thanks. It is also the case that dypraxia, and anxiety overlap with the autism spectrum. Autism is often totally missed in women and girls, because they learn to compensate, etc. I wonder if you have ever been assessed for autism? One of my sons has Aspergers, and ocd, he copes pretty well and has some friends.
The other has dyspraxia, dyslexia and is on the autism spectrum, as well as having depression. He now has some social anxiety, it is debilitating, and of course utterly isolating. He has no friends really. This is a huge problem for people, and perhaps really not understood or researched, I mean dyspraxia mostly, but also anxiety.
Wishing you all the best. We are in Edinburgh, originally from Geordie land.
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