Discovering I was dyspraxic in my 40s was a wonderful liberation. At first, I felt a little deflated but quickly that passed as I began to learn how being dyspraxic means I have great strengths, while also explaining the things I struggle with.
I had always joked that when God made me, he left out part of my brain! Being dyspraxic means I struggle with planning and with working memory. Since so much of modern living revolves around administration and organisation, life has always been a struggle. At the same time, I always suffered from anxiety, for the simple reason that I could never be sure I had done something properly. So from remembering to pay bills to packing a suitcase, everything practical is hard for me. Form filling is a nightmare and my handwriting is illegible. I am even less capable than most men of doing two things at once!
It is easier for me if someone else is doing the practical thinking. Sometimes, if they have provided the structure, I can see a solution to a problem that they don’t see (being dyspraxic can make you strangely resourceful, because you are always having to solve problems others don’t struggle with). But even when I come up with a practical solution, I cannot tell whether it is a good solution, because I cannot see whether it will work. Everything practical is accompanied by frustration, because these activities are terribly uncomfortable for me. But dyspraxia also means that I have considerable strengths.
Although I can sometimes struggle to plan a sentence (thus I can stammer, or just not speak clearly – especially when I am talking about something practical), my thinking about abstract things like God and philosophy is very clear. I can quickly understand concepts, spot errors in reasoning and formulate a response. Whereas most people can deal with practical matters quite easily but their eyes glaze over when thinking about abstract matters, I am quite the reverse. This means that I am sometimes able to help people understand concepts better and to clear up confusions. In a different age, it might have been called wisdom! Similarly, my weak working memory is matched by a strong long-term memory. I might not be able to remember a task someone gave me ten minutes ago, but I can easily express ideas, describe events or recall dates of matters that I have worked hard on. My friends sometimes worry about their memories when they speak to me, because my long-term memory is so good: I can remember what they have long forgotten.
The mixture of these significant weaknesses and significant strengths is quite a wicked combination if it isn’t understood. To other people, I am clever enough (it seems) to be on top of things, so the reason I have not done something appears to be that I couldn’t be bothered. The explanation for not remembering something important to someone else seems to be that I am thoughtless and self-absorbed. This can be very difficult because, like most dyspraxic people, I am always trying very hard – I simply cannot afford not to. And this is why knowing I am dyspraxic is a liberation. When something is not working for me, I have an explanation: it’s not laziness or thoughtlessness on my part, it’s dyspraxia.
Blaming me for not managing a practical situation well is like criticising someone who is colour-blind for not being able to distinguish colours. Dyspraxia means when I try to conceptualise practical matters, there is an absolute blank in my mind – nothing there at all. It’s not a question of effort, it’s the simple fact that there is a void where my practical thoughts should be. Consequently, I often tell people I’m dyspraxic. Although people may not really understand dyspraxia, most people are sensitive enough to feel that it probably explains why I am underperforming in some practical task. So if they know, it takes the pressure off.
Having a dyspraxia diagnosis has helped at work. All my close colleagues know that I am dyspraxic, and my employer tries to avoid giving me tasks that will play to my weaknesses. There’s no point in him doing so, as I will probably take an age on it and mess it up anyway. In any case, being dyspraxic means I have gifts in other areas: “play to your strengths” is my motto. One of my strengths, in common with many dyspraxic people, is emotional intelligence. It is easy for me to identify with someone who is upset or just feels beaten by a situation, because I have spent so much time feeling the same.
Sometimes, dyspraxia can help me to understand people’s needs that I do not share. Being dyspraxic, I have no desire for promotion. Promotion would mean more administration and organisation (why does anyone want that anyway?!). I can see in other people that their ambition is one of the things that makes them unhappy and can mess up their relationships.
People risk either pushing themselves too far and then burning out in a job that which is too much for them (or is more than ideal) or they feel upset that they feel overlooked and undervalued. It’s good to be liberated from such pressure and to be able to suggest to people that they try to find their sense of self-esteem in something other than a career path. That’s what I’ve had to do, and I think it is a much more natural and calm way of being.
Dyspraxia has shaped me in many ways. I have avoided practical things all my life. Would I want to be any different? I’m not so sure. It’s easy to feel inadequate because you are disorganised, but is being organised such a virtue? So many of the problems of the world and of our lives occur when people put their organisational skills to a bad purpose. Perhaps in a world in which overactivity is so obviously harmful, it is good for there to be a few of us who are more contemplative and I am glad to be among them.
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