Wednesday, February 15, 2023



Return to the nineties (I know, why would anyone want to?) 

But return to the nineties, and there's a moment caught in my mind. 

It's an ordinary moment but I remember being happy in it. Not wanting to forget it. 

I've just got off the train at the station nearest my home, and I'm running along the pavement under the old oak tree just before the level crossing. It's winter - the sky is grey, rain is hitting my face, deliciously cold and brisk. All the air is rich with the smells of winter - woodsmoke, wet earth, decaying leaves. 

I'm running, my feet coming down heavily, my schoolbag, overladen with books, weighty as it jolts on my back.  I'm wearing my school uniform: heavy dark blue blazer, disgusting synthetic-y pale yellow shirt, heavy woollen mock-tartan skirt, grey tights and t-bar school shoes. 

I'm in my last years of high school and have finally dumped (with glee and relish) maths, P.E, music. My subjects are all art and humanities: art, literature, history, religion: stories about people and places and why the world is the way it is. 

One of the pockets of my blazer has started falling off, there loose thread unravelling. The hem of my skirt has also started falling down. There is a hole in my tights. There is paint on my blazer and another red blob that is very possibly tomato sauce on the sleeve. There are pen marks on the cuff of my shirt. There are paint splatters on my school shoes. At some stage I have written on my hand to remember something - the black scrawl has smudged through the day. 

And I like my falling down hem. I like my paint splatters. I like the hole in my tights. I like the illegible writing on my hand.

This is me. This is who I am

And I am happy with who I am. 

I love mismatched socks and wild, overgrown, tangled gardens. I love mossy, meandering paths that lead nowhere in particular and old and falling down houses full of interesting curios muddled together. I adore well-loved, dog-earred books with coffee and chocolate stains. I love jagged, illegible handwriting and asymmetrical, patched and second hand clothes. 

I do not like the orderly. The overly clean. The straight lines. The meticulously organised. The matching. The co-ordinated. 

They are Anti-Me. And given a choice I stay away from them.  

The motion through rain, towards home, feeling so completely myself, satisfies me. This is me. This is who I am. 

Who I am... is a klutz. 

A very messy, disorganised klutz. 

The thing that makes me a klutz (officially) has various official names. Dyspraxia. Developmental Coordination Disorder. It used to be known as 'clumsy child syndrome'. 

Basically, there are parts of my brain that don't work in the same way that a neurotypical brain does. 

And I know this definitively as I took part in a study where they got me to fill in various forms and do various motor tests to work out my precise level of clutziness and if it was enough for me to be part of a study about motor impairment. 

My klutziness was enough to qualify as motor impairment or Developmental Coordination Delay and they got me to look at pictures of hands in various positions and took an MRI of my brain, as well as that of a few other people. And they were able to pinpoint the precise areas where our brains differ. 

There are certain things that most people take for granted (though I still find this a little hard to believe: sometimes I think maybe everyone else just spent hundreds of hours, or years, practicing, and I'm lazy, so I just haven't) that I just can't do. 

There are other things that I can do, but I do very very badly, and they stress me out and leave me sore and tired. 

And then there's just the every day clumsiness of constantly spilling things, and dropping things, and losing things, and breaking things. So far today I've spilt two cup of coffee and lost my sunglasses once, my phone twice, and a folio of documents I need to make an important email. (I've found my phone, my sunglasses are still lost, the folio of documents was sitting right next to my bed, but I found the email I needed by going back to the website. I still need to wash the sheets from the first cup of coffee I dropped.)

To be honest, it's been a pretty good day, klutz wise. I've probably got a few new bruises from knocking in to stuff, but I tend not to notice those. It's always interesting to look at my bruises and try to work out where they're from. 

Most of the things that I can't do, or that I find particularly challenging, are things that primary schools, and lower grade secondary schools are all about. 

Like many neurodiverse people I tend to think of schools as The Evil Place of Torment and Suffering filled with aliens who are Not Like Me and who are, indeed, Anti-Me. 

The things I can't do. At all. Are:  Clap in time. Dance in Rhythm. Remember dance steps. Or music. Skip when other people are holding the rope. Follow knitting patterns. Or crochet patterns. 

Things I do very badly: Neatness. No matter how hard I try, or how long I take, I can't write neatly, or cut neatly, or paste neatly. Or basically be neat. Or any of that fine motor stuff that is Very Important in primary school. Sport: I can't hit a ball. Or catch a ball. Unless by complete fluke. 

Driving. I can drive. But I had about a hundred million lessons and two driving instructors ghosted me. Just stopped returning my calls. 

I've tried twice to learn to try a geared car and... obviously not. It took me three driving lessons to notice the existence of break lights. I have ruined way more tyres than I'd like to admit, misjudging how far away the pavement is when I'm trying to park. 

I am the person who waits until there is no car coming in either direction before I turn. I am the person who circles the parking lot again, and again, and again, until I find a park with at least one empty space next to it. Two is preferable. 

I am the person who considers having to merge lanes cruel and unusual punishment, which generally takes at least an hour to recover from. I can feel my heartbeat increase and my breathing become fast and shallow just thinking about having to merge lanes. 

And yes, I have had notes put on my car telling me how bad I am at parking. 

Which is odd. 

Because do they really think I don't know

When I do drive, especially if it's a long drive or somewhere I haven't driven before, or in a city or a large town, I tend to be so stressed that my knuckles turn white and my fingers get so sore I have to consciously shake them out and unclench them. And then my hands hurt for age afterwards. I find it hard to tell how far away other cars are, how fast they are going. My reflexes... are not ideal. 

I love my brain. I love how it perceives the world. I love how it experiences the world. I love my imagination and curiousity. 

But there's a reason that I love the wild, the messy, the decayed. I love spiders, and bats, fungi, vines and moss. I love weeds. I love the overgrown and tumbling down. I love the meandering, off-beat, the asymmetrical and the outsider.  

I learnt in primary school on a daily basis, pretty much on an hourly basis, that I wasn't like the other kids. When I started school I still had a severe speech delay - a family friend says that when I was five I was still impossible to understand - so I sounded different than everyone else. I moved differently to everyone else and I couldn't do what everyone else could. The things I could do, I took far longer than everyone else to finish, and my work never looked the same. We always had second hand clothes and my mum had a bad haircut at 16 and never entered a hairdresser again, or took any of us to a hairdresser, so I looked different than everyone else. 

I really might as well have been a changeling. 

In fact, there was so little similarities between me and the other kids that by grade three I'd just decided Not To Be There. I had to be there physically, but I did not have to be there mentally. So I read through recess, through lunch time, whenever I wasn't actually doing classwork I was reading. 

I did a pretty good job of imagining myself away. 

When people say kids should go to school to socialise and make friends I tend to look at them and think - what kind of crack are you on?  

Because what I learnt in primary school was that I am not like everyone else, and I am bad at everything. That I would always be last. Every time. I would be picked last. I would finish last. My work would be the messiest. That if you can't kick a ball, or play jump rope or elastics or on the monkey bars, then you won't have any friends. 

So now I am aggressively anti-sporty, aggressively messy. (Okay, I don't actually have to put any effort, aggressive or otherwise, into being messy. But I am fairly clear in my disinterest in competitive sports. Except perhaps ice dancing. Or gymnastics.) 

I am, in fact, the cliche of a muddle-headed librarian, complete with coffee stains, mismatched buttons and Anti-Sport clothes. (There is something about a velvet pencil skirt - even stained - or gorgeous suede high heels that is brilliant at saying - 'do not throw your evil spheres of leather towards me. This is a No Competitive Sports zone. Also, please don't try to high five me because it freaks me out and makes me very stressed.')

I would like to be able to say some of my best friends are sporty but - actually. Nah. None, of my friends are sporty, and I prefer it that way. I'm not saying that I'd never be friends with someone sporty. I'm just saying that as I've got this far in life and it hasn't happened, it seems unlikely. 

Let me be clear. I had it made very clear to me, repeatedly, over many, many years, that me and sporty people are different species. 

They can stay in their world and I will stay in mine, and if I occasionally have to touch a book about a sportsperson I will take a deep breath and deal. (Deal badly, but still deal.) And I will stick with species that are cute and adorable. Like cats. And dogs. And bats. And spiders. 

So maybe I have some issues. 

And let's be clear. 

My issues around sport are nothing compared to my trauma around schools. 

But I am grateful for my neurodiversity.

There are some things I would deeply, desperately like to be able to do. Like remember dance steps, and be able to dance in time. Or knit a jumper. Or you know, get my kids to school on time. 

But there's always creative dance, when you don't need to remember steps or dance in time. And I've always been happy to go to clubs or music festivals and dance off-beat and out of time. And I can knit - admittedly, only one stitch and only misshapen squares or scarfs, but I still love the feel and colours of the wool. And luckily I like misshappen, hole-y things. 

And primary school did teach me important things.

It taught me to live within my mind. That my brain, my feelings, my perceptions, my imaginings - are vivid and real and infinitely precious to me. In forcing me to turn to books - for protection, for company - it opened me up to a universe of knowledge and wonder and adventure. 

I learned that my mind - my creativity, my imagination, the way I perceive and experience this crazy beautiful world, is infinitely precious to me. That curiousity, discovering, adventuring into knowledge is a wonderful gift. 

It encouraged me to focus on the wonder and joy of the natural world around me. Of the colours and texture of bark, on the movement of ants and the scent of the rain. 

It taught me to be unapologetically me. To not rely on external validation. I am disorganised. I am messy. I am clumsy. I will always break stuff, lose stuff, bruise stuff, spill stuff. 

But none of that matters compared to wonder, joy, a deep appreciation for beauty, an imagination that lets me experience world upon world, to creativity. To a deep awareness of the world around, of it's past and present and future. 

And so I return to that memory of me, running, on the cusp of adulthood - my brain soaking in knowledge and learning, my imagination soaring. (I believe that was the year I wrote four fantasy novels - around 280,000 words altogether, in my spare time, that I also would catch the train and train and bus down to our beach house for weekends with my younger brother and his friends, and spend intensely joyful time wandering the shore and floating over waves, and challenging myself with the sea and the dark.)

This is me. I love my brain because of my neurodivergence, including my dyspraxia, not despite it. 

 And I am glad that it is mine. And I am glad of my memories of running, unravelling, in the rain.  


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