Saturday, 17 December 2011

Change & How I Deal With it

    It's said that the mark of a successful writer is being able to turn any of their life experiences into an article and link it to a wider theme. On a completely separate note, today I'd like to talk to you about my recent house move and how I deal with change.

    Through a combination of factors - mostly around being in the right place at the right time - I was able to get a gorgeous flat not far from where I previously lived. I had about three months to move, so there was plenty of time to move - but one thing I am aware of is my stress level when it comes to change. There's a reason I've only moved twice before this in my adult life.

    Dyspraxia has links to other conditions, and has often been said that it's on the autistic spectrum (albeit at the mild end). I do recognise some traits of that spectrum in me, although I find it easier to tackle them ever since I've become aware of their effects on my life. One of the biggest effects is how I deal with change.

    If I know the variables of a particular situation, then I'm calm; even if I don't know all the variables, it doesn't automatically follow that I will panic or have an increased amount of anxiety. For me, it's about a degree of control - knowing that I can somehow influence the outcome (or at least part of it) and be able to ensure I can help guide the steps along the way.

    There are certain things in life, however, that don't allow that to happen. Moving has the potential to be like that - and I'm sure everyone reading this knows of at least one or two horror stories about someones move (maybe even your own?).

    I was nervous about the move, I don't mind admitting - more from the point of view that I don't particularly enjoy feeling stressed, and I find it difficult to think clearly in that situation, which is ... difficult, to put it mildly. However, I was pleased with how the day went - thankfully, a removals company came in and did the actual move, which made things so much easier.

    Living amongst boxes was NOT something I wanted to do for very long. I'd already done it for a couple of weeks prior to the move, and that was horrendous - it felt chaotic to me, and for a dyspraxic who relies on knowing where things are in his own place in order to avoid bumping into things, I've acquired a lot of bruises as the boxes grew ever higher.

    As soon as I was in the new place (with mountains of STUFF everywhere - seriously, where does it all come from?), I was like a man possessed - with the able support and hard graft of my parents, who spent the day helping me out (and who knew the risks of my anxiety levels rising, so could deal with it if they did). Between the three of us, we'd cracked a substantial portion of it all by the end of Friday ... and then completed all but one room by midday on Saturday.

    We were knackered by the end of Friday, but seemed to almost move into a new zone of adrenaline by the Saturday and there was a clear and organised flat by mid-afternoon of the second day - something to very much be proud of there (and HUGE thanks to my folks, who - quite simply - made my flat look as good as it does with their advice and physical labour).

    I think stress levels remained low because most of the actual stress-inducing bits - the physical move - were in the hands of professionals and, although I don't know much about moving, I knew enough to just stand back and get out of their way. Within an hour and a half, I was packed, transported and unpacked - incredible! Whenever I move again, I'll be following exactly the same pattern again - bring in the experts!

    The only left to really do is learn where everything is - as I haven't got much skin left to bruise!

    Now, if you'll excuse me, there's still ONE room left to complete ... I can't do anything myself, as I'm waiting for deliveries, but I intend to scowl at it until it finishes itself. I could get used to this moving business.

    What am I am talking about? Of course I couldn't ...

Friday, 9 December 2011

Dyspraxia Assessment - and Confessions of a Dyspraxic

    Well, it's official - I have dyspraxia.

    For those of you that read this blog regularly, you'll probably be thinking "huh?", since I've already written about how I first learnt about dyspraxia at the age of 15 when a teacher at school told me (assuming I already knew) that he thought I had the condition.

    As a result, I've spent the last 15 years hearing that word, but not really understanding how that word / description / label actually affected me. Since I've opened up to learning about the subject - and meeting fellow dyspraxics - I have learnt so much about the condition and what it means to me.

    My assessment day was a couple of weeks ago and I came away buzzing from the experience. (You can find my blog about the day here - It was an intense - but incredibly worthwhile - day, especially because the final draft of the report landed in my postbox the other day. It was a strange mixture of emotions to hold the report in my hand, knowing that - for the first time in my life - someone had formally recognised my condition.

    I won't bore you with the entire report (it's over 20 pages long and a lot of it is personal to me in any case), but the paragraph that is the important bit is as follows: "Matthew has Development Coordination Disorder (Dypsraxia), which affects his balance, tactile discrimination, fine and gross motor skills and social interaction, as well as his sensory systems." Such an innocuous sentence, but one which boils down (extremely succinctly) the areas of my life that dyspraxia affects - and formalises my condition.

    I started this blog in August 2010 (although it doesn't seem that long ago), and wrote my first article about dyspraxia on October of the same year - it had taken me two months to work up the courage to "come out" as dyspraxic to the blogosphere, and that can be an anonymous enough place if a writer chooses (although my cover of Smithy has been pretty much blown out of the water with the publication of my first book, Fall From Grace!).

    Looking at it objectively, I'm not bothered about keeping my dyspraxia secret any more; it's a part of me and something to be accepted - unlike when I was a teenager and in my early twenties and embarrassed about the condition ... with a chip on both shoulders about it. Having an employer (in my late teens) who grossly over-reacted when I confided in them certainly didn't help my confidence - but my perspective has, thankfully, changed and relaxed in the last couple of years. I've learnt to accept that my dyspraxia is just part of me - and it's help make me the man I am today, which has helped to make me finally feel  comfortable in my own skin.

    Since I've accepted that this is who I am, and started acknowledging and facing the anxieties and physical issues I've got as part of the condition, my life has expanded and changed beyond measure - in a good way. 2011 has been an incredible year: I've changed jobs, turned 30 (okay, nothing I can do about that, to be fair - except "do a Joan Collins" and lie) and travelled more than I could have ever imagined a year ago. I've also had the good fortune to meet and make friends with fellow dyspraxics for the first time - and so many conversations where one or both of us say; "Wow, you do that as well? I thought it was just me!" Having dyspraxic friends really helps me feel I'm not alone in experiencing the effects of dyspraxia!

    All this - my blog, my friends (dyspraxic and non-dyspraxic alike) and family, my new experiences over the past year - have helped me to accept my condition and, whilst understanding that it's a part of me, that it doesn't control me. I control it.

    The report also has a number of appendices, talking about possible ways to tackle areas of your life that are affected by dyspraxia, and I'm carefully studying those. Why? Because getting that dyspraxia assessment isn't the end of my journey, not by a long shot. When I started this blog, it was partly to help me chronicle my acceptance of dyspraxia and to get an assessment, which I thought would bring my exploration to a close - well, you won't hear me say this often, but I was wrong. As I've developed and grown as a person, I've learnt that the assessment is just the beginning - I've got a lot of things to learn and develop, and the report will help me codify what to do first.

    Personally, I can't wait!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Feeling The Fear & Doing it Anyway ... One Step at a Time

    Okay, quick recap; I'm not good with travelling. People who read this blog will know this about me by now - and for a long time, it's held me back. I've rarely travelled far, especially by myself, and my anxieties (I believe rooted in my dyspraxia) have often held me back.

    Right, that's us all up to date. I should say, I've started really taking a long hard look at my anxieties at that aspect of my life, because I want to start "feeling the fear and doing it anyway" - my new motto in life! I have to be patient with myself - I need to conquer my anxieties slowly and steadily, else I'll just go back to the start again - but I've made a couple of trips to London (would have been three, but I was ill on the third) and started to tackle my worries head on.

    Part of my slowly-increasing confidence is down to my current job, which I started back in July and involves some travel around the eastern "half" of the county. I have two main locations I visit when not at my "home" location - one is 30 minutes on the train and one is 45 minutes away. The first few times, I got hideously lost and a bit stressed as a result; as I've learnt the route (and even some short-cuts), I've actually found myself giving directions to other people ... crazy.

    Anyhow - I recently found that I had a free afternoon and decided to be impulsive for a change. For anyone who knows me, you'll know that's not really in my nature - I always try and plan to the nth degree, which I am pretty positive must drive people insane sometimes, but I like to be prepared for all eventualities as being in control of a situation usually helps me control my worries.

    However, I decided to test myself - and so, being only an hour from London at lunchtime, I decided to jump on a train and see where the afternoon took me. Oh yes, the other thing I should mention - I loathe the underground. I. Hate. It. I've never used it by myself - and even when I'm with other people, it makes me distinctly ... ahem, uncomfortable. It's been a personal mission of mine for a while to use the underground by myself and, when I arrived at Victoria, I could feel my legs carrying me outside the station away from the tube station.

    It was at this point I got cross with myself and just bloody did it. I went on the underground by myself - and think I've begun to conquer a personal demon in the process. I should say, I didn't go far - I went two stops along the South Kensington, then four stops back along to Westminster, but it felt - and still feels like a real accomplishment. To many people, it may not seem like much, but for me, it's a big stepping stone - it means I've got no excuse to not try it again, and perhaps not feeling like I'm going to have a heart attack the next time!

    My brief visit to South Kensington allowed me a quick trip around the Victoria & Albert art museum - somewhere I've never been before. I'm determined to go again in the new year and have a proper look round - although, given its size and layout, I have no doubt I will get lost going round! Still, that doesn't matter ... as long as I can find the cafe, I'll be happy.

    I then travelled to Westminster - just because I felt like it and wanted to prove that my tube travelling wasn't just a one-off - and had a mooch around. One thing about London that I'm starting to notice - places really aren't as far apart as you actually think. Parliament, Whitehall, Buckingham Palace, the Cenotaph, Trafalgar Square ... they're all incredibly close to one another. I even walked past Downing Street and saw armed police again (I'd seen similar back in the Summer when I visited Parliament) on the gates - being from the "provinces", I can't quite get used to that.

    By this point, I'd been on my mini-tour for about three hours ... and my legs were aching something chronic, so I did the only logical thing and decided to WALK back to Victoria train station, thirty minutes away. Obviously.

    Although I got lost a couple of times when I got my bearings confused, I was able to contain and understand the source of my anxieties a lot better - and so deal with them. I feel exhausted now - mentally as well as physically - as I always do after being in unfamiliar territory; I have to concentrate on where I'm walking to make sure I don't physically walk into things. Happens more often than you'd think!

    So ... a productive afternoon. I've proved to myself that I can move beyond my previously implacable "issues", albeit it at my own (often stubborn) pace. I write about my experiences of travelling because I wonder how many others experience similar things - and, if there are, hope that we can always learn from each other!

    Oh yeah - here are a few photos from my exploration ...