‘Oh don’t give Rachel a glass!’
In my family, it’s a well-known fact that I can’t hold my drink – in both senses of the phrase.
As well as being a complete lightweight I’m also not trusted with glassware because everyone knows inevitably it’s going to end up on the floor.
I was always the un-coordinated kid, the one falling over their own feet, the scatterbrain.
Although that’s the reputation I’ve gained, it’s not a label I feel comfortable with. I’m not clumsy, I have dyspraxia.
Dyspraxia is a developmental disorder that affects co-ordination and motor skills. It meant I couldn’t kick a ball or run without falling. It also affected my fine motor skills meaning it was hard to grip or manipulate things.
I struggled in school because I found it difficult to process information and needed to be taught things that others seemed to know instinctively.
I was diagnosed when I was 10 years old after years of being bullied for not having any co-ordination; not being able to play sports or games without dropping the ball or falling over.
I was an easy target for bullies – the gangly kid who was easy to push over.
I was lucky that my supply teacher, who was dealing with the recent spate of bullying – a girl a year older than me had nearly broken my leg by shoving me into a wooden bench – recognised the symptoms and spoke to my mam.
With the help of my GP I was referred to specialists who got me physiotherapy and more help at school. When I received my diagnosis it felt like a weight had been lifted. I wasn’t to blame, it wasn’t my fault.
As a smart-mouthed kid, it gave me a comeback when I was branded a ‘spacka’ – but that didn’t stop me getting tripped over in corridors.
Even with extra help, some teachers didn’t take my diagnosis seriously. One, appalled by my handwriting snatched my book off me and held it up for the class to ridicule, another called me lazy and teased me to the point where I was removed from his class by my parents.
I avoided PE like the plague – getting my friends to forge sick notes when my parents wouldn’t – as teachers didn’t even try to engage me.
There was another boy at my school who also had dyspraxia, but his was a lot worse than mine and coupled with another developmental disorder.
Quite ashamedly I went along with others teasing him and always found myself thinking that at least I wasn’t as bad as him.
As an adult I’ve stopped brushing my dyspraxia under the carpet, not feeling the pressure to fit in that I did as a teen. I’m more confident when asking someone to explain something again; I’ve adapted my life around it.
I’ve worked to strengthen my body through Pilates and dog walking. I don’t drink much now as I know this not only worsens my condition but leads to me getting more upset when I do break things.
Reaching my 30s meant I gave even fewer f*cks what people thought of me than before and I happily cart a shopping trolley around town instead of struggling with bags.
I’ve worked to cultivate relationships with understanding people; I don’t have time for people who will constantly belittle me.
My partner does the majority of the cooking so I don’t burn myself or drop whole pans of food and although I know it frustrates him when I hurt myself for the umpteenth time this week, he tries not to let it show.
My friends and family always try to help me without being patronising – suggesting taxis if they know the walk will be too uneven, offering to carry my things if it looks like I’m struggling.
I know they’ll always tease me, but at the same time, it comes from a place of love.
I’ve noticed society has become a lot more tolerant of people with physical disorders and disabilities in the last 20 years.
I still get titters when I stumble in the street or fall on a bus but that’s coupled with offers of help now. And let’s be honest, someone falling over will always be funny.
What I wish people understood about my label is that I’m not just clumsy and stupid and it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be trusted.
I don’t need wrapping in cotton wool. My label has made me resilient.
Labels is an exclusive series that hears from individuals who have been labelled – whether that be by society, a job title, or a diagnosis. Throughout the project, writers will share how having these words ascribed to them shaped their identity — positively or negatively — and what the label means to them.
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