My mind conjured up the following image when I tasked myself with writing about my mental health this week; a locked, bolted and boarded up door. That was what sprang into my mind when I put ‘My Mental Health’ at the top of the topic register.
Maybe that’s reason enough then because, just like my coming out as queer piece in November, maybe this needs to be written in the hope that it may help others, or even just one other.
I should start by saying I wouldn’t say I struggle. I crack on but remind myself in the bad moments to do the hardest thing, reach out for help.
I nearly attempted suicide when I was seventeen years old, looked up the train timetables and everything, but I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition.
I do however have two things that affect it. Dyspraxia and Keratosis Pilaris. The former is a learning disability that affects messages from the brain to the rest of the body. The latter is a skin disorder in which the body produces too much of the chemical keratin, blocking the skin’s pores.
I’ve dealt with the KP, as much as you can deal with an incurable skin condition. I laugh about that and the fact that it causes no itchiness or pain; just limits my ability to grow body hair. Despite this, every so often I look down at my abdomen, chest, shoulders, legs and just know I’d prefer if it wasn’t there. I don’t dwell on that because it causes no discomfort and its very common in the UK, affecting up to 40 per cent of adults and over 50 per cent of adolescents.
Dyspraxia; well that’s been the tougher and more eventful challenge. At school they tell you about how it affects hand-eye coordination, how it affects your handwriting, how it affects your exams too.
What they don’t tell you is how it affects your social life.
I found that out for myself later on. It turns out that the psychological make up of Dyspraxic adults means that they have to deal with issues people may never consider.
For example they overthink things, suffer from poor short-term memory, struggle to regulate emotions, pitch/volume of their voice, suffer from conversation interruption and low self-esteem — and so feel lesser than their peers even when they aren’t.
As one comedian put it dyspraxia involves, ‘Walking into a room, forgetting why you’re there and falling over on the way out’.
But let me give you a real-life example. For years I out-and-out refused to go into nightclubs. I just wouldn’t go in. Pubs were fine, but I couldn’t face a nightclub. I had no idea why. I’d walk up with some friends and just tell them to go in without me. I was cutting myself out of a key feature of socialising, and I had no idea why.
Dyspraxia. When a dyspraxic enters a nightclub or busy venue their brain involuntarily tries to register every noise. That could be the glasses chinking at the bar, a couple snogging or shouting at each other, the beat of the music and lyrics within that — anything really. Finding out that it was dyspraxia and not just me being weird made it all clear. With the application of some ear plugs, the doors were open; the noises no longer overwhelming, my mind was calm. Just a shame that less than two years after this minor epiphany Covid-19 came along and became a thing.
Everything dyspraxia throws at me I’ve worked tirelessly to improve. But the overriding emotion I still feel is irritation. I wish I’d been told about my condition at school.
Lockdown has not brought its own new challenges; it’s just that the existing ones are still there. Thanks to friends and most notably my work colleagues, they have for the large part been overcome with a bit of digital organisation.
That does not mean I’m ‘comfortable’. Dyspraxia like anything that has an affect on your mental health comes and goes like waves. It’s just that I’ve learnt to ask for help when a particularly big wave comes along.
If anything in this article has made you think you have Dyspraxia, please check out the Dyspraxia Foundation website. Either way I hope this article proves helpful to someone out there during this learning week.