Bear with me!

As is probably to be expected, time-management is not my strong point. I am currently in the midst of my final university exams, so have had to take a hiatus from my writing, but I have so many ideas for when I’m back, so please keep checking the page and subscribing! Some of these ideas include:

.A full dyspraxic bullet journalling guide

.Advice for dyspraxic students

.Thought and advice pieces

.Unusual symptoms of dyspraxia

.The intersections of mental illness and learning difficulties

I can’t wait to start writing again soon!

Clumsily yours,

Ellie

Running a Half Marathon – The Dyspraxic Way

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In October, I decided that I was going to run a half marathon for cancer research. This was an ambitious challenge for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I was pretty unfit. Although I started university with good intentions, joining the netball team (I will never get the hang of the drills) and attending Rock climbing sessions, my incredibly busy life always got in the way. Added to this were the inevitable dyspraxic obstacles, like forgetting my equipment, double booking myself for match times, and being too behind on work to make the time. In sixth form this was less of an issue, as I had to walk at least half a mile (up a very steep hill) everyday to get to school. In secondary school I had compulsary PE, which, although I faintly dreaded some parts of it, did mean that I maintained a basic level of fitness. As it stood in my third year of university, I found myself unable to run a quarter of a mile without stopping, let alone 52.4 times that! I suppose that is one of the reasons I signed up, to scare myself into exercising, but it ended up having a bigger effect on me than just my fitness levels.

Another challenge I faced was my muscle tone. Although this is partially due to my lack of exercise over the past year or so, I’m quite sure its also due to the fact that I have developed a slightly ‘special’ way of moving my body due to my co-ordination difficulties. My knees tend to point inwards when I run, and aside from this are dodgy at the best of times because I have patella that tend to dislocate (don’t google image that). I lost all the muscles in my right leg after being in a cast for around a month last year, after my knee broke when I dislocated it slipping on ice. This meant that even as my fitness improved, muscle pain stopped me from achieving my best.

This is all sounding a bit negative, so I’ll weave in some positives here: I knew that running would be great for my mental health as I transitioned to living without antidepressants. I far prefer individual exercise to group exercise, and running is so easy to do (all you need as a beginner are trainers and somewhere to run) that I found it a good form of exercise to fit into my routine.

As someone who struggles without instant gratification however, running proved an exceptional challenge. I live for ‘easy wins’ – feeling a sense of achievement without really having to try that hard. Running did not provide this. Each training session was gruelling, and I often complained that I wasnt getting any better, when really my fitness improved quite drastically. Somewhere towards the end of my training, I noticed that everyday things (especially for perenially late dyspraxics) like running for a train or to an appointment were a lot easier, and that this must have been because of my training. I had always previously consigned myself to the fact that running wasn’t something I would ever be able to do, but mile by mile, shallow breath by shallow breath, I proved myself wrong.

Motivation was another thing I had always thought I didn’t really have, yet when I look back, the fact that I trained at least twice a week for a good three months (admittedly, training in December just didn’t happen) is super impressive for me. Despite feeling I wasnt improving, there’s something – perhaps slightly smug I’ll admit – really rewarding about getting back from a run, no matter how far you went.

As it stands though, I only managed to work my way up to running 6 miles on a run before the event, and I did underestimate how much training would be neccessary. When the day came, I was terrified, but excited. The first 3 miles were ok – many people passed me, but I was happy at my relaxed jogging pace, knowing it would set me up to be able to run for as long as possible. Mile 5 was the worst. I was evidently struggling a little, and people tried to encourage me by telling me ‘my nans would be really proud’ (on the back of my shirt I’d written that I was running in celebration of them – one who fought cancer amazingly for over 5 years, the other who is fighting it now -although this was a lovely sentiment, it sent me into emotional breakdown, and I suddenly found myself unable to breathe. I stopped, and practiced deep breathing, with the help of a few other runners who helped me by squeezing my hand and giving me kind words – including the 2hr 30 minutes pacing man, which I’ll admit was a little depressing as he sped into the distance. Luckily, it couldnt really get worse after that, and in fact I ended up getting into the rythm of it and beginning to enjoy myself in the strangest way. I was in so much pain, but I simultaneously felt so invincible and awesome. All the lovely spectators were amazing, cheering us all on, and there was an amazing community feel amongst all the runners (I think this is especially strong in the back section of the runners, because you know everyone is in just as much pain as you). This faded, and I got myself through the rest by singing inspiring songs to myself in my head as a distraction, and trying to name all 9 RuPaul’s Drag Race winners.

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The last 2 miles were ran on pure determination, and seeing my friends at the end gave me the determination to somehow sprint to the finish line, which really did feel amazing. I finished the race in 2 hours, 58 minutes and raised £370 for Cancer Research! (You can still donate here if you fancy it https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ellie-williams18 ) The most frustrating thing was that I was never really out of breath, and it was my muscles that meant I couldn’t run the whole thing. Hopefully with a bit of physio and weight training, I can change this, and I’m hoping to finish my next one in 2 hours 30 minutes if possible!

I think what this story goes to show is that you can always surprise yourself. No matter what it is, us dyspraxics can achieve pretty cool things when we set our minds to it, and can defy all expectation that our condition may create for us. If any of you are considering a half marathon, I would say absolutely go for it, but maybe appreciate a little more than I did the challenge involved in a Half Marathon. Even if you don’t, and end up *slightly* under trained like I was though, know that your determination and willpower CAN pull you through. This is something after all, that it seems that many dyspraxic people are great at – not giving up.

DCD in the workplace – helping people help you (with free template!)

I’m going to start by telling you a story: I am a brand manager for an education charity. This means that I promote our opportunities at my university campus through events and drop ins. One time, we were running an event at the maths faculty, and I was required to bring a number of different supplies. Collecting these took a long time, because i struggled to remember the many different elements. As a result, I was late setting off, and am a slow cycler. I proceeded to get lost despite checking the directions multiple times, and arrive late, and upon arriving, realised that I was also supposed to do a shout out at the end of a lecture, which I missed because of my lateness. This resulted in a reprimand from my manager, which in turn caused me to start crying from the frustration of the whole ordeal – not ideal!

In this article, I’m going to give you an insight into how I tried to turn situations like this around, to ensure that I was supported in the workplace, and was able to support myself. Starting a new job is difficult for everyone, but Dyspraxia can make adjusting and succeeding to the workplace that extra bit harder. Dyspraxic people achieve amazing things in all areas of society, but a little bit of understanding and co-operation can go a long way towards making your experience at the workplace easier! Here is a step-by-step guide to managing workplace related issues and misunderstandings.

1. Reflect.

A key part of managing a learning difficulty is thinking about the ways it might affect your performance. When you start a job, it helps to write down the key responsibilities that the job may entail. After you have done this, use the Dyspraxia foundation website or your disability report to see which elements you might struggle with because of your dyspraxia. My own example is shown below in the first row of the template, as well as an empty table you can fill in yourself, which is able to download at the bottom of the post!

2. Document and Log

As well as predicting the stuggles you might face, it is also very useful to keep track of your workplace experience: look at what goes well, and what doesnt and then try and figure out why. In education, this is called a ‘learning log’, but can also be very useful in workplace scenarios. Here’s an example of my learning log:

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3. Communicate

Communicating these issues with your employer is important. Firstly, it helps to send them a link to the Dyspraxia Foundation Website’s employers page. Secondly, I found it very useful to make a Development Plan which clearly shows the problems you face, and how you aim to accomodate for them, and what changes the employer should make – check out the example in the template!

4. Know your rights

Finally, its important to know what support your employer is obligated to provide for you. The Dyspraxia Foundation provide excellent information for employers and employees to help people with dyspraxia in the work place. It is a legal requirement to ensure that no-one is discriminated against in the workplace because of their disability, and Dyspraxia deserves to be taken seriously.

Here’s the template (click to open):

Workplace Disability Printable Blog

Check it out, and let me know how you get on! If you have any suggestions or experiences, please do share in the comments below.

Messily yours,

Ellie x

Overcoming Doubt and Doubters

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Spot the weird dyspraxic hand

As a child, a significant part of your identity is formed from what you are and aren’t good at.

“You’ve always been a brilliant reader”

“Ellie’s accident prone”

“You always did think outside of the box”

These evaluations help us to form an image of ourselves as the world sees us, and in turn helps us to understand ourselves as we are at the current minute. Positive proclamations may become some of our proudest attributes, the negatives our grounding shame. As someone with a minor specific learning difficulty, they become vital to constructing your defence against a world which refuses to recognise your existence, and your particular set of strengths and weaknesses.

When I began to consider the idea that my chaotic existence may indicate a profile of dyspraxia, my brain immediately shot back realities of my childhood that destabilised my self diagnosis: But you’ve always behaved well in class. you were one of the top readers as a child. If you’re dyspraxic, then how could you have reached university without it affecting you. You’ve got it better than so many other people your age, so why does it even matter?

Looking past these quick assumptions, it had lay there all along, between the lines which I’d learned to understand myself: I always behaved in class, but was constantly chastised for my handwriting, rarely answered questions both from shyness and from failing to process the question in time, and developed excellent bullsh*tting skills from last minute homework and excuses. I was one of the top readers, but dreaded reading out loud and skipped sentences, paragraphs and indeed pages of the books I was reading – often without noticing. I reached university, but my organisational challenges contributed to the rapid decline of my mental health. I do have it better than so many other people my age, but these things matter because I deserve help and understanding.

Self-doubt is an easy quality to build when your existence is characterised by small disappointments. A dropped ball at a key moment of a team sport (or indeed, the one time you do successfully dribble the ball, dribbling it the wrong way), forgetting the project you spent hours completing, getting lost, being late, losing your prized possessions. Self-doubt is an easy quality to build when people capitalise on your failures to make themselves look superior. When your ‘friends’ in primary school learn that the best way to humiliate you is to run away, because any attempt to catch them up will doubtless result in embarrassment or injury. It’s an easy quality to build when you are constantly being told that if you tried just that little bit harder, got your head out of the clouds and prepared yourself for the real world, everything would be fine and you would stop being such an inconvenience to people.

This all sounds quite dramatic, and it is important to mention that those telling you to get yourself sorted out are the ones fighting in your corner, the ones who want to see you succeed. Most of what people tell you comes from a place of hope and compassion, even if it is masked in frustration, and it is often the receiver who distorts their words into a reflection upon their self worth. Still, it is clear to see how one can foster a less than excellent sense of self worth, which can impact on their belief in a diagnosis, especially when their expression of a disability is atypical. Unlike other specific learning difficulties, the realities of Dyspraxia are little understood. Although conditions such as autism and dyslexia come with a whole different set of preconceptions and stereotypes – Big Bang Theory, I’m looking at you – the specific issue for dyspraxic people is that so few people have even a basic awareness of what the condition entails. My computer’s spell check doesn’t even acknowledge that ‘Dyspraxic’ is even a word.

My own self-doubt was overcome mainly by my excellent disability mentor, as well as various online groups which I began to access around half a year after my official diagnosis, when I decided to look for others who shared my experiences. Confidence is the best defence. After being given specific advice about how to organise my life through mentoring, I realised the challenges I faced and learnt how to evaluate my successes and failures to overcome these challenges. Through groups, I learned that my experience was real and valid. This culminated in me having the confidence to tell people about my Dyspraxia when the difficulties it caused me became especially prominent, to ask for arrangemets in academia and work, to get the support that I need and deserve.

It should go without saying that if you are Dyspraxic, you can do amazing things. You are brilliant at thinking outside the lines, and you can make adjustments that ensure that you are not held back. The key is having the confidence to ask for what you need. Just because certain parts of your story aren’t in keeping with stereotypical diagnostic features, it doesn’t mean that the wider narrative doesn’t indicate towards your issue. Just because your wider narrative makes life difficult sometimes, that doesn’t mean you can’t be awesome. Just because people may not have heard of Dyspraxia, doesn’t mean its not an important part of you that deserves to be addressed and accounted for.

New Years Life Hacks For A Less Chaotic 2018

The holiday period always holds a unique set of challenges for us Dyspraxics. As well as the perilous ice and snow, which is an inevitable trip down the road of the icy cold bum, there are innumerable things to remember, social occasions to attend and gifts to wrap. After the stresses and joys of Christmas, I always find it refreshing to turn to the New Year as the opportunity to finally ‘sort my life out’. Inevitably, it never really works out like that.

The simultaneous downfall and brilliance of New Years Resolutions is that they are so unremittingly hopeful. The points of self improvement hastily scrawled on a soon-to-be lost piece of paper indicate a more organised, effective and generally better you. This is an enticing prospect, yet in practice always ends up being overwhelming and eventually disappointing. I still stand by the fact, however, that New Years Resolutions hold the excellent opportunity to see what isnt working in your life, and to think about ways to change this. The key to seeing this through is pragmatism and realism.

So, I have decided to compile a list of small adjustments you can make to improve your organisation in 2018. Small and sensible, these ideas aim to show you how slight changes can make a big difference when you set your mind to it!

  1. Write everything down, as soon as you think of it.

One of the key features of dyspraxic minds is how quickly we forget information we are given. Think about times when you’ve been given instructions to complete a task in school or the workplace. By the time they’ve got to the second point, I’ve reliably forgotten what theyre talking about, or the first thing they’ve said. This might seem like a small struggle, but in situations such as the workplace, it can be embarrassing. When it comes to attending appointments and organising your life, this too presents a challenge: ever been given a doctors appointment and instantly forgotten when it was booked for? To solve this problem, I have one place where I write down any information given to me that seems important. If you always have your phone to hand, notes is a great place to do this. As someone whose phone is perennially out of charge or broken, I choose to carry a notebook at all times. This means that when you are struggling to remember an important date or piece of information, you know you will have recorded it somewhere. The key to this trick is consistency: Always put it in the same place, always keep the mechanism of storage with you or in a special place, and always write important things down!

2. Set aside time for the small, boring stuff

My disability mentor reccomended I set aside a time in the day to deal with all the small admin tasks that need to get done. She called this ‘admin time’, and it has been a absolute saviour. First things first, find a time fo day when you are reliably free. Next thing to do – put it in your calendar on your laptop and/or phone and set a reminder to come up every day. Another consideration is to write down what you need to do during admin time – booking trian tickets, emailing your employer back, doing some washing  – when the need arises. For example, if you recieve an email on the go but dont have time to respond, make a quick note on your phone (in the admin time event is a good place to put it!) or wherever you write down important things to remember (see above point), so that you remember to do this during your admin time. This also means that you get all of the irritating, boring stuff over and done with in one concise time period, meaning you dont have to worry about these tasks escaping you. This method takes a little while to make a habit, but once it is, its absolutely amazing!

3. Break it down

Ever needed to complete a daunting task but just can’t get yourself to start? Try breaking down the daunting challenges in your life into a series of small, achievable steps and giving each step a time for addressing it. This method works wonders when you’re stuck in a rut, because the tasks set are easier and less intimidating, giving you a feeling of success on completion that makes you want to keep going and finish the task.

4. Journal

I will soon be uploading a bullet journal tour to show how I use journaling to organise my life and work. For now, though, I’ll just explain a little about the concept. The above tips are all very well and good, but a journal is the place where they can all be tied together and stored with ease. Take the breaking down of tasks. This is something that can be done on paper, and then each section scheduled in to your planner in your journal. Keeping a journal has been one of the best decisions of 2017, and I couldn’t recommend it strongly enough.

I really hope you enjoyed these tips. Comment below your own organisation tactics!

Messily yours,

Ellie x

LIEBSTER AWARDS!

As someone fairly new to blogging, I was excited to be nominated for the Liebster awards by  The Dyslexia Diaries! Thank you so much. I can’t believe you’ve only been blogging for a month or so, your blog is gorgeous – I love your honesty and individuality, and how you mix serious issues with fun lifestyle pieces! 

After a little investigation, I found out that the premise of the Liebster Awards (the full details of which are listed on The Global Aussie’s fab page, so make sure to read them  here), is a means of giving bloggers with small readerships exposure, and welcoming them to the blogosphere. The rules of the award ask that you write a small post about your favourite blog, which I have done at the end of this post,  write 10 random facts about yourself, answer 10 questions that my nominator gave me, nominate 5-10 new people and give them questions – so here goes!

10 random facts

  1. I have broken my collar bone, my knee, my nose and my wrist (twice) – classic dyspraxia.
  2. I absolutely love festivals, and have been to at least two every summer since I was 16.
  3. After graduating in June, I will be training to become an English teacher with Teach First!
  4. I absolutely love fashion, but only from ethical sources.
  5. I once won the prestigious ‘clubber of the week’ award from The Tab Cambridge, awarded to the person with the silliest public club photo, see the photo and the deets in this post.
  6. In my spare time, I work for the student mental health charity Student Minds Cambridge, as a communications officer!
  7. I’m currently coming off antidepressants, but my time on them has absolutely changed my life for the better, even if the withdrawal side effects make me feel like my brain is being electrocuted lol.
  8. I love dogs! And am the proud owner of an adorable scruffy Jack Russell named Reggie.
  9. I’m a vegetarian, slowly making the transition into veganism.
  10. My favourite food is artichoke! I’m a freak, I’m aware.

10 Questions

  1. Which countries have you visited and which was your favourite? Lots! I’ve been lucky enough to go inter railing twice, and have been all over the place with my family. I think my favourite place of all would be Slovenia (Ljubljana and Lake Bled specifically), because of the astonishing scenery, placidity, and cheapness!
  2. What would your desert island song be? What a difficult question! Probably Knee-Deep in The North Sea by the Portico Quartet – because its beautiful, and there are so many elements to pay attention to that it would take me a long time to get bored of it!
  3. If you could change your name, what would you change it to? Ezra. Coolest name ever in my opinion, and gender neutral, which is fun.
  4. What is your favourite book? The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
  5. What is your favourite film character? The dog from Up!
  6. What is your biggest fear? Anything happening to my family, and sweetcorn.
  7. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve every been given? If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much room.
  8. What is your earliest memory? The solar eclipse when I was 2 – this may be a constructed memory, but I’m pretty sure I remember being cold and being in a pram, and that we were at the eclipse.
  9. What is your favourite season? Why? Spring – The gentle lifting of winter, the small signs of light and colour filtering back into the world, the first opportunities to go outside without sleeves again, snowdrops, birds, days extending – I love it all. And next year, I won’t even have exams to revise for!
  10. Opera or musicals? Definitely musicals. I will always have a soft spot for Wicked ❤

Nominations

This is where I get to spread the love! Do check out all the fabulous blogs below. I would like to nominate:

  1. The Great Ambini 
  2. Thoughts of a Creatively Dyspraxic
  3. The Blog With More Than One Post
  4. The Feminist Woolf
  5. Jess of Earth
  6. Imogen Rowe

Here are your questions:

  1. What are you most proud of?
  2. Glass half empty or glass half full?
  3. What is your favourite thing about yourself?
  4. Who is your biggest inspiration?
  5. In an ideal world, what job would you be doing?
  6. Why did you start blogging?
  7. What is your favourite food?
  8. What is your favourite memory?
  9. Will you be making any New Years Resolutions? If so, whats the main one?
  10. Marmite: Love it or hate it?

A Favourite blog

Aaaaand finally, a little post about my favourite blog. 

I have been a fan of Rosalind Jana’s fabulous, whimsical, beautiful blog for a very long time. I have followed Rosalind’s blog since she was around 18, and have seen it move from strength to strength. Her blog is mainly focused on fashion and photography, specifically focusing on vintage and charity shop finds. Interspersed between enchanting images of her clothing finds, she writes eloquent and imaginative articles relating to fashion, literature, politics and a number of other topics. Coming from the countryside like I do, Rosalind has reflected my love for everything pastoral, as well as the hustle of the city. She strikes a perfect balance between relevancy, nostalgia, whimsy and aesthetics, and for this reason she is my ultimate blog inspiration.

So there you have it! The Liebster awards. Thanks so much again to The Dyslexia Diaries for nominating me, and I look forward to seeing all the responses.

Messily yours,

Ellie xx

Miranda Hart – a Dyspraxic Icon?

Bear With on this one…

When describing my experience of DCD to people, I often end up settling on ‘I am basically Miranda’. I do this partially because I’m lazy, partially because it is one of my favourite self deprecating jokes, and partially because it is pretty much true.

It is hard to deny that Miranda has captured the hearts of a nation, and the fact that she has done this through her endearing clumsiness and a tendency to struggle with everyday communication resonates with me on an almost spiritual level.

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A modern day Johnny English, Miranda stumbles rather chaotically through life. At the same time, she is resilient, she accepts herself for who she is, and the nation loves her for the tendencies that make her so lovably unique. As an awkward, clumsy person I initially felt uncomfortable at the fact that her own awkward clumsiness was the main source of humour in the show, but I soon came to realise that the way she has owned this and made a dazzling career out of it is in fact a wonderful feat, showing great humility, strength and confidence on her part. 

Although I’m not attempting to diagnose Miranda with anything, a lot of the traits she displays on the show and outside it do correlate with Dyspraxia, and therefore resonate strongly with me personally. Of course, there is the multitude of physics-defying feats of clumsiness, the video below serving as a stellar example:

But, perhaps more subtly, there is her regular misinterpretation of people’s speech, and her inability to formulate sentences and express what she truly means. She also shows flashes of disorganisation, lateness, forgetfulness and generally proves to have an unconventional way of thinking; “Whenever I think of Meals on Wheels, I always think of little Yorkshire puddings on roller skates.”

Her self deprecating television persona is one which I think a lot of people with dyspraxia will recognise. I, myself, gave up all hope of being renowned for my elegance or refinement at a very young age, yet delighted in making people laugh through my dyspraxic exploits and my hilarious tales of misadventure. A particular favourite is the now infamous club photo of me spilling a drink all over my face, which incidentally earned me ‘clubber of the week’ in the prestigious publication ‘The Tab’. If that isn’t a stand out Miranda moment, I don’t know what is.

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In the past, my so called ‘useless’ traits, such as my frequent falling over and my general lateness has made me an object of ridicule from ‘friends’ that I have long since got rid of. It has made me feel like no-one will ever take me seriously, and in my awkward gangly teenage years made me feel unattractive and generally pretty down on myself. I learnt soon enough, however, that you just have to own it, and surround yourself with people who love your quirks, and build you up for your strengths, which is exactly what Miranda does. When I begin to get bummed out about how my dyspraxia stops me being taken seriously, I think of how Miranda has made a name for herself and earned the respect and adoration she currently enjoys just by being her wonderful, clumsy, slightly disorientated self.  Inconceivably, Miranda has helped immensely with my self esteem by showing that people like me can be funny, successful and loved. This is something I have been trying to remember when my self confidence gets low, and this is why I’m not afraid to claim Miranda as my very own Dyspraxic Icon.