Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Dyspraxia, anxiety and perseverance

Throughout my life there's a lot which has never come naturally easy to me, whether it be movement, tasks or adapting to change and the environment or being in social situations. Being dyspraxic means my brain takes longer than most for the wires to process information and carry out tasks that many people simply take for granted. It takes me a lot more attempts, with more energy and often done in a completely different way. Dyslexia also makes getting ideas down onto paper, take more time reading tasks and proof read any writing I do.

Alongside that comes quite bad anxiety which can be really challenging for me. It can  take me longer than others to feel settled in situations, struggle with social anxiety , get my bearings in environments and take me longer to face my fears. Even saying hello to new people is quite a big deal to me.

As a result of this  has come frustration both at myself and my body and also comparing myself to others. Comparing myself to others who may seem more confident socially than me, seem more relaxed or be able to do tasks with less time and less mistakes. I can be pretty hard on myself and beat myself up when anxiety stops me going somewhere, I struggle to speak to people or I see a lot of mess around me or my body and brain don't want to co-operate. It's made me struggle with my confidence in myself a lot.

When I first moved to London nearly 2 and half years ago with my boyfriend Matt, I couldn't travel anywhere in London independently. Everything about London simply terrified me and my anxiety imagined every worse case scenario possible. The tube was simply a no no, too many people, the thought of the tube door closing on me and getting lost.

But then I got the opportunity to have a job helping students all with a variety of needs. My passion for helping other who struggle kicked in. On the first day of my travel I had a huge panic attack and texted my boyfriend that I would never be able to do it and I came back home.  In short my travel has been a nightmare and definitely not in my comfort zone and caused me quite a few panic attacks. But breaking it down step by step I've managed to survive doing the length of the Northern Line.

The same could be applied when I was studying for my degree it took me so much longer than my friends to study, to read all the reading for my courses, finish assignments and proof read my work. Then there's the little things  many take for granted like tasks requiring fine motor skills, being able to speak in a group of people or facing anxiety to make a phone call. It might take me weeks, months sometimes even years to be able to face some fears or be able to complete a task with confidence.  I'm learning that sometimes anxiety can lie to you and make you feel not good enough and that the storm will never pass and be filled with negative thoughts.

But with time, practice, access to help for my anxiety and reassurance from others I persevere and  keep going. It can be very difficult at times especially when you're struggling but hopefully in time I will learn more strategies to help manage my anxiety.  I'm very grateful to the patience and encouragement from my boyfriend, family and friends especially in difficult times. I can appreciate it can be frustrating at times, but that reassurance has meant a lot to me and my anxious chaotic brain.

As things have taken me a lot longer to get there than other people, it's made me appreciate the little things and appreciate the little achievements in others. Throughout my life I've been called stupid, lazy, careless and that I wouldn't be able to get very far or achieve very much. It shaped my own values and has given me patience for those who struggle.

You never know what struggles people might be facing in life, always be kind. I may have a way to go to manage my anxiety, but I'm taking my own time little steps at a time and that gives me a sense of pride and achievement. I hope this blog might help someone out there, keep going and never be embarrassed to do things your own way, there is no such thing as normal!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

TfL hidden disability badge trial review

In the summer holidays I signed up for a new TfL scheme trial- Please offer me a seat. The scheme followed passenger feedback from TfLresearch that found that those with hidden disabilities and conditions can find it difficult getting a seat especially if the need isn't obvious.

As someone who has always found travelling more of a challenge because of dyspraxia and anxiety but never been the most socially confident or assertive about my needs I thought it might help with that a bit so worth a try. Although I can stand and have developed coping strategies from when I was first diagnosed aged 4. I still find managing to stand whilst on moving transport for a long time whilst trying to get my balance and co-ordination challenging.  I also find standing for long amount of time can be quite painful on my feet and I shuffle from one to the other. Then there's spatial awareness of being aware of where I am and my belongings are in relation to other people, alongside anxiety from being around lots of people and new and unknown places and I've always hated the feeling of being trapped in a lot of people, causing an anxiety attack so always try and get a seat as close to an exit as I can.

I find London travel to be that little bit more jerkier than public transport back home up North and bus drivers like to speed off before you're sat in your seat which can make you loose your balance easier. In the past I've found I've not had the most positive experiences with travel. People thought I was bumping into them on purpose, or holding them up to annoying or wondering why I needed to sit in a priority seat as my need wasn't that obvious.

Two years ago I got the opportunity to write a blog for Scope about travel challenges those with dyspraxia and anxiety can encounter. I've never been someone who has liked any fuss or attention drawn to me, due to to social anxiety and always thought that there were others who had a need more significant to mine. There still is quite a long way to go raising awareness of invisible disabilities, differences and conditions and getting people to understand what dyspraxia is. But as someone passionate about raising awareness of issues invisible to the eye and who has always been willing to  learn and find new ways of trying to help myself I thought I'd give it a try.

In honestly I've been very pleasantly surprised, on quite a few occasions I've been offered a seat and I even had one lady appologise that she hadn't seen my badge soon enough. I did encounter a difficult experience where I was mid panic attack and quite tearful and panicky and a lady asked some other people if I could have their seat and got completely ignored. There has been a few instances like that and I have experienced the odd unhelpful stare. But in general it has made me feel that little bit more hopeful that there are people who want to help, who understand that helping someone doesn't mean a lot of fuss and that there slowly is getting more awareness getting out there, but we still have a long way to go.

It's made me have that little bit more confidence to speak up and assert others about my needs. With the energy I'm saving by having a seat, I can use it in a more positive way to help my students in my job. There are still quite a few other travel issues which I've encountered which will be discussed in a later blog and I've found my travel very challenging anxiety wise. But I'm very grateful to those who have offered me a seat and I hope it gives others who might experience similar difficulties a little bit of reassurance.

 If you see someone who might be struggling on public transport you never know what difficulties they might have, you  also never know how much they might value you offering them that seat. In my last blog I talked about the value of reassurance.  A little bit of kindness can go a long way in life and make such a difference to someone.

Monday, 24 October 2016

The value of reassurance

Being dyspraxic tends to mean that a lot happens in your life, if I was to list every scrape or situation I've got myself into over the years I would be here for hours. From broken bones and trips to A&E, to loosing objects and myself, numerous bruises where I have no idea where they've come from, struggling making friends and finding social situations a challenge and experiencing bullying. You name it it's probably happened. Being dyspraxic all the awkward situations seem to happen to you. ASide  from sore and bruised limbs and a sore purse from replacing things which I've lost, it's made me think the worst possible outcome in a lot of situations and do quite a bit of avoidance and hiding. Anxiety is something which I talk quite a bit about in my blogs. Some anxiety comes I think naturally alongside dyspraxia but for some it has a lot more of an impact on day to day life and a diagnosable mental health condition. If you are experiencing the latter please don't do what I do and be scared to do anything about it till later in life.   When you're dyspraxic you face quite a few challenges, the world can be an unpredictable, overwhelming place and I've got myself into so many pickles, alongside that comes a lot of general and anticipatory anxiety, social anxiety and the fear of fear and those horrible physical symptoms anxiety can bring.

Something which can really help is reassurance, now the anxious brain can at times seem like you want constant reassurance that you haven't messed something up, people don't dislike you and you're not as bad as your mind tells you. Then there's the feelings you're going to die or have something life threatening when experiencing anxiety attacks or the physical side to anxiety.  Rationally of course you're not but when in the moment it can be so scary. For loved ones this can be hard to understand at times, and knowing how to help can be challenging. But a little bit of reassurance can mean a lot to someone when they are going through a challenging time in life. The little things can mean the world, often people with anxiety don't want a lot of fuss, but even simply listening to someone can mean a lot and that they will be ok and the anxiety won't harm them can help ease the storm a little.

For a lot of dyspraxics and people who struggle with anxiety, having confidence and self belief in yourself is something which is so much more of a challenge. I've often been told that I need to have more confidence in myself and to think more positively about myself. It's so easy to compare yourself to others and not feel good enough and over analyse every tiny mistake and failure you make. But it's so important to remember that we're all facing some sort of battle or challenge in day to day life. I think if you experience bullying or other not nice experiences in life,  it can  have a huge impact on how you see yourself. Challenging and changing those negative thought processes into more positive ones is something so much harder, it's not easy and can take a lot of time. It's something I'm still working on and hope CBT may help me with, but everyone is different it's about finding what works for you. I recently got given some advice is to when something positive happens or you face a fear, try and remember it and hold onto it when you next have a challenging situation come up. This is all easier said than done, it takes time, and something I'm still learning. But you're more than your struggles and your labels, everyone has something that they are good at inside them even if your mind tries to convince you otherwise.

The last few months have been quite a challenge for me anxiety wise, and I just wanted to say a little thank you for the little bits of reassurance, it means so much.
I still  have quite a way to go managing my anxiety,  but I'm looking forward to but still understandably terrified about a new chapter in my life and hopefully getting the help I need. I recently faced quite a challenging situation applying for a new job and although my social anxiety was in overdrive, both thoughts and physically I found out last week I got the job, so some good has come out of a difficult time.

  My own experiences have fuelled these blogs and I hope if you're reading this it gives you a little bit of reassurance that you're not alone. As I sit here writing this, with a bruised chin and knee after a fall over the weekend, if you as prone to accidents it's not just you.  One thing I hope from these blogs is people get is a sense of realness, sometimes they might not be the most positive of blogs but that's a reflection to the world we live in. But there's also positives within it, and people who understand, and when you're dyspraxic there's never a dull moment. Life can be a struggle, it's not all all rainbows and sunshines, you  just have to hold onto that little bit of hope, and that things will end up ok and this too shall pass.

Here's a little bit of reassurance which I got written for me recently, I thought it might help others to share it.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Dyspraxia and anxiety in the workplace

From a young age I've always loved helping people, when I was at primary school I would always rush over if I saw someone who had fallen over in the playground or who was upset. I remember lining up my cuddly toys (all named) in a big circle and pretending to be a teacher, I even made my own register. I've also loved animals of all kinds from having pet dogs all my life, to Elvis and Lucky the hamsters (who was named after the Britney Spears song- blame my dad!) I also loved horse riding. I always knew I wanted to do something which involved helping someone or something. It's important to remember that no two dyspraxics see the same and will decide to go into the same field of work.

But when I got into the world of work there was a problem,whilst I have empathy and understanding for others for miles. I also struggle a lot with day to day tasks in day to day life which many take for granted. Simple tasks which require fine motor skills, co-ordination, memory and organisation. My brain takes a lot longer to process information. When I'm tired or under pressure it makes me prone to mistakes, mistakes I often have no idea why they happened. Then you add anxiety into the mix and beating yourself up and it becomes a vicious circle.

Anxiety over new and the unknown has always been a struggle for me. It always takes me that bit longer to get my bearings and to feel comfortable both in my environment and with other people and to come out of my shell. When I get anxious I can become quite shaky and panicky, which when you already struggle with fine motor skills isn't the best of combinations.

When you become an adult there isn't a magic wand, your differences, disability or condition don't  simply disappear or you grow out of them.  People need support and empathy as they go through life. To the outside world dyspraxia can make you come across like you don't care, not trying hard enough, slow, messy and in a complete state of chaos. Or socially someone who appears very nervous or doesn't speak very much. Alongside the lack of dyspraxia awareness and understanding which is out there. This ignorance, bullying and general complete lack of understanding, it made my anxiety 10x worse, become too anxious to speak and in a really dark place. Being told you will never get anywhere in life can really crush your confidence, when you already don't have much of that as it is. After realising anxiety was controlling my life I made the step to go to my doctors where I got given a diagnosis of anxiety and the relief of that it wasn't just me being a worrier, it's something I wish I'd done sooner in life.

It's important however to find something you enjoy or are good at, and despite my experiences having an impact on my mental health they have shaped me into the person I am and my values. I'm able to show so much empathy for the students I support in my job as a learning supporting various students with difficulties, disabilities and mental health conditions. My experiences have made me patient, encouraging and I'll never give up on someone who struggles either a student or a friend. I can also think outside the box and see the bigger picture meaning I see different solutions to problems and a unique perspective on tasks. My border collie Toby is also a huge part of my life and well being and don't struggle in silence if you are struggling with your mental health if you're dyspraxic or not there is help and support out there it's about finding what works for you and hopefully through therapy it will help me learn  to control my anxiety and not let it control me.

With time and a little bit of understanding and empathy many people
With dyspraxia/anxiety can achieve. For me I just need little reasonable adjustments which can make a huge difference to me. It will always take me just that bit longer than others to get there which  has been frustrating alongside often high levels of anxiety. It's made it more difficult to feel proud of myself when I achieve something,  but rationally  I need to have more confidence in myself and it shows resilience and determination something I know I should be prouder of and I hope if you're reading this now and you can empathise I hope you feel proud of yourself.

Life isn't a race, it's a journey, we all process information differently, in our own ways at our own paces. We all have mental health just as we all have physical health, and we all have different personality types. The world we live in needs diversity and difference to thrive, and we can all do a little bit to be kind and help someone come out of their shell. You never know what you or your business might gain from simply seeing things from a different perspective. The little things really can make such a huge difference to someones confidence.

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Monday, 10 October 2016

World Mental Health Day #WMHD16

Today is World Mental Health day, we all have mental health and well being just as much as we all have physical health. There's a good chance that you reading this blog, will know someone who has struggled with their mental health at some point in their lifetime, either you yourself, a relative or a loved one. Mental health affects up to 1 in 4 of us at some point, so it's so important that as much awareness is raised to help remove stigma and discrimination.

This week also comes to the year when it is dyspraxia awareness week and the theme is dyspraxia in the workplace, in my blogs I regularly talk about the links between dyspraxia and mental health. I don't want to repeat myself and say what I have in previous blogs but as it is something very close to my heart it is something which needs to be taken more seriously and something I previously blogged about for Time to Change.

 With many dyspraxics struggling with mental health issues it's so important that there is access to emotional support and not just the physical side of things. Little reasonable adjustments can mean a lot and often free to support someone with their mental health in the workplace, little things such as: giving someone a little bit of structure to help with unpredictability and the unknown, giving someone time to adjust into an environment and letting someone go at their own speed, understanding the need for taking time out to get a little bit of space or fresh air if someone struggles with anxiety attacks or being overwhelmed. Everyone is different and different things work or help people differently. Most importantly I think is to remember someone is a person, and focus on what someone is good at we can all do our best to help build someone up and give them a confidence boost.

I think that is something which is really important when it comes to mental health that everyone is different, when I tell people I struggle with bad anxiety and can go through periods where it can be quite crippling and lead to low mood, I often get a look of shock that I don't look like someone who could have anxiety, mainly given by the amount of awareness work I do to help others and from a young age I've always been a determined soul. But helping others who are struggling and making a difference, gives you that little bit of reassurance to  be determined to step out of your comfort zone as you hope it will educate others.

In quite a few of my blogs I talk about how social anxiety has made me a very good hider, it takes me a long time to come out of my shell and have the confidence to talk to people. I remember at school having the most hacking awful cough and trying to swallow my coughs so that it wouldn't draw any attention to myself.  When you experience bullying and/or ignorance it can make you retreat into your shell and find it difficult to trust others, and my experiences of bullying especially in the workplace have had quite a negative impact on my mental health.

 But when I'm going through a difficult time with my mental health speaking to people who can empathise, reassure and understand means so much to me. Anxiety can something very scary to get your head around, understanding unpleasant physical symptoms, different triggers and feel like you have an anchor holding you down sucking everything out of you on top of not being very kind to yourself. When you add dyspraxia into the mix, the chaos can make you feel like your head is full of tangled spaghetti.

It can make you feel isolated and alone, but there are people who understand, for many years I hid how much I struggled with anxiety, and hid my dyspraxia, I was scared opening up would lead to further bullying and people would run a mile from me, but hiding made me feel lower, this is something which I have written more about in a blog for Scope for their #endtheawkward appeal this year which will hopefully be out soon. But by speaking to others it's given me the courage to seek help and I'm so grateful to those who have been there for me.  You never know who might be affected by mental health, always remember to be kind, but most importantly be kind to yourself.

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