Discovering Dyspraxia

It’s been another long gap since I uploaded a post on here.  I was writing one about my two week break from London to get my head organised, however I deleted it for another post that I decided was probably more important.

When I write this I am sure there are many musicians and people from all different careers who have felt and are feeling what I have been through in the last three years of music college.  I absolutely have loved my time so far at my conservatoire, it is a beautiful, wonderful place full of amazing talented people.  But despite the good times I have had at music college, I must admit I’ve found it somewhat of an uphill struggle.  Especially the last year…

Looking at my year it’s been extremely successful, I averaged out at a first this year (yaaay!) and the wind quintet I am a member of has won a prize (yaaay!) and I am overall pretty chuffed at how it’s all gone.  To be honest though, it’s been the hardest year I have spent in higher education.

Everyone goes through times in their life when they feel inadequate, like everything they do is taking twice as long as their peers, and like they are feeling just a little bit dumb at the moment.  I have felt this my entire way through school from the age of four until now.  My self esteem was terrible, and I over-compensated by being very chatty and reading as much as I could so that I could “know more things” than my peers.  “the Diaries of a Nervous Musician” were born from a person who felt like they would never be good enough, and terrified at the thought of rejection and failure I allowed it to become a self fulfilling prophecy to a certain extent.  Despite the fact that I have never failed an exam (in fact I have always done well if not average in everything I have put my mind to).  But I always had the feeling that it was all very very difficult and it never got easier.

None of the above is helped by the fact that people don’t in general try to make you feel better unless they know you very well.  If you say “Oh I don’t think I played very well in class,” they go “hmm,” or “yes”.   Now one mustn’t read into that as people WANT you to feel bad, I don’t think that at all, but when your self-esteem is low it’s very, very easy to interpret that as “they think I played crap too”.

Things changed for me this summer when just over two weeks ago I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia.

I was no where near as surprised as I thought I would be when I went in, because during the three and a half hour assessment I had with the psychologist (yes it was that long, she was very thorough) it became more and more evident that something wasn’t right.

Dyspraxia is condition that falls under the category of Specific Learning Difficulties (dyslexia is in this category), and it is a developmental disorder of the brain in childhood causing difficulty in activities requiring coordination and movement.  It’s about more than movement, it affects my ability to understand what people are saying (i.e. I can understand the words but it takes me a while to understand the concept), I am very slow at reading because dyspraxia makes me lose my place on the page, I am slow at writing and apparently I can’t even hold a pen properly, I have terrible balance and co-ordination and I have to hold on to the bannister when going down stairs, I fall over a lot.  But until I was 21 and a very astute man called Michael Whight became my clarinet teacher, people just called me a bit dis-organised, hare-brained, and funny.  I covered up my “quirks” by being chatty and humorous and clever. 

The reason it was never spotted was because my parents were told that I was “too good” in some areas to possibly be dyspraxic.  How could I possibly play a musical instrument when I have Dyspraxia?  How could I possibly read so many books when I have Dyspraxia? Well.  It turns out that like all things in life, practice makes perfect.  I had a high reading age in school not because I was good at it, but because I read every night, and through the night if I could get away with it, I could play the clarinet not because I was a natural but because it took me two years to get to grade 1 and then another two to get to the next stage after that.  I worked hard and I didn’t give up.  I wasn’t a natural dancer but I went to classes twice a week and I practised at that too!  When at age 11 I still couldn’t ride a bike I spent all summer learning how to (though to be perfectly honest I still can’t do it very well).

And so on…

I suppose what I’m really trying to say with this long winded article, is that it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are supposedly at some things.  It’s really about what you put your mind to.  I read a comment in which someone said that the person in question would “never be able to do anything” with Dyspraxia in the way.  And I suppose that it isn’t as simple as “if you try harder you can do anything” I wouldn’t try to say that.  However what I will say is that a hunger for achieving the things that are most important to you certainly helps, and we should remind ourselves daily that we are great.  We are all just as great as our peers, and no one should ALLOW themselves to be made to feel dumb, or lost, or like less than the person they are, whether it’s in our heads or something we are being told out loud.

It’s time for me to take my own advice, and be the person my achievements show me to be.  So as the new academic year rolls around, it’s time to say goodbye to the “Diaries of a Nervous Musician” and time to say a big HELLO to the “Diaries of a Clarinettiste”.

As for the Dyspraxia… well I think I will just keep being comical with it, just please remember not to leave banana skins on the floor or else I will slip on it.

For more information about Dyspraxia please go to http://www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk

My first time with a professional orchestra.

Back in October I found my stress levels rising, the spots breaking out, and the ability to sleep diminishing.  My boyfriend came home on several occasions to me crying in front of the Supervet in the evenings.  All this was due to one incredible, but nerve-wracking, weekend I was about to spend with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

The project was an opportunity for selected members of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales to join the orchestra in it’s annual collaboration.  Rehearsals started on Friday morning, and culminated in a wonderful Halloween themed family concert on Sunday afternoon in St David’s Hall, Cardiff.  Now you may think, “that doesn’t sound so bad?” “what’s wrong with her?” “get a grip girl” — and of course, the sane part of me was thinking about how wonderful this educational opportunity would be, and how who knows when I may next have the opportunity to rehearse with a professional orchestra!? But the irrational part of my brain had these three main issues in mind:

1. I am a clarinettist – This can be terrifying, normally in an orchestra there are only two to four of you, so if you make a mistake, people know who it was!

2. Radio broadcast – They really shouldn’t have told me that before the concert

3. How on earth can I possibly balance all my college and work commitments and play anything accurately to a standard my teachers would call “ok”!

4.  My teacher – I know I said I had three things in mind, but I wouldn’t accurately be describing myself as nervous if the things I was worried about didn’t spiral out a little… Anyhow, three days before my teacher informed me he would be one of the tutors and acting as guest principal clarinet!

(Now if the thought of spending the weekend with your teacher listening to all your mistakes doesn’t terrify you I don’t know what does!)

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The clarinet section backstage! Left to right: John Cooper, Lydia Clough, Me!, Michael Whight

In the end listening back at the radio broadcast to the short simple clarinet solo from Gounod’s March of the Marionette, I think how silly I was. All the stress and for what? Being part of the orchestra wasn’t as terrifying as I wanted it to be, and I really wasn’t the only one making mistakes. Instead of worrying about what people thought of me I should have spent more time talking to the amazing people I had the honour of playing with. Fortunately I calmed down enough after the first couple of hours to really enjoy and appreciate what was happening around me, a great experience. I sincerely hope that wasn’t the last time I will perform with them.