It is date night for me and my husband. This time it’s his turn to choose, and he picks laser tag. I am apprehensive, as I have limited experience with the game and this is the first time I’ll be playing with a group of strangers.
After paying, we are led into a small dark room. A worker directs us to a rail of vests, and everyone grabs one. All the players are ready with their equipment, whilst I’m still fumbling to get mine off the hanger. I eventually manage to pry it off, and now it’s time to figure out how to wear it. After a few failed attempts, my husband naturally comes to the rescue. I am finally ready!
The group file out, but I walk cautiously as I’m uncertain how to proceed. I see the buttons, but I don’t know the functions. I’m also unsure who I’m supposed to target, or how to defend myself. I wonder how everyone seems to know who their team members are. Do the vests have a team design or perhaps there is something else I should be looking at? The music is uncomfortably loud, and the flashing lights irritate me. I spot a quiet corner and manage to hide unseen for a while. I start pressing the buttons, but they refuse to obey. I wonder if my vest is faulty, but I know all too well that if anything is faulty, it’s me, not the equipment! Eventually, something responds, and I start firing rapidly. I’m not sure who I should be aiming or whether I am targeting anyone, but I continue shooting. My activity alerts attention to a crowd of teenagers and they head to my corner. They shoot at me easily, not believing their luck. I feel out of my depth and every part of me wants to flee the scene, but I don’t give up. I can’t give up. I won’t ruin this date night. I need to get it under control, and at 30 years old, I should be able to handle this.
I find a new cover, and start shooting again. I don’t know if I’m shooting at my team members or enemies, but I just shoot wildly. Again, the group find me, this time hollering to their friends to come feast on their easy game. I surrender.
This takes me back to my childhood. I spent years feeling like an outsider. I often wondered whether there was a secret language that everyone, but me, seemed to understand. This isolation caused me to have a negative self-image. I loathed myself for not being able to keep up with my peers in everyday life. Being the independent girl that I was, I suffered in silence and just plodded through life trying to stay under the radar. This was no easy feat, as no matter how hard I tried, I still managed to cause a scene by either knocking things over, bumping into everything and just making a general spectacle of myself!
I push these memories out of my mind and I am determined to try once more. I scout for a new hideout, but it’s not long before I’m discovered again. My energy is sapped, and I can’t take this any longer. Cursing to myself, I hurry out of the room. My heart is thumping and angry tears start forming from my eyes. A worker stops me and asks if everything is alright. Embarrassed at my reaction, I mumble something unintelligible and race out of the room. I yank the wretched vest off, and motion to my husband that I have left.
My husband joins me and sees I’m not OK. Confused, he gently tries to console me, but I punish myself and refuse to be comforted. This was his date night choice, and yet again I manage to ruin things for myself and those around me. Our ride home is one of silence. I’m furious at myself for failing at the game and not lasting out the half hour, and as always treat myself harshly.
Date night is over. I am keen to erase this incident from my mind, but the sore muscles and bruises are a constant reminder and they remain on my thighs and legs for another week. The emotional bruise, however, doesn’t leave, and it joins the many other painful bruises of my past.
It would be months later that I discover the meaning behind this night as well as all my other years of suffering. There was actually a culprit and it wasn’t clumsy/slow/loser Fraidy. It had a name and it was called Dyspraxia. My years of self-blame could finally be shifted to just one word- dyspraxia!
Dyspraxia is a co-ordination disorder which affects planning of movements and co-ordination as a result of brain messages not being accurately transmitted to the body. It isn’t just limited to a physical condition, and also has social and emotional effects. There are some positives parts too. We are empathetic, creative, hardworking and have a good sense of humour.
After learning about my dyspraxia, I joined adult support groups. I discovered that I am not alone and that there are many others out there who have similar struggles as me! It was a lightbulb moment, as I can now understand and accept many things about myself. For example, the fact that at age 31 I’m still not driving (lack of spatial awareness and poor sense of direction are symptoms of dyspraxia), my social anxiety with crowds (sensory overload, trying to keep up with all the conversations, difficulty regulating tone of voice, poor eye contact, are also symptoms) and other discoveries. It is still early days and I am constantly learning more about dyspraxia and the impact it has had on my life.
Dyspraxia is not just a learning difficulty that goes away once you leave school. Dyspraxia is a life-long condition that stays with you for the rest of your life. For those of us who went through our childhood not knowing we have it, the emotional effects are a heavy price we pay.
I am grateful that I discovered my dyspraxia, albeit at the age of 31. I am now learning to be kinder to myself, and my emotional bruises are slowly beginning to heal. I often think about the many other adults going through life and not knowing they have this condition. My discovery was the result of my son’s diagnosis. In my ideal world, no dyspraxic child or adult should be going through experiences like the above without the knowledge of the culprit being dyspraxia. I’m glad that my son would have a very different experience at school and life than I did, and I wish the same for all other dyspraxics.