September 1, 2012 by secretcyclist
My friends and family have had some funny reactions to my new plan to become a cycling fanatic. When I announced to my Mum that I was finally planning to learn how to ride a bike after all these years, I didn’t get quite the answer I’d expected.
“But you can already ride a bike. I’ve seen you. In fact, I’ve got a photo of you riding a bike through the local park!”
It’s true, she does. I remember that day, and I remember her taking the photo. It was the moment I mentioned in my last post. The one, glorious time on which I stayed on a bike for more than a few seconds without falling off. That was a good day. A good day that I have never managed to repeat.
“Yes, I know Mum, but I can’t do it anymore. I tried again and fell off. Repeatedly. I told you this at the time.”
It’s at this moment my brother walks in the room. He overhears the conversation and snorts.
“Come on, that doesn’t happen. No one forgets how to ride a bike. That’s even a phrase. There’s actually a phrase for it. It’s basically the poster child for things you can’t forget. It’s not possible.”
I quickly give up on this conversation.
My dyspraxia was diagnosed late, at university. Throughout school, my teachers commented on my disorganisation and tendency to become overwhelmed, and my messy eating was a running joke at home (I was called “the whiplash queen” because of my habit of getting tomato stains on my forehead when eating spaghetti). I have some pretty mortifying memories of running in the wrong direction during games of cricket, but I learned, after much angsting and beating myself up about it, to laugh it off. I was good at plenty of other things, so I learned to live with all the petty frustrations of not being very good at life.
It was only when tutors started asking why I kept forgetting to turn up to rescheduled classes or send back important paperwork that someone decided to send me for an assessment, and the results were pretty conclusive. I was dyspraxic, one amongst the many girls with the condition that teachers fail to spot while they’re at school.
The diagnosis was a huge relief for me at the time, but in hindsight has done very little to help me explain to those closest to me why I find certain tasks difficult. I remember my Dad visiting me at university and telling me the name of the street he was on, so I could come and meet him in the centre of town. When I told him I didn’t know where that was, he refused to give me directions as he thought it was ludicrous that I didn’t know my way around the place I’d lived in for 3 years. When I forget to do things I’ve said I’ll do, or struggle to keep up with chores when my schedule changes, or leave things out after a task is interrupted, my Mum often takes this as an example of my lack of regard for her feelings, rather than a side effect of my getting overwhelmed by multiple tasks and being easily distracted.
Attempts to explain the symptoms often result in the phrase “but everyone has trouble with that”. Yes, of course they do, but clearly I find those things more difficult than others, or I wouldn’t have been told by an educational psychologist that I have a learning disability. I often wonder why my family seem more content with the conclusion that I’m selfish and lazy, rather than the one that says I face specific challenges that other people don’t. But that doesn’t stop me feeling guilty and anxious when they look on my explanations with scepticism.
Sometimes I feel angry and frustrated that neither of my parents seem to have ever thought to just google “dyspraxia” and find something out about the disability their daughter has to live with for the rest of her life. I wish it wasn’t all on me to say every time “this is because of the dyspraxia” – especially when they invariably take it as me making excuses. In reality, though, even after my diagnosis, I never really identified myself as learning disabled.
It’s only after I started thinking about cycling that I really considered just how much I’d built my life around an acceptance that I will never be able to do certain things, that I will always fail in certain ways and I will inevitably let people down. In a way I felt the same way as my family did. That this wasn’t a real condition. That in some way I was “faking” for attention.
And so, after a brief burst of enthusiasm after my diagnosis, I stopped using “dyspraxia” as anything more than an interesting factoid to illustrate the funny stories I tell my friends about falling off things, mispronouncing words or accidentally setting myself on fire.
Now, though, I’ve realised something. How can anyone else take this seriously if I won’t? I need to start working an awareness of my dyspraxia into my everyday life, into everything I do.
That will start with the cycling, which will chiefly involve me not panicking if I don’t pick it up straight away, as well as developing strategies to build my confidence with balance and finding ways to compensate for a slow reaction time.
Contrary to what our delightful new government would have us believe, confronting disability is not just about believing you can do anything you want – it’s about setting ambitious goals without living in denial of what your limitations really are.
If I do this thinking that I’m going to become an out of nowhere talent that starts winning races and stealing headlines at the next Olympics, then I’m going to end up very disappointed.
But if I go into this planning to push myself as hard as I can this year to improve my speed and endurance without bailing on every corner, then ride 100 miles, enjoying the company of other riders, at my own pace, at an event that celebrates sporting participation at every level, then I’m going to be a very happy woman one year from now. So that’s what I’m going to do.
Having said that, I do reserve the right to become completely, nuttily obsessed, bore all my friends and family to tears with the fascinating facts I’ve just looked up about cycling gloves, spend hours admiring myself in the mirror dolled up in my new cycling gear, and insist on organising cycling outings with every person I meet that mentions they own a bike.
That’s all just a whole other thing.
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