With a little mental preparation, you can be ready for anything.
[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of an ongoing series of personal essays on what it’s like to live with a mental health diagnosis. Each piece describes a singular and unique experience. These essays are not meant to be representative of every diagnosis, but to give us a peek into one person’s mind so we may be more empathetic to all.]
You wake up to the sound of birds. Not actual birds, it’s just your new alarm clock. Your husband bought it for you because your old one with the standard wake-up sound was causing you nausea for the first part of the day and anxiety for the rest.
You have dyspraxia, which comes with a very particular set of quirks: clumsiness and disorientation, coupled with communication and sensory issues.
You get out of bed and take the few steps toward your wardrobe. You open it and grab a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. You undress from your pajamas quickly because you don’t like being naked. This has nothing to do with body image and everything to do with the way you feel with no clothes on—it’s like your body has no limits. It is terrifying. You put on your underwear, jeans and tee as fast as you can. If you’re lucky, the latter has long sleeves, just as you like it. Putting something on your skin reminds you where your body ends, and that feels nice. Naked, you are floating in space; clothes bring you back to Earth. They act as armor to protect you during your day. You’ll need it.
Until your oldest kids leave for school, you do quite well. You run on muscle memory and adrenaline. When alone with your youngest, your body catches up and stops working properly. In an attempt to clean up, you grab a bowl from the table and it slides out of your grasp. You watch it fly and then land on the floor. You pick it up and load the dishwasher. More dishes falling on the floor, more picking up. The beat of the dishes will become the soundtrack of your life day after day. One dish may be considered an accident, but a constant stream of broken dishes is frustrating beyond measure. Already, the armor you have built around yourself is showing some holes. You eat lunch with your son, and then it’s time for him to go to daycare.
Alone, you rest a bit, but the unfinished laundry awaits. As you go upstairs to fetch the basket, you bump into the door frame with full force. You scream in pain and frustration and then chastise yourself for being so stupid. “Be careful,” and “Pay more attention,” you tell yourself but you already know that you can’t. Every second, your entire attention is focused on keeping yourself out of harm’s way. It’s impossible for you to pay any more attention, and you still bump into things and hurt yourself. It’s like you can’t feel the boundaries of this world and the only way to make you realize it exists is to painfully throw yourself at it. You don’t want to do it, but you don’t seem to have a choice.
You go grocery shopping and you’re relieved no one wants to talk to you because you know it’s one of these days when words just fail you. Finally, you sit down to work, but before you do, you read an article or two about mindfulness. As usual, it makes you cry because you just wish you didn’t have to be so aware of your every single movement. Mindfulness is a choice for some, but not for you. You pull yourself together. After a million little failures, you’ve gotten quite good at pulling yourself together. You do some work, read a blog post, send some emails. You’re feeling productive and good about yourself.
Your older children come home from school. You read a book to them, then quickly consider taking them somewhere, but thinking about it exhausts you. Besides, you still have a few hours until bedtime and you’re all about energy restoration at this point. So you stay home and you leave them to their own devices provided that they’re not demolishing the house. Next, it’s time for dinner: the only home-related thing that you do with some conviction, even joy. But as you cut the vegetables, you also cut your finger. You look for a bandage and stick it onto your finger. Now you’re even clumsier than you were before. While opening the pasta, you notice that the brand you usually buy changed its packaging, so you open it up incorrectly and spill pasta all over the kitchen. You continue to make dinner all the same because that’s what you do.
Now it’s time to pick up your son from daycare. You eat together, and then you try to work some more. You wonder why you’re even doing it but then you realize that if your life is so full of failures, you need to feel competent once in awhile.
After dinner, you attempt to put the dishes away. You open the cupboard but at this moment one of your kids says something to you and you turn only to have the cupboard door close right in your face. You yell some more. It makes you feel better, but only slightly.
You give your kids time to clean, read some more books, and then it’s off to bed. Suddenly, despite being a mild person, you’re barking orders. You feel guilty about it but you really need them to go to bed right now. Your armor has been destroyed and there’s nothing left of it. And you’re tired of paying attention to your every move. You need to sit down or you’ll hurt yourself some more. When your husband comes home from work, the kids are already in bed. He eats dinner, and then the two of you watch a series together. It’s only in his big heavy embrace that you seem really present in your skin. Is that what being normal feels like?
Then you go to bed. As you slip under the warm covers, you remember a comment someone left on your blog post about your sensory issues: “It must be hell to live in your skin.” Before you fall asleep, you want to tell them that having dyspraxia is not exactly heaven. But it sure isn’t hell either.
The “A Day With Mental Health” series is brought to you by Headspace and Bring Change to Mind (BC2M). BC2M is a nonprofit organization built to start the conversation about mental health, and to raise awareness, understanding, and empathy.
These essays will publish weekly on Headspace’s the Orange Dot. Read the rest of the series here.