"I'm Not Drunk, I Have Dyspraxia" | Daye Dolina Allan - UK
It goes without saying that the phrase "clumsy artist" evokes absolute and utter dread. Especially if you happen to be paying said artist hundreds of pounds to create a custom piece of artwork for you.
My name is Daye Dolina Allan and I'm a nineteen-year-old traditional artist based in the beautiful Scottish Highlands. I also happen to be the aforementioned clumsy artist. You see, I live with a disability called dyspraxia. My most recent self-portrait, "I'm Not Drunk, I Have Dyspraxia" aims to represent and raise awareness for my disability as there is little-to-no representation for us, not even in the disability community. Very few people have ever heard of dyspraxia and I strive through my artwork to change that. So allow me to elucidate.
As someone with this disability, I struggle greatly with my gross and fine motor skills and hand-to-eye coordination. Catching things, climbing stairs, and sometimes even walking, particularly in winter, are all nightmares for me. It often takes my brain ten times the effort to do things many take for granted.
Planning, organisation, timekeeping and fatigue are things I also struggle with greatly. I get extreme fatigue if I am forced to concentrate or coordinate my body for long periods (driving is a logistical nightmare, do not get me started.)
I have a constant anxiety in the back of my mind that I will drop something, knock something over, or hurt someone or myself. (I do all my own stunts.) For this reason, I was a ridiculously cautious and reserved child, very reluctant to take part in tasks such as sports which could expose my difficulties to my peers. Because of how careful I was, I never stood out as ‘clumsy’, but rather ‘lacking confidence.’ I instead caught my teachers’ eyes for such quirks as taking stairs step-by-step, struggling to follow or remember instructions, having poor timekeeping, and mixing up letters within words. These were relatively trivial things, however, as what truly caught the eyes of my teachers was my artwork.
Art has been the love of my life ever since I could hold a pencil, (although to be fair I still can't hold one properly.) Albert Einstein once said, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." And 'stupid' was precisely how I thought of myself for many years, largely thanks to the school system. Disabled and neurodivergent people, most especially those who are undiagnosed, are expected to perform the same as everyone else; and let me tell you, no one feels more inadequate than a fish in a tree-climbing competition.
I remember one particular school trip where we went to an outdoor activities centre for a weekend. One delightful staff member was a little miffed with my incapability, to say the least, as we had to reschedule activities when they learned I was the only person who couldn’t ride a bike. I recall bursting into tears when I completed an outdoor rock-climbing exercise as I was so overwhelmed, and the staff member shouted at me for crying. I also have bad vertigo, which I’ve heard is a symptom of dyspraxia, and I recall being forced by my PE teacher to climb to the top of an eleven-foot-tall climbing frame while bawling my eyes out, since everyone else could do it except me, and to them, I was simply not trying. It was also a common occurrence for me to have panic attacks during PE classes in high school, as the expectation to throw and catch with ease combined with thirty-plus people shouting at me for failing miserably at what was, to them, the simplest of tasks, was a recipe for absolute disaster. I had absolutely no valid excuse for not being able to do these activities, as I wasn’t diagnosed at this point. The things that my peers did with ease and enjoyment, I met with struggle and stress, and I had not the faintest idea why. What no one saw was that I was trying ten times harder than anyone else in the room.
The only thing tougher than being a neurodivergent person is being an undiagnosed neurodivergent person. I wasn't any more clued in on why I couldn't do the things that others could, and I don't blame anyone for treating me with disappointment, anger, or ignorance. Because truthfully, I felt all of those things towards myself too. That time in my life genuinely tested me, and I blame not my dyspraxia but how disability is handled as a whole within society. But through all of this, I clung to my art.
I tend to fidget a lot due to my autism, and fortunately for me, one of my fidgets is doodling. It wasn’t something I could express at that quiet teenage time in my life but doodling for me was self-regulation. It helped me to focus, keep calm, and complete the task at hand. This was something else my teachers loathed, as to them, it was just a distraction. The truth is that defacing my schoolbooks has taken me further in life than school itself ever has. I’m still waiting for the day I need to calculate the area of a triangle.
So perhaps everyone else could catch or throw or climb up high or restrain themselves from doodling in their schoolbooks and I couldn't, but my failures are absolutely inconsequential compared to what I have achieved in my nineteen years. Yes, I was undeniably the absolute worst at sports in high school, but I was also a published author at age sixteen.
And though the novel took ten long years to write, not many people can call themselves an author, especially at that age. Maybe I angered my teachers by doodling in my jotter, but those doodles turned into gorgeous works of art which now sell for hundreds. Yes, these things take a lot longer and a lot more effort for dyspraxic people, but that by no means dictates that we shall be any less successful than our neurotypical peers.
I’ve created art almost every day since I can remember; I’m constantly either drawing or painting, and part of the reason why I love art so much is that it’s honestly the only time I feel in control. Art is the only time in my life when I can put in the effort and see results that I have controlled and that am extraordinarily proud of.
I still can’t ride a bike, I still can’t catch a ball, I still struggle with knowing left from right, We, as dyspraxic people, don’t need to do things the way they’re meant to be done in order to be happy and successful, and nothing epitomises that better than an artist who can’t hold their pencil correctly.
I want any person who reads this, dyspraxic or otherwise, to understand that your past failures and struggles are inconsequential compared to what there is to be celebrated. I’ve since learned that the weight of what others think of me is only as heavy as I allow it to be. All we can do is be the best version of ourselves, and know our worth. Through our own determination and fortitude, we can all succeed in our own unique way and we can all be loved exactly as we are.