Kirsty van den Bulk - Living with Dyspraxia and Dyslexia

Dyspraxia and Dyslexia: My Journey

A Story of Obstacles, Triumphs, Resilience and Self-Acceptance

Living with dyspraxia and dyslexia has been a journey filled with obstacles and triumphs, teaching me invaluable lessons about my resilience, self-acceptance, and the power of empathy.

I was diagnosed at 37 years of age; I had submitted an essay for my degree; I was so proud of the work and hours of study I had put in; I was confident, it was well researched and made sense, well to me. On reflection, it was terrible!

I received it back, and it was littered with comments and corrections in red pen; this was in 2006, and a lot has changed since then. The handwritten notes on the essay told me I was lazy and sloppy and that my grammar was appalling; it still is, which is why I use Grammarly. I tried to hold it together; I was mortified; not only were there red pen marks and corrections everywhere, but I had submitted terrible work and must have been stupid, and then I fell to pieces.

After crying hysterically for two hours, I drove back home. All thanks to a kind tutor who took the time to review my essay and my reaction to the feedback. She gently suggested that I may have dyslexia and encouraged me to get tested. The following day, she contacted me to check up on me and provide me with the details of the testing process. Bristh Dyslexic Association.

The results of my test were fascinating. Whilst not an easy pill to swallow, I found out my strengths were in verbal communication, that I have severe dyspraxia, surprising for someone who had been a professional dancer and that I also have dyslexia. With my diagnosis, I could access extra help and support and now hold a BA (Hons) 2.2 in Dramatic Art.

‘EMBRACE YOUR WEIRDNESS! I am unprofessionally professional human being. Eyebrow and life enthusiast… STOP LABELING! START LIVING ’

~ Cara Delevingne

School Years

I always had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right with me. However, since I didn’t have an official diagnosis. Whenever I asked for support, I was accused of making up my condition just to receive extra help. Some people even told me that without a diagnosis, I was being dramatic. They pointed out how good my reading was and said that I couldn’t be dyslexic. During my time at drama school, I spent my evenings practicing and mastering sight-reading. I wanted to become an actor, and sight-reading was crucial to achieving my goal.

Whilst undiagnosed in general, people were kind; some assumed I was not very bright and used my possible dyslexia as an excuse; others told me I could do whatever I wanted if only I put my mind to it and tried harder! On that note… try harder; as someone who has dyspraxia and dyslexia, that is all I ever do.

During secondary school, I struggled with being called lazy and not engaged in class. I received feedback that suggested I would excel in only a few things, so I considered myself blessed to have a talent for acting. Often, when people commented negatively about my spelling, maths, reading and writing, I would tell myself, “At least I can do something”.

Before I went to secondary school, my primary school knew I struggled; I was sent to Clayhill remedial school twice a week to focus on my reading, spelling and writing. This was a godsend; unfortunately, this support stopped at secondary school.

‘When someone helping you gets frustrated, don’t let them. Take a step back, because you can’t learn anything under pressure. And don’t worry about the label [dyslexia]!’

~ Erin Brockovich

To compensate for my difficulties in learning, I discovered that I had a talent for entertaining others. To protect myself, I developed a facade of confidence that shielded me from negative comments. However, later on, I would often obsess over these comments, losing sleep and replaying the day’s events in my mind. As an introvert who has learned to appear outgoing, I struggle with self-punishment and negative self-talk. Fortunately, now at 52, I am better equipped to be kind to myself and have developed strategies to stop obsessing and focus on the positive.

Strategies and Systems

Over the years, I have created systems and put in place strategies and tools that help me; these tools are like double diaries, training my brain to photocopy the information I need and file it in my brain-filling system. This means I am quick at problem-solving and pulling up information; I feel for Dennis as I often quote something he said ten years ago: living with dyspraxia and dyslexia, I had to learn to survive in a world that, up until now, neurodiversity was not accepted. Neurodiverse people were called weird, stupid, annoying, embarrassing and some other names I am not going to type here.

I love what Cara Delevingne says because that is me. To quote her, ‘I am an unprofessional professional human being.’

Child white, blonde hair, dressed in a pink t-shirt wearing a staar and superhero star, punching through pape.
Today, I am open about my superpowers. Now, with my diagnoses, I wear them like a cape; I talk about them and share my journey because my dyspraxia and dyslexia make me good at what I do, and by sharing my journey with dyspraxia and dyslexia, I hope it will help and support others who are not as comfortable with their diagnoses as I am.

These hidden disabilities have a profound impact on my daily life. They make seemingly simple tasks into daunting challenges, leaving me feeling overwhelmed, embarrassed, and wanting the world to swallow me up. Despite this, I face my fears when faced with new challenges. I speak up when I know a task is not easy for me; one of the first times I spoke up about it was during a goal mapping training delivered by Gill Gayk; you can watch her asking me about it during this episode of The Wise Why Gill is a lifelong friend who understands and supports me.

Can you imagine the frustration of concentrating so hard every time you write or read something? Nothing is easy, and nothing flows seamlessly. Going back to your work, such as a social media post or notes taken at a training event, only to see your mistakes or not know what you wrote in the first place? It’s exhausting!

I rely on my memory but tend to forget things when I get tired and burnt out. Please don’t be offended if I forget your name. I have been known to turn up for an event a day early but rarely a day late. If I ask you to send me a meeting request, I may not remember the date we agreed on, and I don’t want to book it for the wrong month. On the other hand, when I’m not tired, I tend to be highly organised and efficient, which may come across as overwhelming. Unfortunately, there isn’t a middle ground for me or you.

Then, there are tasks I want to do with our daughter, such as helping her with homework or reading her a bedtime story. When she asks me how to spell something, and I cannot tell her I hate it, thankfully, I ask Alexa instead.

Dyspraxia is not Clumsiness

Not many people talk about dyspraxia, which leads to the assumption that it’s all about being clumsy. However, it’s more about how your brain processes and perceives things.

Sometimes, I find it challenging to complete a task that was easy for me the day before. It can be frustrating, and it depends on how tired I am. But, if I give myself enough time, I can always manage and surpass the task; I have to find my unique way.

I remember being given a BMW 1 series, but the controls were different from my VW Golf. As a result, I struggled to drive the car. Due to my busy schedule, I needed more time to adjust to the new vehicle and found it challenging to drive and use the sat nav simultaneously. I spent four hours on the M4, going back and forth, trying to get off at the correct exit. Eventually, I ended up pulling off in Reading, which was 30 minutes away from my house. I was so upset that I cried and begged the HR department to give me a different vehicle

Learning Spanish
Learning Spanish

I recently started attending night school to learn Spanish. This term has been more challenging than I expected. During the first class, we had to fill out forms which I found difficult. I quickly completed them, hoping I wouldn’t have to do more. During the class, we were asked to speak a sentence aloud. I attempted to say, “Yo Soy Kirsty, Vivo en…” but was embarrassed and stopped.

My dyspraxia can affect how I articulate words, especially when I am anxious about using the wrong word. I also had a speech defect that was corrected when I was four years old, but it has left me with a slight speech impediment, although it’s not noticeable as I’m good at hiding it.

In the next class, we had to fill out another form and do partner work. I explained my situation to my partner and got to work. However, the noise in the class was too much for me. I felt overwhelmed, my heart started racing, I got hot, and the pressure started mounting. Unlike the time when I received the essay back, I was able to verbalize the problem to my partner in class. I asked for some time to breathe and gain control of my emotions, and they understood because I explained what was happening.

Owning IT

It can be challenging to express and admit to struggling with something. I find it uncomfortable and feel like others look at me with pity. However, I have learned that this is not the case. It is essential to speak up about my dyspraxia and dyslexia, which are hidden disabilities, so that I don’t slow down others around me. This also helps others understand why I may have to ask for some time alone or why I might need something repeated. To help people understand that I am not being difficult, I speak up and ask for help. It has taken me a long time to gain the confidence to do this, as it can be uncomfortable and scary. However, the alternative is to stay caught up in my struggles, which is not helpful for anyone. 

To support someone like me who lives with dyspraxia or dyslexia, it’s essential to have patience and understanding. These conditions are not indicators of laziness or lack of intelligence. They are neurological differences that require empathy and support. 

By sharing my story, I hope to help others to speak up and speak out.

P.S. I have run this through Grammarly; some things may need to be corrected; let me know so I can fix them.

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