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Why Laughter Is a Gift in My Life With Dyspraxia

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Once upon a time in a far-off land, there was a female Jester named Senat. She was thought to be a spy for the Queen and the Queen regent as well as being an entertainer — a glorious visage in red and yellow with bells adorning the dress.

You may wonder who this woman is and why I am talking about her. My first part-time job was playing this character. The job gifted me many things: a good wage, my two best friends and hope. When I started working, it was the old cliche of starting as a chambermaid and working your way up – and for me, it wasn’t a metaphor. Most of the other females I worked with played two characters, a chambermaid and a lady in waiting.

I approached my boss to ask if it was possible if perhaps if I could play a lady in waiting. He burst out laughing, so “I wasn’t graceful enough” to be a lady in waiting. There was also a dig about my weight in there too. But hey, I would have been worshipped and considered a great beauty in the 16th century, so the joke is on him!

A couple of weeks later he came back to me with a proposition that I would play the female jester. I was ecstatic! What could be more fun? Originally, Senat or Serat (the ‘n’s’ and ‘r’s’ looked extremely similar) was from France. Now there were two ways I could have played her — either using a really offensive stereotypical French accent or as a silent fool (within limits, as part of my job was to talk about the history of the building). I chose neither. Instead, amongst other things, I did fantastic animal impressions, if I do say so myself. Despite the bells, I was able to sneak up on people and give them a fright. And I enjoyed telling the visitors all the stories of the rooms.

There was one clear issue though, for a jester of the time. I couldn’t juggle.

Why? I am severely dyspraxic.

It really bothered me that I couldn’t juggle, so I tried day and night. I’d try to understand the math and watch tutorials from YouTube. Nothing was working, but I refused to give up.

After about two months, I finally, by luck, succeeded. I may need to have to work a little bit harder, but I can do anything I put my mind to — dyspraxia or otherwise.

Playing the part of a jester gave me a fresh perspective on the role that laughter plays in our world. A guffaw, chuckle, tittering, giggling, depending on the context, can be a delightful sound or a cruel one. I am by no means a comedian, but the ability to laugh at myself has really carved me out as a person.

Growing up, I enjoyed the slapstick comedies such as Mr. Bean, Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. These characters inevitably get themselves into hilarious snags during everyday situations. We sit on the edge of our seats, anticipating the next obstacle the character inevitably fails at. For me though, this wasn’t just a TV show, it was an expression of identity.

I was originally diagnosed with clumsy child syndrome, with the name dyspraxia also attached. I knew I was different. I was terrible at sports, struggled to dress myself, struggled to eat and struggled to write. During my time at high school, I would walk into doorframes at least four times a day. I would break pencils and constantly resharpen them, which annoyed my teachers greatly. I struggled at anything coordination-wise and it really broke me when I was younger. I remember being told off at a restaurant because I was unable to coordinate eating spaghetti Bolognese, an issue I still have today.

I used to cry, but as I got older I realized I was going to spend most of my life being “clumsy,” so instead I started laughing. As is fairly common in children with dyspraxia, my speech skills took longer than average to develop. I couldn’t communicate with the world in the way everyone else seemed to be able to. Even as I began to speak, I had plenty of issues forming words. Limited communication and being clumsy was a very stressful mix to keep me in isolation.

In a comedy, this is the perfect character to result in hilarity. In truth, it hurt for a very long time. As I became more used to forming words and sentences, I found my early experiences were trailing behind other kids, and it meant I was alone. And how do you practice speaking with no one to talk to? For me, it was doll tea parties (yes, I really was that creepy kid with porcelain dolls) and making up stories to tell. But underneath, I always felt I was going to be weird and alone forever.

As I got older and made friends, they still laughed at me for being clumsy and not being able to form words properly — not because they were mean, but because it was funny. I spent so long feeling they were laughing at me, rather than the individual events. Struggling to comprehend this, I ended up telling myself to accept that their laughter was acknowledgment.

I grew up and made it to university where I studied Drama and Performance — a place where I could be clumsy and funny and it would be acceptable, even encouraged. I spent time becoming more comfortable with myself. But really, the breakthrough came from that first love: TV. More specifically, from the man, the legend: Michael Gary Scott, the hapless lead character in the hit TV show “The Office.”

In Season 6, Episode 8, Michael goes to a meeting with a colleague, Jim, and on the way, Michael falls into a koi pond. Returning to the office drenched, the whole office makes fun of Michael for this. Which, let’s be real, is understandable! As he usually does, he then holds a meeting with the whole team in the infamous conference room, this time discussing sensitivity training where he discloses this isn’t the first time he’s fallen in a fountain, which adds more hilarity. He tries to deal with the issue by making fun of himself, before going too far to the point he ends up crying.

In the end, though, after finding the video footage of him falling in the Koi pond, the employees all realize Jim didn’t try to catch him and let him fall in. And after overcoming the initial shock that Jim let him fall, he reconciles and is able to laugh at himself – this time, without going overboard.

This is just one example where that show of 22 minutes touched on a struggle I had my whole life. I am clumsy. I am dyspraxic. I have more accidents in a week than most do in a decade. And for years I’d get upset, or go too far “leaning in” on it. But now, like Michael at the end of the episode, I’m managing to find the right balance in meeting my slapstick moments with self-deprecating humor.

Last year, I had a very similar moment when my boyfriend and I were in a hammock. He got out. The laws of physics and balance were not on my side and the hammock tipped up, in what felt like slow motion. I trusted that if I stayed in place I wouldn’t hurt myself, and there I was — in a flipped hammock with the surrounding people in shock about this very odd, calm, clumsy accident, almost looking for permission to laugh. And by not being upset, I was able to give that, and turn an unfortunate moment into a great story we still laugh about.

If I could tell any dyspraxic child anything it, would be that they will have more accidents than the average person. Learn to recover, how to fall without breaking anything, and learn to laugh at yourself — because as soon as you learn to laugh at yourself, you are learning to accept yourself.

Originally published: March 10, 2021
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