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We are able

by Rachel Brennan 12 months ago in success
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With these scissors, I am able.

I don’t like writing about myself. I prefer to invent a fascinating protagonist who endures an enthralling and vast venture, eventually creating an interesting tale that absorbs its readers like a sponge immersed in water. I’m not as exciting as the characters found in literature, I’m no Matilda or Harry Potter – I don’t have superhuman telepathic powers enabling my index finger to control the vase that sits on my coffee table, making it hover in the air like a drone. I’m certainly not a wizard that can wave a wand, making whatever I want, appear instantaneously. I do envy those characters though, what an easy life that must be.

I’m just ordinary Rachel Brennan, a nineteen-year-old girl from Doncaster. I’m not superhuman with extraordinary abilities, in fact, I’m beyond opposite to that – I am disabled. I don’t like that word though, ‘disabled’. The bluntness of it fits all of us folk with any sort of limitations into one box, when there’s actually millions of boxes because we are all different, that word just groups us all together. I prefer: ‘neurodiverse’ or ‘neuro-minority’ but when do we ever hear those?

Not only that, but the prefix ‘dis’ in ‘disabled’ and ‘disorder’, means ‘away,’ or ‘having opposite or reversing force’ suggesting there’s a correct/default order of how to be and ‘disabled’ people flout that order. Maybe a more euphemistic term would aid me from feeling as ‘otherized’ as I do. However, a disability/disorder is a nicer way of wording my condition than what my condition used to be called back in the 17th Century, ‘clumsy child syndrome’. Formally, my diagnosis is now called Dyspraxia, or Developmental Coordination disorder.

Actually, I do have something in common with Harry Potter, maybe not Rowling’s character, but the known actor – Daniel Radcliffe. He has Dyspraxia and a lot of us in the support groups idolize him as he is the living symbol of someone who transcended the disability and made a success of himself, which success is something all of us with Dyspraxia wish to achieve. We fear we’ll never get there. I’m also diagnosed with Hypermobility Syndrome.

Most people hear ‘Dyspraxia’ and think of dyslexia. When I tell most people about my condition, they respond with: ‘So you struggle with spelling?’ and this actually makes me laugh because English studies are the only thing in my life that I have ever been confident in, spelling has always come natural to me. I remember how smug I was for being able to spell onomatopoeia in year eight. Dyspraxia is a neurological condition affecting physical and cognitive coordination (I’m clumsy, I don’t walk, I stagger, and I argue with pavements every day).

To summarize the best I can, my symptoms are poor hand-eye coordination, poor fine and gross motor skills (I drop my food a lot and can’t navigate scissors easily), poor posture, fatigue, tendency to fall, over/under sensitive to touch, no spatial awareness, little eye contact, no sense of direction, short-term memory, speech problems (I dribble and stutter), slow thought processing, unorganized, and anxiety. My hypermobility causes joint problems, dislocating, aching pain, stiffness, poor balance (I can’t ride a bike and last year, I went ice skating, and eight-year-olds had to help me, the nineteen-year-old, off of the rank), and stretchy skin.

I struggle getting dressed by myself, I am not as bad as when I was younger, but my fingers can’t coordinate to fasten buttons, tie laces, tie my hair back or hold my hairbrush properly to brush my hair. The thing about dyspraxia is that it is an invisible disability, if I asked you to draw a ‘disabled’ person, you would probably think of the toilet symbol - a stickman in a wheelchair. But that symbol is deceiving, I stagger without a wheelchair perfectly fine, I look like I’m just as able as everybody else unless you really analyzed me.

This invisible cloak we hide ourselves behind causes a lot of embarrassment and shame. When I was younger, mainstream school was so horrendous, but I wasn’t ‘disabled’ enough to suit a special school. I lived in hell. In Science class, we would use Bunsen burners, and to use these – you need to tie your hair back. In PE, the teacher insisted for all girls to have their hair tied back.

My mum always offered to tie my hair up before I went to school, but I didn’t want to, a lot of neurotypical people comprehended answers for my problems, but as a neurodiverse, I found a reason why these resolutions wouldn’t work and stressed myself out. I could’ve actually made things a lot easier for myself looking back, I like to think I’m more rational now. I declined my mum’s offer because I felt ugly as my face would be exposed if my hair were tied back all day. I had no confidence whatsoever. A lot of girls and women probably agree that our hair often serves as a comfort blanket, concealing our face if we feel a little too naked.

I am brunette, with a natural Ombre tint of blonde and I have blue eyes. I’m not bad looking, but I felt awful about myself. I think it is because I felt like an alien in a neurotypical world, being any minority, ethnic-minority, neuro-minority, racial minority, religious or sexual can be extremely marginalizing and taint the way you view yourself. You always have a secondary consciousness where you see yourself through the lens of others.

Back to the word ‘disorder’, my friend, Heleuza, understood me a lot despite not having dyspraxia, she said it’s a little bit similar to how they oppressively called ethnic/racial minorities ‘colored’ which possibly implies whiteness is ‘normal’ or ‘default’ - much like how the default ‘order’ that ‘disordered’ neuro-minority people are opposite to, is normal/correct. A lot of my friends were and are minorities/don’t fit in; we were the ‘aliens’ but we found our own little clique together.

I have even had teachers call me a ‘ditsy genius’ whereas if you google ditzy, it means scatterbrained. Why on my results day, does my intellect have to be marked by that term by a supposed professional? A reminder that my brain is scattered whilst attempting to compliment me. I didn’t say anything, I just laughed.

One thing I could never do in school was textiles, the thought of attempting the pincer grip to thread a needle made me so anxious – have you ever felt so stressed you go boiling hot, and start to sweat? The classroom became an oven on the highest temperature, I became the burning grub, smoldering into ash whilst butterflies broke through my ribcage.

I remember attempting to stitch, whilst everybody else were finished with their well-stitched embroideries. A teacher had to help me, and a lot of people sniggered. My face burned, I looked at all of the clothes at the end of the lesson. Everybody had embroidered roses, daffodils, daisies– it looked professional, I wished I could do it. Then I would look at mine, not even half-started after two hours. I enveloped tears inside my irises hoping no one would notice I was bothered.

The teacher showed me again and again, assuming that I just didn’t get it. She had a frustrated tone, the ‘you are dumb, I’m trying to teach you, but I’m losing patience’ tone. I couldn’t coordinate my fingers inside the tiny holes of the scissors. When I was nervous, I would shake, making my coordination worse. The teacher sighed at me, looked at me in the face and said, ‘You aren’t listening.’

I was listening but my hands weren’t.

Dyspraxia is telling your body to do something, and it just does something else. You tell it to hold a pencil this way, you drop it on the floor, you tell your fingers to grip a glass that way, you smash it in a restaurant. Eyes are always glued to you. Students in my year smirked and whispered to each other whilst fixing their eyes on me. I buried my head down. Even teachers looked at my Textile work and shook their heads at each other, as though I had deliberately done nothing all lesson.

Luckily, I am in university now and my Dyspraxia is no longer a hidden disability. I embrace it by speaking about it. If someone says something ableist, I’ll stick up for myself. I no longer feel embarrassed (I do with some things), but it’s not a constant knife in my chest anymore. I’m no longer put in situations where my inabilities are highlighted. When would I ever need to sew, or do any textiles or crafts now? I sigh with relief thinking about it, I don’t HAVE to do anything like that. I can avoid scissors and ‘fiddly’ things that expose my poor fine motor skills like the plague.

However, I found this year I couldn’t avoid scissors and fiddly things like Covid-19. Actually, this pandemic made scissors find themselves in my hands intentionally. Yep, intentionally. After all that stress and embarrassment with ableist professionals and students who assumed I couldn’t hold the scissors because I am stupid, I held scissors and crafted again.

This began on a boring repetitive day in lockdown, the dismal days were an infinite loop of the same things in the same walls. My sister spoke to me whilst I read, like she always did…

“Why does Humpty Dumpty enjoy Autumn?” My sister laughed.

“Why’s that then, Hol?” I smirked, waiting for one of Holly’s typical dad jokes that she’d sourced from the internet. I was laid on the sofa with my legs up, pondering through the book I had to study.

“Because he always has a great fall.” She smiled, raising her eyebrows, waiting for my laugh. I giggled and rolled my eyes. “You really ought to cheer up y’know, lockdown isn’t that bad.” She continued, attentive to my flat facial expression which spread over my face moments after I chuckled.

I stretched, “It’s not that good either. I get achy when I get used to not exercising. It’s terrible I can’t go back to uni. I haven’t even decorated my room yet.” I turned the page whilst I yawned. It’s true, I had eight shelves in my accommodation and all of them were empty. My room was so plain, no candles, plants, no color, nothing. I had to return home after freshers because of a covid outbreak and I felt grumpy about this.

“Hmm, it’s funny you mention that.” Holly beamed. “Why don’t we make some arty crafts to decorate your shelves with?”

“Like what?” I replied with a hesitant sigh, “Me and crafting is about as compatible as KFC and Katie.” (Our cousin and friend, Katie, is a very passionate vegan, she is strictly against KFC in particular – according to her Twitter).

“I actually wanted to ask you for ages, but I knew you’d say something like that. I went on the Fiskars website and I’ve got some easy action scissors for you which won an easy-of-use competition thing, by the Arthritis Foundation. I promise crafting isn’t as bad as it seems.”

Flattered that she had been so considerate, I put my book down, resting it open like a butterfly on my chest. My eyes and mouth smiled. “Aww, okay, what are you wanting to do?”

“I saw this on Pinterest, I think if we made some, they’d look really good on your shelves.” She leant over and handed her phone to me.

The phone screen showed a photo of what looked like a wine bottle, covered in quotes and different cut out sentences from books. You couldn’t see what container it was for the collage of sentences concealing every element of the bottle. It was covered from head to toe in sentence snippets from old book pages - some of them diagonal, some horizontal, some positioned turned to the side, some small sentences, some long ones – this Pinterest user, Katie Walton – literally created a paper quilt of old book pages for her empty bottle. I did think - what an artistic, creative way of making use of the books you’ve read and the drink you’ve drunk. “These on your shelves would really suit the whole literature student vibe you got going on!” Holly continued.

It did look fantastic, I was in awe – more at the thought of Holly googling ‘book page crafts’, mindful that I love literature and would probably do it. Not only that, but she thought about my Dyspraxia and ordered scissors with my struggles in mind. She clearly wanted to do this and considered the horror stories I told her about me and crafting. She’s very thoughtful, I’m lucky to have her.

I then thought about the ‘dyspraccidents’ I had whenever I used scissors for things like cooking - and how the last time I used scissors at university, I cut the thin bit of skin that connects your thumb and index finger and the hospital glued me back together. I looked at the faint scar where that happened and winced. I have even had ‘dyspraccidents’ whilst using aids, I use a board whilst I spread butter, and I managed to cut myself using that. The craft bottle looked good, but my mind swam through fearful hesitation as ‘retard’ which I’ve most commonly been called, echoed through my brain. ‘Am I really going to be able to do this?’ I internally debated. “Can I see the scissors please?” I externally voiced.

She galloped downstairs and hurried back with a pair of white and tangerine, funny looking scissors. They were surprisingly long like a ruler and didn’t look like any scissors I’ve seen before, instead of two holes for fingers, there was just one bigger hole, which I simply pushed my fingers through whilst pressing the top of them with a gentle pinch to open and close the scissors like a spring. They felt so soft in my hands and basically made the cutting motion feel like squeezing a ball, without the strain I suffered when using the scissors at school. They felt weightless which was relieving for me, I carefully danced my fingers on the smooth, rubbery handle, absolutely mesmerized. My intimidation towards crafting began to evaporate.

“Here, practice on this.” Holly grabbed a magazine out of the drawer, I squeezed with my three fingers and pressed my thumb on the other side of the scissors. The magazine cut. I butchered through the headline and I noticed myself speeding up with ease. ‘Yay!’ Holly cheered.

Undeniably, it felt incredible, being able to cut something without a panic attack crawling up my throat whilst a room of thirty students scanned me. It felt amazing and empowering to hold the scissors without that feeling. With my elation and evident ability, I became complicit to creating the page bottle crafts with Holly.

We decided to use five books from our bookshelf that nobody reads anymore – some by Jacqueline Wilson and Roald Dahl, our childhood favorites. We then cheerfully bounded like puppies into the kitchen to hunt for bottles to use. After exploring through each cupboard, a lot of bottles were full except for three: our Auntie’s Malibu, sunflower oil, and red wine. Holly poured the diminutive remainder of them into three different glasses.

I really liked the shape of the Malibu bottle, and I’d be lying if I told you that Holly and I didn’t mix a little of it with cola from the fridge, oops! We pondered whether or not our Auntie would mind as she purchased these, so we texted her and asked for permission, (she was a key worker, so she was barely in the house through lockdown). She texted back: ‘You can use them. I’ll sort everything out later, have fun and don’t let Rach get drunk with scissors lol xx’.

My sister also explained the craft we were making to her, so she then texted to tell us where PVA glue, paint brushes and a table cover were. Holly imprisoned the tube of glue and brushes in her fist which she retrieved from the kitchen’s ‘messy drawer’ (a drawer full of random things, such as paper clips, pins, stickers, buttons, pens, pencils, paints, highlighters, you name it). She strolled to the dining room table as I grabbed the table cover which was located in my living room drawers. I attempted to spread it across the rectangular, long shaped dining table we have. Of course, this was a disaster. We both laughed and Holly evened it out.

I then placed the empty Malibu, sunflower oil and wine bottle onto the cover which now evenly quilted the table. We spent around three hours cutting and gluing spontaneous sentences from the books onto the bottles. I did need rest breaks throughout, as my thumb and fingers really did start to ache after a while. The Fiskars scissors truly did make a difference to how my hands coped though – I would’ve given up ages before, I lasted hours.

Crafting also made a tremendous difference to the typical lockdown day - filling the void of boredom and as I painted the quotes with PVA glue, I got a little tingly feeling inside of my head, it felt calming and therapeutic. I felt able.

Whilst we scrambled through each page searching for sentences, memories flooded back to us from when we were that reading age – memories of school, memories from being younger. We laughed and reminisced, all while the skin on our fingers hardened from where small amounts of PVA glue had latched onto them. A few memories were poised for me, we went from talking about reading at school to the sport days. Don’t get me started about those. I remember a group of boys calling me retarded whilst my “friends” tucked their smiles in.

That’s when I endured realization amid dialogue – the spontaneous page cutting felt a little pointless. I was finally doing something that I was once prejudicially laughed at for, and in a way, I was standing up against the neurotypical oppressors that laughed, pointed, and got frustrated at me. I stood up to them by simply having scissors in my hands again.

I stood up to them by mentally silencing their comments that plagued my mind for years. I stood up to them by being just as able as they are with these scissors in my hands. I stood up to them by actually enjoying artistic craft, which was something that was haunted and ruined for me – now it felt therapeutic, calming, peaceful, enjoyable – and a way that made a lockdown day, a creative and fun one. I also felt like I was transcending the oppression my own body causes – my hands have oppressed me from being able to successfully participate in arts and crafts for a long time. School oppressed me by not having ‘easy grip’ or ‘easy use’ scissors. With these scissors, I was and am able. I felt accomplished.

I became quiet, immersed in a pool of my own thoughts. By picking up the scissors as a neuro-minority, I wanted to speak for people in other minorities too. I wanted to speak for people that have been oppressed in similar and worse ways than me. It felt empowering having my fingers wrapped around the springy clasp, cutting the pages with confidence as though my confidence had never been withered by ableism before.

I remembered all of my shameful silences and all of the times I buried my head down as a response to the ableism – I was finally responding to their comments and lifting my head up, my fingers replied for me: I can hold scissors and I can create crafts, and your sniggers and stares aren’t going to hinder me. But with the pages being random books that nobody reads anymore – this message felt emptier than what it could be.

Later that night, my Auntie assisted in clearing away the table cover, paintbrushes, scissors, and glue. My sister placed the bottles out near the window to dry. We sat and ate dinner until hours danced by, then, we all landed ourselves in bed. My sister and Aunt fell asleep, I know this because Holly loves to message, and her messenger activity status told me she was inactive. And for my Aunt? Well, her snoring is louder than Zephyrus’ most aggressive, turbulent winds tugging ocean waves. The coast was clear to begin my own independent, messy, ‘ditsy genius’ craft.

My legs scurried to the living room, and my hands rummaged through our bookshelf until I found exactly what I was looking for: ‘The Color Purple’ an epistolary novel by Alice Walker. The book is about a young African American girl named Celie, who was abused by her stepfather, believing he is her real father who forces her into marriage with a man who also abuses her. She goes through a series of traumatizing events, including having a baby with the stepfather and enduring a forceful separation from her sister.

She then meets empowering women who do not allow their husbands to beat them, and who have feminist strength. Celie then picks up this strength herself, and she finds letters from her sister which were hidden by her husband. In the end, she finally makes an independent sewing business where she becomes financially stable enough to be independent, and she reunites with her family. It was a really touching read because it exemplifies Celie’s and the other women’s oppression and the effect it has. The story demonstrates sexual oppression, racial oppression and religious oppression whilst revealing how they rebel and transcend their places of inferiority.

I read Walker’s novel at A level and used it to answer questions about feminism. I remember writing about the importance of sisterhood, and how sisterhood exposes their strengths and abilities to escape the discrimination they’re exploited by. Likewise, it was my sister that actually handed me these aiding scissors, giving me the ability to do something that I was brainwashed to think I was disabled from enjoying because of my Dyspraxia. Because I had studied the book so deeply, there were significant quotes I could relate to my exam question, highlighted in pink and yellow. I hurried to the kitchen and clutched the PVA glue, and ‘easy use’ scissors out of the messy drawer.

I couldn’t find the paintbrushes, I rummaged through, but they were nowhere to be seen. I found an old, yellow pencil though, which was so small it looked like it was a pencil that had been cut in half. I then grabbed a piece of cardboard from the messy drawer and headed to the table. I squirmed my hands through my living room drawers and found the table cover, which I put on again unevenly. I also found an old fruit bowl, which I snatched and put onto the table. I decided the bowl would be the pocket which carries all of the quotes I exterminate out of the novel.

I sat for a good hour, scouring through the Color Purple to discover quotes about experiencing and escaping oppression. I found lots – some highlighted in pink, some in yellow, some not highlighted at all. I used the ‘easy use’ scissors to enable me to slice the quotes from the pages. For each snippet of paper I sourced, I dropped them all into the glass fruit bowl. After I collected all of the quotes, I squirted a lump of PVA glue onto the piece of cardboard I found.

Of course, we had already used the empty bottles in the house, so I decided I’d be crafting the book page collage onto the marble vase that sits on my coffee table. I utilized the tiny pencil, dolloping it into the glue and I combed the back of the quotes with the pencil, smearing glue on the back of them. One of the sentence snippets read: ‘He would beat me whether I did what he said or not.’ This sentence was too long, so I cut the first half, then put ‘what he said or not’ underneath. I then glued a sentence that said, ‘I am happy, I got love’ directly next to this on a slant, flipped the other way. This was to directly demonstrate how she went from being weak and beaten, to joyous and in love.

Eventually, the vase was entirely quilted in quotes which were an amalgamation of sentences of oppressions, versus sentences of escapisms, all entangled onto the vase and glued on diagonally, slanted, portrait, horizontally, etc. There were so many powerful quotes, such as ‘I try to beat her, she blacks my eyes’, and how Celie told herself she was a tree when she was beaten, to disassociate from the pain. There were also quotes illustrating Celie’s transcended oppression by sewing pants. Pants were tailored for men, and women would be expected to wear dresses. By picking up the scissors and sewing pants, she was able to exceed and rebel against that gendered marginalization.

The vase was only small, it was difficult to choose from the hundreds of snippets I had cut and dropped into the fruit bowl, which ones I should use. I stroked the back of them with the pencil that was soaked in glue, as I carefully pressed them onto the vase. My hands weren’t as shaky because I wasn’t judgmentally stared at, but I did drop quite a few. I prioritized the quotes where Walker’s characters proved their oppressors wrong, doing something unorthodox, rebelling against their given inferior positions. Celie’s oppressors would never believe she was able to pick up scissors, become independent and sew a garment which was misogynistically taboo for a woman to wear. My oppressors would never believe I was able to pick up scissors again and glide them quickly through pages and pages of paper, without hand strain enabling them to laugh and discriminate against me.

After I finished gluing the pages onto the vase, I realized there was no color. The pages looked dismal on their own, yes there were the highlighted sentences, but I wanted more. I bounced back into the kitchen and scrambled my hands through the messy drawer until I found something that I could use. Although I was feeling optimistic using the ‘easy use’ scissors, I didn’t quite feel ready to paint yet. Contrarily, I found a huge bag of multicolored buttons. There were buttons of all different colors and sizes, some oval, circular, some in the shape of hearts, squares and flowers, some violet, blue, orange, some stripy, some more than one color, some one color on its own.

I was never able to fasten buttons, but by feeling truly relaxed by the easy grip scissors which smoothly sat in my hands, I was able to pinch the buttons with the scissors, paint glue on the back of them and stick them to the tiny gaps which exposed tiny segments of the vase in between the quotes, and then I planted some all around the vase, on top of the quotes.

I decided to use all of the different types of buttons – the love heart shaped, the rounded, the floral ones. I used a variety of colors – Botticelli blue, turquoise, lemon yellow, heliotrope, indigo, apricot, pumpkin, forest green, lime, oak and ash brown, hot and baby pinks and rose. I didn’t place them onto the vase in any particular order either. I used such variety to symbolize diversity, and how there is not a rigid color scheme/patterning needing to be followed. Just like how everybody should not be rigidly the same, we are all unique and diverse, just like the buttons.

I fathomed whilst I dissected them from the bag and fixed them to the vase, that someone with dyspraxia, hypermobility, or any other impediment such as arthritis, is just as able to cut, sew, paint, and create crafts just as able as anybody else if they want to. Someone who has no education like Celie, who experienced racial, religious, and sexual oppression through their entire lifetime – can be an entrepreneur, a colossal success. Oppressors try to make us think that we cannot do things because we are simply different to them.

I felt neglectful because I had a fruit bowl filled with millions of snippets, which I couldn’t fit onto the vase. I pondered, what do vases need? Flowers. I delightfully hopped off of my chair and dug through the messy drawer again, and that’s when I found the fake roses that I kept from my boyfriend. He bought me some roses which had chocolates in between them, but when I had eaten the chocolate, I didn’t want to bin the beautiful, plastic roses. I remember stuffing them into the back of the drawer, wondering if they’ll ever find use again one day. I remember I gave one to my friend with some sweets when she was sick.

To assure I utilized every quote I found most significant, I wrapped the remaining snippets carefully around the stems of the roses. This progress was so time consuming; I could see the sunrise dividing the array of clouds outside. I then used blue tack, sticking the stems to the inside of the vase. Although I found the process fiddly, and at times became hot and flustered – overall I enjoyed crafting it. Because I discovered, I CAN do it.

I may not be Harry Potter nor Matilda, and you might not be either. We might not have superhuman powers, such as telepathically moving objects with our fingers, like I outlined in the beginning. But we do have the power to lift our middle finger (if you cannot physically, you can mentally), and point it to our oppressors - or to those who don’t believe in us because of our diversities - or because we aren’t the same as them. We can hold them high to those who tell us we aren’t able. We are.

I am able, you are able. We are all able.


About the author

Rachel Brennan

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