Roy Moller’s Story

After decades on the fringes of the Scottish music scene, at 49 I have finally started getting somewhere. Last year a BBC radio DJ featured me in a live session, describing me as “Scotland’s best-kept secret”. I’m delighted at the recognition, but wonder what role my dyspraxia has played in all this.

I wasn’t diagnosed till I was 42 and up until that point thought that if I only practiced harder I would eventually play the guitar the way I wanted to. Even now, I recently played a wedding in a band of musical contemporaries where I screwed up an intro to one of the songs four times. Typically for a dyspraxic I could accomplish this task and that task – nearly all the pieces of music in the set – but the other task was out of my grasp. I should have flagged this up at rehearsals but, despite all my experience, I stuck my head down and hoped for the best.

Experience has taught me that doesn’t work. Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results “. Until my diagnosis, this is what I did. Taking the long way round to learn the stuff I can now play, and always aiming higher technically than I ever had a hope of accomplishing. Now I know my limitations – most of the time. My main tip for dyspraxic would-be guitarist is to recognise your limitations. There is plenty scope for creativity within them, certainly if you are interested in expressing yourself by making original music. If all you want to do is to emulate a heavy metal hero or a fluid classical player, please take a reality check. You’ll drive yourself mad with frustration.

Initially, I drove myself mad with frustration just trying to play average folky chords. I remember the first time I played at a party, I was told loudly that my efforts were “shite”. My critic followed this up with, “It’s just Glasgow humour, son”. Hilarious. Not.

Eventually, about five years late on the average learning curve, I got some basics down. I started writing songs. Do I think dyspraxics have a special creative ability? No. I think the idea of a dyspraxic “gift” is misleading and irresponsible. Do I think dyspraxia can lead us to be more than averagely persistent? Yes. In my case, I wanted some return on my massive investment of time into playing guitar. Years and years went by and through sheer persistence and some chance meetings with some great musicians I started getting involved in collaborations with musicians in the Scottish music scene. When the music making and networking capabilities of computers became easy to use, I started to come more into my own. I found that with a simple to use digital recorder in my hands I can inject a bit of guitar flair here and there. Headphones on, not conscious it’s me playing, oblivious to my past disappointments. To a certain extent, as much as is neurologically possible, “unlearning” my disability.

Soon after my diagnosis, sick of working in distraction-ridden open plan call centres in my day-to-life I started working as a support worker. I naively thought that my experience of the “hidden disability” would be of benefit in assisting people with learning disabilities. Boy, did I get a rude awakening. At Garnethill in Glasgow, I found my supervisors felt no qualms in delivering a personal dressing-down that highlighted, along with the distinctly untrue assertion that I had a personal hygiene problem, what was considered my unacceptably unkempt hair and badly-chosen and scruffily-worn clothes. It was an extremely hurtful episode which also served to underline that for all the assurances given at the interview that my dyspraxia would be taken into account, no consideration was taken regarding it.

I needed out, and found that a learning-disabled drummer supported by the same organisation, Key Housing, needed a support worker to play guitar while he drummed in his band the Hotliners.

I regularly gave freely of my own time and resources to the band, making an hour-long video about them, liaising with various care and other organisations without any admin pay. To illustrate my commitment, I played a benefit with them the morning after I found out my mother was dying in hospital in Edinburgh, including making a quick trip to the rehearsal studio to replace a broken bass drum pedal for Brian. Also, I was doing business on their behalf on my own landline with the Co-Op Bank where the band were trying to set up an account as my wife was in bed with swine flu and I was caring for our toddler son.

In addition, made a documentary-length video of the band in my own time at my own expense, wrote songs about the band and tried to involve them in as much creativity as their disabilities would allow.

Occasionally, my own disability came into play – such as when band practice was cancelled, and I was called upon to do regular support worker tasks, such as assembling Brian’s new flatpack furniture. I protested this was beyond me but assured that “these things build themselves”. I tried my best, but several hours, broken bits of wood and mangled pieces of furniture later, the point had been made. Again, my dyspraxia had been totally disregarded.

I did all the extra unpaid admin for the Hotliners because I felt an affinity with these learning-disabled people with an urge to make music and not recognise age or disability barriers. Eventually, though, I was losing so much money I had to get another job. I pledged to try to help the Hotliners out as much as I could, but my moving on lost the trust of the band and Key Housing who took my extra-curricular input for granted and I lost my last two weeks’ shifts and wages, received receiving not as much as a thank you from Key Housing.

The same month, I played my first session for the BBC. I learned how strange the life of a musician can be. Validated by the BBC in Manchester while simultaneously being treated so dismissively by Key Housing in Glasgow.

The life of a dyspraxic musician can be very strange indeed. My concluding advice to potential dyspraxic music makers? If you feel you’re tough enough, go for it. Good will won’t get you past the open mic stage. Dyspraxic persistence – coupled with something original to say and a creative attitude to your limitations – just might.

 

SUNDAY POST ARTICLE by John Paul Breslin (December 14th, 2008)

royRoy hated physical education when he was at school. He found it impossible to do exercises such as vaulting, climbing ropes and swinging around the parallel bars. In fact, his co-ordination was considered so bad his PE teacher at Trinity Primary School banned him from a skiing trip because hethought he would pose a serious risk to the safety of other pupils and himself. But his problems didn’t end there. Considered clumsy by his classmates he was always the last to be picked for games of football and found it difficult to take part when he was eventually selected. This meant he was often left out from thecrowd. Pupils would make fun of the fact he frequently forgot to tuck his shirt in and couldn’tunderstand why loud noises made him agitated.

Terrified

Instead of enjoying children’s parties Roy was terrified that balloons might burst. And that alienated him further. Roy also struggled to concentrate in class. His handwriting was poor and he found subjects like art and maths extremely difficult. There were some areas he felt comfortable in, however, such as English and drama. His parents Mollie and Peter assumed he’d grow out of his unusual behaviour and that his problems with concentration and co-ordination would improve. But his difficulties continued through secondary school and university. Roy did well enough at school to go on to Strathclyde University to study English and Librarianship, but his lack of concentration and inability to read his own notes made it hard to keep up with the coursework. Despite this, he completedhis degree and secured his first job with the Scottish Film Archive through a government- assisted programme. Roy loved this job, which involved archiving old film footage, but

says-he was useless at hreading the film into the projector. He even managed to ruin a film about theconstruction of the Forth Road Bridge and was relieved to discoverthere was another copy. Sadly, the contract ended a year later and Roy found himself back at the job centre. Fort he next few years he held a number of different admin and office jobs,including a stint working in telesales. Every month, the team with the most sales would celebrate by cheering and setting off party poppers.

Roy became so agitated about the impending noise from the celebrations and the constant chatter in the background thathe developed stomach cramps. He left telesalesand started working for the Department for Social Security in his mid-30s.The job went well at first but towards the end of the seven years he spent there Roy says he was bullied by one of his former colleagues. He always had problems sleeping, but the situation at work made his insomnia worse and he found himself waking up repeatedly through the night. Also, his stomach cramps became so bad he was twice admitted to the Western Infirmary in Glasgow.

Following one of those attacks in 2005, doctors diagnosed him as having irritable bowel syndrome. While he was in hospital it was also suggested he might be able to tackle some of his insomnia and anxiety problems through counselling. So Roy spoke to a cognitive behavioural therapist.

Difficulties

During one of his sessions he also discussed the difficulties he’d experienced at school andthroughout his life, including his poor co-ordination. That’s when the therapist suggested Roy’s problem could be dyspraxia. It was the first time Roy had heard of the condition, but after searching the Internet for more information there was no doubt in his mind that he had it.

Dyspraxia is an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement, which results in messages sent from the brain not being properly or fully transmitted to the body. Once known as Clumsy Child Syndrome, dyspraxia affects co-ordination and causes problems with language, perception and thought. The condition doesn’t change how intelligent someone is but it does affect their learning ability.

During his search for more information Roy found out about the Developmental Adult Neuro-Diversity Association, a support group for people with dyspraxia and other related conditions. The association put him in touch with Sheena Wannan from Edinburgh, who runs the support group, Scottish Dyspraxion. Like Roy, Sheena discovered she had dyspraxia when she was an adult.

Children who show signs are referred to a psychologist, physiotherapist or speech therapist for diagnosis, but there is nocurrent diagnosis available on the NHS foradults. So Roy went to a private clinic, The Institute for Neuro Physiological Psychology, which was located in South Queensferry at the time. He had to carry out various activities there, such as balancing and crawling. His performance in these taskswas monitored using specialist computer software, which doctors analysed before diagnosing him with dyspraxia. The diagnosis meant a great deal to Roy because it gave him an explanation for the difficulties he’d experienced throughout his life.

“I was glad to find out I wasn’t alone,” he says. “But I was also frustrated because I wasn’t aware of it sooner. If I had been I could have savedmyself a lot of humiliation and grief.” Roy’s diagnosis meant he could explain his condition to his employers so they could understand why he would struggle insome areas or situations.

He now works as a support worker for Key Housing, a housing association for. people with learning difficulties, and sayshis diagnosis has allowed him to feel less pressured to do tasks he knows he can’t carry out.

“Nowadays, I know to say no when someone asks me to do a physical task I know I’m not up to,” he explains.”I’ll never put myself through the humiliation of trying to do something 1 clearly can’t do.” He’s also found martial art T’ai Chi to be extremely “calming and says it helps him cope with the anxiety that accompanieshis condition.

What’s more, Roy’s girlfriend Emma (38) gave birth to the couple’s first child, Peter, last February, which has provided him with an entirely new set of challenges.

“I was terrified when I found out I was going to be a father,” he reveals. “I started to worry about the responsibility of looking after a child and whether or not I’d be up to the task. “However when Peter arrived, I had no time to dwell on myfears and just got on with it.”

Roy now finds his days and nights filled with parental duties and says he checks things over and over again to make sure he hasn’t made any mistakes, such as forgetting to clean his son’s, bottles.

He says he’d love to find a cure for his dyspraxia, but remains sceptical about any treatment on offer. “If research showed significant improvements could be made I’d consider going for treatment, but I’m not convinced by it at themoment,” he says.

Problems

“Dyspraxia has caused problems throughout my life so it isn’t something I’d choose to live with if I could avoid it.” In the meantime, Roy and Sheena are trying to get charity status for Scottish Dyspraxion and plan to lobby the Government to have the NHS provide diagnosis for adults with the condition. “We want to raise awareness so adults likeourselves will be able to recognise some of the symptoms,” he says. “We also plan to have guidelines put in place by employers to accommodate any of their employees who have the condition.”One of the most important things needed is the availability of diagnosis on the NHS for adults. People need the validity of a diagnosis if they want to make changes in their lives.”