Quiet Blue – Confessions of a Neurodivergent Artist and A Self Portrait in Blue…

Neurodivergent is not a term that I ever would have used to describe myself. I actually thought I was pretty ‘normal’. I function in the world fairly well, most of the time, and so I have never questioned whether or not I might be neurodivergent.

But then one day, in a strange juxtaposition of events – two conversations with two totally different people back to back – an epiphany occurred, and the effect of this epiphany has rippled through the generations of my family in a remarkable way.  

I realised that ‘neurodivergent’ was a term that we’d never talked about but that it ricochets through both sides of my extended family like a marble in a pinball machine – And with all those sudden illuminations my story was instantaneously rewritten. And with that, understanding and compassion and healing flooded in where previously there had been frustration, bitterness and fear (to name but a few emotions we felt.)

For a while there, I maintained that I was neurotypical, every test I did had me coming up normal… BUT every friend I spoke to about it, laughed and said ‘Of course you are… Just look at your life???’

So I looked at my life: Being so different to everyone else at school; being the shy weird kid who didn’t fit in and struggled to keep deep friendships; being bullied all the way through school by students and teachers alike, hiding and consoling myself as the solitary artist, wearing freaky clothes because I knew I could never fit in so I may as well embrace non-conformity, being pretty extreme in my thoughts and beliefs… Losing stuff because I was constantly in another world. Suffering chronic debilitating anxiety – biting my nails like it could save me… Being told I was too sensitive at home, at school and work. Making publicans change their music because I couldn’t handle the ‘vibe’ in their pub. Taking ear plugs with me most places for like 20 years and not even noticing it was a thing!? Crying at practically everything. Being so empathetic I couldn’t even watch cartoons without getting upset, (I shut down my compassion for others because it was just too much). Having emotions that were often extreme, passion that was all consuming, and the darkness when it came was life threatening. Throwing myself into my beliefs and pursuits with fanaticism over and over… Pretty much taking the road less traveled on every occasion – (Isn’t that still the case?) Hating working for other people, and the constraints of normal employment. Being clumsy, uncoordinated and prone to breaking stuff… Much to the exasperation of my parents and partner. I was so messy at one point you could literally not see the floor – Because I was in a creative whirlwind that never had time to stop and clear up.  If I wasn’t too quiet, then I was too much, too intense, a lot. And then there’s the physical stuff, the hypermobility – I literally cannot sit still even for a few minutes, it hurts and it itches. Good god does it itch! And I MUST only have natural soft fabrics on my skin… Or it itches even more! When I lose focus or get tired, I forget the pleasantries, I get too blunt and accidentally offend people, I get told I’m bossy, rude or obtuse… I thought I was just being straight? I seem to be a loner somehow no matter what I do to try and ‘play nicely with others’… But then there’s the talent, I am good at almost everything I put my mind to (except group dance – That takes ridiculous amounts of practice!). It’s a gift for sure… except how on earth do I choose which thing to do when ideas and inspiration are coming at me at top speed all the time!?  And this is just a little brain dump right now… Not the exhaustive list in the back of my journal… And if you know me at all I’m sure you have your own story to add. (Ant literally just called me the ‘digital killer’ because I keep making electronic devices fail when I use them – What even is that??)

But I’m in my late forties now. I’ve learned the painful way how to function in the world, how to have conversations, give compliments, take compliments, and play nice most of the time, How to channel my creativity. How to actually finish some projects! And I’ve come up with mechanisms for ensuring executive function, and intentional habits for not losing or breaking so much stuff, and for looking after my physical and mental wellbeing.  I know I still overwhelm people with my intensity… People still sometimes back carefully away… Or I still hide for days at a time. So after four decades of learning to do life, and devouring self development books at a near addictive rate, ‘of Masking’, I guess that’s why I can come up ‘normal’ during these tests… But if my younger self had been tested I’m sure the results would be different. 

For now at least, I have no intention of being properly diagnosed, I think I know enough, and I shall leave those resources to the folks who really need it. I am okay, I have, thanks to some significant people in my life, got through some of the darkest phases of being.  I don’t know which label I should really have, I think Neurodivergent is enough… It’s quite freeing in its own weird little way, to acknowledge and understand it in myself and those in my circle. I have a new lens of perception and it helps a lot. And opening up this conversation has benefitted and helped my extended family in such a positive way it brings tears to my eyes (no surprise!) … And I am very fortunate and blessed to have over the years been able to restructure my life so that it works for me. But others still struggle which brings me to this painting. 

“Someone somewhere or maybe even yourself, needs a quiet acknowledgement that struggles with emotional and mental health, too many times, comes from the complexities of how society is structured, seemingly in favour of the neurotypical. 

A Quiet Blue Wall is a collaborative art project aiming to lower the number of suicides through the use of the Cultural and Creative sectors. It is a project designed and developed (by an artist from the community of the neurodiverse, at risk of suicidal ideation and attempted suicide) for the community wishing to prevent suicide, their own or others.” 

Artists have been asked to donate a 30 x 30 cm self portrait in only Prussian Blue to become a ‘tile’ in A Quiet Blue Wall’, an exhibition to raise awareness that the Neurodivergent amongst us struggle to do life the same way as a Neurotypical, and to ask that wherever it is in your power to do so, please show compassion, make adjustments and changes to systems and environments to make life easier for others, and lower the risk of suicide because we don’t ‘fit in’.

I know that times are changing, and this painting is one of my contributions. I hope that more and more conversations will be had in more and more families and institutions. And that we see more and more compassion, understanding, tolerance and change… And less folks ‘opting out’ of life because they aren’t seen, heard or supported. 

Sending you love, and happy healing vibes, 

‘Quiet Blue’ painted in Oils on 30 x 30 cm canvas panel – Probably not finished yet 😉

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