I am what I am – being an artist with ADD

By 30 November , 2018 December 11th, 2018 personal

You know me best from my happy and quirky artwork. I love to create cheerful things with happy and bright colors and touches of florals. I create this because it makes me happy and because I hope I can share this feeling with you and put a smile on your face as well. My work varies in styles and subject matter, mostly depending on my mood or the experimental phase I’m in. I love my job, and I feel fortunate that I’m one of the lucky people who can make a living out of it,
Creating is fun, but it’s also something I desperately need in my life.

I’m going to share some things that I’ve been hesitating to share for some time.
I’ve learned how many people, especially creatives, seem to appreciate it when a fellow artist opens up about themselves. And to be honest, the same goes for me too. I guess it makes you feel less alone when you realize you’re not the only one who struggles with stuff. Though, at the same time, it’s a little bit unnerving to share it because I hardly write about myself that way. What will people (or even clients) think once they’ve read this? But on the other hand, this makes me the creative that I am. Nothing changes. I will still make the same art, and hopefully, there are a lot of future clients and projects waiting for me. So maybe I should simply suck it up and embrace it all.

Here goes:

I’ve always been a sensitive child. Sounds, colors, bright lights, smells, crowds, even rushed movements around me… they’ve been intense my whole life long. I was very dreamy and could easily cry about the weirdest things because something would trigger me. School parties and all kinds of loud things were never my thing.
As a teenager, I ‘thought’ that I wanted to go to a school disco. I was always a bit of a loner, but I figured it might be fun because everybody was talking about it, and the school was buzzing of excitement. So in a wild moment, I decided to go (something I’d never done before).  However, I quickly found out that this was a big mistake. The moment my dad had dropped me off, I heard the painful noise (the loud music), saw the crowd, and panicked. Feeling all embarrassed and upset, I called my mum to ask her if they could please please please pick me up again. I was in tears, but my mum actually laughed. She assured me that it was okay and that I didn’t have to feel bad about it. My parents have always been very accepting of my younger sister and me, and this was one of those moments. So the minute my dad arrived home, he was immediately sent back by my mum to fetch me from school again. Needless to say, they had a bit of a laugh about it.
Because my parents didn’t make a big deal out of it, I didn’t give it much thought afterwards. And neither did my parents. We just assumed that I didn’t like crowds and noise and that was that. So I simply went through secondary school, then through art school, and after getting my diplomas, I started working as a freelance illustrator.
But during that time, I started to struggle more and more. I didn’t connect with many people, never went to bars for a drink, or to parties (unless my parents took us someplace), and only rarely went to crowded places in general. I made few friends and was often considered a little bit odd. Some people would even tell me this to my face which made me feel more insecure. But I was lucky because I could work at home, so I would not really meet many people anyway, except online which felt nice and safe.
Then, at some point in my career, I met up (online) with this fantastic group of fellow artists. We created a collective and went to New York together to exhibit at a big trade show to sell our work. I would be doing that a couple of years in a row. It was a great experience, but it also made me realize how much I struggled to cope with this sort of thing. There were a few factors that made it very hard for me, amongst them was flying, the extremely loud and busy city of New York, and the socializing part. I could pretend I had this all covered, and I could pretend that I could deal. Nobody knew I think. But inside, I was panicky, and these trips drained me of all energy.
Then, last year, I went on an art-retreat in Italy with fellow artists. It was fun, but again, I struggled inwardly. And when I had a scary panic attack on the plane, it was the last drop for me. I waited for a while but was starting to feel more and more angry about myself until I got to a point I couldn’t handle it any longer. Depression is never a good thing, so I made an appointment with my doctor who referred me to see a psychologist.
And that’s when things finally started to get in gear.

Long story short, a year later, I find myself with a label. Two to be precise.
I’m usually not that fond of labels. But when I got my diagnose, it was like many pieces of a very complicated puzzle were finally falling in place.
I was diagnosed with both ADD and Autism, though the latter is only mildly in my case (it used to be called Asperger Syndrome).
Nobody would guess it, and neither did I at first. But I do have these characteristics, though some of them are quite moderate, and some of them overlap with the ADD diagnose. They told me that women are usually better at hiding them than men, which might explain a couple of things.
But to be clear; to me, the ADD diagnoses still makes more sense to me.

ADD is short for ‘attention deficit disorder.’ It’s in some ways similar to ADHD, though it’s less ‘hyperactive.’ We are the quiet ones so to speak. Fun fact; a lot of people with ADD, ADHD, and Autism are super creative.
But it’s not always easy.
In my mind, the gears are always whirling. I always have ideas to draw or projects to start, but too many to focus on. Thoughts never stop. Finishing and/or starting new tasks is hard. Concentrating is even harder because I get distracted all the time. Except when I’m drawing. Then I get into a dreamy state in which I forget about the outside world for a while and just focus on the work. When I’m in that zone, it’s almost like weaving a protective cocoon around myself. Though there are still days that it doesn’t work and days that too much stuff piles up in my head. The more I have on my mind, the busier and noisier it gets, and from time to time, my brain freezes like a computer that’s running too many tasks at the same time. It’s a fortunate thing that I’m good with deadlines. They give me something to focus on. And through the years I’ve discovered tricks that helped to get myself more organized and finish what I start. I might share some of them when I have time to write them down.

These are just a few traits I struggle with on a daily base. But they are mild compared to how dark and difficult it can get.
Before I got my diagnose, I was very harsh on myself.
For years, I’ve become to hate myself.
Yes, I’m actually using that word, even though I realize it’s a very strong word to use. But that’s just how it was. Being a perfectionist to a point of compulsiveness, I’ve always been really hard on myself.
And during the last few years, it was getting worse. I kept telling myself to toughen up, to be better, to stop acting weird and to fit in whenever I had to socialize. But every time it was a struggle.
Whenever I met up with someone, I would replay the entire conversations in my head afterwards, and I would tell myself how stupid I was. I scolded myself for the things I should or shouldn’t have said, even when it was just a nice day out with a friend or a lovely conversation with my parents. Nothing I did was good enough. And when people made me a compliment, I simply didn’t accept it.
Of course, this was accompanied by depression, although I tried to hide it from people. But it got so bad that I knew I had to seek help. My mood swings weren’t fair to my husband either.
In the end, the diagnose actually opened my eyes. They assured me that I wasn’t dumb and that I wasn’t mad. And at some point they convinced me to try and accept myself more. It’s still a progress, but I am doing it, and it feels better. It’s like you create and cultivate a bit of peace inside yourself. Does that make sense?

But you might wonder why I still kept making happy art, even though I wasn’t feeling happy myself.
Well, the happiness wasn’t a lie. Sharing happy things doesn’t mean that I like to pretend that my life is all shiny and bright and full of happy singing birds and flowers. The way I represented myself was a very conscious choice because I didn’t want to dwell in my sorrow. That’s just not who I want to be.
Some people say; “Art is therapy”, and I guess I have to agree on that.
A colleague once asked me why I made so much art. Didn’t I want to take a break sometimes and socialize?
Yes, I would. But for me, taking a break works best while creating. (Socializing has never been my idea of relaxing anyway).

In any case… I guess I’m very lucky.
I have super supportive parents and a super supportive husband (who, by the way also has Asperger syndrome).
And lately, I’m starting to feel better about things. But I think it’s a good thing to share the darker parts of me as well, because I know I’m not the only one.

In the end, I am who I am because of my quirks. Maybe I wouldn’t create all these things if they weren’t part of me, I don’t know.
Gradually, I’m learning to be thankful for myself. I don’t expect that the doubt and dislikes I’m still experiencing will entirely go away, but I guess that acceptance is already a huge step into the right direction.

My mum came up with this simple mantra that I have to repeat to myself from time to time.
“Love yourself”
“You’re beautiful”
“You’re worthy of being loved”

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Wat goed en dapper van je om dit met de buitenwereld te delen. Het belangrijkste is dat jij zelf uitvindt en accepteert wat bij jou past. Maar volgens mij ben je al een eind op weg.

  • Mitsou Bakker says:

    Bedankt dat je dit deelt! Best herkenbaar ook al heb ik het in mindere mate en sinds ik mindfulness ben gaan doen is het nog minder geworden. En ik vind mensen sowieso niet gauw raar. Misschien omdat ik zelf ook niet ‘gangbaar’ ben 😊 En je kunst is inderdaad om blij van te worden 💕

    • irrimiri says:

      Dankjewel Mitsou. Wat fijn dat je mijn werk ook leuk vindt. Mindfulness helpt mij jammergenoeg niet zo. Ik vind het moeilijk om me daarop te concentreren. 💕 Maar wel heel fijn dat het jou helpt!

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