UNFOLDING AN INVISIBLE MASK
helpING late- diagnosed neurodivergent individuals to communicate their lived experience of masking through creative PRACTICE AND discussions
WHAT IS THE PROJECT?
HOW CAN I BE INVOLVED?
on Neurodiverse Connection.
Elise described the idea that her auDHD daughter was like a piece of origami paper; every day she had to fold herself into a shape that others enjoyed before she went out into the world, but as soon as she got home and she no longer had to hold herself in this shape she fell back into a piece of paper, and although she is back to herself, the creases never disappear.
This post went viral with over 100k views, 1000 likes, and 300 retweets within the first 24 hours, indicating how much it struck a chord with the community.
I would like to explore this analogy further and create a piece of artwork in Leeds for the public to engage with.
(find out more about my masking experience below)
I would like to bring together small groups of individuals who did not identify as neurodivergent until adulthood, (whether formally diagnosed or not), along with their friends and long term family to explore this analogy further while creating simple folded paper structures.
In these reflective groups we will discuss masking in general, our own lived experiences and practices involving masking and our potential struggles in communicating this with friends and family who maybe do not see the effort of masking day to day.
Materials will be provided but sessions will be partially led by the input of attendees - after making simple folded structures we may end up decorating these, adding writing, collage or other decorations depending on discussions.
I envision that some sheets will be repeatedly folded and unfolded many times, leading to the permanence of folds, the erosion of paper along the lines and ultimately the ripping of the paper, and their repair with masking tape.
This process will act to represent the every-day toll of masking and how it leads to overwhelm and breakdown.
WHEN ARE THE SESSIONS?
There will be four free in-person sessions in Spring, at venues in Leeds. The location of these will be confirmed following discussions with potential attendees, to accomodate individual needs as much as possible.
Ticketed online sessions may be offered with accompanying craft packs mailed to attendees in advance. If there is a desire for more meet-ups for those who are unable to attend in person, or who are not Leeds based.
The paper structures created during these reflective groups, along with ideas and experiences collected from the discussions, will inform my production of a final piece of hanging sculptural artwork. As a scientist I am also keen to include as much peer-reviewed and fact checked information into this as possible and I hope that the sculptures will reflect the experiences of individuals within the population that experience masking.
Attendees will be invited to the opening of the exhibition (planned for Summer) and may be offered the opportunity to exhibit their own work, story or insight as part of the exhibition.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
MY MASKING EXPERIENCE
I am an artist and scientist who was diagnosed with ADHD at 34 years old. As a child I was considered ‘gifted’, did well academically and had a group of good friends, but I struggled with my mental health from a young age and was referred to CAHMS for generalised anxiety disorder in my early teens. In adulthood and in light of my diagnosis I can now unpick the fact that this anxiety stemmed from the constant and exhausting pressure of masking.
Masking is a well described tendency of neurodivergent individuals to suppress or conceal aspects of their character by modifying behaviour to hide natural impulses or emotions. For me this was a very much internalised and learned behaviour dictated by societal pressure to assimilate and appear ‘normal’ so that I didn't negatively stand out or let people down.
One of the hardest parts of diagnosis has been discussing my experience with my family and long term friends, who have only seen my 'masked' self, and do not consider me to have any neurodivergent tendencies. When I discuss the past, they often state that I was ‘normal’ in my childhood and adolescence, and remember any of my issues as being solely due to anxiety.
The process of masking has become so ingrained into day-to-day activities and interactions that it is very often a subconscious act. That being said, although masking can become second-nature, this does not mean it does not still take energy and unseen effort to perform. The toll of masking is high and often underestimated by others, for whom it appears an invisible process. Over time the energy required to adhere to social norms and responsibilities became exhausting and lead to burn-out, resulting in a break down of my career and huge consequences to my mental health.
I believe that this project could lead to a piece of work that can help to open up these conversations, validate the experiences of late-diagnosed individuals and give neurotypical individuals a starting point to understand their neurodivergent friends or family a bit better, and encourage them to feel safe enough to unmask further.
I particularly welcome participation from those whose lived experience differs from my own as a white, cis-het female, in order to ensure that the final work can aim to be as inclusive and relatable to as many experiences as possible given my own background.
This project would represent the start of a body of work that I as an artist and scientist aim to work on, looking at the idea of the term ‘normal’, how it is used in society in a completely contrary way to as it is in science, and how people have developed different relationships with this word depending on their lived experiences. I would like to further explore this theme through future workshops, interactive installations, talking pieces and potentially a podcast.