Why I consider myself an outsider artist…and am proud to be one!

One of my most recent artworks, "Blood Relations" in pen and ink.
One of my most recent artworks, “Blood Relations” in pen and ink.

For a while, I really struggled to find a place in the art world. I wasn’t sure where I fit in. I have no formal training (other than the art classes I had in elementary and middle school), so I am almost entirely self-taught. I have read some artistic “how to” books, but always tend to kind of do my own thing and follow my own style. Even when it comes to picking art tools and supplies, I don’t necessarily go for the “high art” stuff that costs an arm and a leg. For pen and ink work, I tend to use Sharpie markers and pens and for painting, I use moderately priced acrylic and watercolor paints and usually paint on art board (a sturdy kind of cardboard). I do indulge a bit and get good quality sketching pencils, but they don’t cost all that much anyhow. For colored pencil/crayon work I have used high-priced “artistic” brands, but still kind of prefer the old fashioned Crayola honestly.

So when I heard about the genre of outsider art and that it generally refers to self-taught artists, I was immediately interested. I found out that outsider art is also often linked to artists who suffer from mental illnesses or disabilities, which fits me great since I have high-functioning autism and due to that, may tend to look at the world a bit differently than neurotypicals. Of course, I also have troubles with anxiety and depression, so I may qualify on both counts!

Lastly, I have read that outsider artists generally don’t create for the sake of “selling” their art or obtaining commercial work, but instead make art that is meaningful and appealing to them personally, even if it means not selling much work. In no way do I look down on artists who take on commercial projects or create with an eye to selling (everyone has to eat after all), but I myself struggle to do a good job on any artwork that doesn’t cooperate with my passionate Aspie obsessive interests. I am thrilled when I do sell artwork because it means I have kindred souls out there…and that excites me even more than any financial payoff.

So there you have it, my take on outsider art and why I feel I fit in that category. I know there are many art experts who sit around and debate what true outsider art is and if it even exists, but for me, the outsider art community has made me feel at home…and maybe that matters most of all.

 

Having communication problems doesn’t mean that we don’t have feelings!

Last night I had an interesting dream about someone I hadn’t thought about in a long, long time. In this dream, I was once again being antagonized by a boy I knew many years ago in my early teen years. This boy really hurt my feelings more than he will probably ever know. Although he was around me a lot and even hung out some with the same friends I did, he made it clear almost from the start that he did not like me. Now, I will have to be fair and say that at least he wasn’t like the girl bullies I knew who were passive aggressive and exceptionally cruel at times. Instead, he was very upfront about his feelings concerning me. What hurt was how misunderstood he made me feel.

You see, I didn’t know at the time that I had Asperger’s Syndrome (a type of autism), so I had no clue that I was neurologically different than most people, nor did I understand that I was very ignorant of social norms and such. This boy took a dislike to me because I was “weird” and would say so right out loud in front of everyone. He would also explain how it didn’t matter what anyone said or did to me because I had no feelings and nobody would ever hurt me. To him, this justified any ill treatment of me. He thought since I didn’t cry or get visibly angry or show other strong emotions that I felt nothing. But he was wrong. Very wrong.

I felt it all very deeply, I just didn’t know how to respond or react. I often wanted to dispute his feelings and make him see who I really was, but I didn’t know how. I wasn’t sure how to put my feelings and emotions into words. I could easily discuss practical or logical matters and personal interests, but when it came to putting my feelings into words and sharing them I was often mute.

I still have those problems to this day. Often, by the time I do figure out my feelings and how to express them, it is long after an event or discussion has ended, so I feel that I should just keep them to myself because I don’t want to dredge it all back up or I just honestly think the people involved really don’t care to hear what I have to say. Sometimes I do try to talk to someone long after something occurs in an effort just to try to help them understand me better, but often those conversations turn into them thinking I am just immature and unforgiving. They don’t understand that I don’t want to discuss a situation until I feel confident that I can understand and express my feelings. They also often misread or misinterpret what I say and feel, making me feel like the bad guy, which makes me less likely to keep trying.

So in case you were wondering what my point is, please keep in mind that some people may not outwardly show strong feelings and emotions, they may not even know how to decipher their emotions right away…but it doesn’t mean they do not have them just as strongly as you do. And know that many people with problems like mine are walking around undiagnosed (especially the women) and may not get a diagnosis for a long, long time. They may have no idea why they react the way they do either. So please just be careful when throwing around labels like “weird”, “immature”, “selfish”, “unfeeling”, “uncaring”, etc. You may not know it, but you could be very, very wrong and deeply hurting a gentle, caring human being who just has a few communication problems that make life far more confusing.

Too many mountains to climb?

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Have you ever felt like the odds are always against you? Like you overcome one hurdle, just to have several more obstacles thrown in your path? That is how I’m feeling tonight. I know that we all have our mountains to climb and that life is full of ups and downs for everyone. But, what do you do when that mountain before you multiplies and becomes an entire range before your very eyes? Do you give up? Walk away? Or do you press on and start climbing anyway?

I guess you could say that right now I am at the base of a growing mountain range, trying to figure out if it is worth the effort to keep going or if I should just say “to heck with it all”, go home and become a hermit. I was pretty resilient back when there were just a few issues to overcome in my life (sensory issues, social problems, obsessive interests and the other stuff we high-functioning autistics deal with on a daily basis). I’ve always been stubborn and determined to show that I could do anything I set my mind to. Naysayers didn’t hold me back, they just made me determined to prove them wrong. However, it seems that the older I get, the more there is to overcome and frankly, it makes me tired and want to give up sometimes. My Asperger’s traits that I have had since birth are compounded by anxiety and depression (brought on partly from genetics and partly from a lifetime of feeling rejected and “weird” by people who either didn’t understand or didn’t care to understand my differences).

I also deal with a lot of confusion about my place in the world. I know I am intelligent and talented in some areas, but I am often at a loss as to how to turn those qualities into practical, useful occupations. If I really did what I wanted to, I would sit and read all day, write down my random thoughts and feelings, doodle, put puzzles together, color pictures, dance and play with kids. I’ve had people suggest teaching and even tried it in the past, however, I don’t really want to be the adult watching the kids or telling them what to do. Instead, I want to play with them as equals, which is really kind of downright strange at my age, but apparently a somewhat common trait among Aspies (many of us hate being in charge of anyone else, we just want to be independent to do our own thing).

Of course, to top it all off, there are medical issues. I don’t want to go into it all because I would probably bore you and sound like I’m whining, but between my autoimmune problems, chronic infections and chronic inflammatory conditions, sometimes life is pretty painful. Add that to my physical hypersensitivity and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s no wonder that sometimes it is a struggle to even get out of bed.

I know that people always say that God won’t give you more than you can handle and in theory that sounds great…but sometimes I feel like I am just being buried alive by the weight of this world and my own internal struggles. I know that I will keep forcing myself to go on and keep trying to climb that next mountain, even if I fall a million times, because that is the kind of stubborn person I am. But, honestly, the enthusiasm isn’t always there and life sometimes feels like drudgery. I just hope that someday I can look back and see that I actually got somewhere, because some days it feels like I’m losing ground instead of gaining it.

Yes, I have autism and I am proud!

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Not too long ago, after a lengthy round of psychological testing and lots of other mind-probing activities, my psychologist broke the news to me that I do officially have autism. The autism I have is a high-functioning type called Asperger’s (or at least it used to be called that, now they are starting to just refer to it as “high-functioning autism”). So why did I even go at my age (30 years old) to be tested? Because of some of the issues I was having, especially with sensory problems and anxiety.

I have always had sensory problems. In fact, I still have to cut all of the tags out of my clothes, can’t stand the feel of many clothing materials against my skin, refuse to eat many foods due to texture and scent issues, cover my ears when I am around certain high-pitched noises and sometimes have mini panic attacks in large crowds due to the overwhelming amount of noise and movement around me. I have learned to control myself so that most people don’t notice in public, but believe me, if you lived with me, you would think I was crazy sometimes.

As for the anxiety, I always knew I had generalized anxiety and social anxiety, especially around “small talk” situations. I am fine talking at length about things that interest me and that I know a lot about. In fact, I have learned to limit how much I talk about my “obsessions” because it starts to bore others after a while. In the past, I just survived the anxiety by avoiding most social situations, but now that I am finally living my dream as an award-winning author, the last thing I want to do is give up that dream because I am afraid of discussing the weather with strangers.

So anyhow, ever since I have been diagnosed, some people seem to act like it is some big, shameful secret I should hide. Heck no. I am proud to be who I am, eccentricities and all. I do not consider myself “disabled”. At only 30, I am following my passion, have a wonderful marriage (to a very understanding husband) and have the true love and devotion of those closest to me. That is another thing, many people seem to thing being autistic means “unable to love”. Not at all. Sure, we can be harder to get to know and seem out of it and self-absorbed at times, but once we let you in and get close to you, we can be some of the most loyal people around.

So, yeah, we might rock back and forth or hum when we get nervous or get lost every time we venture more than five miles from home. We may stare off into space all the time or freak out over stuff you don’t understand. We might have weird eating habits and lots of OCD tendencies that raise eyebrows. We may collect nerdy stuff and want lots of alone time to recharge. But we have very good hearts underneath it all. And remember, just like so-called “normal people”, no two autistic people are exactly alike. Get to know us as individuals. If you take the time to do that, I truly believe that you won’t be disappointed.