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On not finishing

ADHD brains thrive in the idea-generating and creative-play part of a project. They don't tend to have as much strength in concluding things. Consider also, that ADHD is essentially a dopamine deficiency disorder. This means that when an ADHD-er finds something fun which offers them that sweet sweet dopamine hit, they're likely to want to stay there and this is when obsessive or repetitive behaviours can present. By the same logic, it's common to procrastinate when faced with something lacking that dopamine response; difficult things, tedious things, or tasks with more barriers to consider.

I've been able to understand myself so much better since receiving my ADHD diagnosis, and since learning more about how it presents in the brain and body. Both in terms of my life in general and also in terms of my art practice.

A common trait that people with ADHD share is starting projects but not finishing them. For me this extends to my habit of not eating or finishing my favourite food in the house if I know there's only a finite amount of it left to enjoy. I do this because I don't want to finish it and then be responsible for a potential future where I might crave that food but can't have it because I ate it already. This means I often save something for so long that it inevitably goes bad and I can no longer eat it. It's wasteful. It's a loss of my favourite food. I know this. Does it stop me? No.

My freezer is full of open packets of wrinkled food with freezer burn. The last slice of cake goes stale and is thrown away. I collect jars of my favourite fancy hot chocolate flavours, just a little bit left in each, all of them taking up valuable cupboard real estate. Phil gets offended when he buys me one creme egg and I leave it sitting on the side for months insisting I will eat it, instead letting the chocolate succumb to that pale dusty coating before it's binned.

It's like Schrödinger's snack. If it's in the house, there can always be a potential future where I could crave it and eat it at the perfect moment. But if I eat it all now and there's none left for later, then the cat is definitely dead. Or something like that.

So, going back to my art practice. I've been building a bank of opportunities; open calls, funding, residencies etc. Yet every time, as I sit down and consider an application, I realise the same thing... What can I submit if I haven't finished anything? What could I show to a gallery and say 'here - exhibit this'? I have lots of visuals, lots of ideas, lots of words, lots of work-in-progress. All those things that my ADHD brain loves to produce. Not so much of anything beyond that though. Just a desire to stay in infinite play where there are always snacks to eat and the cat is alive.

I had quite a dramatic session with my therapist soon after my diagnosis, which honestly felt like a main character, TV show moment. One where the therapist points out something to the main character, and it's OBVIOUS. HOW did they not realise that all along?! A flashback montage plays, and I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan plays softly in the background as the therapist's words hang in the air... The missing puzzle piece is slotted in place... The dots are connected... The main character sits gazing up at a peace lily on a shelf, a single tear running down their right cheek as they are flooded with thoughts and re-evaluations of their life.

I might go into the detail of that specific realisation in a different post (or maybe not, I don't know if it's that interesting for other people), but for now, one relevant takeaway from this breakthrough was that my practice and my routine of working with my dad's photos has become a replacement for my relationship with him. Shocking, ennit? It's my way of spending time with Dad now, of still getting to know him, and of doing things with him. And it's painful enough that there are only a finite amount of his photographs that I'll ever be able to see and work with, so on top of that, the idea of one day being finished with this body of work feels like a looming inevitable dread. So even edging closer to that possibility by implying any kind of 'complete', 'final', polished piece, is a little pang of hurt that has been stunting my sub-conscious for longer than I consciously recognised.

In a group crit earlier this month, I discussed my 'what-images-do-I-apply-for-things-with' issue with peers, and they helped me to realise something that I already knew, but wasn't connecting to this situation. My struggle is with the idea of finishing things, but my practice has never actually been about the Finished Thing, it's been about the process. As soon as I recognised this, the Problem circling around in my head suddenly changed; it's not a question of how I finish the work, it's about deciding how I want to document/display the materials involved in the process.

Ever since I first became fixated on crochet, and then when I began to consider its connection to grief, it's the process I've been thinking about more than anything. The repetition, the motions, the visual evidence of the time spent with an idea. It's about the materials, and the interactions with the materials, but it's never been about 'finishing' something and presenting it as 'done'. It's just that it's easy to be convinced that is the Proper way to do things.

In a body of work that is so connected to well-being, maybe it should be more about tuning into what my body is gaining from the activity. If right now that's about mining the dopamine from a joyful process and avoiding a potentially painful conclusion in future, then that's what I'll do. I'll surround myself with my favourite snacks so they can all be there for the perfect moment to eat them. I'll keep the cat alive.

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