Anxiety and Autism Art by Dr Holly Priddis

©2018 Holly Priddis. Holly's Brain

I have always loved to create since I was quite young. I dreamt of being a writer and loved immersing myself in fantasy plot-lines, tapping furiously on my old school typewriter, or drawing abstract images on my art pad as a teen. In my early twenties once I became a mother I did not have much time to be creative while raising our 4 children, and slowly all my creative outlets slipped neglected to the wayside. However, over the past year, rediscovering art has been a saviour to me.

On and off over my life I have experienced anxiety, however the past 6 months have been particularly challenging with severe and overwhelming anxiety. It has been an exhausting and difficult time, not only for myself but for my husband and children. Art has held me aloft when I felt I was being pulled into the darkest of quicksand that I simply could not find a way out of. The magic of watercolour paint soothed me as I gently and curiously moved the paintbrush over different textured paper, watching the way the paint interacted with the paper grains, the way colours harmoniously connected to sing a song of hope.

I have been trying to paint something that represents my challenge with anxiety and what it means to be an Autistic woman in my mid-forties for a few months now. When I was told I was Autistic last year at the age of 43 I tried desperately to paint how I felt but each time an image came to mind it just didn’t feel right, too forced, and unable to be translated to paper.

This was until recently however, when I was speaking into my audio journal. I was describing how the most intense experience of anxiety and autistic burnout is the loss of everything that you know to be true of yourself and of your world, and it all narrows down to one dark, dark hole. Within that darkness all you can do is focus on getting yourself through each minute, each second of the day. From the minute you are aware in the morning, until the minute you can finally fall asleep at night, you can only try to function within this dark and lonely place. The longer we are there, the more desperate we feel, unable to see a life outside of this relentless and overwhelming fear.

Then, one day, after weeks, months or years, something can shift. Sometimes its just one moment in your day – a minute even – when the world expands slightly, and you can see a glimmer or what may, perhaps, help navigate this nightmare. For me as someone with autism, it was a special interest, and in this case, it was watercolour art (and Harry Potter, a consistent and long-term special interest).

Sometimes these do help and slowly – so slowly – your world expands. An extra minute a day when adrenaline isn’t pounding through your body, when fear isn’t gripping your brain and throwing your thoughts to the wind. And slowly the world continues to expand, as we reach out to the things that may be safe such as loved ones and friends who need to be extraordinarily patient with us, and who we know can truly understand what is happening. Sometimes we have lost all our friends, so we turn to social media, forums and chat rooms, anyone who you can connect to for a moment. Connection for comfort, for reassurance, to not feel so alone in this dark corner of our mind.

With all of these thoughts in my mind, I started to paint. I let the paint move as it needed to, the colours speak to me as they were placed on the paper. Although abstract, and far more pretty then what anxiety really feels like, I feel that this accurately represents my past year. Each day I have gratitude for the moments when my world expands, whilst also respecting the moments when my world restricts back to that dark place. I understand that recovery is slow and painful, and that through these most traumatic of times is when we experience our most remarkable growth.

I have learnt more about myself over the past 6 months then I know possible. I now know what I value most dearly, and what gives me joy above other things. I treasure the moments, like now, when my thoughts can settle long enough to be translated to paper as I dream once again of being a writer. I know what parts of me I still need to accept and the areas I can grow. I know what it is that I can give to the world and that sometimes I need to give that from a really messy, anxious, artistic and autistic place. And now I know that is actually okay.

About Dr Holly Priddis

Holly is a mother to four children (two of whom also have Autism), artist, disability and mental health advocate, midwife, researcher and university lecturer. Holly is co-founder of the Luke Priddis Foundation which operates a multi-disciplinary centre for individuals and families with ASD in Western Sydney, Australia. Holly is proud to be a spectrum woman and is still navigating her way through this new way of knowing herself. Her special interests include art, human anatomy particularly anything to do with midwifery, autism, and all things Harry Potter.

You can follow Holly and her incredible are on Facebook HERE.