© 2020 by Fay Brotherhood Fine Art & Music, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, contactfaybrotherhood@gmail.com 

Background photo by Andrew Merritt Photography, 2020.

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I've often wondered if I might be on the spectrum. I've had more than one person suggest it to me. I find it really hard to decide yes or no, because today I don't seem to have much difficulty socially and feel mostly "in step" with my peers.

But what I do know is that women are often missed as they don't present like boys and they learn to "mask" their symptoms.

I don't know if I did/do this.

I do know that after school, I developed a big interest in psychology, making an effort to become a self aware person, perceptive of others inner states and responses to me. After a long time of evoking consistently negative responses from people with no idea why, I wanted to be a person who was liked and considered emotionally intelligent and a "drama free" zone.

I don't know if that was a form of masking but if it was it worked, because in adulthood I have lots of friends and most people I meet seem to like me and describe me as "easy to get on with".

But the facts of my childhood were the meme that illustrates this blog to a T.

In the playground I was most certainly "other". I was never in time with the social dance. I could never join in group games as I never understood the rules. I was always at the sidelines of conversations because I could never think of anything to contribute.

Because I struggled to function in group dynamics I never had a groups of friends until year 8, it was always one "bestie" at a time, who I would latch onto like a limpet...and they were usually a bit of a fellow oddball lol. It they played with other groups I was usually sidelined and would just wander around on my own like a lost puppy.

Even today, if I find if the group I'm in is too big I shut down, stop communicating and listen to the conversations going on around me instead or go off into my head or phone.

Primary school was a social struggle that was mostly annoying rather than painful. There were quite a few bouts of being made fun of but most of the time I was so socially oblivious I didn't notice. Indeed an old friend recently recalled a bunch of kids chasing me whilst screaming abuse at me. I was laughing while running because I thought it was a game :P

It's amazing that no-one noticed I was a bit weird.

But it was the 90's; recognition of neurodiversity was in its infancy.

And for parents and teachers, it may have been hard to see. Although I struggled to relate to my peers, my social skills with adults were beyond my years. Adults loved me because I was an absolute delight :D I was the kid who was alllowed to stay up late when we had babysitters. I got treats... trips.... all the good things because I was entertaining, polite and well behaved. Also, being genuinely interested in "grown up talk" I could engage adults in proper conversation.

At secondary school "social difficulties" became a different ball game entirely. At 11, the social expectations of your peers suddenly become incredibly rigid and unforgiving and that was the point where annoying struggle turned to a Really Fucking Bad Time. I was identified as The Weirdo on the first day of high school and was bullied relentlessly from then on.

People always say you should tell but I never did, because I hadn't a clue how to verbalise the enormity of it. I was embarrassed and I saw no way of resolving the experience of "everyone hates me" without grassing up literally everyone and making them hate me even more. When parents hear about bullying they freak out and march into schools demanding "something is done" and I was not going to take that risk when I believed nothing could be done.

This lasted for the rest of school right through 6th form. Its echoes carried on through my first job in a bar where I had some very weird experiences with customers, some probably counting as sexual assault (although oblivious me never recognised it as such at the time). Weirdly though, my learned ability to take abuse without reacting served me well here. I could take all the customers shit without losing my own shit and got promoted to supervisor lol.

It followed me to Hampshire... to my first year of college, which was particularly brutal as now I was a 21 year old being picked on by 16 year olds.

This forced me to change courses....all thanks to one lad called Jonny, who told a lecturer what was going on... I was planning on continuing the "keep it secret" theme and quietly disappearing down my little black hole of doom till the end of college. I was mortified that Jonny divulged The Big Secret but was ultimately grateful for his intervention. For the first time it changed this constantly repeating trauma story's ending to a positive one.

That was my first experience of an accepting peer group who liked me and thought I was weird "in a good way". I fancy that they thought of me a bit like a rescue dog who they needed to rehabilitate lol. And they did a good job.

Today at the age of 35, my social life is very different. I've had my battles with mental health and I have my residual neuroticisms but I'm remarkably well adjusted for someone who has been through so much shit without meds or therapy and for that I'm proud of myself

Still, I do often wonder if there is some underlying neurodiversity thing that has created the person I am and the struggles I faced growing up.

When trying to draw people, many get stuck on achieving perfectly symmetrical eyes. Once achieved it looks....wrong.

You remain stuck on a loop of erasing and redrawing for the rest of your life, getting more and more frustrated. You have no idea what you are doing wrong and why it's not working.

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, photographers rarely capture a 100% front facing image. The face is usually angled ever so slightly to the left or right.

In turn the shape of the eyes change. They are no longer symmetrical.

It is your job as an artist to notice this. It will be a very subtle difference. If you don't, the image will look wrong. What tends to happen is you copy the slight angle change in the nose and mouth without realising is and your symmetrical eyes make them look wonky.

Secondly, despite our supposed attraction to symmetrical people, no-one is 100% symmetrical. Those who appear so are just.... a bit more symmetrical..... than the average person.

Conversely, have you ever seen someone with a "face full of character"? Chances are their features are a tad wonkier than Mr/Miss nearly perfect described above. Not obviously so; that would make them look deformed. It's still very subtle.

Thing is, when you're made of squishy animal cells you can never be perfect. Plant cells come closer to achieving perfect symmetry because they are more rigid and geometric. However they often still fall short.

Anyone who regularly wears eyeliner knows one eye is different. One underline forms the perfect eye shape. The other has a slight bulge. One wing is a perfect sweep, the other ALWAYS has a kink. It's not that you lack skills. It's not a product of using your non-dominant hand. It's your wonky eyes!

Until an artist realises that faces are inherently wonky, their work will look amateurish It can be a frustrating time in your development!

Choosing Steve here as an example of a front on pose, he has what I would call a face full of character. I faithfully reproduced what I saw in the photo, and you can see a slight wonkiness in the nose, eyes, eyebrows and lips. This is what what what conveys his characteristically wry demeanor. Had I tried to make him symmetrical, he would not be Steve.

2019. I hoped this one would be better than the relentless endurance test of financial disasters and personal crises that marked 2018 and I wasn’t disappointed. A lot of stuff has happened this year. Important stuff that has served to steer my ship in new directions and set up a path for the future.

I graduated from my MSc in Environmental Management with a Distinction. I wanted a first in my BSc but didn’t quite hit it, so hitting my goal of that top grade this time was amazing.

A huge impact on my life this year has been @Arbtech Consultancy Ltd. Finding their ecological consultancy key skills course and becoming part of the Arbtech community has been life changing. It gave me a straightforward route to start working within ecology as a subcontractor. It provided me with a ready built basis of a professional network and I made new friends.

I learned there is a “bat bug” and catching it has led me on an exciting learning journey in which I have picked up all kinds of knowledge new technical skills, from learning to recognise potential roosts, to analysing sonograms of echolocation calls in specialised software. It has been amazing to finally earn money from ecology.

This has fed into the musical side of my life too. As I’ve learned more about bat acoustics, I have learned more about musical acoustics. Aspects of musical theory I’ve struggled with all my life have started clicking into place as I’ve expanded my background understanding of acoustics. I wrote one of my best songs after a night spent listening to bats over a local lake.

I joined the local bat group, got involved with the Herts Barbastelle project and was involved in the discovery of a local maternity roost of national importance. I have learned new skills and made new friends and contacts, the same applying to my involvement with dormouse and water vole monitoring. A big highlight was the opportunity to handle dormice on a course in Kent.

A massive highlight was getting an interview with Arbtech when I didn’t even apply for a position. I didn’t get the job but the fact they regarded me that highly gave me a massive confidence boost and it led to other skill building opportunities.

I was promoted to a higher pay band and tasked with leading surveyor teams. I was made an accredited agent on my local consultant’s licence and sent off to do my own independent preliminary roost assessments. I wrote reports and I dealt with my first difficult client. My first PRA turned out to be an important maternity roost, which was amazing! Being trusted with these things meant a huge amount and did my confidence a lot of good. I am looking forward to doing more next year. To gaining more knowledge of planning, getting more confident with clients and getting faster and more efficient at completing surveys and bashing out reports.

Arbtech have had an influence on me that extends way beyond ecology. Their director has a special interest in psychology, which means he’s an innovator in his evidence-based tactics in terms of leadership and ways in which staff can increase productivity whilst maintaining well-being. I learned from his blogs and the Arbtech culture document about concepts like Deep Work and Pareto’s principle and this encouraged me to dig really deep into my past failures as an entrepreneur. I realised the end of my pet portrait career was a burnout caused by unsustainable working practices and unrealistic expectations. The unexpected result of this was that a few weeks ago, the artist part of me suddenly, unexpectedly woke up from her sleep and wanted to make art again. I started a new painting and now, using the tools I’ve gained from Arbtech I am planning how I can weave art back into my income streams.

I had an interview with the environment agency. Again, I didn’t get the job but the interview prep had a great impact in encouraging me to broaden my knowledge base and learn more about catchment based river/wetland management.

Musically, it has been an exciting year. I joined Papa Shango in April and have been having a great time with them. They have raised my appreciation for the importance of bringing performance art and showmanship to music to create maximum entertainment.

I developed a great relationship with Spriggan Mist after auditioning for a lead singer position in 2018, where I was one of just two shortlisted. I was not chosen but they were keen to maintain a working relationship with me and I played many interesting gigs with them, in particular Colours of the Oak camp, where once again, I made lots of new friends.

The year has ended with the most unexpected Christmas present after the lead singer role in Spriggan Mist re-opened. Suddenly, overnight my future changed completely as I found myself, finally in a band again. And not just in a band but in one on my musical and thematic wavelength, with a following, who are going places.

It feels like bit by bit the disparate corners of my life and passions are finally coming into place to weave together the varied mosaic of my dream life and I am very excited about 2020!


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