As an adult with ADHD, it takes a lot to get me to stop and sit down. I’m never silent, still or contained - I'm always a whirlwind of frantic energy. 

I grew up knowing I had ADHD as I had been diagnosed at a young age. The hyperactivity affects all parts of me, from my body to my personality. It’s like a buzz of frantic energy that just runs through me causing me to move, think or act faster than I should do. But what goes up must come down, and this surplus of energy is met with a deficiency of dopamine. My neurodiverse brain doesn’t make enough of it so I have to seek out little happiness hits where I can. 

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I grew up in Ireland, in rural, catholic West Cork surrounded by farms, and every Saturday I travelled to the city on the rickety old bus. I would make a point of visiting the Crawford Art Gallery. The quiet space forced me to do battle with my inner need for noise. I would want to run or rush, but I couldn’t. No one rushes in an art gallery. You meander. You absorb. 

However, I had a limit to how long I could stay in front of each piece. My lack of attention annoyed me and made me feel like a terrible art student. My brain would remove the names of the artworks and artists immediately, so I often made frantic notes. But there is one piece that I can still recall the name and title of when I think of Crawford. 

The video piece, Jellyfish Lake by Irish artist, Dorothy Cross was shown that year in one of the top rooms of the gallery.

Dorothy Cross, Jellyfish Lake (still), 2002. Collection Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. © the artist..jpg

I had come in that day feeling overwhelmed by the noise of the city, my hypersensitivity triggered. Sometimes, it all accelerated to the point where I couldn’t hear my thoughts, leaving me feeling confused, overwhelmed and exhausted. The only remedy to this is to remove myself from the situation and get some quiet space, so I headed to the gallery.

I sat down on a red velvet stool in the middle of the floor with the video on a screen directly in front of me. In the piece before me, a woman stood still in the deep waters of Palau in Micronesia, her skin bright and cold in contrast. While I watched, small translucent blobs with frilly tentacles floated towards her.

I felt myself tense, waiting for the woman to be stung by a jellyfish, but the sting never came. Instead, the jellyfish bounced off her body as if they accepted her as a natural part of their environment. This woman was just a part of the nature they always encountered. There was a sense of hypnotic peacefulness in watching the way they pulsated through the water. There were thousands of them, and one by one they glided into the frame. 

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Without noticing it, I was still and silent. I was soothed.

I stayed stopped, quiet and calm for the longest time I’ve ever experienced with art. It’s incredibly rare for artwork to soothe me. While art of course can’t ‘cure’ my attention deficit disorder, this piece helped me to take a breath and forget the stress that brought me to it. 

I finally realised that in watching an artist stand completely still in nature, I was also challenging my nature to stand still. 

 

Image credit: Dorothy Cross, Jellyfish Lake (still), 2002. Collection Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. © the artist.