Stage 1: For our final prompt, we were asked to identify an area of interest that we were curious about. From this curious space, we were then asked to identify a clear and concise research question, as well as engage in background research to support our next steps.
Stage 2: Once we arrived at a research question for our topic, we were to propose a research plan or method that would allow us to engage with and hopefully reach a sense of resolution around the question.
Stage 3: For the final stage of the prompt, we carried out our proposed research and methods, trusting in the process and following it wherever it led us. At the end of the 6 weeks, we presented our research process and methods as well as our results.
Research Stage 1:
This prompt was introduced to us directly after I recieved my updated formal Psych Ed assessment to help identify any possible Learning Disabilities alongside with already diagnosed ADHD.
At the end of the 2 day assessment, the assessor said that she experienced me as “being all over the place and hard to read”. She said it was going to be a difficult diagnosis for her to carry out. After that experience, not only was I terrified she would undo my ADHD diagnosis, but I couldn’t understand why I was not presenting as my most symptomatic ADHD self during the assessment.
I spoke to my ADHD coach, listened to podcasts, and watched Ted talks on high-functioning ADHD adults. I learnt about Masking and the toll it can take. After 30 years with ADHD, I realized that I clung to them so hard that I almost fooled my assessor into thinking I don’t have ADHD.
ADHD Masking was not my first choice of topic for this prompt. I brainstormed many ideas around the topic of ADHD for almost 2 weeks, but none of them felt engaging enough to work on for six weeks.
I then came across a TED talk that my ADHD coach sent me weeks prior, How to do laundry when you’re depressed, by KC Davis, a mother with ADHD, licensed professional therapist, author, speaker, and a specialist in self and home care.
After watching the TED Talk, I realized I recognized her voice from a Ten Percent Happier podcast episode I listened to a few months prior.
Ten Percent Happier Podcast: https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/kc-davis-501
In both instances, she speaks about the external stigma and struggle to keep up with housekeeping and care tasks as a female identifying ADHD adult and mother. She believes that care tasks are morally neutral and that the completion of these tasks has nothing to do with being a good or bad person. She explains that due to the lack of executive functioning, consistent focus, and issues with object permanence, adults with ADHD are more likely to experience judgment and shaming messages from society. These care tasks can include; doing the laundry, the dishes, making the bed, showering, etc.
Although I was very interested in this topic of ADHD symptoms, stigma, and morality, I decided to focus on what happens next; we mask to protect ourselves from shame. When I am about to have a friend over, I tidy up all of my perfectly organized piles of tasks that I am carrying out, which looks like a chaotic mess to others. That friend comes over and my space is spotless, but I have now put away all of the structure that helps my ADHD life in order. That same friend visits and I hide my ADHD medication in the drawer. I then forget to take it for days because one of my ADHD symptoms is a lack of object permanence and it is. Out of sight, out of mind. These are all moments of masking my ADHD and each has consequences both in the moment of actively trying to hide a part of myself, and after the masking ends. According to the article below, Masking in ADHD: The “Why” Matters, we “some people try masking to (ADHD) to avoid the social stigma that its symptoms can cause.”
My Goals for this Prompt that will guide my Research Question choice:
- To take responsibility for learning about ADHD and how it presents in myself.
- To self-advocate for my ADHD needs and access or create tools, accommodations, and systems that can help to succeed and thrive.
- To enjoy the process and allow my making and research practices and process to inform one another.
- To experiment with autoethnography and accommodate my ADHD by researching in an engaging way, i.e. watch documentaries, TED talks, listen to podcasts before reading.
- To build more confidence and be authentic in my process by staying true to my values of courage, joy, curiosity, connection, compassion, presence, self-care, kindness, independence.
With these goals in mind, the Research Question I developed was –
What are my ADHD masks, why and when do I wear them, and is there a natural process to remove them and be authentically ADHD?
Follow along below to find out!
What are my masks?
I began in Miro, attempting to create a mindmap of all of my ADHD masking. I had it all planned out in my head; I would map them all out from memories, illustrate animations and journal on my experiences of wearing each mask to help me let them go/unmask, and then I would finish the Prompt with a colourful interactive animated online “Mindmap of Masking My ADHD”. It was beautiful, it was all in my head, and combing my memories were foggy and laced with self-judgement, internalized ableism, and shame.
What does masking look like?
After the memory mapping didn’t take, I wanted to have a better understanding of what masking can look like so that I could try identify mine better. The images below were taken from an Instagram post by @mollys_adhd_mayhem, describing what ADHD masking can look like. Since my diagnosis and learning this term “masking”, I have found myself analyzing every aspect of my interactions with the outside world. “Am I masking right now?” is a statement that swirls around my head constantly.
Due to how recently I was diagnosis with ADHD and almost 30 years of masking it, I realized that this was not going to be easy. This list of masks was growing, but it was not clear.
I tried mind mapping, a bullseye chart of the masks I use most, and journaling. None of these methods seemed to get the results of a perfectly thought out list that I was looking for. If these simple listing methods worked for tracking and recognizing my negative patterns of being, i.e. impulsive, fearful, judgmental, people-pleasing, codependent, then why wouldn’t they work for mapping out my ADHD masks?
Then it hit me – the process of identifying my negative patterns took months of therapy. During Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I was given dozens of readings, worksheets, and processing tools to help me work through changing my thinking, actions, and emotions. This was the key to it all. I needed to comb through all of these documents over years of therapy and find the chronological key tools for moving from Masking to Unmasking.
Parallel Making Practice
Parallel to my research into understanding ADHD masking and finding methods to unmask, I was continuing to have impulsive ideas for illustrations on the topic of ADHD and I needed to express them.
My professor Cameron urged me to carry out a making practice parallel to my research.
For some reason, I felt the need to put my making practice on hold until I was on a roll with my research, but as one of my goals states above, I needed to allow my research and making practices to influence each other.
30 years of repetitive masking
Masking and Unmasking
Such a simple change in the animation settings and I feel like I could breath again seeing this. I can choose to remove my masks!
Who am I if I am not who they think I am or want me to be?
A late ADHD diagnosis can feel like the lights finally turn on and you can see everything clearly for the first time. All of my memories from childhood until now, they all make sense through this new understanding of myself. A piece I thought was missing, wrong is now explained and I am beginning to accept myself.
Masking the urge to interupt someone by fidgeting or making sounds for stimmulation can look like – coiling my body around itself.
“Do you have to use the washroom?”
“Nope… I’m just masking.”
I bite my nails as a “stim”, but its actually just a way to keep my mouth and mind busy. This masks the impulse to interrupt the person I’m trying to listen to. it is the better of two evils, either I bite my nails until I have none and I’m bleeding, or I engage in stims that are irritating and distracting to others. I need to find a healthier and quieter stim.
Through this making practice, I recalled the elements of acknowledgement and expression that had been such a key element in cultivating acceptance and self-compassion. As this has been integral for my healing process in other aspects of my mental health recovery, I wish to implement a creative expression step in the process as well.
I will also use my narrative illustration skills to further support and express each step in the process of my Unmasking ADHD tool.
Research Stage 2:
After realizing that I needed to analyze and draw on my years of therapy and self-help tools, books, and worksheets, I began to map out some key elements that I noticed I do naturally when talking through my masking moments with my partner.
I then attempted to move over to Miro again as a took to map out the elements, methods, and tools from my CBT, Focusing, and Mindfulness Meditation worksheets.
After a few days, I found I was too focused on the way it looked rather than the key points and steps that I needed to identify and organize on the page. I felt that I was being too perfectionistic with this form of mind mapping/planning, which prompted me to switch back to real sticky notes.
The tactile and interactive quality seems to keep me and my ADHD brain engaged longer than with Miro.
This process brought me so much joy. I let go of perfection and tried to see this as a complicated puzzle that need solving. All the pieces were there in my head and worksheets, and I had to try make them work together.
And again. A little less structured to take a step back before honing in again.
Looked to tools I already made
Now what? I started to shiver at the thought of designing a flat single sheet like all of the other CBT tools I have. They are never the practical choice to bring to a challenging social event in my purse or on vacation.
Then I remembered my Core Beliefs, Gratitude, Credit List Planner, which I designed 2 years ago after years of purchasing planners that never made it past January 7th.
Why didn’t these planners work for me? To the left are two pages torn from two planners that were beautifully designed, with 1 or two elements that worked well for me, but I needed much much more for me to be consistent.
I was tired of not being able to find a planner that worked for me. I took the elements that I liked from the abandoned planners and I merged them with CBT methods and tools such as a “credit list” and ”core beliefs record”. I then had this booklet made at a printing house in town so that I didn’t have any excuses to miss a day.
It is still too large for my ADHD everyday crossbody RAINS purse, so I cannot take it everywhere with me.
I knew I needed to make something more physically engaging and interactive. Our class TA had a few tiny rivet bound spinning books like the one drawn to the left.
It’s small size and kinetic qualities made the book feel playful and inviting. This felt promising.
My animated ADHD masking mind-map idea was beginning to feel forced and static so i decided to move into a space of physical making. I embarrassed to say that prior to the MDes program I hadn’t heard of, engaged with, or created a “zine”. With many of my cohort creating and exploring the zine as a medium, I felt inspired to lean into this uncomfortable and uncertain space. Something clicked for me in this moment and I felt that incredibly warm and fluttery feeling when I’ve tapped into my creative flow.
Over the past year, I have been volunteering at a school in Squamish helping to create illustrated children’s books about mental health. Part of my proposed thesis while at ECUAD was to experiment with this further, but for adults.
I was inspired by a comic series that I stumbled upon in a small Vancouver library, written by Steve Haines and illustrated by Sophie Standing. These comics attempt to explain the complexity of the brain and mental health topics such as Trauma, Anxiety, and Pain.
the have been interested in turning my illustrated characters into a small daily book. be small enough to fit in a purse or pocket so it would travel well, and it could be more manageable to see each step one a time rather than all at once, which can sometimes feel overwhelming.
The booklet/zine mockups begin
I began to play with paper; cutting, scoring, and folding it. My inner-child loved this as I used to make origami animals and flowers when I was young.
The possibilities felt endless, but I knew for the sake of time, I needed to choose a simple pattern to begin a low-fidelity mockup of my interactive unmasking ADHD zine.
To the right is a page spread layout, similar to what I learnt to use at UC Berkeley during the Children’s Book Illustration course I took last spring.
I enjoy creating and using layouts as it allows me to print it off and plan out the contents with sticky notes and tracing paper.
I transferred the brainstormed CBT tools and natural steps for unmasking ADHD to new sticky notes, which I placed on the layout.
From the layout, I transferred these elements to one of my zine/booklet mockup. I enjoy using sticky notes because you can quickly move them around to see how things will flow as a narrative.
Mockups, mockups, and more mockups!
Test print before printing the finals –
All 7 physical mockups together.
I really enjoyed this process.
Front + Back Spreads
Inside fold Spread
Folding and folding.
I designed this Unmasking tool to be able to fit in any purse, wallet, or pocket with ease. I wanted to make something that would be easy to take out and look at in any situation. I wanted it to be hard to forget so it had to take up little space.
Below are images that depict how the booklet would be used. Follow along, step by step.
Cohort Feedback + Reflections
Feedback – add more illustrations throughout to help express key elements of the process of unmasking ADHD. Makes it more engaging and brings joy into the process. It is also more accommodating to the symptoms of my ADHD and how I am most likely to engage with a tool like this. If I am in fight or flight mode, I am less likely to read so much text.
I would have chosen thinner paper than I used and I would have flipped the image with the white space still at the top so that the area I crop out would be the bottom of the illustrated masked and unmasked characters, This would get rid of the write border along my final printed booklet.
When I got home, I immediately stated writing down all of the notes that I heard from my cohort and professor. This was the first time that I haven’t felt my self-worth tied to critiques. I owe it all to the intention that I brought to the process leading up to my presentation and actively engaging with my CBT tools such as reviewing my coping card (scroll further down), and working through this imperfect, in-progress tool for unmasking my ADHD.
During the feedback at the end of my brief presentation, the class made the following critiques, which I wish o take into the next iteration and research process;
- take advantage of my abilities in storytelling through my illustrations by adding more of them throughout the booklet/tool.
- What can be said through illustration rather than text? Then keep the text minimal.
- To be a Zine, there must be an element of community building and sharing of the zines.
- I designed this particular one for myself to begin, therefore it is not a zine.
- I think my tool/booklet is more inspired by a zine than an actual zine itself.
- I was advised to try play with ways of sharing my animations with others. It was even shared that it could be a great moment to create a little flip book.
- could be a fun experiment.
- I was playing with Howsem’s miniature flipbook during his presentation and I found it to be a satisfying way to “stim” for my ADHD. This sparked an idea to create a “stimming” pocket flipbook that with illustrations that animate a masking moment. I could bring this flipbook into a challenging situation as a reminder of all that I have learnt about that particular mask. I could see this as a fun object to carry with me and possible something I could make and share with others as my animations seem to resonate with non-ADHD people as well.
- No matter what I do moving forward, I need to have a personal stake in the topic I am researching and the work I am making.
- Eventually I can advance some elements of this work into participatory design methods.
- some of these ideas, tools, and animations can be understood and engaged with by a broader audience as well.
- I could play around with different iterations of this idea for different stages of the unmasking process.
- pre-emptive tool to prepare oneself for a challenging situation where one may be inclined to mask their ADHD
- i.e. Home for the Holidays; family unmasking edition
- post-unmasking process. How to live in an unmasked state after working through this process. where does the work continue?
Below are a few examples of some of the illustrations that I think I could place throughout the booklet, which were adapted from entries in my 2021 daily illustration sketchbooks.
This is a coping card. I created this one just before the MDes Open Studio 2022.
I make a new coping card at the beginning of a challenging task or event. It reminds and keeps me in line with my values and away from engaging in negative core beliefs.
I am curious about a concept where the coping card and my current ADHD unmasking tool combine to create a tool to use prior to an event where I know I am more likely to mask. This would be a preemptive tool to stay unmasked, to prepare myself, and rewire my brain through visualization rather than something after the fact.
Overall, as the prompt goes, I am proud of what I accomplished. I felt like that way I showed up on the day of my presentation was a direct reflection of how well this process has worked so far. I was almost completely unmasked and the level of anxiety and pressure that I usually feel during presentations was missing. I was happy with the low-fidelity imperfect zine/booklet that I made as I felt that a more polished and finished product would not have had the same engagement from the group. I am excited about this direction and I hope to continue developing it further. I would like to experiment with other forms, folding techniques and materials.
An affirmation to close this Pompt and term:
You are a beautiful weirdo. Let your authentic self be known and know that it is worthy of love and compassion.