I only became aware of neurodiversity in the last couple of years, after experiencing mental health crises in 2021 and 2022. A psychiatric assessment suggested that I might have ADHD or ASD, which sent me into an identity crisis. I had been diagnosed with dyslexia when I was in university, but I never looked deeper into it at the time, as I was focused on building my music career in my early twenties. It wasn't until my identity crisis and after settling down in life that I began to educate myself on neurodiversity, reading everything I could find on the topic.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, there is currently a four-year wait for an NHS assessment, and going private is not an option for me, as the pandemic and my mental health struggles have put my music business on hold and left me with a lot of debt. However, there is a service called 'Right to Choose' that acts as a middle man between the NHS and private healthcare, and it can reduce the waiting time from four years to six to twelve months. That is what I am currently waiting for.
Living as a neurodivergent musician has always been challenging
As a musician, I know that mental health struggles are common among my peers. Music can feel liberating, but we can also feel like outsiders in the wider world. While depression and anxiety are often the main issues, there may be underlying factors, as was the case for me, with ADHD, ASD, depression, anxiety, and dyslexia. I express this in my new neurodivergent album and podcast, which chronicles my journey from unawareness to awareness, and from untreated to treated.
Living as a neurodivergent musician has always been challenging. My life has always felt chaotic and unsettled, and I often feel like I'm muddling through each day. It's like my mind is constantly in stereo, with everything around me feeling like it's of equal priority. The sensory overload in any environment can be overwhelming, and it feels like there are dozens of bees buzzing around me, with every sense heightened. One extra stimulus can be enough to push me over the edge, leading to a focus crash or burnout.
Square peg in a round hole
Living in a neurotypical world has required me to operate in mono mode, fitting into every environment like a square peg in a round hole. I wore a mask from the start of adulthood until my first mental health crisis, when the mask came off and all of my symptoms poured out. I was conforming to everyone else's way of life, which contributed to my mental health struggles. I realised that going against my true identity and authentic self was a mistake.
Most musicians have to juggle multiple roles, from performing and recording to teaching, producing, managing, marketing, networking, accounting, social media, rehearsals, and more.
Many of us work alone and have had to learn the ropes the hard way. But when you add a neurodivergent brain on top of that, it can be even more overwhelming and inconsistent. The organisation, focus, socialising, and everything associated with running a business can be extremely difficult.
Seek support and streamline your approach
Without a support network around you, momentum can easily falter on a daily basis, and important tasks can fall through the cracks, causing damage to relationships, finances, opportunities, and consistency. Raising finance is particularly difficult for neurodivergents, especially those with ADHD, and finding the right team members who won't change the big vision is a tricky task. The process is not geared towards a neurodivergent brain.
During times when my music career wasn't moving forward, I tried starting several side businesses and projects. However, although they all ended up failing, my music remained with me as it truly represents my authentic self.
Based on my experience, I suggest that other neurodivergent musicians simplify and streamline their approach, seeking help in all areas of life and outsourcing tasks that are not their strengths.
I have a personal rule to educate myself at least a little in all areas, such as finances, marketing, and sales, so I can communicate more effectively and avoid unnecessary costs due to misunderstandings. Ultimately, less is more when it comes to managing a music career as a neurodivergent individual. Easier said than done, but I feel that’s what we should all strive for.
Music Minds Matter is Help Musicians’ free, 24/7 service, which supports anyone who works in music. You will speak to an accredited counsellor who will offer emotional support, advice and information. Where appropriate they may also signpost you to other specialist services and offer debt or legal advice.
Additionally Music Support provide a non-judgmental and confidential listening ear service, managed by mental health-trained peers with lived experience, for anyone working within music and live events.