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The Fire Within

Throughout my life the single most commonly used phrase people have used to describe me has been "intense", often meaning, "too intense". When Aurelia and I started having our conversations this was one dimension of being neurodivergent that intrigued me. This intensity that others experience in me and have commented on, and of which I have always been aware. The difference being that when I was younger I did not realise that this was not the same for everyone. I think I used to assume everyone felt things so intensely.

The image is a painting I did for a friend, but is a painting of which I have done many variations, combining fire and the human figure in the form of a tree. It is deeply soothing for me to paint and look at. But it actually captures the experience. In some of my stories I have written about the process of awakening emotionally and relationally, but on reflection I know the intensity of my internal world has always been there. I only became aware of it as a difference when I entered into close and intimate relationships, where others would experience this.

I think it is related to the hyperfocus of being neurodivergent - this ability to dive deeply into something and becoming completely absorbed. It would be a mistake to think that this is an intellectual intensity, in the same way it would be one-sided to describe it as an emotional intensity. It is more than intense concentration or intense emotions. And it is something I have often discussed in my own therapy with Malcolm. I feel things deeply, and with feel I mean my whole being is on fire.

This intensity I can feel about an ethical dilemma, something that does not work well, an interest in hydroponics, or being in love. It does not matter if it is intellectual, emotional, relational or even about some mundane process. I know now that many people do not feel this intensity. Like the fire tree, it feels like it encompasses all of me. And at the same time if energizes and inspires me. It feels like I absorb and become absorbed by the focus of my attention.

Looking back it always seems to start with me becoming interested in something, or the sense of wrongness. The sense of wrongness is often not about obvious societal wrongs or injustices. I am referring to the wrongness of things not working was they should in day-to-day life. Some time ago I discovered that there is a deep connection for me between ethics on the one hand, and aesthetics on the other. For me something is beautiful because it works well, it is effective, it is streamlined and well-designed. And something is ugly because it does not make sense, a process that does not do what it is supposed to do or is poorly designed.

Trying to explain the above often results in dazed looks. I know and can see that it does not make sense to others. In the same way that I understand that other people do not get excited when their experience of storing their belongings in a self-storage facility was beautiful because the process worked well and was designed with care. And yet that is who I am. This strange intensity. I love it because it makes me engage with life and the world. Yet it also always sets me apart, being different, being too intense.


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