Manchester's passages and lanes buzz with stories yet to be told and whisper tales of old and while the red-brick façades overshadow these streets, they keep watch over our city's dynamic heartbeats.
Much like this city, my journey through life and the tech industry has been defined by contrasts, excitement and revelations. Each of them enlivened by the culture and energy that drives our metropolis.
I’ve walked and stumbled many times in the shadows between these brick giants and it’s where my career has taken it’s shape. Today, as the city blooms in technological advancements, I take the form of a technical innovation consultant, founder and entrepreneur. I weave digital dreams for Manchester and beyond.
But my "neurodivergent thinking", if you will, makes me stand out like a hammer-smashed thumb at times. I live with autism and ADHD, two facets of me I only came to understand in my 30's.
Manchester's bricks, uniform at first glance, reveal their individual tales to those who choose to look deeper. After leaving the comfort of my familial home, my early 20s felt akin to this façade. A relentless fidgeting energy, an inability to self-sooth, a ceaseless bout of insomnia and an ever-present sense of difference - these were my silent battles.
While the world hummed at one frequency, my rhythm and vibration was seemingly out of sync. I couldn’t stop delving into the “why” and pursuing answers that made sense to me.
I’d spent the past 15 years helping others to build the internet in datacentres that were being fabricated at the Science Park and it’s surrounding areas. I had helped E-commerce giants, universities, governments and individuals to make the best-use of cutting-edge technology and to land comfortably when we pushed the limits of possible just a touch too far.
I pushed myself to the breaking-point consistently but often failed to prepare the same soft landing for myself that I had so easily provided for others.
The change of routine at the start of the pandemic for me and many others brought about about a spiral of depression, isolation and loss.
(trigger warning: reference to self-harm) At 32, amidst the drone of Manchester's growing tech pulse, I embarked on a costly and exhausting diagnostic journey, one necessitated by my declining mental health, grief-filled trauma from the suicide of a friend and a constant self-observation of difference from my peers. The climax and treatment of this, through therapies, medications and support, brought a profound clarity to me. A revelation worth its weight in gold.
Much like trying to understanding the make-up of each brick in Manchester’s walls, having my autism and ADHD officially observed and “labelled”, allowed me to feel seen and to truly see myself.
Manchester has watched me evolve, create, and sometimes falter. But I sought diagnosis and help, not through a desire to find a fix, or a cure, but to enable me to make better sense of my own sense of self-worth. To accept and explain my neurodivergent behaviours to others, so that I could embrace my potential and understand more about my motivators, failures and my successes.
I’m a care-giver, a solution-provider and pattern-recogniser. I see things in an instant that others only discover after implementing ill-considered ideals.
My partner calls this my super-power, but until I was able to articulate why my necessity to sometimes disrupt others ways and their ways of thinking, I often felt this to be a curse. However, with understanding came new challenges.
Just as every brick faces the external elements of the earth and it’s atmosphere, I too had to navigate societal misunderstandings and the faux-pas that others find novel or annoying.
There's a pervasive stigma attached to the neurodivergent. Some see ADHD and autism and immediately think "incapable", "distractible", “disabled”, or "lazy". But if Manchester's brick walls could talk, they’d scream the names of inventors, advocates and pioneers that dared to do and to think differently. For centuries disruptors of the norm have built their foundations in the greater area and cemented themselves in the history of time as architects and idols. In the modern workplaces of Manchester, I've felt the echoes of this misunderstanding.
For many businesses, the blueprint hasn’t evolved enough yet to comfortably accommodate neurodivergent employees. But just like those faux-brick façades that now adorn modern buildings, the decay needed to first be uncovered. The rot of what remains will soon be repaired and the crusty old parts that are left will be converted into contemporary designs, capable of being adapted to celebrate and embrace differences of all kinds.
Much like those weathered walls though, the exterior appearance of a building doesn’t define the potential for what is within them. Similarly a persons neurodivergence doesn’t define their potential; it shapes our perspective and allows us to provide alternative purpose, or room for new ideas to flourish.
Today, as I tread my own path as a self-employed innovator, challenges persist. The grout of financial security feels shaky beneath my feet sometimes. But, amidst this uncertainty comes with it a sense of purpose and dare I say pride? My wellbeing continues to harden. I’ve constructed a method of living tailored to my rhythm, one which allows creativity and ideas to be manifested. I’ve found time to think and I have also found focus to do the things that I’ve felt were important. I’ve found clarity and most importantly, I’ve found hope.
I haven’t cracked the code completely just yet. But I’ve spent countless hours documenting it, raising issues, building new features and striving to create the ideal user experience. But whilst things aren’t perfect yet, I hope my comments and commitments can serve as as a beacon for others on a similar journey.
In the same way that Manchester’s skyline has transformed at an accelerated speed these past few years, those concrete greenhouses now rise amidst the histories, futures, and dreams of thousands of others just like me. Manchester’s brickwork stands as a testament to our city’s enduring spirit.
Regardless your colour, be it red, blue or any other we provide respite to all.
Your journey, like the intricate patterns in Manchester’s brick walls, is unique and valuable. There’s a place for you here regardless of your shape or stature. It’s a place of opportunity for all and you’re welcome any time.
If you, too, feel out of step with the world sometimes, remember you’re not alone. Organisations like the National Autistic Society and the ADHD Foundation exist as signposts and services such as Access2Work enable businesses and individuals to better support others in their workplace.