Sarah Emmott writes about labels and fighting stereotypes associated with ADHD and how creating a show has helped her feel pride rather than shame.
I’ve always had a brain like Piccadilly Circus and a body like a coiled spring. I’m a child of the 80s, so when my mum asked a doctor for advice he told her to just keep me busy, and I kept following that advice until I hit a wall in my late twenties.
Four years ago, aged 30, I took myself to the doctors and for the first time heard ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in a professional context. I left that appointment feeling lost, powerless and vulnerable, with more questions than answers.
I spent two years processing what this new ‘label’ meant. There was relief because I finally had context and answers, but also grief because this wasn’t temporary and if I’d received support earlier things might have been easier. The diagnosis made me feel broken but I wanted to be a warrior who was ready to fight to feel well. Now, at 34, I feel like I am. I never expected that I would feel happier and more comfortable with my label than ever. Part of that has come through making a theatre production about my experience.
Declaration is a fun, frank and fearless journey through ADHD, diagnosis and mental health. It’s joyful, springy, punchy, and kick-ass. It’s packed full of honesty, humour and hope. I’m really candid in the performance, which sometimes surprises people. While it doesn’t shy away from the difficulties it absolutely celebrates the positives of ADHD; the fun, laughter, curiosity, spontaneity, being able to hyper-focus on things for hours and never running out of things to say.
There is a real lack of visibility of women with ADHD so I want to be as loud and proud as I can, using my real life events to break that stereotype and help people to understand. It’s important to push back against the stereotypical image of ADHD being a young boy tearing round a supermarket, and show that it can also be me, a woman in her thirties struggling to organise her overwhelming thoughts, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Meeting other adults with ADHD and anxiety and talking about my experience has helped a lot. Being with people who experience the world in a similar way is so liberating, exhilarating and it’s a huge relief to know you’re not alone. This and the show has helped me process labels and feel pride rather than shame. It’s helped me realise that ADHD is a framework with which to adjust, because once we ADHD-ers have the things we need, we’re able to thrive.
We want Declaration audiences to feel like a collective; to think, laugh, wriggle in their seats and participate as much or as little as they feel comfortable with. While autobiographical work can be useful for both the artist and audience, we have to be careful not to create navel-gazing theatre. Declaration is as much about the audience as it is about me. My co-maker Rachel and I constantly checked in with each other about what experiences I was comfortable sharing, and whether they were framed in ways which are useful for the audience.
We want audiences to leave with a drive to create constructive, positive change in their own lives and support others to do the same. We want to highlight how important it is to be able to reach out for help. We want to boost honest conversations, not only about ADHD but about what we all need to support our own positive mental health.
We have a wellbeing room called SPACE which is open before, during and after the performance. It’s important we have a space to look after audiences who need to feel grounded away from the noisy world and for us all to take the opportunity to make a pledge to ourselves to improve their own wellbeing.
Declaration embarks on its UK tour on Friday 12 October until Thursday 22 November. For more information see website.