Guest Blog: Sarah Emmott Talks ADHD And New Show DECLARATION
Declaration is a curious, colourful and candid autobiographical exploration of my own journey to an ADHD diagnosis, which is both personal and political. The decision to make Declaration came from feeling powerless, vulnerable and misunderstood, feelings I know now are shared by lots of adults struggling with their mental health.
As soon as you say 'mental health', people think of doom and gloom. Declaration isn't that. It's joyful, motivated, springy, punchy, and funny. I like to make people laugh. Laugher often helps us digest new things, but it also makes us feel welcome and part of a collective, and that's what I want Declaration audiences to feel like: a collective.
As well as exploring my own experience we want to challenge the misconceptions, stereotypes and stigma of ADHD and to show audiences that it isn't just the mainstream media image of a small boy tearing round a supermarket - it could be a woman in her thirties desperately trying to get to work on time. I also want to show people the positive traits of ADHD: the fun, the laughter, the 'anything could happen' (but in a good way!) stuff that we often don't see.
My ADHD symptoms have always been there, and in Declaration we explore the impact they had on me growing up, as well as what it's like for me right here and now.
There is a huge gender gap in the diagnosis of women and girls because we often disguise our symptoms by replicating behaviour. Growing up, I became really good at hiding; I managed to slip under the radar for a long time. In my late twenties, I couldn't hide anymore - my symptoms were having a huge impact on my everyday life and I knew I needed help.
The day I took myself to the doctors felt like a huge decision. He explained that gaining a formal diagnosis for ADHD as an adult can be a complex journey, and unless you are an extreme case, it isn't something they would push for. I had gone to the doctors for a solution and left with even more questions. I felt let down, alone, and vulnerable.
When speaking to medical professionals you never explore the positive traits of a condition, only what is 'wrong' with you. For the first time I started view myself in a very different way. Before, I had always felt different, but never wrong. Now, I felt like a broken toy who couldn't be fixed. I didn't want to be seen as broken, I wanted to be seen as a warrior who was ready to fight to feel well.
I started to seek out other people, and I went to a support group for adults with ADHD. Suddenly I was around people who I didn't have to explain anything to - they instantly understood me. It felt like a huge relief: I wasn't alone. And I wanted others to feel that too. For us all to be part of a supportive collective to celebrate ourselves and each other.
I'm really honest in each performance about how I am that day, which feels a world away from the fear I had during our first sharing where I said "I'm not OK" for the first time in public. Now, I feel proud to be able to tell people my story: from the ridiculous tales of my childhood alter-ego, to my difficult visits to the doctors for a diagnosis.
Theatre is an incredible tool to understand better the world and ourselves. I want to be honest about what it feels like to have ADHD and the hard times, but also to celebrate all the positive parts of ADHD and neurodiversity; I can hyper focus on things for hours and never run out of things to say. I'm resilient, curious, bold, spontaneous, and my mind can make super-speedy connections off the cuff.
Declaration might be about mental health, but it's packed full of humour and hope in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. And even though it's a solo performance, Declaration isn't just about me - it's about all of us, and knowing that it's OK.
Declaration is touring the UK from 12 May. Find full dates and venues here
Photo credit: Sam Ryley