Sarah Emmott

Filled with great tunes, dancing and humour, Declaration is an upbeat autobiographical piece about the challenges she faced as she sought diagnosis

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Two years ago we set out to make a theatre production about my mental health as I faced an ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) diagnosis in my thirties. I never expected that two years later I would feel happier and more comfortable with it than ever.

Declaration is a candid autobiographical exploration of my life and mental health. It’s joyful, punchy, springy and packed full of humour and hope. It’s honest and, 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.

I think it’s fair to say that modern life can be fast, harsh and unforgiving, which is often how my mind is. I’ve always had a brain like Piccadilly Circus and a body like a coiled spring. As a child of the 1980s, when my mum talked to a doctor about my ADHD symptoms, his advice was to keep me busy. I followed that advice until I hit a wall in my late twenties and couldn’t cope anymore. I went back to the doctors for help and for the first time heard ADHD in a professional context. I felt lost.

Having ADHD means you’re often overwhelmed with thoughts and you can’t organise or prioritise them, and when you forget things or make mistakes you come down on yourself hard. Before diagnosis I would harshly criticise myself over everything in the most unforgiving way. Now ADHD has become a framework for me to understand myself and make adjustments. I have a much better understanding of how my brain works, both anecdotally and scientifically, and that helps me, from big things to small everyday things. Now that I understand what I need, I don’t feel embarrassed asking for it.

Declaration is a “privilege to share every night”, says Sarah Emmott. Photos: Sam Ryley

There is still such a negative stigma about mental health and a huge gender imbalance in diagnosis rates and visibility of women with ADHD. I want women with ADHD to be on the agenda and for people to understand that ADHD isn’t the stereotypes or just children – it can look like me: a woman in her mid-thirties successfully running a company while finding lists of “simple” tasks almost impossible.

Declaration came from feeling powerless and misunderstood. Meeting other adults with ADHD and anxiety and talking about my experience has helped me a lot; being with people who experience the world in a similar way is so liberating and exhilarating, and it’s a huge relief to know you’re not alone. I think making Declaration has also helped me process the labels I have and feel pride in them rather than shame. It’s given me more confidence to be me.

I’ve never had so much fun touring a production! It’s bold, fun and is a privilege to share every night. Theatre has a reputation for being for posh and stuffy but Declaration couldn’t be further from that. I mean, it would have to be – I’m working class and can’t sit still! Declaration allows you to feel part of a collective: to think, laugh, wriggle in your seat and participate as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. We also have a wellbeing room open for anyone who needs to feel grounded and away from the noisy world to focus on themselves.

Declaration is a joyous, riotous, kick-ass celebration of square pegs everywhere who live outside society’s round hole. I hope you can come and celebrate with us on tour.

Declaration tour dates include the Met, Bury, 24 Oct, and York Theatre Royal, 25 Oct

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