Sarah Emmott

The writer of a funny play exploring ADHD in adult women says it came from powerlessness

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Declaration is a curious, comic and candid autobiographical exploration of ADHD. It is about mental health but it’s joyful, punchy, springy and packed full of humour and hope. It’s honest and doesn’t shy away from the difficulties but I wanted to make sure that it celebrates the positives – the fun, laughter, curiosity, spontaneity, being able to hyper-focus on things for hours and never running out of things to say!

Laughter often helps us digest things, but it also makes us feel part of a collective, and that’s what I want Declaration audiences to feel like – a collective. The decision to make Declaration definitely didn’t come from laughter. It came from feeling powerless, vulnerable and misunderstood after facing a diagnosis at the age of 30 – feelings I know now are shared by lots of adults struggling with their mental health.

As well as exploring my own experience we want to challenge misconceptions, stereotypes and the stigma of ADHD. The mainstream media image of ADHD is a small boy tearing round a supermarket but we wanted to show that it can also be a woman in her thirties desperately trying to get to work on time. There is a huge gender gap in the diagnosis of women and girls because we often disguise our symptoms by replicating behaviour. By my late twenties I was struggling – I couldn’t hide anymore and my everyday life was being impacted by my symptoms. I knew I needed help.

Speaking out about it, talking to people close to me and meeting other adults with ADHD have helped me a lot. Being in a room full of people who experience the world in a similar way to you is so liberating and exhilarating, and it’s a huge relief to know you’re not alone. I wanted to create a performance that opened up my experience to allow people to understand ADHD, be part of a supportive collective and have the time and space to think about their own mental wellbeing.

As well as the performance we have a wellbeing room with activities run by Steph, a mental health practitioner. It’s a chance to get a brew, have a chat, talk about what Declaration may have stirred in you and have some time away from the noisy world to focus on yourself. We’ve also run six training sessions nationally with our partners the ADHD Foundation. The training is for those working with young people to foster understanding and learn how to create constructive environments for those with ADHD and other neurodiversities.

After the performances I often meet the audience, which is brilliant. I feel really fortunate to have a platform to tell my story, but also that it’s helping others explore their own. It’s been incredible to meet so many people who have had similar experiences and to hear that Declaration has helped them feel hopeful. Every performance of Declaration is different but it’s always a joyous, riotous celebration of square pegs everywhere who live outside society’s round hole.

Declaration is at the Lowry, Salford, 24 June

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