Declaration draws on Sarah Emmott’s experiences and (late) diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Developed with medical professionals, ADHD and mental health support groups, the piece begins with a highly energetic and comedic tone. Emmott shares childhood stories of embracing her then-undiagnosed self-defined “weirdness” within a supportive family context.
A visit to the doctor to inquire into Sarah’s childhood symptoms saw her come away reassured that avoiding sugar and E numbers would resolve what she describes as a sense of “being different”. Interviews with the artist’s mother played in the show provide us with an insight into what caring for someone with ADHD when no further medical support is available might feel like.
In Emmott’s case, as far as the performance tells us, her family and friends embraced her hyperactivity with admiration, and developed strategies to support her at times where ADHD manifests as something other than the joyous, colourful and restless way the beginning of the performance illustrates.
Woven through the piece is the premise that the performer is looking for a pair of red shoes. This seemingly trivial detail becomes a theatrical mechanism for Sarah Emmott to illustrate those moments where ADHD has a direct impact on her daily life which cannot be hidden behind or discarded as “boundless energy”. Without her red shoes, Sarah will not be able to leave the house. She may have an argument with her partner who might have moved them. She may be late for work, and people may begin to think she is not reliable… Her thoughts unravel until she points to her bare feet; the red shoes are a useful metaphor for telling this story and deeply rooted in her lived experience - which is later confirmed as we hear a recording of her partner recounting her experience of the day Sarah was looking for her red shoes.
This ‘red shoes’ chapter, and many others, all happened before Emmott’s formal diagnosis, in her thirties. Research demonstrates that late ADHD diagnoses are common in women, for whom it is often described as an “hidden disorder”. (see links below)
Fundamentally at the heart of Declaration are two questions; that of the diagnosis and of treatment. Sarah has lived with ADHD for most her life before she could put a label to it and her performance wonders what difference it might make - to her the line between “how much of it is IT and how much of it is [HER]” are blurred. This uncertainty is directly correlated to treatment. Emmott tells us she has now met other people with ADHD who have found appropriate drugs. She does not give the details of her own treatment, but the performance ends with an invitation to embrace your own “weirdness” and individuality, whatever it might involve.
Art with Heart’s show points to the possibility that a better system of care might be one that takes into account each individual’s personal relationship to their health, and tailors their treatment to their wishes. For Emmott, it begins with asking her audiences “What do you need?” (LB)
Declaration was presented on 14th August at Summerhall Roundabout - http://festival16.summerhall.co.uk/event/declaration/
Art with Heart website, including further information on the performance and links to support services: http://www.artwithheart.org.uk/current-work-declaration/
ADHD Foundation - http://www.adhdfoundation.org.uk/
Journal of Clinical Psychology research article on gender-specific issues surrounding ADHD in teenagers: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jclp.20121/abstract
Journal of Clinical Psychiatry article on gender differences in adults with ADHD: http://www.psychiatrist.com/jcp/article/Pages/2008/v69n02/v69n0207.aspx