Lifting the weight of shame- Reflections on Declaration

As part of our tour of Declaration we’ve invited audience members we’ve met along the way to share their responses as part of a series of guest blogs.

Our first guest writer is Priscilla Eyles, who shares her experiences of Declaration and our ‘Coiled Spring Club’ workshop at Stratford Circus Theatre. Priscilla is a singer-songwriter, occasional journalist, digital comms specialist, improv comedian and trainee therapist. You can find her music as Dandy Lion on Facebook and Soundcloud.

‘Firstly, I was really grateful to have participated in Sarah’s liberating creative ADHD workshop at Stratford Circus as part of the Declaration tour. It is extremely rare to find any free support for adult ADHD outside of community meetup groups, otherwise you must content yourself with generic CBT sessions and workshops on anxiety and depression.

That’s where an adventurous, reckless, sociable and easily excitable colourful 1-year old capuchin monkey called Gerry steps in (or noisily jumps in), covered in the mud he’s just rolled about in with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. And dressed in his signature distinctive fez hat with a peacock feather and tassled waistcoat.

He’s forever sniffing out something tasty to eat having already consumed a dozen bananas or playing loudly on his panpipes. Either that or chasing his own matted and bushy tail. Insatiable, silly, mucky pup, but he is ever so playful, fun and adorable really. He just doesn’t like to be bored. Ever. And don’t you dare leave him on his own for too long with no-one to play with, for he’ll soon be tugging at your hand forlornly.

Now before you think that the introduction of an imaginary simian is me going off on a massive ADHD tangent. Gerry was the happy result of Sarah’s instruction to visualise the aspects of your ADHD you have a love/hate relationship with as a creature or character. A sort of dependent, vulnerable sidekick you’re stuck with and eventually befriend. She also shared hers: ‘the squid’, ‘little drummer boy’ and ‘rabbit’ representing anxiety, restlessness and the constant noise in her head which turn up in Declaration.

Gerry, for me represents me at my most distractible, chaotic, unproductive, immature and restless, but also represents the ever playful, creative, cheeky, curious and youthfully passionate part. By turning that aspect into an animal, it allows me to say on bad days, ‘it’s just Gerry taking over again!’ *sigh* and to have more compassion for this part of myself. Plus, monkeys are bloody awesome.

So, I want to say a big thanks to Sarah for so enthusiastically helping me to embrace aspects of myself that I have tried to disown or resist but, let’s face it, are not going away anytime soon.

Thank you also for creating such a welcoming space. In that room, the weight of internalised shame and guilt from years of people’s judgements and criticisms was lifted, and instead me and the other ADHD women there celebrated our achievements and uniqueness unapologetically…and I’ll continue to practice embracing Gerry.

And now onto Declaration, this was an incredibly engaging and moving experience for me. I cannot repeat enough how important it is to have your story represented. Sarah has done a brilliant job of conveying how ADHD can manifest itself with it’s intense highs and lows.

From having a vivid, active childhood imagination that invents fun superhero alter egos – conveyed by Sarah excitedly sporting a shiny cape and goggles; to trying in vain to conform to being more ‘ladylike’, with Sarah awkwardly and hilariously trying to be exactly like her stiff, demure Samantha doll in a blonde woollen wig and replica version of the doll’s absurdly old-fashioned pink satin dress and bloomers.

Through to the chaos and overwhelm of an adult life suddenly weighted with organisational responsibilities. In one uncannily relatable part perfectly illustrating the ADHD inability to prioritise, Sarah makes herself late to work by looking furiously and in an increasingly desperate whirlwind of anxiety for her red shoes that she had picked out specially to go with her dress the night before.

Then there’s the guilt at the impact that the rollercoaster of ADHD has in loved one’s lives, illustrated with anecdotal clips from Sarah’s often bemused but understanding wife (the clips of her mum too show her to be a lovely and touchingly proud parent). The varied and at times exhausting multiple personas like ‘Activist Sarah’, ‘Fun Sarah’ and ‘Loyal friend Sarah’ (I’d say I have the same personas with the addition of ‘intellectual academic Priscilla’).

At the self-diagnosis stage the play also captures the urgent need to Google everything ADHD, projecting Sarah’s actual extensive Google history to convey visually the info overload that a lot of us newly self-diagnosed ADHDers go through. I also loved the encouraged audience participation from Sarah too and frequent informal interactions with the audience (so ADHD).

Go see it if you still can and make sure to bring your loved ones.’

Priscilla Eyles, London