Friday, December 8, 2023

Neurodiversity is Normal: How Does a Woman With ADHD Handle Life, Comedy & Parenting?

Wellington comedian Jim Stanton, 39, has daughters aged eight and six who she co-parents with their father. As well as doing stand-up, Jim works three days a week at eco-store Good House Keeping. She also works in the wardrobe department for film and TV – often for commercials – and occasionally as an extra. Six months ago she was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).

Tell me about your upcoming comedy-festival show Bangwagon.

I’ve never done a show so heavily themed on one thing: my experience as a woman with ADHD trying to ‘do it all’ while being super distracted. I was never not going to talk about my ADHD. I’ve always talked openly about my mental health. I’m not a particularly preachy comedian, but I do think that humour is a valuable platform to make things that are hard to talk about more accessible, relatable, and palatable.

How did you realise you have ADHD?

I’ve been in a really good place in my thirties, but I struggled with depression during my mid-twenties, and had a crisis in my late twenties. I always just thought I had a sad brain. I do costume work in the TV/film industry, and a sound engineer and I were swapping stories about depression. Two people who are neurodivergent often have a similar vibe and he had ADHD said ‘have you ever thought that you might have ADHD?’ I sort of scoffed at that, but then I saw TikTok videos and Facebook posts of people saying ‘this is how my ADHD affects my daily life’ and I thought ‘that’s absolutely me’. I did more reading, more podcast listening, and everything started making sense.

I saved $1000 to see a psychiatrist, and because of my ADHD I asked a friend to hold onto that money so I didn’t spend it before my appointment. Even before the appointment, I knew what was happening with my brain. I now needed the psychiatrist to sort of ‘sign it off’. To have the diagnosis on a piece of paper – I felt so relieved. I could say ‘no wonder I couldn’t get things together’.

How did you connect with other people with ADHD?

Because I have trouble sitting still, podcasts are good because I can do something [else] at the same time. There’s one called ADHD For Smart Ass Women, which has an offshoot Facebook group. Different people’s ADHD manifests differently but there’s that comfort in being among women who say ‘we hear you, we’ve been there’. There’s that solidarity. You might talk about frustrations and difficulties. It was so good to find other mothers trying to manage – because what are we not good at if we’ve got ADHD? Logistics. What is 99% of parenting? Logistics. With some hugs thrown in. Being a parent with ADHD is a real struggle because you’re trying to provide security and routine for children who need that, while not even being able to provide that for yourself.

What’s the biggest challenge as a parent who has ADHD?

 It’s creating that feeling of safety for my children. I never want them to feel unsafe. I want them to know what’s going on. So I’ve worked really hard to combat my impulsivity. My brain very easily says ‘yes’ before thinking ‘actually, maybe no’. So it’s like ‘Did we make a plan? Oh well, we’ve changed it!’. Maybe as parents, we were a bit too freewheeling because kids are expected to follow routines. But our kids are great at adapting to situations and happy to roll with things!

I don’t think we’re ever on time to school and now I hide when I see the teacher! Also, my child will tell me it’s cross-country and I immediately forget and don’t remember to put running shoes in her bag.

Do your children have ADHD?

No, but my eight-year-old is very proud that her mother has it! A girl in her class has ADHD and my daughter often asks ‘Do you think she will do this or like this?’ ADHD is highly heritable, as much as height. But my kids are very young so I don’t want to jump down the diagnosis track. At this stage I’ve seen them do nothing that gets in the way of their learning or socialising. I was an extremely nerdy child and didn’t become a problem until later.

There are definitely positives to being a parent with ADHD. For instance, my girls are extremely creative, want to put on shows, want to make things. And I’m like, ‘sure let’s pull out the glue gun’. When other children visit, they think it’s a cave of art supplies. There’s stuff everywhere. I can see that makes some other parents feel anxious.

What were some of the challenges of having [undiagnosed] ADHD earlier in your life?

As someone with ADHD, you ‘pay a lot of tax’ whether it’s emotionally within your relationships, or financially because of impulsivity, or because you make terrible decisions on the fly. I spent years not understanding why things were so hard for me. I thought I was lazy and stupid, while also knowing that I love to read and talk to people. I knew that my brain worked, but not in a way that’s rewarded by the way the world works.

You really thought you were stupid?

Yeah, I know some absolute idiots who have PhDs, yet I couldn’t stay at university for half a year. It was so tiring and confusing. After a while, you just start to believe it [that you’re lazy or stupid] because you think you should know how things operate and you don’t.

Did or do you experience time blindness?

Yes. Time blindness is huge. It’s that inability to assess, or poor judgement about, how long any particular thing will take. I think there’s a misconception that if you’re scatter-brained, if you forget things and if you’re late, that’s because you don’t care. Actually a lot of people ADHD care deeply. We hate being late. We hate letting people down. We hate being the one who fucked up. Certain things are tied into being a good person. It’s like being late is a moral thing. It’s good to be on time. It’s good to remember your friend’s birthday. So when you don’t do those things, you think ‘well, I’m not a good person’. There’s all that negative self-talk. You’re constantly disappointing yourself and that’s why I think ADHD is often underdiagnosed, or put down to anxiety or depression.

Now you can tell people you have ADHD, are people generally understanding? Have you encountered any stigma about so-called ‘self-diagnosing’?

A few times there’s been some slight scoffing of ‘oh yeah, sure’. It’s not my responsibility to change that person’s mind, but sometimes I’ve persevered from the personal angle and said ‘It’s not that I just saw a video on TikTok. This [diagnosis] has brought me such relief and can’t you just be happy for me?’ Close friends can see the relief and the clouds of confusion parting for me.

How did your parents react?

Well. Their response was really thoughtful and measured. My parents had watched how hard things were for me. Many women now getting diagnosed were, like me, considered academically gifted at school, then reached a stage where the executive function needed to kick in. For me it was when I went to university. I suddenly had to do all things that I hadn’t thought about before, like paying bills, and putting petrol in the car.

With your upcoming show, how was it doing the five-minute preview of Bangwagon at the group gala recently?

I slightly panicked. With my material being that I can’t remember anything, it made it harder to remember the material! I thought ‘how can I do 50 minutes if I’m struggling to recall five minutes!?’ There is long-term memory, short-term memory and working memory. With ADHD, often your working memory is just so bad. So I can’t remember why I’ve gone to the kitchen or where my keys are.

Someone described working memory as having a jotter pad in your head. You scribble down what you need to remember, and when you need to remember those little things, you do. Whereas I just don’t have that. So, with this show, I’ll have a few prompts hidden somewhere discreetly, but also I’ll openly say ‘There’s no way I’ll remember all this! You’ve signed up to see a woman with ADHD so that’s what you’re going to get, folks!’

Are you nervous?

I’ve been doing comedy long enough that I’m not nervous about performing, but I’m nervous about the recall – and also about doing justice to the subject matter. But I can only speak to my own experience. And because I’m very forgetful, if it doesn’t go well I won’t remember!

Jim’s show ‘Bangwagon’ is on May 23-27, 9pm-10pm at BATS Theatre, as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival

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