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ADHD Portrait Project, by Ryan Walter Wagner

25/10/2021
Shelly-Ann McMorris

Earlier this year I decided to support a friend of mine by giving his new podcast, Holy Sh*t I Have ADHD!, a listen. I knew very little about ADHD or what being neurodivergent was and really just wanted to see what a friend was up to, so I pressed play on episode 1.

After listening to about half of the first episode, I got distracted by thinking about how much I was relating to everything they were talking about. I lifted my jaw up off the floor and decided to write myself a little note so that I could remember to bring it up to my therapist later that week. My therapists response to my statement of “I think I might have ADHD” was “Oh yeah, I can see that.”

At that point she helped me start a process of diagnosing me through questions, doctors appointments, more questions, blood tests and then a few more questions. After a lot of waiting, being on waiting lists and remaining on hold, I received my official diagnosis for ADHD at the age of 43.

It’s still pretty fresh for me and I’ve been spending the time since then trying to wrap my head around what it means to me and what I want to do with this new information about my brain.

Through a lot of mourning for the past and trying so hard to stay hopeful for the future, I decided to work through it as an art project.

I work as a professional photographer and thought a great way to learn more about ADHD would be to create an on-going portrait project where I can talk with other people that are experiencing ADHD themselves. I wanted to highlight adults that have been diagnosed as neurodivergent and start a discussion that may inspire others to have a closer look at their mental health.

With ADHD being the most under recognized, yet most treatable mental health disorders in Canada it feels like an important discussion to have. Going through over a year of pandemic restrictions seems to have given people scenarios that allow them to find ways to understand themselves and their loved ones, better.

Through this effort I have met so many amazing people with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives on what being neurodivergent means to them.

The conversations that have taken place because of this project are invaluable to my growth and understanding of myself and how my brain works. The openness of others has been so vulnerable and refreshing. Having an instant connection with people that really, truly understand the moments that I’ve struggled through all these years. Each person and conversation has been so important to my forgiveness and attitude towards myself. Having thoughtful dialog about therapy and medication options makes everything a little easier to face.

Taking the stigma out of something that so many people experience is a great way to allow people to be themselves and not feel shame for it. Sharing not only my journey as I discover what ADHD or neurodiversity means to me, but creating a platform where others have been open about how they navigate a neurotypical world with a neurodivergent brain.

The community that exists around ADHD has been the biggest surprise for me during the first few months of my discovery.

Knowing that there are so many people out there eager to help, support and share their thoughts on what it’s been like for them is our way of trying to take away the stigma that surrounds neurodiversity. As I continue to explore my path forward I hope to open a dialog that allows for more understanding of what it means to have ADHD or be neurodivergent as opposed to neurotypical.

I’m interested in continuing this portrait project and I am currently looking for more people to photograph. Adults living in British Columbia that have been diagnosed with ADHD and would love to spend an hour talking about it while we walk around your neighbourhood, please get in touch via email: ryanwalterwagner@gmail.com

WEBSITEwww.ryanwalterwagner.com

INSTAGRAM@ryanwalterwagner

DHD Portraits by Ryan

Jake
This past December Jake was diagnosed with ADHD after some encouragement from people close to him and a little bit of self reflection.

We had a really thorough conversation where we discussed medications and other treatments. We talked about looking at our pasts and wishing we could’ve done a few things differently had we only known that our brains were working the way they are. It was really comforting to speak to another person that could really understand the way my brain seems to work and the frustrations that come along with it.

Jakes openness towards discussing ADHD was another one of those instant connections that is constantly revealing itself in this amazing community of people with ADHD.

Robbie
Last November Robbie was diagnosed with Adult ADHD and has since started a podcast (Holy Sh*t I Have ADHD) with her friend Jordan Lane, which discusses the effects and struggles of people that have been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.

Dominic
My conversation with Dominic was one of the most uplifting yet. Our conversation leaned towards the amazement of discovering yourself. Being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult can be an incredible moment in your life that allows you to understand the struggle that looms inside our brains and never seems to quiet down. Dominic’s ability to take responsibility was very inspiring for me and allowed me another angle to look at ADHD with an encouraging spin.

Heidi
Growing up, Heidi says she always felt there was something a bit different about her and after some introspective work between her and her partner (at the time), she was diagnosed with ADHD in her late 20’s.

We spoke openly about how being neurodivergent has effected our past and how it’s a great thing to be able to explain, finally, why certain things have effected our lives.

One thing that really stood out to me as we wandered around her neighbourhood, was how she spoke about ‘relief’ in finally being diagnosed and having an explanation. The relief wasn’t so much about setting herself at ease, but to be able to equip her family and loved ones with information that could help them understand as well. I really thought that was a beautiful statement into how wonderful of a person she is.

Santina
My conversation with Santina was full of so much insight and information that helped me really take some bigger steps towards understating ADHD and how to navigate it in a Neurotypical world.

Part of this project for me is understanding how others have navigated their diagnosis and I thought Santina had some amazing things to contribute to my own understanding.

“What would I say about ADHD? It’s the disorder of opposites, no wonder we looked like we were spinning a mile a minute or spaced out when we were younger, and still as adults, it’s just harder to see for some. It’s pretty amazing to see so many people finding the right way to articulate their symptoms, to have a voice for their medical well being now with the accessibility of large forums. Neuro Diverse folk are the change this world really needs to listen to and provide space to nurture that craft we all have inside of us.”

Sean
Sean and I met each other in 1997 and have ran in similar circles since then. Hearing him talk about struggles he’s dealt with really opened up another part of me and my journey to understanding ADHD. He had been diagnosed at an early age with ADD and was offered medications that were over-prescribed in the era of ‘hyper kids’. After turning 19 he had deeper looks into his mental health and his journey took a lot of turns before he found himself in a more understanding place.

As he spoke with ease describing simple, everyday things that roam around in his brain, my own fears seemed to lessen. Having people speak with me about their own experiences that match my own so closely has been a way to drag the fear that I feel over an ADHD diagnosis out of my mind. Knowing that a lot of struggles of feeling out of place and distracted are felt by others have brought a more positive outlook into my life. I’m not quite there yet, but speaking openly with old friends like Sean sure is helping.

Amity
After suspicions during her childhood, Amity was finally diagnosed with Adult ADHD in her 30’s. Since then her journey has been one of growth as she learned to find ways to understand how her brain works. I had a tremendously encouraging and uplifting conversation with Amity as we discussed both positives and negatives to being diagnosed with ADHD.

Our talk left me feeling a lot more encouraged with my recent diagnosis. This project has been an outstanding way for me to understand my own brain as I have so many conversations about all the unique and diverse ways people with ADHD navigate their own lives.

Micaela
Four years ago Micaela was diagnosed with Adult ADHD. Since then she has completed her degree and is working as a music therapist. We spent some time walking around Burnaby and talking about the effects of adult ADHD. Michaela has a terrific outlook and shared many positive outcomes with me.

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