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Shaparak Khorsandi: How a late ADHD diagnosis changed my life

Comedian Shaparak Khorsandi has released an autobiography called Scatter Brain (Heathcliff O’Malley/PA)

When comedian Shaparak Khorsandi revealed on Twitter during the pandemic that she had been diagnosed with ADHD, she was contacted by an avalanche of people suspecting they too might have the condition.

“I thought rather than spend my time on Twitter all day, I’ll write a book,” she explains. The result is Scatter Brain, her autobiography which charts her ADHD journey.

“I thought I was on my own for so long,” says the comedian, 50. “I had no idea that there are oceans of people who have experienced a lifetime of not knowing, thinking it was something they were doing or not doing that was debilitating them.”

Khorsandi suggests being diagnosed aged 47 went some way to explaining her behaviour over the years – learning difficulties as a child who was nicknamed ‘Scatty Shappi’, later boozing and bingeing, bulimia, anxiety, inability to concentrate, compulsive behaviour and impulsive stealing. Temper tantrums would erupt over the most minuscule things.

“Humour was a big masker for me,” she reflects. “But nothing was a saviour, because humour wasn’t easy either. A career in comedy was really daunting because ADHD meant that I couldn’t read social situations, I was really oversensitive.

“But the feeling on stage made me feel alive. Humour masked and would make me laugh at myself. It was OK that I was failing, because I found it funny and that warded everyone off.”


To tackle her bulimia, she entered 12-step recovery at the age of 31 and for the first time since her teenage years, she wasn’t in the fog of food.

“I still relapse but it’s always when I’m tired, and when I haven’t taken my medication or I haven’t gone running or I haven’t meditated. But when it happens I’m not filled with shame,” she explains.

Khorsandi married comedian Christian Reilly in 2005 and they have a son, Cassius, but divorced in 2011. She admits she grieved for seven years.

“It was a long time of being very heartbroken,” she recalls. “I thought that marriage was for life. I’d never visualised that failure. I’d failed at keeping my family, but my ex-husband and I have a great relationship now. I was at his wedding with my wife-in-law, as I call her.

“Had I known that I had ADHD while I was divorcing, had I got the tools I have now for coping with my emotions and being able to process them, I think it would have been a lot less prolonged and painful. I don’t think ADHD had anything to do with us breaking up, but it did contribute to the break-up being so catastrophic.”

She also has a daughter, Genevieve, from a brief relationship, although the father has never met her. For now, she is enjoying being single. “I’m exhausted from relationships,” she sighs.

Her breakout show, Asylum Speaker, at the 2006 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, was followed by various TV and radio gigs and an appearance on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2017.

Throughout her adult life, people have suggested she may have ADHD – and in the world of comedy it’s not uncommon, she reflects.

“In my 40s I had a boyfriend who said, ‘You have 20 conversations at the same time’ and I said, ‘I know’. He said, ‘That’s ADHD’.”

She went to a psychiatrist for temper tantrums in 2016 – and lasted one session.

“Then in lockdown I was dog-walking with some friends who were talking about their daughter having ADHD and I related to everything they said.”

She googled ‘Psychotherapist ADHD’ and found her current therapist, Ian, who also has ADHD. A further visit to a psychiatrist gave her a formal diagnosis.

Being diagnosed, she says, has been a game-changer.

“I don’t put myself in positions where I’m feeling daunted. Before, I’d go to a party, even though I was daunted by the party. Now I’ll say, I don’t want to go to that, I won’t have a good time.

“I manage it by telling people about it and not apologising for it. I tell them I have ADHD and people are so responsive. I meditate, go running, I have a therapist and spend a lot of time in the park with my dogs. Nature and the colour green are good for calming down my motor and breathing. And I’m on medication.”

She also doesn’t drink any more.

“There’s a whole sober world that I missed when I was binge-drinking, and I’ve made incredible friendships because I’ve been present to receive them.”

Khorsandi recognises that she still has plenty of ADHD traits. “When I meet new people, if I’m not tired, I can get really hyper and just talk about 10 different things at the same time. I lose things and I’m often frustrated because I’m behind on admin. I have to be very methodical. I repeat things that I have to do because then I’ll do them.”

Learning to say no has been key to managing her condition. Being compliant and people-pleasing are habits she’s learned to break.

“I ended up having absolute burnout and cancelling a tour last year. I ended up just sobbing at Crewe Station – I’m not touring again in the autumn.

“I rebooted by really just throwing myself into my life and going to my daughter’s school summer party and going to sports day and walking my dogs and being in my own life.

“There are basic things that I’ve denied myself because I’ve been working, like reading a book that has nothing to do with work, listening to a podcast, crafting.

“I’m not happy when I’m not home for long stretches of time. I used to be like a little firework. Busy used to serve me because I had my motor, but now that I’m able to be aware, I busy myself with things that truly bring me joy, like writing this book.”

She’ll be performing her new show ShapChat! at Edinburgh Fringe this summer and appearing at book festivals – and may write a show about her book.

And she’s starting a psychotherapy course in September, to train as a psychotherapist, alongside her career as a stand-up. But she hasn’t written off more reality TV if it was lucrative enough – the motor is still running.

“Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about this. I mean, I wouldn’t do it for the experience of being in a tub of snakes, but if it paid my mortgage for a substantial amount of time, I would.”

Scatter Brain by Shaparak Khorsandi is published by Vermilion, priced £16.99. Available now.


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