“When I was diagnosed [with ADHD], the only relatable content I could find was Pina’s comics. When she asked if I wanted to be included in this project I jumped at it,” Bee, a 25-year-old South Carolina-based illustrator, told Re:Set. Along with 15 other artists, Bee is part of an initiative termed #ADHDInvasion, spearheaded by visual development artist Pina Varnel, better known online as ‘ADHD Alien.’
Based out of Germany, the 30-year-old has been a prominent voice in the ADHD space where she uses her comics to express the ups and downs of living with the condition and how it influences her work.
“Working from home and creating comics that are that vulnerable and [being] open about all my worst flaws and now also having such a big following [of over 200,000 across social media] can get pretty lonely,” Varnel remarked. For support, she turned to a community of artists living with ADHD who documented the highs and lows of the condition through art and formed the collective. As October is ADHD Awareness Month, the group came together to release 16 comics that highlighted their experiences with the condition.
There is rarely one singular experience of living with the condition, while a few symptoms are more common than others, there is a whole range that can be a part of it. Some may experience short attention spans, forgetfulness or an inability to organize or stick to tasks while for others high impulsivity, restlessness and trouble focusing might be more prominent challenges.
For Bee, her primary intention for partaking in this was to spread awareness about how differently ADHD can manifest in different people. Symptoms like hyperactivity can be a marker of the condition, but it is a common myth that every person will display it. “A lot of people didn’t think I actually had it because I wasn’t hyper, and that’s just completely false information,” she reflected. Having received her diagnosis only this year, Bee’s comic captures the “feelings of both being hindered and thankful for being diagnosed with ADHD.”
After years of feeling the dysfunction build up, investing time in projects and not following through on them and then eventually neglecting their well-being, Morgan Mudway felt that 2020 was the final nail in the coffin. “My husband, who also has ADHD, pushed me into having an assessment. I’m glad he did,” Mudway told Re:Set. The 28-year-old Ontario-based character design illustrator got their diagnosis in July this year and joined ADHD Invasion as a way of meeting people who live with similar experiences.
Mudway’s comic for the collective is based off a question they found find themself wondering about often — “Why am I not living up to my potential?”
“A lot of me blames ADHD now that I know I have it, and I wonder if I can overcome that,” they observed. Through their art, Mudway aimed to capture a sense of hope that it is possible to do better, and that with the right help and the right medication they can achieve the greatness that is expected of them.
Being part of a community that understands the challenges that accompany the condition has been helpful on this journey. “Everybody feels better knowing they aren’t struggling alone,” they remarked, adding that it feels good to have a “whole community cheer squad.”
“I know how it feels starting out making comics where you describe some of the worst parts about yourself and how scary it can be to post these into the world,” Varnel told Re:Set. But she reiterated that people must be able to read these kinds of stories about “imperfect but perfectly normal people who happen to have ADHD.”
Her own comics have received overwhelming responses from people writing in to tell her that they related or that they finally understood what life with ADHD looked like. “I cannot explain how much hearing this has changed my life, after living 28 years [of] hiding so much of myself that I thought was shameful and broken,” Varnel remarked. With this initiative, she remains steadfast in her intention to provide a platform for artists to share their work and be exposed to a larger audience.
This is just the start for the crew, and Varnel who is motivated to build more communities and programs to enable artists to share their mental health journeys and experiences. There is a possibility of a physical zine looming in the horizon as well. “I would love to one day create something…to motivate young artists to create and be brave about who they are,” she said.
Cover image artwork credits: Jane Jackson, Morgan Mudway, Pina Varnel, ADHD_Bri, Giftieart, Ira Prince Valls