ADHD TikToker Dani Donovan Gives Actionable Tips For Self-Acceptance and "Getting Sh*t Done"
TikToker, artist, and "ADHD meme queen" Dani Donovan got started on her path in a fitting way.
A few years ago, Donovan was chatting with a coworker when the topic of therapy came up. "I just hadn't heard anyone openly talk about therapy before," she remembered, and it gave her the courage to say, "Hey, I have ADHD."
That simple conversation sparked something in her — a desire to start sharing her experience with ADHD more widely, something she'd never felt comfortable with before. These days, it feels appropriate that Donovan's own work (clever and comedic TikToks, tweets, and comics) helps others with ADHD work toward self-acceptance and share their own stories.
The enthusiastic response — Donovan's first comic went viral, and she has nearly 600K followers on TikTok — revealed an ADHD community that "has felt so invisible and ashamed for so long," Donovan said. "We haven't had someone to speak up about our experiences."
Now, part of Donovan's goal is to help fill that void — and empower others to join her. How is she doing it? We talked to Donovan about her winding journey to TikTok, her favorite tried-and-true tips for people with ADHD, and what it's like to watch her impact grow, ahead.
Dani Donovan Got Her Start Making Comics
Donovan is a graphic designer by trade and has done stand-up comedy, so it was only natural that her first medium — comics — combined those skills. Her debut comic, created in December 2018, was a light-hearted but impactful comparison between the straightforward way some people share stories (beginning to end), versus how Donovan does it: a roundabout labyrinth of a flow chart with prologues and off-topic tangents.
Donovan was nervous to share the comic on social media, but a friend encouraged her to post it on Twitter, which felt safest because Donovan didn't have much of a following at the time. Little did they know the relatable comic would immediately go viral across social media platforms, amassing 25 million views on Facebook within two days, Donovan remembered.
It was a shock to her. "I didn't put a watermark or anything on it because I wasn't planning on making more," she recalled. "It really took off." Reading the comment section helped her see that she was speaking to a community often kept silent.
She Started Making TikToks About ADHD
Donovan continued making and sharing comics, but she wasn't jazzed about making the leap to TikTok, at first. She was turned off by the "stereotypical content" she saw everywhere, and it wasn't until a friend helped her adjust her algorithm that she realized the platform's potential.
Remembering the heyday of Vine, where she'd had a bit of a following, Donovan tried her hand at posting videos on a variety of topics: living in Nebraska, being a graphic designer, and "frantically trying to find headphones when someone's calling you on Microsoft Teams, little stuff like that."
When she started to incorporate ADHD into her videos, Donovan got a big response, especially from a series she called "Stuff I Didn't Realize Was Related to ADHD." The idea was to point out lesser-known symptoms of ADHD and how they manifest in Donovan's own life.
These were symptoms beyond the typical, generalized things like "distraction," Donovan said. "When you hear 'distracted,' you think, 'I was doing homework, I was working, and I got distracted by my phone,'" she explained. For her, it's more like: "I decided to clean my room, and then I got distracted by this thing I haven't seen in forever. Now I'm going to look at all of this stuff. That reminds me that I need to order one of these, and I'll get on Amazon. While I'm on Amazon . . ."
She Wanted to Share Her Experiences With ADHD . . .
Donovan wanted to be honest about her own experiences with ADHD, both to relate to other people and to empower them to share how ADHD affects their lives. "ADHD can affect people in very different ways," Donovan explained. She wanted her followers to realize that no two ADHD experiences are alike, but no one could tell them that how they felt or what they experienced was wrong.
. . . And Show How ADHD Can Affect Every Piece of Your Life
One thing Donovan said she, and the ADHD community at large, is starting to understand is that ADHD doesn't just affect one area of your life, like work or school. It can touch all of the "adult stuff... like relationships, your home life, your self-esteem, getting your oil changed," Donovan said. Repetitive, tedious tasks in particular don't "light up our brains," Donovan explained, and it helps to recognize that there's a reason why.
One of her series speaks directly to people with this struggle. Called "How I trick myself into getting sh*t done when I don't feel like it." It's Donovan's way of sharing her own personal strategies for getting through her to-do list.
The life hacks are alternatives for people who have tried the same old tips ("make a list," "check off things when you're done") with no results. "I think people are tired of getting the same advice over and over again," Donovan said.
She Offers Personal Tips and Tricks . . .
These tips are Donovan's way of helping other people with ADHD understand the way they think, and showing them "how they can use how they think to bypass some of the struggles." For example, some of her tips — like rolling a dice to decide which intimidating task to do first — make a boring to-do list more fun and engaging.
Donovan's personal favorite TikTok in her library is a step-by-step guide on how she "tricked herself" into becoming a morning person. It's simple but effective.
She sets different alarms to get out of bed on time, with each alarm pertaining to a different activity that helps to ease her awake. "We get the same advice over and over again about 'don't snooze your alarm, and don't look at your phone first thing in the morning,'" she said. "For me it's like, I've got to snooze my alarm." It's about giving other people with ADHD "actionable advice that leans into their tendencies, instead of asking them to change their thought process."
. . . And Discusses Lesser Known ADHD-Related Behaviors
Donovan's favorite series she's created is called "Stuff I Didn't Realize Was ADHD-Related." She describes it as the "lightbulb, aha moments" where she finds out that some other conditions she experiences "are highly comorbid with ADHD," even though they might not fall under your typical symptoms list.
It was validating for Donovan to realize that conditions like delayed sleep phase syndrome or body-focused repetitive behaviors weren't a sign of something being "wrong" with her. "I spent my whole life staying up till 3 a.m. and sleeping in till noon, and it turns out that there's a name for that," she said. "There's a reason why I'm constantly picking at my scalp, or scratching off every single imperfection on my shoulders."
Understanding the condition can help her manage it. "Now I know, when I'm getting the urge to itch my scalp, I have some knitting needles I keep right by the couch," Donovan said. "Because I know now that there's something I can do instead, and replace that behavior."
She Wants to Foster a Judgment-Free Zone
Donovan thinks of herself as an "older sister figure," as opposed to a teacher or a parent. "I'm not anyone who's here to judge you or tell you how to be," she explained. In fact, she was hesitant to share advice at first, because "so much advice directed at people with ADHD is how to fix them, how to make them more palatable for other people."
It can feel condescending as well as unhelpful, she said, to hear tips like: people with ADHD struggle with routines, so it's really important to have a good routine. "Like, no sh*t," Donovan said. "That's the problem!"
She learned that there's a difference, between getting advice from someone who has sympathy versus someone who has empathy. "You're more open to listen to someone who has empathy, and who has been there and struggled with what you're doing," Donovan explained. "It's just really validating."
Her Biggest Message: "You Are Different and Not Broken"
As Donovan's audience grows, she makes sure her message to people with ADHD stays clear. "You are different and not broken," she said. "You do not need to be fixed." She wants her audience to know that they're capable of making positive changes in their life, but they don't have to. "You don't have to force yourself to do anything before you're ready."
This message of self-acceptance is important for people with ADHD to hear, she said. She wants to help people get to the point where they're not feeling disappointed in themselves over the way ADHD affects their lives. "The disappointment in yourself is really what hurts," she said. "I want to help guide people through this process of understanding themselves, so they can forgive themselves, so they can accept themselves."
Her Videos Have Helped People Get Diagnosed, and She's Just Getting Started
People with ADHD often message Donovan to tell her how their content has impacted their lives, while parents and spouses tell her it's helped them better understand their loved ones with ADHD. Even mental health professionals and educators have requested to use her comics with clients.
A full-time ADHD content creator as of last year, Donovan is able to make a living from her creations thanks to a thriving Patreon community. The most rewarding part for her is getting messages and emails from people — she said she's received over a thousand of them now — who tell her that her work has led to them getting diagnosed.
"I hear so much from people who are like, 'I lived my whole life thinking that I was broken,'" Donovan said. "'And I was worried that it was too late for me to start treatment.'" But thanks to content like hers, they say, "I've started it, and it's made all the difference in the world."