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Talking About ADHD Triggers Tears

By Rick Green

RickTalksA few years ago, I gave a two-hour presentation on ADHD to about 200 people that was quite memorable! Unique actually! You see I only ran a few minutes long. That is not like me. What’s more surprising is that I completely ignored my notes and simply spoke from the heart. When I had done that before, and since, the talk can go wayyyyyy long.

Not that people are restless. Usually they’re riveted. But they’re no longer making much sense of what I’m saying. Their brains are overflowing.

Alas, I keep going, on and on. The Energizer Bunny of blabbering. This is my biggest ADHD challenge… ‘Motor-Mouthing.’

The audience for this particular talk was a mixed group. Some were desperately seeking help for themselves or their child, or partner. Others who were pretty sure they had ADHD, but wanted to know more. And some were dragged there by angry spouses or family members.

There were definitely laughs. Even tears of laughter. Especially from the wonderful mom of an ADHD boy who sat in the front row. She became my go-to-gal when I’d notice someone frowning or looking bored. (My friend, comedian Patrick McKenna, taught me a trick: Find one person who is laughing the hardest, and play to them. It works in a comedy show. And when I’m talking about ADHD.)

Did I Say Something Wrong

Talking to audience members at the ‘meet and greet’ after a live event is always the best. People are glad to have solid information, but they are profoundly grateful for the laughter.

Which I totally understand.   Who doesn’t love to laugh?! Humor is liberating.

I learned the power of laughter during my career in television and radio, but when I’m giving a keynote talk or performing my one-man show about ADHD, I’m also surprised to see many people in tears. Sometimes it’s tears of laughter and relief.

But it took me a while to get used to seeing tears of sadness; faces grimacing to suppress sobs.

‘Oh Dear! Did I Say Something Wrong?’

Unless it’s a dark theatre with bright stage lights, I can see everyone’s face. At first, seeing people crying quietly, or a loved one slipping an arm around them to comfort, them was alarming. Knowing how I sometimes go off topic, I was worried, ‘Uh oh! Did I say something stupid? Or mean? Or dismissive?’ (All faux pas I do regularly in conversations with friends and family.)

Tears? Pain? Sorrow? That’s never a good audience reaction for a comedian. My job is to help people forget that stuff, right?

Not when I’m talking about ADHD.

It was tricky, trying not to let those tears throw me.

Make ‘Em Laugh

Normally, it’s pretty clear if people are enjoying my talk. People laugh. Many nod. Some madly scribble notes. Clearly they’re getting something good.

But tears? Heartbreak? Faces crumpled in pain?

The first time this happened I panicked, ‘This is bad. You’re upsetting people. You’re making things worse for them! What if I push someone over the edge?!’

I was alarmed. Afterwards I called up a couple of ADHD specialists for advice, ‘Is there a danger I’m doing damage?’ Knowing that people with ADHD also have much higher rates of Depression, and having been through a few bouts of it myself when I was younger, and undiagnosed, I was worried, ‘I’m afraid I might push someone over the edge.’

The doctors assured me crying was a good sign.   Letting tears flow is cathartic.

Then I started to check in with the audience. During that talk where I went off topic, when I saw one woman was weeping, I paused to ask, ‘Are you okay?’ She nodded. And smiled through her tears.

So, I continued talking. But now I had tears as well.

In fact, the real challenge when I see someone getting misty is not to lose it myself. The first time I did break down onstage, talking about my son, I was embarrassed. But then I saw that my tears triggered many others to become misty.

Letting Go

Again, it took a doctor to explain that I was giving people permission to cry. Sharing what I’d learned created a ‘safe space.’ Though the details of each audience members life was different, the emotional experience was familiar to all of us: fear, suffering, pain, regret… Grieving.

Sometimes I see tears being triggered when I confess about a time I messed up, or a regret, or fear. Mostly I had no idea what it was that hit home for someone. Which is good, otherwise I might try and do it on purpose, as a technique. And stop speaking from the heart.

One thing I’ve learned is that if you want people to understand ADHD, you have to speak from the heart. We made our original documentary, ADD & Loving It?!, to create lightness and freedom around a scary, stigma-filled subject.

It has indeed created millions of tears of laughter. And tears of grieving.

And though I used to think of them as polar opposites, now I see both kinds of tears are really the same thing—a release of pent up fear. We ‘let go’ and cry. That is what allows each of us to move forward.

And that is the best. The absolute best.

[Blog revised – Original Date Sept 2013]

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15 Responses to “Talking About ADHD Triggers Tears”

  1. james9 says:

    You got me, Rick. glad I didn’t read this at work.

  2. norseman says:

    Thank you for the read. I am crying but it feels good! I hope to make it to one of your presentations. Simply put (lol) – I will be the one in the audience blowing the loudest snot rockets, existentially howling with startling noises resembling laughter, with swollen eyes shut like a beetle by the end. Cheers!

  3. Pallist says:

    Believe me, crying is good. As others have said, we carry a lot of pain and confustion and fear that we never could acknowledged until someone diagnosed us Totally ADHD is the way we humanize that diagnosis and learn that all the horrible things we thought we were was in fact, more a problem of neural dysfunction and biochemistry. Anyone suffering in silence for years, clueless, convinced they were unredeemable and misunderstood would cry when they heard their life story being told with compassion and understanding.

  4. ruthie says:

    When I watched your program ADHD and Loving It! about Patrick and Janice I was laughing and then crying and then laughing.

    I am choked up with tears or with laughter. And both help.


  5. mcfarlane says:

    You missed a group of people who were there at your lecture. Teachets and educators.There was a group of Sir Standford Fleming College staff sitting right in front of me. Rick. it was a great lecture, one that had many points that teachers and educators should hear. I know I must sound like a scratched record go over this point again and again and again. I just feel there are a lot of teachers out there who have no idea what a student or a parent is go through who has ADHD.
    Wayne (A teacher learning about ADHD) McFarlane

  6. Affectionately Designed says:

    Rick, thank you so much for your willingness to put a face to this disorder. I was diagnosed late in life but I feel so blessed that finally I have an answer to a lifetime of struggle. I have learned to embrace it . . . give myself grace . . . and pass on what I’ve discovered. There are so many undiagnosed ADDer’s who are stuck in a revolving door of self destructive behavior and have excepted this defeated pattern of living. I desperately want to share the tools I’ve been blessed with.

    I love how your sense of humor brings to light the day to day trials all of us ADDer’s experience but that you balance it seriously as well. We have to laugh or the frustration is too exasperating. All in all . . . I am grateful I can’t be put in a box and a minute doesn’t go by that I don’t have a great idea.

    Rick, thank you again for being our champion!

  7. mimigibs says:

    Rick, I’m looking forward to seeing that web page because I have no idea how to do all those things, especially the fund raising. With a little guidance I’m always willing to try.

  8. Rick says:

    Thank you all for the kind words.
    Mimigibs, we are happy to travel anywhere to do live presentations. The trick is to finding the people to make it happen. We’re working on a new page for the website that will explain how to create an event, get it funded, publicize it, and so on.
    The Learning Disability Association in Peterborough did an amazing job. I think they had 10 sponsors. I was interviewed by two local radio stations, and did a Skype interview for the local television news broadcast.
    This is a hot topic.
    Our friend Alan Brown at ADDCrusher is pushing a great campaign about the ‘85%’. Those are the five out of six adults who fall into the ADHD spectrum, but have no idea, or only a vague suspicion that they might have it. Most are too afraid to find out. In fact, Alan is doing a webinar with us in mid-November that you do not want to miss. His story is amazing.

  9. Rick says:

    Wow, Phil, thank you so much for letting me know about the difference we made. I have to say, the state of a room has become less and less important to me. I get that we’ll never live in the house on the cover of Architectural Digest. In fact, the moment I gave up striving for things to be perfect, and just focussed on making things workable and livable, I actually had way more energy to get organized.
    Love that you are scared and excited about finding out for yourself. You don’t want to lose who you are. For sure.
    What I found is that a holistic approach to managing this has actually allowed me to be more of who I am.
    Hard to be the father I want to be when I would keep tuning out of while my child was pouring out their heart to me. Or I was interrupting because if I didn’t get it out, I’d forget what I was going to say. The pressure, the urgency, the ‘driven by a motor’ wasn’t just exhausting for me.
    Keep us posted on your progress!

  10. pmandryk says:

    Hi Rick,

    That was me who asked the questions about being “embarrassed or having a stigma attached to being diagnosed as an adult”. It was like you were talking directly to my son and I, when you were relaying your story about your son and the state of his room. It’s like you were observing our daily ritual. It was sad, but also comforting to know that other have gone through this and there is a way to get out from underneath this weight.

    I am also in the process of getting myself assessed. I’m a bit scared and excited. Scared because I don’t want to lose who I am and excited to see if any type of treatment can take level me out.

    My son and I have watched part of the video as we couldn’t do it all in one sitting. Too much talk between us trying to relate our experiences and strategies for coping.

    Thanks again for your talk. It was life-changing.

    Phil Mandryk

  11. mimigibs says:

    I wish I had been there. It sounds like it was very powerful. Please let me know if you ever plan to come to Dallas for a presentation. Don’t worry, we’re not all Tea Baggers, (oh, excuse me, Tea Partiers).

    I’ve made tremendous progress because of you and I’ll always be most grateful.

  12. sdwa says:

    That is beautiful. Living with ADHD can be intense, frightening, and emotional. But I think the main thing is to connect with other people’s experiences. If you are connecting emotionally with an audience or in your writing, you are making a difference.

    And if they’re crying, at least you know they’re paying attention.


  13. lou2 says:

    Sounds like a wonderful talk Rick. Please keep up the great work.

  14. MarieAngell says:

    You touch people because you have been there–as a parent, as one of us. What good work you and Ava are doing. Please don’t stop.

  15. Larynxa says:

    @Rick, what a beautiful blog!

    There’s a line in “Steel Magnolias”: “Laughter through tears is my favourite emotion!” When I first heard it, I thought it didn’t make sense. But now, I think it’s true.

    And I know what you mean when you talk about being alarmed the first time you noticed people in tears at one of your presentations.

    When you’re used to being the funny one, it really knocks you for a loop to discover that you can make people cry, too.

    When I was in high school, I was cast in Beulah, in “The Happy Journey”, as part of an evening of one-act plays. Most of the play is a comedy, as Beulah’s parents and younger siblings drive to visit her. But Beulah’s scene is very tragic, because she’s recovering from having recently lost a baby in childbirth. It was my first dramatic role, and I was scared as hell. How could I, “the funny girl”, possibly pull this off?

    At the dress-rehearsal, we all watched each other’s plays. After ours, the cast members of the other ones came up to me, in tears, amazed at seeing a completely different side of me…and that I’d been able to move them so much. And they all wanted to know how I’d done it.

    How had I done it? I had no idea. I didn’t even know I COULD do it. And it scared me. But it was also kind of thrilling to discover I had this strange power I’d never even imagined I had. Even so, I wouldn’t let my family come and see me in the play. I didn’t feel confident enough for that.

    After that one foray into drama, I went back to being “the funny girl”. It took a long time, and lots of growing up, before I felt comfortable enough to experiment with my new-found power.

    Now, I find it very satisfying to challenge myself to show my darker side occasionally. When I do a cabaret show, I’ll sing several of my usual brassy up-tempo, comic songs, and then throw in a heartbreaker. And people really are moved to tears, to their surprise. And mine.

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