By way of background … I am 61 years old and I make my living as a Story Editor, Screenwriter and – more recently – filmmaker. Over the past twenty years, I’ve written for numerous TV series – The Campbells, Danger Bay, Adderly, Night Heat, White Fang, Mysterious Island & the animated “Redwall” series to name a few. And while I’ve certainly seen success during my life, I’ve also seen far too much failure … because – as hard as I tried – I honestly couldn’t say I was consistently dependable.
However … that all began to change on April 17th, 1995.
I was 46 years old and my partner, Michelle, and I were sitting in a Restaurant having breakfast – reading the newspaper – same as we did every day – when I suddenly realized Michelle had gone very quiet. When I looked up, she simply pushed her paper across to me and said, “I think you should read this…”
Michelle spoke those words with what can best be described as “Ominous Solemnity,” so I took her advice seriously and began to read Dr. Gabor Matte’s Globe & Mail column on something called “A.D.D.” – short for Attention Deficit Disorder.
I’d never heard the term before, but the more I read, the more hairs began standing up all over my body … because I had the unnerving feeling that someone had been following me around… and they’d been taking notes. I mean, there was stuff in there I’d never told anyone – not even Michelle. It was uncanny … and when I read there was a book on the subject called “Driven to Distraction,” I decided it might be an idea to pick up a copy next time I was in town (Michelle & I live way out in the country.)
Late that afternoon, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I got in the car and did the hour drive to Guelph. An hour after that, I was back home, sitting in my office, glossing over the first few pages of this book by Doctor’s Hallowell & Ratey.
If Matte’s column had surprised me, Driven to Distraction out and out shocked me. So much so that -after reading half a dozen pages – I couldn’t take any more … so I tossed the book aside and told Michelle I’d get around to reading it some other time.
That time turned out to be three o’clock in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep after what I’d read, so I got up, stumbled down the hall, retrieved “that damn book,” and began to read.
At six the following morning, Michelle was awoken by a strange sound coming from my office. She found me sitting there, sobbing like a newborn, and all I could say – over and over again – was, “…It’s not me … It’s not me.”
What I was trying to tell her was that I’d just learned those strange things I did … my impulsivity … sudden anger … inability to take things in … roller-coaster-dependability – all those things that I felt deep inside weren’t the real me were – in fact – NOT the real me. It appeared I had this A.D.D. thing, and from the sound of it – I was the disorder’s “Poster Boy.”
IF, of course, this whole thing was real.
After that first revelation, I quickly slipped into denial – deciding this was just some new “Yuppie Excuse” for bad behaviour. But “that damn book” was so spot-on that the overall feeling I had was, “Nobody ever told me I came with an ‘Owner’s Manual’.”
I was so confused, and I desperately needed to talk with somebody who really knew what this ADD was all about. But in 1995, I couldn’t find any specialists in the Toronto area, and I’d all but given up when I decided to see if any help was available online. At the time I was subscribing to Compuserve and – as it turned out – they had an ADD Forum.
I can’t begin to express how fortunate I was to have stumbled onto that group in their heyday (the forum is now long gone,) but I can tell you that I went to that ADD forum every night, made some wonderful friends, gained access to experts, and got a real education from others who were going through the same thing as me.
Once I was convinced ADD was a genuine disorder, I asked if anyone knew of a Specialist anywhere within reasonable driving distance. I was given the name of a psychologist in Buffalo, N.Y. so I called, made inquiries and learned that I would need six, two-hour sessions if I wanted a proper diagnosis. That was in addition to the six hour round trip drive I’d have to make once a week – to “another country” … but I had to know, so I signed up and began the tests.
I have to admit that I was still pretty sceptical. At the time there was no “smoking-gun” physical test that could prove this thing was real (there is now – Spec-T Imaging.) The Diagnosis would be made based upon a series of psychological tests and my real fear wasn’t that they’d find I didn’t have ADD; by then I knew they would. What really worried me was – would I believe it?
I needn’t have worried.
One of the biggest problems Michelle had was getting me to hear what she was saying – not that it had anything to do with her – I’d had the same problem in school – the same problem for as long as I could remember. If the subject didn’t grab hold of me – fascinate me – no matter how hard I tried, my attention would wander elsewhere.
I mentioned this while I was undergoing my tests and the Doctor smiled and said he could show me why that was happening. He fitted me with a headset, turned on a tape, then had me point to pictures in a book whenever I heard an oh-so-faint voice say words like “Lake,” “Cake,” or “Bake.”
10 minutes later, the Doctor shook his head and said, “Do you know you hear better than 99.5% of the population?” This was the last thing I wanted to be told, and the Doctor could see that, so he held up his finger then said, “The test’s not over yet.”
The headset went back over my ears, a new tape went into the machine and I now heard the sounds of a cocktail party. Interesting conversations were going on “all around me,” and I was listening intently to one when I suddenly heard the last part of a whispered word that sounded like “…ake.”
I told the Doctor there was something wrong with the tape. He listened for himself, smiled, then said, “The tape’s working perfectly. Let’s start over again.”
After the test was over I sat there, mortified, as I waited for the results … because I had only managed to get ONE of the words right.
The Doctor shook his head again then said, “Well … you really are the Poster Boy for ADD, aren’t you? Under that second set of conditions 99.5% of the population hears better than you!”
“WHAT?” I cried out.
The Doctor calmed me down, pointed to my ears then said, “You hear fine here…” Then he pointed to my skull and said, “But when you’re distracted, the words don’t make it to your brain.”
He summed up by saying, “Put simply – your mind goes where curiosity takes it. Why? Because you have ADD.”
That black and white test gave me the answer I needed – I now knew my ADD was real. But after wanting a clear cut answer, I was surprised at how upset I became.
The Doctor told me not to worry – said there were medications I could take that would probably fix my problems.
“Probably?” I asked.
“Well, they don’t work for everyone,” he explained. “But you’re probably in the 80% meds do help.”
Hmm. I had neglected to tell the good Doctor that I had NO intention of taking any drugs, so I thought this might be a good moment to bring up that very important point.
“They’re not drugs,” he said. “They’re medications. There’s a big difference. If I said you had Diabetes, would you take Insulin?”
“Of course,” I said. “My life would be in danger.”
“And you don’t think your life – your real life – is in danger now?” he responded.
As that thought sank in, the Doctor added one final point that really hit me.
“Besides,” he said, ” … when you take medication, you’re not “on drugs,” you’re ‘off ADD.'”
I left the Doctor’s office with a diagnosis of Severe ADD and a prescription for meds.
I filled the ‘scrip, but didn’t take the meds. I just slipped the pills in my pocket and tried to forget about them when we stopped for an overnight visit with Michelle’s parents.
The following morning, Michelle was up early – visiting with her Mum. I woke up a short while later, saw the damn pill box “staring back at me,” and decided it was time to get this over with. I took a pill, sat there for a few minutes, and … nothing.
“Figured as much,” I muttered as I went upstairs to join Michelle and her Mum.
I tried to listen to their conversation, but the topic didn’t fascinate me, so I quickly tuned out. I picked up the newspaper, began flipping through it, found a vaguely interesting story, and began reading.
I think I was about half way through it when I suddenly discovered something had changed.
I looked up in shock.
Something was definitely different … but what?
It took more than a few moments before I realized …
It was “quiet in my brain.”
The usual internal dialogue was silenced and as I looked around the room, I suddenly realized I could “take things in” for the first time in my life.
But the greatest shock of all (and I have tears in my eyes as I remember this,) was when I turned to look at the woman I had lived with for the past 27 years. I suddenly realized I could actually “SEE” Michelle … SEE her smile … FEEL her skin … HEAR her voice … after all those years.
I had never realized how extraordinarily beautiful she was.
My life hasn’t been the same since. It’s been better … oh, so much better.
I don’t mean to imply that you take a pill and 20 minutes later, everything’s fine. Let’s be clear – the right medication doesn’t change you into another person. It makes you more “YOU” than you have ever been. You have full access to your brain. It works all the time. You can finally come to depend on yourself – Every Day – instead of those rare moments when all the elements fall into place just long enough to allow you to function.
All the medication can do is “leash your demons” so you can think clearly and begin the work of undoing all the things you’ve done wrong.
Fourteen years later, I’m still working on that – every day. It hasn’t been easy. And you can’t do it alone.
That’s why I was so excited to learn of Rick Green and Patrick McKenna’s Documentary. What the pair has done in their wonderful film is to kick down the doors of ignorance and misinformation that have been keeping so many people from getting the help they need for far too long.
And this dynamic duo doesn’t plan to stop there. By launching this web site, they are creating something along the lines of that ADD Forum that helped me so much when I needed help the most. Mind you – Rick and Patrick’s version improves upon that rudimentary Forum by – at the very least – a factor of ten.
What they are doing is using the organic, ever-changing nature of the Internet to create an online Community of ADD’ers who can help each other; a place where we can interact directly with some of the most knowledgeable, cutting-edge professionals in the field.
I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to learn “you are not alone” – to discover there are other people out there, going through what you’re going through … to learn that many of them have answers – perhaps the very answers you’re looking for.
Back on that old, basic Forum, one of the things we discovered was that we’d all gone through life thinking we were “Ugly Ducklings.” But once we found other people like ourselves, it began to dawn on us that perhaps – just perhaps – we weren’t Ugly Ducklings after all.
With a lot of work – and a lot of help – we all had the potential to become Swans.
As far as I’m concerned, what Rick & Patrick are building isn’t so much a “web site” as a Lake … a place where all us Swans can get together and teach each other how to take off, reach for the sky and finally realize our full potential.
So – thanks so much for doing this, Rick & Patrick (& all the others working “behind the scenes” at this web site).
TotallyADD is desperately needed … and I look forward to “Splashing around in the lake” with all my fellow Swans.