I Made a Documentary About ADHD

Patrick and Janis McKenna Photo

Let me tell you about my last trip across the border.

“What is the purpose of your trip, business or pleasure?”


“What kind of business?”

“I made a documentary about ADHD in adults, you know, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and it’s airing on PBS! So I’m traveling from station to station to talk about the program on air.”

“… You made a what?”

“A documentary. A film about ADD and ADHD in adults. It’s won several awards…”

“I see. And how much are you being paid to appear on PBS?”

“Nothing. I’m even paying for my own airfare.”

“But they pay you for the program?”

“No. We actually give it to them for free. But if someone calls PBS during the program and orders a pledge package, a small portion of that money goes to us.”

“So you’re not getting paid? No one is handing you a check?”

“I wish. Ha ha.”


Oops. Oh dear. Never joke around with a woman in a bulletproof vest. She looks stern. She tilts her head down for a few moments, I’m thinking she’s going to send me back home, best case scenario.

Finally she asks, “So this program, it’s about ADHD in adults specifically?”

“Yes. We’ve actually made two films, the first was called ADD and Loving It?!… ” I explain more and more. Nerves? Or just my usual ADHD trait of talking way too much.

If my wife Ava was travelling with me, about now she would cut me off, knowing more detail I give, the longer we will be here. In fact, if she was with me she would have done all the talking.

But Ava is not with me, and so my explanation, my saga, my back story turns into my lesson on ADHD in Adults 101. 

Now the customs officer making notes on a sheet of paper. I pretend not to notice but what is she writing down?! It’s surely going to get me into trouble.

A bit stressed, I do the only sensible thing and talk faster and explain more and more. Finally I pause to breathe.

She speaks very softly now, “I probably shouldn’t say this…”

She pauses, locking eyes with me.

Is she angry? Oh, another common ADHD trait is not being able to read body language.


No, it’s so no one else hears her. The customs officers in the booths on either side of her are huge, hulking guys, straight from the Green Bay Packers D-line. The kind of people you want guarding a border.

I almost don’t catch what she says because I’m in full ‘Isn’t this interesting’ lecture mode, with a hefty dash of, ‘I know I should stop talking but I can’t’ …

She jumps in when I take a second to breathe…

‘I was recently diagnosed with ADHD.’

At that point it strikes me that she has been making notes on a very small scrap of paper. Not some Security Clearance Risk Assessment Danger 3-990-RED ALERT- Priority 10 Form.ADHD Information

She’s jotting down ‘PBS, ADHD, film, ADD & Loving It, website TotallyADD.com.’

Nothing about strip search, or Guantanamo Bay. She’s writing personal notes. For herself only. For later.

She stamps my special form, the one they give to people who deserve extra scrutiny because they’re a national threat, not hosting programs on PBS. I’m free to go.


We talk a little bit more. I tell her a bit of my story and why Patrick McKenna agreed to be in the film and get diagnosed on camera.

She knows The Red Green Show. She remembers Patrick’s character, Harold.

The longer I talk the deeper she listens. I have been here before, talking about ADHD in a way that people have never considered.

‘Lots started nothing finished. Great in a crisis. Terrible with paperwork. Forgetful and losing things. Absent-minded.…’

Her left eye is beginning to glisten. Then her right eye. 

She’s got a gun and a bulletproof vest, and she’s trying not to cry.

She’s trained to deal with every possible crisis, dedicated to keeping the nation secure no matter what, and we’re having this very human moment.

I lighten up. I don’t want to embarrass her. If she starts crying, I will too.


We have been talking for 10 minutes and it feels like an hour.

I direct her to the Forums on the website.

In the dozens of times I’ve passed through customs on my way to PBS stations, I’ve never garnered any extra security.

Though a number of customs officers have admitted they, or someone in their family has it.

My favorite was the customs officer who solemnly picked up his phone and dialed why we were explaining the purpose of our trip.

Having that happen is unnerving! When a colleague answered, he deadpanned, ‘Hey Bob, there’s some people here you need to meet! Ya, they can help you with your ADD.’ Ava loved that moment.

But this was different.

What’s more, she was newly diagnosed.

We all know what those early days are like. The rollercoaster. Relief, anger, hope, doubt, recognition and dismay.

Sometimes, the entire buffet of emotions in under a minute. It’s the emotional tornado we talk about in Now You Tell Me?! that the diagnosis first brings, and explain how to navigate your way through it so you can keep moving forward.


I’m not convinced there’s such a thing as destiny, but I wonder if, among the dozen officers, there was a reason she happened to be free at that moment.

Fate? Something more? The universe at play?

All I know is that I was given the opportunity to let her know that I’ve been there, many have, you’re not alone. I go to make a difference for someone.  It’s these moments that remind me why I’m doing what I’m doing.

The next day, I am on PBS doing the same thing, talking about ADHD, but this time to many thousands of people I’ll never see.

And if I ever notice that it’s just becoming a spiel I give by rote, I’ll remind my myself of the tears in that customs officer’s eyes. And the ones that were in mine when I first found out there’s nothing wrong with me.

I’m just different from most people. And the same as a whole bunch of others. My peeps. My tribe. You.



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  1. bob harrington August 30, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Rick, great story. I took part in the HEALTH TALKER campaign, a while back, to share the facts about ADHD. I always found myself (and still do) talking to people about ADHD, usually if I happened to notice certain characteristics in the way they or their children were behaving (I have the ability to notice details, sometimes TOO much). Sharing your story with others DEFINITLY helps them to realize that it isn’t just them! We feel isolated and shunned enough! Thank you for what you do!
    Btw, my wife tries to reign me in when I get talking too much, too! If it wasn’t for them, we would stand there and talk for hours! hahaha
    Thanks again!

  2. diamondr August 31, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Rick, We love you and what you are doing for us! O.K. so maybe SOME people are saying right now “You can’t speak for me, Lady!…I mean I LIKE Rick and all, but Love?!” Well, so, let me narrow it down: I love ya, Mr. Rick! You’re my friend! It is a huge blessing in that lady’s life that you came through her line….she may have wanted to shoot ya later (while in the throes of just ONE of those I-just-found-out-I’m ADHD emotions, but that is beside the point–ey? I can’t tell you how much I have laughed at the Friday Funnies or how many “ah-ha!” moments I’ve had while reading the vast amount of info on this site. O.K. well, I could tell ya, but you’ve heard it all before from others, right? Yes, Sir, I am a grateful ADHD-er who is still learning, still reeling from the discovery and I’m not even wearing a bullet-proof vest! Thank You and Yours for all that you teach!
    ~Diamond, Indiana, USA

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