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?”
“… 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.”
NEVER JOKE WITH PEOPLE IN UNIFORM
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.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
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.’
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.
‘YOU’RE FREE TO GO, SIR.’ BUT I KEEP TALKING
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.
I STILL CAN’T STOP TALKING!
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.
ONE PERSON AT A TIME
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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