Actor-comedian Patrick McKenna, filmmaker Rick Green explore ADD in new TV doc

The Canadian Press ~ The News
Published on September 16, 2009

TORONTO - It was a schedule many told him was physically impossible to keep up - but Patrick McKenna would prove the naysayers wrong.
For five years, the actor and comedian worked seven days a week juggling separate comedic and dramatic roles on "The Red Green Show" and "Traders," earning Gemini wins for both performances in the same year.
And it may come as a surprise, but McKenna credits the "hyper-focus" element of attention deficit disorder for helping him to retain dialogue and stay in check.
"The idea of being busy, always something new, two different characters that completely drew on different parts of my experiences in life and choices, physicality, those particular years kept me very, very alive," McKenna said in an interview from his home in Mount Forest, Ont.
"The ADD, I think, serviced that in that I was always craving something new and exciting, and the live shows and the scripts, characters and lights - all the wonderful things that go with that, I think, fed into that."
But McKenna said there were also downsides - not seeing family or experiencing birthdays and holidays the same way "because you're always somewhere else thinking about other things."
"Certainly, the choices of impulsivity are everybody else has to react to the wake that you create, and I think that puts a pressure on the family sometimes that you didn't necessarily realize you were doing," he said.
In the new documentary "A.D.D. and Loving It?!" written, produced and directed by "Red Green" co-creator Rick Green, McKenna, as host, includes his own personal pursuit of a diagnosis.
The hour-long program, which premieres Friday evening on Global as part of the "Currents" series, also has McKenna posing questions about the disorder that are answered by experts in an effort to debunk myths.
The film brings a humorous approach to an often weighty issue, partly because of the duo's comedic background and view of the world, but also in an effort not to add to fears about the disorder, Green said.
The filmmaker said the idea for the project came following his own ADD diagnosis several years ago. Getting that news at the time was "50 per cent of the battle," he said.
"It's like having a leg that's three inches shorter than the other. If you have no idea, you're going to be banging into a lot of stuff and falling over with no explanation and you're going to come up with bad explanations - `I'm lazy, I'm stupid, I'm this, I'm that,"' Green said from his office in Mississauga, Ont. "The diagnosis itself took away a lot of the struggle in areas of life."
"Then for me it was really about building structures in place and knowing that I have real strength and there's areas where I'm not good and finally accepting that. And I think whether you have ADHD or not, that's tremendous advice."
But Green said his diagnosis was still met with disbelief by others.
"What I got from a whole lot of people was, `You don't have ADD, you don't throw things at people. You can sit still sometimes.' Or... `You're successful, what are you talking about?"'
But as experts in the film explain, not only is the disorder treatable, but once diagnosed, individuals are able to employ strategies to cope with symptoms that allow them to survive and thrive, often pursuing high-pressure and highly creative lines of work. Images are also flashed of well-known figures with ADD or ADHD, including Olympic swim champ Michael Phelps.
The documentary features McKenna's wife, Janis, who quizzes her husband from a checklist used to help determine an ADD diagnosis. They share anecdotes of past incidents, including a spontaneous car purchase, that in retrospect were likely linked to McKenna's previously undiagnosed ADD.
And McKenna recalled being chastised as a child for performing poorly on tests.
"Professionals and authority figures made you feel uncomfortable and I think that was part of the journey that I wanted to expose, the self-esteem issues that children don't have to go through if we get on board and start working towards it," he said.
"I truly feel I'm one of the fortunate ones that kind of came through this. I have a very happy, successful life, but I think there's a lot of people who didn't get that opportunity that probably felt the same thing growing up."
The documentary also addresses the controversial issues around ADD and ADHD medication. Experts in the film widely support the use of properly prescribed drugs. But there have been outside concerns expressed about the potential downside of drugs, particularly when it comes to kids.
A U.S. study released last month shows that calls to poison control centres about teens abusing attention-deficit disorder drugs increased 76 per cent over eight years - evidence of the dangerous consequences of prescription misuse.