Comedian and writer Rick Green is known to many Canadians as the bumbling Bill Smith on The Red Green Show for 11 seasons. But a diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) as an adult changed his life.
While ADHD in children is well understood and typically diagnosed between 6 to 8 years, according to the Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance (CADDRA), adults with the condition are treated with skepticism. Research estimates the rate of ADHD among adults at about 3-5 percent of the population. The impact of the condition affects many aspects of their lives, including career success, relationships, family life and even physical health.
Like Green, many adults don’t seek an assessment until after their own child has been diagnosed. “My son was diagnosed in Grade 7 after he went from being a student who was at top of his class to struggling,” he says. “When I looked at the symptoms of ADHD, my first reaction was, ‘Everyone struggles with these things.’ Then my next thought was, ‘If this is ADHD, then I have ADHD.’”
According to the CADDRA, childhood experiences may lead adults with ADHD to believe that they are not smart, lazy and unmotivated, or even living with mental illness.
“After my mother passed away, I found my elementary school report cards and they read like a symptom list,” recalls Green. “‘Ricky fails to pay attention… rushes through things… fidgets… daydreams…’”
Life before Green’s ADHD diagnosis
Adult ADHD can be further complicated because it often coexists with other symptoms, such as moodiness or anxiety. It’s easy to explain away difficulty in concentrating as part of your personality rather than seeing it as a possible indicator of a neuro-developmental disorder.
Before being diagnosed with ADHD, life for Green was chaotic. “I’d written, performed and directed hundreds of shows for TV and radio,” he says. “But it was exhausting. And stressful.”
Green recalls shooting the series, History Bites, with a 20-person crew on location – getting paid by the hour – waiting for him. “I couldn’t find my car keys,” he recalls. “I tore the house apart in a rising panic, cursing my stupidity, wondering why anyone would trust me with money to make a TV series. And there were the keys, downstairs in the basement on the clothes dryer!”
After learning ADHD is hereditary, Green sought a definitive diagnosis. “It was like finally finding myself at age 47,” he says. Finding out in adulthood can trigger a flurry of emotions, from regret to sadness, anger, shame, fear, hope and excitement.
For the comedian, the biggest change was an immediate sense of relief. “It explains why I can create thousands of comedy skits and never have my taxes done on time,” he says.
Comprehensive and multimodal treatments are available for adults diagnosed with ADHD, which can be tailored to the needs of each individual. For Green, treatment means taking a holistic approach: “I have a coach. I practise mindfulness. I do yoga every day.”
Coping strategies that work for him
He has learned to avoid doing things like spending six months writing a screenplay and instead opt to write short comedy skits. He makes use of organizing software and has strategies to deal with procrastination and feelings of being overwhelmed.
“I was as frightened of stimulant medications as the next person until it was pointed out that I was already taking a stimulant to help me focus – caffeine,” says Green. “Once I got the facts, I realized how safe they were when used properly and discovered they worked for me.”
His humour still in check, the comedian is now an advocate for ADHD/ADD. Green says he didn’t make a conscious decision to go public with his diagnosis. “People with ADHD can be prone to motor-mouthing and talking too much,” he says. “Because my life improved so dramatically, I was sharing my good news with everyone.” One way he chose to do that was to write and direct a documentary on the subject, entitled ADD & Loving It?!, which follows fellow comedian, Patrick McKenna, as he seeks a diagnosis for adult ADHD.
In addition to his comedic talents, Green also has a science degree from the University of Waterloo and with his wife, Ava, runs the website TotallyADD.com. The site offers a variety of tools and videos designed to help adults with ADD/ADHD liberate themselves from fear and shame and create a life they love. Green’s mission is personal. “My wife and I are in this to save lives,” he says.
“Laughter conquers fear,” says Green. “That’s crucial because ADHD is awash in myths and nonsense. Many adults I know don’t see it as a disorder. Just a challenge. But getting to that point takes time.”