Cracking-Up The Capital for Mental Health
When & where: Saturday, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m. at the National Arts Centre.
Who: Host Patrick McKenna with comedians Derek Edwards, Deborah DiGiovanni, Joey Elias and Trent McLellan.
Canadian actor and comedian Patrick McKenna says he owes his success to his early problems with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
He says that as a young student in a Catholic elementary school, he always had battles with teachers and principals since he was unable to keep his rambunctious behaviour under control. He says he wasn’t necessarily a problem student, but he couldn’t help constantly blurting things out, much to the despair of teachers. He spent considerable time in the principal’s office.
It wasn’t until high school that a teacher recognized his hyperactivity and encouraged him to channel his freewheeling behaviour into more creative pursuits that would ultimately give him more satisfaction.
“My Grade 10 teacher was one of the first teachers who, instead of always trying to stop what I was doing, was trying to find ways to allow me to be me,” says McKenna, 52, who starred in The Red Green Show and Traders and who, on Feb. 18, headlines a comedy show at the National Arts Centre in support of The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group.
“(That teacher) said that I should get into theatre and start writing and get all that energy and all those ideas down on paper. He was always supporting who I was. At the time I didn’t even know what (ADHD) was.”
He says the teacher took him and another student to a Second City show in Toronto. It was an eureka moment for McKenna, who says he saw his future in the loose, improvised sketch comedy that was performed on stage.
“It was that night I realized that was what I wanted to do,” says McKenna.
He says that with the help of his teacher and by writing comedy bits, he found a new creative outlet.
“When I was able to write what I wanted to write and be funny, then suddenly I was up in front of the class reading my stories that people were laughing at and enjoying. Before I had always been at the back of the class, never raising my hand not wanting to contribute at all.
“But once someone was allowing me to explore who I was and how I thought, it was fantastic. It was a real success moment and that’s a hard thing for children with (ADHD) to find those moments of success and build on. It was a real turning point for me.”
McKenna has been public in his ongoing battle with hyperactivity attention deficit disorder and in fact, several years ago starred in a documentary called ADD and Loving It?, which chronicled his own battle with the disorder (which earlier was more commonly referred to as ADD, for attention deficit disorder). His personal struggles led him to talk to young students afflicted with the disorder and who are conflicted about their place among their peers.
“One of the reasons I got so involved is because so many kids don’t know who they are yet. If you start to acknowledge (ADHD) earlier and get classified and start working with who you are, maybe you can change that definition of yourself created by others.”
He says he regularly participates in ADHD conferences that attract teachers, doctors, psychiatrists and also parents. He says by talking to professionals and concerned parents he hopes to get the message out about recognizing the first signs of ADHD. He says the conferences are enlightening because he often sees adults burdened by the disorder and who marvel at the way he opens up about his own struggles.
”When I speak at these conferences, it’s the closest thing that I’ve ever come to being a religious speaker. There are so many adults in the room who are crying over their loss of their life, and the years they’ve missed because they weren’t diagnosed early, it’s really sad.”
A byproduct of having ADHD was his fight with depression after he achieved a modicum of success in Canadian television.
“I was probably in my mid-30s and everything was going great. I had Traders and The Red Green Show and I was winning awards. Everything was great, but I just had this useless feeling and this self-worth that was below zero,” he says.
“I talked to professionals about it and I tried medication for awhile, but it really wasn’t solving the problem. I was mellow and things weren’t bothering me, but I still didn’t have an answer to what it was. So I went off (the medication) and started using different strategies. It wasn’t easy. I got back to work and work always made it more healthier,” says McKenna, adding his depression is now under control.
He says he will address some of the issues he’s faced in the National Arts Centre show on Saturday.
“I’m hoping that there will be more discussion and that people will be diagnosed and get the help they need. I’ll also be driving people to the website (www.totallyadd.com).
“I found most people go ‘my doctor said this or they gave me pills.’ But the website lists doctors in the discussions and there are forums and all sorts of history and information. So in the privacy of your own home — because it is a shame-based element for a lot of adults — you can learn about it on your own.”
Mary Lynn Trotter MSW RSW
It's great to hear how a teacher helped this man turn his ADHD challenges into strengths! ADHD behaviors don't have to be seen as obstacles - yes some of them need to be compsensated for. But many of the characteristics of ADHD'ers lend themselves very well to careers such as acting.
Mary Lynn Trotter MSW RSW