By Rick Green
A few years ago, I gave a two-hour presentation on ADHD to about 200 people that was quite memorable! Unique actually! You see I only ran a few minutes long. That is not like me. What’s more surprising is that I completely ignored my notes and simply spoke from the heart. When I had done that before, and since, the talk can go wayyyyyy long.
Not that people are restless. Usually they’re riveted. But they’re no longer making much sense of what I’m saying. Their brains are overflowing.
Alas, I keep going, on and on. The Energizer Bunny of blabbering. This is my biggest ADHD challenge… ‘Motor-Mouthing.’
The audience for this particular talk was a mixed group. Some were desperately seeking help for themselves or their child, or partner. Others who were pretty sure they had ADHD, but wanted to know more. And some were dragged there by angry spouses or family members.
There were definitely laughs. Even tears of laughter. Especially from the wonderful mom of an ADHD boy who sat in the front row. She became my go-to-gal when I’d notice someone frowning or looking bored. (My friend, comedian Patrick McKenna, taught me a trick: Find one person who is laughing the hardest, and play to them. It works in a comedy show. And when I’m talking about ADHD.)
Did I Say Something Wrong
Talking to audience members at the ‘meet and greet’ after a live event is always the best. People are glad to have solid information, but they are profoundly grateful for the laughter.
Which I totally understand. Who doesn’t love to laugh?! Humor is liberating.
I learned the power of laughter during my career in television and radio, but when I’m giving a keynote talk or performing my one-man show about ADHD, I’m also surprised to see many people in tears. Sometimes it’s tears of laughter and relief.
But it took me a while to get used to seeing tears of sadness; faces grimacing to suppress sobs.
‘Oh Dear! Did I Say Something Wrong?’
Unless it’s a dark theatre with bright stage lights, I can see everyone’s face. At first, seeing people crying quietly, or a loved one slipping an arm around them to comfort, them was alarming. Knowing how I sometimes go off topic, I was worried, ‘Uh oh! Did I say something stupid? Or mean? Or dismissive?’ (All faux pas I do regularly in conversations with friends and family.)
Tears? Pain? Sorrow? That’s never a good audience reaction for a comedian. My job is to help people forget that stuff, right?
Not when I’m talking about ADHD.
It was tricky, trying not to let those tears throw me.
Make ‘Em Laugh
Normally, it’s pretty clear if people are enjoying my talk. People laugh. Many nod. Some madly scribble notes. Clearly they’re getting something good.
But tears? Heartbreak? Faces crumpled in pain?
The first time this happened I panicked, ‘This is bad. You’re upsetting people. You’re making things worse for them! What if I push someone over the edge?!’
I was alarmed. Afterwards I called up a couple of ADHD specialists for advice, ‘Is there a danger I’m doing damage?’ Knowing that people with ADHD also have much higher rates of Depression, and having been through a few bouts of it myself when I was younger, and undiagnosed, I was worried, ‘I’m afraid I might push someone over the edge.’
The doctors assured me crying was a good sign. Letting tears flow is cathartic.
Then I started to check in with the audience. During that talk where I went off topic, when I saw one woman was weeping, I paused to ask, ‘Are you okay?’ She nodded. And smiled through her tears.
So, I continued talking. But now I had tears as well.
In fact, the real challenge when I see someone getting misty is not to lose it myself. The first time I did break down onstage, talking about my son, I was embarrassed. But then I saw that my tears triggered many others to become misty.
Again, it took a doctor to explain that I was giving people permission to cry. Sharing what I’d learned created a ‘safe space.’ Though the details of each audience members life was different, the emotional experience was familiar to all of us: fear, suffering, pain, regret… Grieving.
Sometimes I see tears being triggered when I confess about a time I messed up, or a regret, or fear. Mostly I had no idea what it was that hit home for someone. Which is good, otherwise I might try and do it on purpose, as a technique. And stop speaking from the heart.
One thing I’ve learned is that if you want people to understand ADHD, you have to speak from the heart. We made our original documentary, ADD & Loving It?!, to create lightness and freedom around a scary, stigma-filled subject.
It has indeed created millions of tears of laughter. And tears of grieving.
And though I used to think of them as polar opposites, now I see both kinds of tears are really the same thing—a release of pent up fear. We ‘let go’ and cry. That is what allows each of us to move forward.
And that is the best. The absolute best.[Blog revised – Original Date Sept 2013]