“For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a really active brain”, says political satirist Rory Bremner while trying to avoid small distractions. Anyone familiar with the comedian/impressionist will know that his political satire commands the audience’s attention with a vibrancy and energy that feels like firing in all directions.
Energetic, lively, mentally active, border lining on overdrive, prone to easy distractions, all of these are key traits of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), a condition Bremner believes he has. His journey to understand his possible ADHD was documented in an episode of the long-running BBC Two documentary series Horizon, which dabbles in science and philosophy. The episode was titled ADHD and Me with Rory Bremner, broadcast on 25th April 2017.
With Bremner was the guiding focus of the documentary, the programme touched upon ADHD as a whole from its earliest origins to how it impacts our lives today. The whole hour could just as easily be an ADHD tutorial as we say Bremner ask many of the questions we would ask in his situation.
But even though Bremner’s journey across the world revealed many fascinating facts about ADHD – such as an ADHD brain’s frontal lobe has smaller social inhibitors focusing on self-control and impulsive actions – as well as an unorthodox experiment with flies to identify genes carrying ADHD, these facts didn’t really give Bremner the peace of mind he had been looking for. Namely, he was surprised by the ‘lack of activity’ on the ADHD brain. Note to readers, a brain can be exceedingly active without looking like a fireworks display. He also seemed a little put-off by the fact that there was no scientific discovery for the causes of ADHD.
Ironically, the closest he came to understanding the condition came from… a gingerbread man. Yes, seriously.
He spoke with a psychiatrist in London who cooked several different gingerbread men, some missing key ingredients, but all recognizable in their own way… just like ADHD. Makes me wonder if I should do an autism test for traits with several pizzas!
When Bremner finally received a ADHD diagnosis, He felt that the test was an admittance of many of his ‘failings’. It was heartbreaking to see Rory admit his own self-loathing over what he felt were his inability to manage aspects of his life. For anyone who has felt like their condition has held them back in their lives, Rory’s pained words would have struck close to home for many.
Despite Bremner’s role as the audience surrogate, the programme did occasionally veer way from Bremner to focus on other ADHD-afflicted individuals to shed a different tone of light on the subject. These included a disrupted five-year old and the affect it had on his family (though, believe it or not, normal children can be disruptive too(!). Other people spoken to included a young hockey player who had had several run-ins with the law, potentially setting back her aspirations and a young man who was studying how an environment can impact symptoms of ADHD, and how by secluding himself in an urban environment, he had been able to better control his traits.
Horizon didn’t seem to pull any punches about the difficulties of ADHD, having shown how people struggle to adapt to day-to-day life. Even some of the moments that were seemingly showcasing the condition in a positive light felt like saying the glass was half-empty. A profession whom Bremner consulted felt that in older times, people with ADHD were typically best at making mistakes and doing dangerous things and people learn of the cost of those errors, such as someone daring to swim with a shark, getting eaten, and inspiring the population to take safer measures.
I have to say, this is where Horizon lost me a little. I believe people with ADHD have many gifts to offer, but as contributors of society rather than shark bait, The only point I agreed with was that you need to mix and match people with various traits in a society, both ADHD and normal, like pick-and-mix. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
The programme went even further by saying that today ADHD was less useful and could cause a lot of problems, particularly for risk takers. See, I’m of two minds on this line of thought. On the one hand, I recognize the need to address the potential pitfalls of ADHD, but the optimistic pessimist me (yes, there is such a thing) can’t help feel like we need a bit more focus on how to help people take better control these traits in order to lead fulfilling lives.
This experimenting came in the final quarter of the programme with Bremner taking two more tests, firstly a neurological test to test and control his moods, and finally, Bremner having a final test in the form of performing while on medication. He felt of it as a controlled chaos that he intended to experiment with. He seemed more content with himself and acknowledged that we needed people with ADHD to blaze a trail. I think many people with ADHD would like to take some comfort in knowing that they have something to offer the world, and Bremner is a fantastic example of a man who despite his own difficulties has crafted a successful comedy career for himself.
If you want to find out the cause of ADHD, better not hold your breath in anticipation. You could drive yourself mad trying to come up with the possible causes. But just because you can’t find out where it came from, doesn’t mean you can’t understand it as it is. And even if Rory didn’t get some of the answers he wanted, I like to think he walked away from Horizon with a better understanding of ADHD, and by extension, himself.
Check out a clip from the episode of the aforementioned gingerbread man here: ADHD Experiment with Gingerbread Man
TRICKY TRIVIA 1: ADHD is said to affect 5% of children and 3% of adults in the UK.
TRICKY TRIVIA 2: The first description of ADHD appeared in a German textbook in 1775.