My Love Affair with Attention Deficit Disorder

Letterkenny's Dylan Playfair on his complicated relationship with ADD, and how it made him the person he is today.

It’s 2002, and I’m sat at my desk in Kennebecasis Park Elementary School in Mrs. MacMillan’s fifth grade class, deep in thought, pondering the uniqueness of my index finger. My mind wrestles with the infinite possibilities of fingerprints that exist in the human race, more than six billion people on earth and each with a one-of-a-kind mark on every digit, the unfathomable possibilities of minor differences, the nuance of swirls and lines and …

“Dylan … Dylan! … DYLAN! … DYLAN!!!”

“Yes, Mrs. MacMillan?”

“Where are you!?”

Dylan Playfair with his childhood dog, Sunny.

When I was young, I detested the sound of my own name – it was the calling card of my wandering attention, the sound I heard when I was in trouble, the noise that came from my teachers’ mouths when they discussed my disruptive classroom behavior, the print on top on the manilla envelope my psychiatrist had laid neatly on his desk beside Rorschach paintings and a vintage white sand hourglass. It was also the name my loving, patient, oftentimes frustrated parents gave to me. It’s the name I chose not to change when I began my acting career, the same name I considered changing to distance myself from my hockey-entrenched family. It’s a name I’ve grown to love. It’s my name.

When I switched from chasing a career in professional hockey to trying to become a professional actor, I wanted to carve out my own place in history, one separate from my father and his brother and the success they had gained from playing and coaching in the NHL. I wanted to be known for my own accomplishments, for my own talents, skills and work ethics. I wanted my name to stand on its own and not always come before or after the names of my family members. I could write many, many pages on the parallels between hockey and acting, on all the things I learned from team sports that I apply to my business endeavors and acting pursuits, on the countless lessons I learned watching my dad chase the “unrealistic goal” of playing and coaching in the NHL and how his doing so made my chasing the title of “famous actor” seem very reasonable. However, this essay is not about that.

A very young Dylan Playfair talking shop with his dad …

The subject of my father and my connection to the game of hockey arise in most of my interviews and many of the articles written about my career. My Wikipedia page and several Instagram fan accounts describe my connection to hockey, and although that is a part of my story, this essay is not about sports. This essay is about my mind, the places it has wandered and continues to wander, about the things I have become hyper-obsessed over and the dreams I chase. It’s also about the deep feelings of inadequacy I have felt since my very first day of kindergarten, about feeling stupid and learning-disabled, and above all, wanting to be normal. It’s about my coming to terms with the wonderful parts of not being normal, about embracing the aspects of me I once loathed, about finding the things that made me happy and doing them over and over until I became good at them, then obsessing over them until I became great. It’s about me ultimately realizing that the only way to stay relevant was to never stop learning how to expand the list of things that make me happy. This essay is about the pursuit of goodness to greatness and the understanding that it’s the pursuit, the journey itself, that makes a life worth living. To be completely honest, this essay is about Attention Deficit Disorder, and why I love it.

… and playing Junior A for the Merritt Centennials of the British Columbia Hockey League in 2010-11.

By the time I had reached the seventh grade, I had been kicked out of schools on no less than three occasions for being disruptive. (I’d also spent hundreds of hours in detention and countless more in after-school programs I had to attend.) I was loud, excited and completely incapable of sitting still for measurable lengths of time, eager to make my opinions known and even more eager to be crowned with the title of class clown. I wanted – no, needed – to be the center of attention. I was the first to raise my hand if a question was asked, regardless of whether I knew the answer or not; it was a chance to engage in discourse with my teacher. I was first in line to volunteer for school programs, because it meant I could be out of the classroom; I was first out the door for recess and always last to re-enter the school building. I, like so many other children, needed constant stimulation in order to stay engaged and if I was not getting that stimulation in the classroom, you can bet your ass I was hard at work keeping my brain busy. I needed to be engaged! So I found ways to occupy my mind and oftentimes, when I had been reminded time and time again to be quiet in class, my outlet was daydreaming. I would lose myself in the infinite thoughts of a hyperactive young mind.

Years later, I would find myself in acting classes, trying desperately to navigate back to that place in my mind where imagination and reality blended, where I could create and believe whole worlds, where I was the main character in my own adventures and where I became other people living within the confines of my own stories. Luckily for me, I was able to regain that repressed skill and establish what I can confidently call a professional acting career. I am in the early phases, though, and still feel I have a long way to go. My father set his sights on a Stanley Cup, the highest achievement you can reach in pro hockey, so I have mine set on an Oscar. I watched my dad carve out a long career in hockey, with several league championships and one Stanley Cup final. Some would argue he won a Cup based on the “goal” Calgary scored on June 5, 2004 – in Game 6 vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning – that was not disallowed, but rather not even registered … The footage is on YouTube – ABC’s camera operator saw it go in, but could not relay the information to the officials … But I digress. ADD has a funny way of doing that. My point is, I intend to do the same in the entertainment industry – win my version of the Cup, or at least aim for that and, in the process, build a body of work I can look back on and be proud of.

Dylan Playfair, as photographed by Kate Whyte.

Many of you reading will wonder if medication has played a role in my relationship with my overactive mind. The answer is yes. When I was young, that psychiatrist – the one with the hourglass and Rorschach paintings – diagnosed me with ADD. My teachers pleaded with my parents to medicate me and, looking back, I am thankful they refused. I struggled through school, yes, but I also developed a sense of un-belonging which in my case contributed to the pursuit of a career quite different from those many of my peers were being educated for. Would medication have made my life easier in school? Yes. But ask any working actor if the job’s easy and you’re not likely to hear “Yes.” It’s very difficult, full of rejection, uncertainty, judgment, exposure and disappointment, but it’s the best job I know. When it works, when you’re on set, doing what you love, collaborating with storytellers, playing make-believe and being paid for it, all the hard stuff melts away, and everything difficult that came before feels utterly necessary and worth it. It makes sense.

I cannot lie to you, however. In my adulthood, I revisited said psychiatrist and requested to be retested. I was re-diagnosed with ADD and given a prescription for the appropriate medication. I have since, on occasion, utilized this medication to assist me when I have had substantial workloads. When I must read several scripts in one day, file taxes, submit grant applications or organize a chaotic studio space (I also own a commercial production company), I use medication as a tool to finish these tasks. What I do notice, however, is when I take these meds, the voice in my head that wanders becomes quiet, I zero in on the task in front of me and my creativity changes. As an adult, I am thankful I waited until my brain had developed before I started to use meds. I was able to make an educated decision about the impact they could have on my life.

Dylan Playfair marrying Jennifer Araki Playfair in her hometown of Kelowna, BC, on August 19, 2022.

I am not here to preach about the pros or cons of medication, I’m simply telling my story, honestly, as it happened to me. Every person’s brain chemistry is different and each person is entitled to make their own decisions regarding mental health; you or your child may have a dissimilar experience and different opinion on medication and that is perfect. I’m not you and you’re not me – that is what makes us unique, what makes us human.

In a way, being abnormal is the only thing that is normal … so I guess, at the end of the day, what I hope you, the reader, get from this essay is a deeper understanding of those of us who can’t sit still, who disrupt the classroom, who daydream and who ask too many questions. We may not be the best students, but given the proper education, support, patience and love, we might just surprise you, we might just make some dreams come true.

Featured image shows Dylan Playfair on set of the Nickelback “San Quentin” music video, which was produced by his company, Media Button. All images courtesy Dylan Playfair.

Dylan Playfair‘s diverse body of work in front of the camera includes the critically acclaimed comedy series Letterkenny and Disney’s reboot of The Mighty Ducks, as well as roles in Netflix, Syfy and a host of theatrical release productions. Behind the camera, Dylan’s directing experience includes broadcast commercials, music videos and narrative production. With director-producer Jen Araki, he owns a production company, Media Button, in Vancouver. (Photo by Kate Whyte.)