Chapter 1: Adult ADHD Myths Vs. Facts

Adult ADHD Myths

Welcome back to the You Me ADHD Book Club, this time exploring important Adult ADHD Myths vs. Facts.

The previous post focused on the book’s introduction. Now we enter Part I of the book’s three sections: “From the Tunnel of Love to the Roller Coaster: Could Your Partner Have ADHD?”  Chapter 1 is entitled “Who Has a Ticket to Ride? Spotting ADHD’s Surprising Signs.”

You can read along at home with Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?  (Please note. ADD is now called ADHD, but in 2008, when the time the book debuted, ADHD still meant hyperactivity to the public!  That’s why I used ADD on the cover.)

Guest writer Taylor J. and I welcome your comments.

—Gina Pera

Chapter 1: Who Has A Ticket To Ride (The ADHD Roller Coaster)?

Here are the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1, beginning on page 13:

We’re all married to the same person!” says new online support-group member Sheila. “And somehow this person manages to live in 300 cities at one time—and be both male and female!”

It’s easy to see why Sheila and others draw this wry conclusion: Group chatter typically bubbles over when classic ADHD challenges arise, typically with communication, cooperation, money, or organization. Con­versation cools, though, when topics diverge into phenomena that ring a bell for only a few members—for example, the garage overflowing with rototiller parts or a mate’s “important memorabilia” (if you consider 10-year-old foil ketchup packets memorabilia).

Sure, support-group members are relieved to know they are not dealing with a bigamist, but some become confused by the apparent disparities in reported behaviors and even grow doubtful of the ADHD diagnosis. If your partner is an excellent driver but the group goes on a rant about reckless driving, well, that must mean your partner can’t have ADHD, right? Wrong!

Each ADHD roller coaster sports its own particular twists and turns, and we will keep building on that theme throughout this and future chapters. But it’s important to first recognize the basic signs that point to this ride.

Toward that end, this chapter answers some common questions and helps you to:

  • Know that the official term is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and that it has three subtypes.
  • Realize that most adults have no physical hyperactivity.
  • See how traits involving hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention play out in real life.
  • Identify ADHD’s symptoms, ranked according to reported prevalence in the ADHD Partner Survey.
  • Find out how the diagnosis is made and why leading experts consider ADHD grossly underdiagnosed.
  • Accept that having ADHD does not mean a person lacks intelligence, talent, and strengths.

After Years in Therapy, Now She Tells Us?

By Taylor J.

After a few months of couple therapy, I saw the counselor alone.

She said that many of the things Dr. Math (my husband) and I were dealing with were “quirks” that came with [his] “brilliance.”

I raised my hand, as if I were a third-grader, and asked: “How come, if I lose things, can’t keep track of time or money, get addicted to video games, forget to pay bills, and can’t keep anything clean, it means I have ADHD, but if he does the same things, it’s because he’s brilliant?”

She smiled.

“No, you’re also brilliant. And he also has ADHD.”

After a few years of therapy, she finally comes out with this?

In Chapter 1, Gina addresses the unexpected ways that ADHD can infiltrate our marriages. At this point in the book, she puts it simply: ADHD is a combination of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention, which can create impairment in work, school, and relationships.

That’s easy to write out. But ADHD is incredibly difficult to recognize in a marriage due to:

  1. Confusing stereotypes about ADHD from the media and our culture, and
  2. Symptoms that, as Gina writes, “intertwine and crossbreed in bewildering, shape-shifting combinations.”

Highlighting Key Adult ADHD Myths

Chapter 1 primarily focuses on separating ADHD myth from fact, and I want to hit a few highlights here:

Myth: People with ADHD can’t focus.

Fact: People with ADHD have trouble directing their focus at appropriate times.

ADHD has more to do with having difficulty focusing one’s attention right now, on the most critical, task, speaker, or activity, and, once focus has been achieved, maintaining it instead of yielding to distraction.

In fact, many people with ADHD can often focus incredibly well—when they’re sufficiently interested in, or stimulated by the activity.

Myth: “ADHD means you have low intelligence.”

So. your “brilliant” partner with several advanced degrees, or your kid on the honor roll, can’t possibly have it.

Fact: ADHD occurs across all levels of intelligence.

High intelligence can actually mask symptoms, but the person with ADHD will typically expend twice the effort to achieve half of the results of a person without ADHD.

Myth: “Only hyperactive little boys have ADHD.”

Fact: Hyperactivity is only one of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

Plus, it can look completely different in adults and children. Moreover, girls and women are historically underdiagnosed due to the stereotype of ADHD being a “rambunctious boy’s thing.”

Myth: “I had ADHD as a child, and grew out of it.”

Fact: Symptoms manifest differently in adults and children.

Hyperactive children can grow up to be mentally restless adults who get lost in web surfing or video games. Also, adults and children have different levels of responsibility, structure, and support, so symptoms can re-emerge (or be controlled more effectively) in different life circumstances.

Myth: “ADHD is a secret conspiracy of Big Pharma—a marketing gimmick to sell us medication we don’t need.”

Fact: The efficacy of stimulant medications for ADHD was discovered by accident, and has been researched for more than 60 years.

Adult ADHD Myths

People With ADHD Are Individuals

Through it all, Gina repeatedly tries to pound this one fact into our heads: Every single person with ADHD is different.

Everyone will have their own symptom combination, their own maturity level, their own intelligence level, and their own personality.

ADHD is considered a syndrome: a condition with multiple symptoms that vary among the individuals who have it. That doesn’t make ADHD a ‘squishy’ diagnosis, though. Being a syndrome places it in the same category as dozens, if not hundreds of other well-recognized medical conditions that range from Reye’s Syndrome to Diabetes Type II.

However, after interacting with hundreds of partners of people with ADHD, Gina is able to give us a snapshot of what life with an ADHD partner can look like in day-to-day life.

Some of the top contenders:

  • Distractibility: being easily diverted from the intended focus of attention
  • Disorganization: losing track of time, items, and the order in which tasks should be done
  • Poor Sustained Attention: difficulty initiating and/or finishing tasks
  • Forgetfulness: “blanking” on everything from small tasks to important obligations to entire conversations.
  • Restlessness: feeling “on the go” mentally or physically
  • Poor Listening Skills: hearing only half of what was said, or mishearing huge chunks of it.

ADHD Facts Vs. Myths

“Overwhelm” Overwhelmed Me

For me, “overwhelm” was my worst offender. My disorganization and poor prioritization meant that simply getting my kids out the door fed, clothed, and clean was a huge daily fight.

I couldn’t stand making the smallest mistake (such as losing my keys). Because, that would set a domino effect into action: I’d be late to work again, and have to stay later, and then dinner would be late, and then the kids would miss baths again, and then we wouldn’t sleep well…. which meant I was so sleepy that I’d forget where I put my purse next time, and the whole dang thing would start all over again the next morning.

I hated my life.

I internalized all of my failures and thought I was simply a horrible mother and homemaker.

Then, after I started ADHD medication, I was amazed at how much more patient I was as a parent, and as a wife. I could focus long enough to remember where I put things. I could find solutions for frustrating problems—such as making easier meals or buying clips for my key ring.

For This Week’s Reading—Join In:

  1. How did ADHD symptoms show up in your life, or your partner’s?
  2. Which Adult ADHD myths had you harbored before you learned more about it?
  3. What other thoughts did Chapter 1 spark for you?

We welcome your thoughts below in a comment. Your story will help others. 

Here is a hyperlinked list of all the posts in this series:

Read More in The You, Me, ADHD Book Club Series:

And now for the preview of the chapter-by-chapter lineup: the book’s table of contents.  Chapter titles appearing as hyperlinks correspond to an essay in the Book Club. Click to read. 

We stopped at Chapter 20. Would you like to submit your own essay to the Book Club?  We welcome it!   “Finding Your Voice” is an essential part of slowing your ADHD Roller Coaster.                              

Part One

From the Tunnel of Love to the Roller Coaster: Could Your Partner Have ADHD?

Section Introduction

1    Who Has a Ticket to Ride? Spotting ADHD’s Surprising Signs (this post)

2    Laying the Track’s Foundation: What Is ADHD, Anyway?

3    Deconstructing Your Coaster: Why Each Is Unique

4    Financial Loop-the-Loops: “It’s Only Money, Honey!”

5    Driving While Distracted: The Roller Coaster Hits the Road

6    Peaks and Valleys: ADHD in the Bedroom

7    More Mystifying Twists and Turns

Part Two

Roller Coaster Whiplash and G-Force Confusion: How Many Plunges Before You Say, “Whoa!”

Section Introduction

8    First Plunge: Explaining the Inexplicable

9    Second Plunge: Managing the Unmanageable

10  Third Plunge: Breaking Down in Illness—Or Through to Truth

Part Three

Your Relationship and the Art of Roller Coaster Maintenance: Four Success Strategies

Section Introduction

Success Strategy #1: Taking Care of Yourself

Introduction: The Amusement Park’s Emergency Room

11  Strategies for Right Now

12  Solving ADHD’s Double Whammy

Success Strategy #2: Dealing With Denial

Introduction: Roller Coaster? What Roller Coaster?

13  Psychological Denial: The Fear Factor

14  Biological Denial: Not Unwilling to See—Just Unable

15  New Ways to Broach “The Conversation”

16  More Solutions and Strategies

Success Strategy #3: Finding Effective Therapy

Introduction: Calling in a Consultant to Help Retrofit Your Ride

17  Why the Wrong Therapy Is Worse Than No Therapy

18  Therapy That Works for ADHD

19  More Solutions and Strategies

Success Strategy #4: Understanding Medication’s Role

Introduction: Tightening the Brakes on the Roller Coaster

This post from Jaclyn at The ADHD Homestead touches on a range of issues within this section on medication

20  Making Connections Between Brain and Behavior

21  Rx: Treatment Results That Last

22  Maximizing Lifestyle Choices, Minimizing Rx Side Effects

23 Catch Your Breath and Take Five

Appendix A:

Adult ADHD Evaluation and Diagnosis

Appendix B:

“But I Heard That…”: More Background for the Unconvinced

Appendix C:

Three Views from Decades on the ADHD Roller Coaster

Resources

Endnotes

Index

37 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Adult ADHD Myths Vs. Facts”

  1. How did ADHD symptoms show up in your life, or your partner’s?
    — When we became parents, DH started to become more disorganized and unable to complete tasks. As we endured some other life changes, the symptoms got worse and worse. On more than one occasion when I left him home with the kids, he has forgotten to feed them! The talking excessively is so draining!

    Which myth had you harbored about ADHD before you learned more about it?
    –my only experience had been with younger kids, most of whom had hyperactivity. I thought DH’s symptoms were due to his upbringing (his mother doing everything for him and not giving him any responsibility growing up).

    What other thoughts did Chapter 1 spark for you?
    –self medicating with junk food!!!
    –how under-diagnosed ADHD is in adults
    –awareness, lifestyle changes, medication, and therapy. Too bad DH thinks medication is the on,y treatment. 🙁

    1. Hi Deb,

      Thanks for responding to discussion points! Taylor will also be happy to see that! 🙂

      best,
      g

  2. Gina you do such a wonderful service – many very helpful services! I have not yet found the rx blend that works for me. If I can remember to take the genetic test I will certainly do that…
    Thanks again,
    -Connie

    1. Are there any “Partners of ADHDers” online support groups? I am becoming increasingly frustrated with my partner, but since there are a lot of ADHDers in this book club I don’t want to risk stressing or hurting them by saying a bunch of negative stuff about what it’s like to live with an ADHDer. Is there someplace where I can share and learn from other partners?

    2. Hi Persephone,

      That’s very kind of you. But if you speak from your experience—and not castigating every person with ADHD—it should be fine.

      And the whole purpose of the club was to air these issues publicly, so other people can know this is the range of experience.

      But yes, I founded 10 years ago a free online group, and you are welcome to join us:

      https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ADHD_Partner/info

      g

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