Much is being written online about ADHD relationships but few offer in-depth support and knowledge. That’s where this blog-post series is different.
Welcome to the first post in the You, Me, and ADHD relationship discussion group.
It’s virtual—and always open. It’s a series of first-person essays, followed by reader comments, based on my first book, Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?
My friend, Taylor J, writes about her personal reactions to each chapter. Taylor has a multi-angled perspective on ADHD relationships:
- She has late-diagnosis ADHD
- Her husband also has late-diagnosis
- Likely all four of her children have ADHD, too
- Her parents and at least one siblings have ADHD.
After she shares her own reactions to each chapter, Taylor invites you to join in by offering some discussion points. I hope you will participate—both to receive ADHD relationship support for yourself and to educate the public on these issues.
For one chapter, Jaclyn Paul, of The ADHD Homestead, wrote a personal essay drawing from her own experience.
There are 22 posts in all (not every chapter has an essay here). Consider them your first step in gaining support for your ADHD relationship.
By Taylor J.
We begin with an excerpt from the Introduction of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? (the “I” here is Gina):
I wish I’d had this book 10 years ago, when the world was metaphorically knocking me upside the head, teaching me to pay attention to that human organ called the brain. Teaching me to view the brain, in fact, as an organ, vital to our every physical and emotional function yet oh so vulnerable.
At the time, my 84-year-old mother was slipping tragically into an Alzheimer’s-like stroke dementia—recognizing me as her “great friend” but not her seventh and youngest child. It broke my heart. But if her memory had remained intact, it would have broken her heart to see her oldest child and my brother, then age 60, rapidly succumbing to brain cancer.
Amidst these family dramas, I met my future husband. Over dinner one evening, this newly minted scientist, fresh from completing his doctoral degree at a neurological institute, sprang this unsettling idea on me: Everything we think, do, or feel happens due to chemical reactions in the brain.
The book’s introduction sets us up for a drastic world-view change. That is, we can link behavior to biology on a level we’d never fathomed. Brain chemistry, diseases, and mental illness can drastically shape or alter a person’s behavior.
You Mean Behavior Is Biology? Yikes!
Gina acknowledges how uncomfortable that idea is for many of us:
I shuddered, alarmed at the thought of reducing the seat of the self, the seat of the soul, to a chemistry-lab experiment.
The experience, however, of watching a brain condition so drastically change first her mother and then her oldest brother left her open to a new possibility—that there’s more to our actions than our intentions, morals, and value systems. The brain is an organ, and organs can become sick or otherwise malfunction.
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Alzheimer’s (most likely stroke dementia) meant Gina’s mother could no longer recognize Gina as her youngest daughter. Was this something her mother could control? Of course not.
Honestly, before discovering that both my husband and I had ADHD, brain chemistry never would have crossed my mind.
It never occurred to me that the problems in our marriage were anything but my fault, and something I should be able to control by my own willpower. After all, I
- Was disorganized
- Never followed through on commitments
- Jumped from project to project
- Needed reminders to do basic things—like showering and brushing my teeth
Meet Dr. Math
My husband, on the other hand, was brilliant. He’s has a Ph.D. in math. He writes flowing poetry, plays guitar, can imitate Sean Connery flawlessly, and sings Italian arias in a deep, baritone voice. If he didn’t pay attention to my needs (more about that in future posts) then obviously I didn’t deserve it.
When I discovered and started addressing my own ADHD, I thought our marital problems would go away, but they didn’t. The financial problems, the broken promises, and the neglect of my needs kept happening over and over.
I wanted to bang my head against the wall and scream: “How can a math Ph.D. not understand compound interest and negative numbers? That is, that we couldn’t keep spending more than we brought in? And, how can such a compassionate man be so utterly selfish?”
Gina’s experience with her husband echoed my own:
His brain worked brilliantly much of the time. But when it didn’t, when some inexplicable glitch snagged the system, the glaring disparity defied credulity. The fact that he typically failed even to perceive any such glitch, confidently insisting that I had misspoken or forgotten, gave me even more reason to doubt my perceptions
The idea that someone could be as brilliant as my husband but have a biological problem that kept him from hearing me—from remembering me—was so shocking. Before, I’d just thought he didn’t love me enough to care about my needs. I was prepared to accept my own diagnosis, but not his.
Ironically, it was my diagnosis and treatment that allowed me to start seeing our life together with more clarity.
Finding No Answers in the Marriage Books
For years in the past, I read everything I could on marriage. I see now that dozens of books described the behaviors of ADHD—but did not name them as such. They also described in detail how relationally damaging they could be. But none of them suggested the behaviors were attributable to something biological—namely, ADHD.
[M]ost of these books offer scant advice other than coping, detaching, or leaving. Some books even blame readers’ dysfunction for making such bad choices in a mate, and others insist that these troubling mates act willfully and are consciously abusive.
After reading this passage, I pulled every single relationship book off my shelf and scanned their bibliographies to confirm: Did any of them make reference to treatable conditions such as ADHD. They didn’t. Was there any ADHD relationship support? No.
Yet, every single one of them made at least one reference to some book that called ADHD a myth, a cop-out, or an over-diagnosed drugged-out nightmare.
All this time, without realizing it, I’d been reading books on how to cope with ADHD, and not one book on how to treat it. Until now.
- How did you come to understand that your own or your partner’s problematic behaviors were biologically based, as opposed to a moral, spiritual, or character failure? What was your journey?
- When you shared your insights with others, did you encounter opposition to the idea that behaviors can be brain-based? From whom?
- What other issues did this introduction bring up for you?
We welcome your thoughts below in a comment; there are no annoying codes to enter.
Your story will help others. While it is useful to have read the book’s introduction first, please feel free to join the discussion even if you haven’t.
The primary goal here is offering ADHD Relationship Support.
Here is the next post: Chapter 1: ADHD Myths Vs. Facts