Chapter 11: Self-Care Strategies for Right Now!

You Me ADD Gina Pera book club Chapter 11 Self-care for the partners of adults with ADHD


Welcome back to the You, Me, and ADHD Book Club! With Chapter 11, we discuss the importance of self-care for the partners of adults with ADHD. It’s the first chapter in the final-third section of the book: Success Strategies.

What does self-care mean? Whatever it looks like for you.  A wife and mother with late-diagnosis ADHD — partner to a late-diagnosis man with ADHD — explains what self-care means for her.

By Taylor J.

We arrive at Part 3 of the book. It is here we start getting equipped with strategies for making positive changes in our lives and relationships. This third section of the book is called Your Relationship and the Art of Roller Coaster Maintenance: Four Success Strategies.

Chapter 11 opens the first Success Strategy: Taking Care of Yourself.

Self-care for the partners of adults with ADHD? Whew!

I admit, when I first bought the book, I went straight to this chapter, before I read anything else. (If you’re really depressed and struggling, and you also have ADHD, you might want to skip ahead, too. But be sure to go back, though, and read the skipped parts.)

When my counselor revealed to us that my husband also had ADHD—it wasn’t just me with ADHD–I felt like I’d won the lottery. Finally, I knew what was happening with us! The mysterious problem had a name, and we could fix that, right?

Wrong. My husband completely brushed me off. It was impossible for him to have ADHD, he said. He had a PhD; there was no way he could have a “learning disability.” The counselor was wrong. Even though he completely trusted this counselor, to the point of saying he would never consider seeing any other counselor, he was certain this was a mistake.

I remained steadfast. From learning about ADHD for my own diagnosis, I knew the answer to many of our long-term marital struggles: “Get his ADHD properly treated and managed.” Now, my job was to figure out, “How the heck do I do that without coming off like a controlling nag?”

Enter this chapter’s “Strategies For Right Now.” Gina reminded me to take care of myself, after years of riding the ADHD roller-coaster. She also helped me to remember what self-care looks like. This isn’t just a luxury. Self-care for the partners of adults with ADHD is a necessity.

The fact that I also have late-diagnosis ADHD?  That just meant I had to focus harder.

Three Basic Truths

There were three basic truths I determined to re-learn, after reading this chapter.

Self-Care Truth #1:

“Bad behavior is unacceptable, whether or not [he] ever learns about ADHD or pursues treatment.”

Regardless of my faith, or my background, or the coping mechanisms I’d developed over the years, I had to set boundaries about what I was willing to tolerate. For example:

  • If the bills couldn’t be paid, I would not go into debt to cover them. Ever.
  • I would no longer accept blame for things that were not my fault.
  • I would refuse to cooperate when a course of action was unacceptable. (Like, “Hey, somehow I spent all of that reimbursement for the math conference—can you work some overtime to make that up? Oh, and I really want a new dremal set.”)

At one point, instead of working overtime while caring for two young children, I suggested he sell his guitar amplifier. Imagine my surprise when he actually sold it! It was one of the first times I saw him take responsibility for his financial mismanagement, instead of expecting me to twist myself into a pretzel to make it all work.

Self-Care Truth #2:

Reconnect with “activities and people that bring [me] pleasure.”

I’m a musician. I’m a writer. At that point in my life, however, I couldn’t remember the last time I really enjoyed making music and stories.

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It didn’t happen all at once, but I started finding ways to write again.

It started with demanding childcare so I could build up my writing portfolio or meet with other musicians. (In the past, he’d said that any amount of childcare was unacceptable, because it was “other people raising our children.”)

I even applied for—and received—a financial-hardship scholarship to attend a Christian “Creative Training” conference. A local family let me stay in their guest room, with a fluffy king-sized bed and a key to their house. I flopped on that bed and cried, and then slept for ten hours straight. The next three days I spent with people who were living the life I wanted to live.

Sometimes I’d get weepy on a moment’s notice. That surely made some people uncomfortable, but it was startling to see how far I’d drifted from the person I was before unwittingly climbing aboard the ADHD roller coaster. I began to have hope that I could be that person again.

When I returned home, my husband presented me with a bouquet of flowers along with a card that said, “I pray that I will always support you in your dreams, the way you’ve supported me in mine.”

Self-Care Truth #3:

“Learn how to detach from the chaos.”

Despite the fear and anxiety that financial hardship brought me, I had to realize that I would not die if we had trouble covering the bills. (The book, How to Get out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously, by Jerry Mundis, was very helpful here.)

We had enough money to keep a roof over our head and food on our table, even if Mastercard and Visa didn’t get paid. We would fix everything else when we could. Until then, worrying was like a running on a treadmill—I’d be working hard, but not getting anywhere. This was not Gina’s idea of self-care for the partners of adults with ADHD.

I started intentionally disconnecting from as many sources of “drama” in my life as I could. Some friends did not receive callbacks, some projects dropped, and some playdates canceled. I even stopped reading certain news sources. It took a while.

Once I was able to face my life with a clear, peaceful mind, I was able to find more helpful solutions to many of our struggles. Self-care was the key.

But What About Dr. Math’s ADHD Treatment?

I could not force my husband to get treatment.

Since he knew I had ADHD, though, Gina suggested that I back off pressing the point of his ADHD and instead focus on optimizing my own recovery and treatment. Then, I shared the success stories!

  • Look honey! I was on time for the last four days! Can you believe it? I can’t believe it.
  • I’m so glad I got that timer app on my phone. It helped me keep track of how long I was doing dishes, so could keep anything else from distracting me.
  • Wow, yes, it sounds like your grading is really piling up. I read about X method of keeping track of that stuff that might be helpful. What was the book? Oh, it was ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life. No, I didn’t say you had ADHD. I said that book was helpful. You don’t have to use the method, but I’m going to use it.

Our life became more peaceful. Slowly. One little change at a time. It happened because I realized that my first “success strategy” had to be, as Gina advises, “Put on my own oxygen mask first.”

I want to end with a quote from “Janet” on page 153:

My life started changing for the better when I came out of the trance I’d fallen into so gradually [that] I didn’t even know what had happened. After struggling to keep my family on track for 20 years, I finally accepted that I’m the lead dog in charge of getting the pack in line. I had to decide—finally—what I wanted out of life and stake my claim….

What surprised me was that my husband responds to strength, not dependence. All those years I spent waiting, even pleading, for him to be the “leader” of this family—that just led us all astray. I had put all the balls in his court, and he couldn’t manage them, which just made us all more stressed.

For this chapter’s discussion points:

  • What do you need to do, right now, to take care of yourself? (Or if your roller coaster has been calmer for a while now, what did you need to do…)
  • Have you been on the receiving end of any physical, emotional, or financial abuse? How did you work through that?
  • If you find yourself in that situation now, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for information and resources in your area, at 1-800-799-SAFE.

Thank you, Taylor J!

Next Chapter: Starting to Understand Denial of ADHD

When I first started learning about ADHD, in the late 1990s, I wondered why no one was talking about “denial.”  That is, the fact that many adults with ADHD had trouble seeing their behavior objectively. In other words, they lacked self-awareness. This can really confuse loved ones, who keep trying to Explain the Inexplicable.

The common understanding of ADHD denial is that the person refuses to acknowledge ADHD-related challenges. Sometimes that is the case, but sometimes they simply cannot see themselves as others see them.

To help individuals and couples navigate this very tricky territory, I decided to explain ADHD denial in full. The first book to do so — and still the most comprehensive and timeless.
See you in Chapter 12:  Solving ADHD’s Double Whammy

—  Gina Pera


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  Reaching Through ADHD Denial in a Loved One

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





18 thoughts on “Chapter 11: Self-Care Strategies for Right Now!”

  1. Taking care of myself has been HUGE in boosting my confidence and strength in the midst of the chaos of our life right now. Like “Janet” (the quote Taylor shared above), I have to be the leader of the pack in our family. When I step back to try to let DH lead, everything falls apart even more. So even though I resent it sometimes, I do “wear the pants” in the family.

    The biggest non-negotiable in terms of self-care in my life right now is my gym time. Do not ask me to do anything for you during my gym time because the answer will always be no. If I don’t work out, I get very crabby. Plus, I have made many friends at the gym and I miss them when I don’t go!!! DH still gets weird about me going to the gym on Saturday mornings because I leave the kids at home with him, but TOO BAD!!

    I appreciated the info on recognizing narcissistic tendencies. Very interesting.

  2. I do not have adhd, but have been living with my husband of 20 years who wasn’t diagnosed until our 5th year of marriage. We also have 4 boys, 2 with ADHD. The most difficult part for me to sort out is what my marital role is as a wife. I believe for many year i’ve over functioned in our marital relationship of which hasn’t been good for anyone, although he may argue differently.
    Another area thats been challenging for me to understand is his lack of ownership and education about the diagnosis, and how it not only effects him but also his family. Its very sad for me to think/accept he doesn’t want to be the best he can be for all involved. At this point in time I’ve chosen to move out because I can no longer live in the chaos. As word gets out I’m sure most will not understand, because he doesn’t do anything “worthy” of separation. To most he seems empathetic, funny, hard worker, and engaging. But until one has lived day in and day out with someone who has adhd, there appears to be little understanding what its like.

    1. Hi Kim,

      You are correct: “Outer appearances” often don’t show the entire picture.

      And “denial” can be a huge, huge issue. There’s a reason I devoted several chapters to it– the first book on ADHD to do so.

      I wish you and your family the best,


  3. Indeed, in one household, everyone who may have ADHD may not reach that conclusion simultaneously. And even once they do accept that conclusion, they may choose to deal with it differently. In my household, I am the talker-about-it and my husband does not. I, personally, find the topic fascinating. My husband considers it something that he accepts, but not something he feels he needs to talk about all the time. I try respect that…except when there are important ADHD-related issues in our house that I feel need to be addressed. ADHD is simply not something you can live with and NEVER talk about consciously. It impacts too many areas of life for it to not be discussed openly at some point.

    It can also really destabilize things at first, when you start trying to take better care of yourself – because it’s bound to impact your surroundings, and knock everyone out of their routine in some way. Sometimes for the better. But even positive change can be awkward.

  4. 1) Right now? I need more creative time for writing and working. Alone. I have a physical/emotional need to be alone. My husband works at home so in the afternoons I am still not alone. (I work an office job in the morning.)

    My husband often refuses to parent alone. He is ok if I go out for an evening but he is very “inconvenienced” by the idea of me spending a night away. I begged to stay home alone for Easter while he took our son for a visit with family. It didn’t happen.

    2) I cannot say I have ever been abused. I do think my husband plays on mommy guilt though.
    I have friends that are abused all the time. And I have friends that abuse their spouses financially.

    Very interesting topic..

    1. Hi Liz,

      I know what you mean about the “alone” time.

      I need it, too. And I know many others in the same boat.

      If you can’t get him to give you some space now and then, why not take a night away. Who cares if he’s “inconvenienced”? You won’t be there to hear him complaining. 🙂 (I know, there IS the return….)


    2. You make a good point about not being able to hear the complaining..
      I guess I could turn off my phone, too.
      He once texted me to ask what he should feed our son for dinner.
      My response: whatever you are eating! (duh)
      He acts like he can’t handle things on his own but he can.

    3. Darn texting.

      I’m glad my husband and I don’t know how. 🙂

      Nor do we want to.


  5. Thank you, Gina and Taylor, for helping me (and no doubt thousands of others) out of the fog and into the sunshine. The power of validation, of knowing that other couples are getting dizzy on a similar roller coaster ride, cannot be overestimated.

    Gina, I read your book years ago, when it first came out. But I find myself dipping back in as time goes on, and as my wife continues to make progress in addressing her long-running issues around ADHD (she was diagnosed at age 49, mostly thanks to your book). Each time, I find information I somehow missed before. Probably because I was stressed out of my mind. The richness of content, the compassion, the insight…they are all outstanding.

    Now, in this wonderful blog series, Taylor J takes it all in another direction, to the unique experience of her “dual ADHD” marriage. Brilliant on you, Gina, for finding Taylor and running her essays. Brilliant on you, Taylor, for the writing style that grabs the reader and makes these issues “live” through your vividly told experience.

    Thank you both!

    1. Dear Frank,

      Thank you for the kind words. We appreciate your comment!

      I hope all is well.

  6. I laughed out loud about the phd husband’s comment. Thank you for the bright spot on such a touchy subject.

  7. No matter how many times I re-read before commenting, I always seem to miss something. He put a screwdriver through the metal door not a screen driver. What the heck is a screen driver anyway? LOL

  8. Oddly and I’m not sure how this happened, I was able to divorce myself from his rages (before medication). His rages when we were first married made me physically ill. I’d grown up in a family where my parents never fought in front of us kids and never argued behind closed doors more than a couple times I can remember.

    As a result, I was totally unprepared for these storms of rage he would have over what I thought was trivial things.

    He stubbed his toe and roared like a bear, put his hand though the door. He did badly on a video came and is was all slam, slam, roar, bitch. I’d say, “why are you even playing a game that makes you angry?” and he’d say he was trying to teach himself not to get so upset about not be perfect. Ok, but you’re making my stomach hurt.

    He got mad over something, who knows what now, and put a screen driver through the $600 metal door I had recently replaced (before we got married) and had waited 6 weeks to arrive. Ill, me? Yup.

    But somewhere in there, he got medicated and we talked enough about his rages that I somehow stopped being involved in them. He became more aware of what made him angry and was able to defuse some of them. He hasn’t broken or damaged things in anger now for years. It has been so nice.

    He still get angry, don’t get me wrong, but we’re able to work through it and stop the acting out.

    For me, not being part of his storm really helped. I just don’t know how I got there.

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