If the core challenge of ADHD is self-regulation, then we must understand: There are a lot of things for we humans to regulate. They don’t all show up on DSM-V ADHD symptom lists, either. I call this collection the ADHD Relationship Roller Coasters Twists and Turns.
When I first started sleuthing answers to puzzling situations in my own marriage, in 1999, I found little to help. If you can believe it, Russell Barkley, PhD had not yet written a consumer book on Adult ADHD. (But I encouraged him to do so — and he did! Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, a must-read.) YouTube? Not a thing. The Internet? Just getting started.
Dumb-founded that there was so little information, support, and proper therapy for late-diagnosis adults with ADHD and their partners, I got to work. Among other things, I founded the first and still the largest online discussion group for the partners of adults with ADHD. The two-pronged goal? Sharing support and putting our heads together, to figure out this confusing roller coaster.
Here in our Book Club Essay on Chapter 7 of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? This is where I detailed a collection of “quirky” behaviors that shed light on the range of issues beyond hyperactivity, impulsivity, and distractibility. Or at least explained how those abstract symptoms can play out in everyday life. The little talked-about aspects of the ADHD roller coaster dips, turns, and loop-de-loops. Because sometimes it’s a very small and maybe even oddball insight that causes the penny to drop.
Welcome back to the You, Me, and ADHD Book Club. The door is always open! Here, guest-essayist Taylor J. shares her personal insights about Chapter 7.
Taylor was diagnosed with ADHD in her 30s, her husband shortly after. They have four children. Once she found my first book, she ran with it. Today, her family enjoys an entirely different life than where she started out. Well done, my dear friend.
A Favored Form of Poor Self-Regulation: Conflict
By Taylor J.
Chapter 7 hit me right between the eyes, because it called out my favorite form of poor self-regulation: conflict.
The chapter starts, however, with a seemingly innocuous list of behaviors—the kind that make us wonder, “Are these personality quirks, or ADHD?”
- “Does your ADHD partner complain about clothing textures or labels?”
- “Does stating your own opinion or preference constitute ‘starting an argument’ with your partner?”
- “Is the TV volume always turned up extra loud?”
- “Do you ever get time to yourself, or does your ADHD partner follow you around all the time?”
- “Do you find that even your most trivial comments are countered?”
As Gina emphasizes throughout the book: Your mileage may vary; no ADHD trait is universal.
ADHD Relationship Roller Coaster Twists and Turns
The behavior patterns described in this chapter, however, are common enough among support group members (and in my household) to warrant discussion. Some are brain-based ADHD problems, and others stem from clumsy coping mechanisms (as covered in chapter 3). Some, no doubt, stem from co-existing conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, personality disorders).
The first section is hilarious—but not while you’re living it. It’s reads like a checklist of half of the fights we’ve ever had in our marriage, or struggles we’ve had with our kids. I’ll just quickly cover three that particularly apply to my family.
“You Have ADHD, Too!”
In some couples, this is a game of deflection, where the adult with ADHD throws the suggestion back to the partner.
In my case, my husband and I both actually do have ADHD. The first diagnosis was mine. It came after years of simply assuming every problem in the relationship was my fault. I was the one with divorced parents (so obviously I did not know how to have a relationship). The organizational problems were mine. I was the one who had trouble sleeping. If I were just “fixed,” we’d be on our way to marital bliss! Wheeee!
And then he was diagnosed.
The “It’s All Your Fault!” Delusion
Ah, I was so happy to hear that this is typical. Though my husband could easily see my disorganization (Which was real! And was bad!), he couldn’t see that he was a hoarder. He kept so many mementos and trinkets and do-dads and doubles of everything “just in case,” that our home was impossible to clean.
(By the way, I’m so proud of him—he just got rid of his high school textbooks and college papers.)
The “Nobody Else Has Trouble With Me” Defense
I’m going to quote directly from the book here, because it’s so revealing:
Erin’s husband repeated this phrase whenever she voiced a problem with him, and she believed it until talking to his ex-wife. “He’s telling me the same things he’d told her when they were married,” she says. “Of course, it’s never him creating problems.”
I’d say both my husband and I did this, but in different ways.
Fear of Unstructured Time
So many people with ADHD have trouble in school or work because the daily routine clashes so harshly with their brain structure.
Well, my husband and I both thrived in school, partially because it gave us structure! We had deadlines, accountability, rewards, clear expectations—and none of that appears on a typical Saturday morning, or school holiday.
Now I Want to Hide
The second section is honestly just embarrassing. After reading it, I want to hide. I want to offer a thousand excuses and a million apologies for living this way for so long. How many people did I alienate? How many social gatherings did I leave with wincing and embarrassed-for-her glances in my wake? Too many.
The second section is about conflict as self-medication.
Apparently, getting angry or riled up about drama or a conflict is stimulating to the frontal lobes of the brain—the same area that stimulant medication affects. Anger, drama, and conflict can gives some people with ADHD a feeling of actual calm, and leaves the people around them going, “What just happened?”
The book describes different types of self-medication with conflict, but I’ll just throw my personal favorite against the wall and see if it sticks for you.
I Was Hooked on Drama and Justice
If there was a crisis with one of my friends, I was there in a heartbeat, listening and being that friend who was always available.
That gets so exhausting after a while, but it took years for me to realize that I never had actual fun with my friends. I had no idea how to do it! I would help them, I would serve them, and they would help and serve me, but a fun dinner with candles or cupcakes or a game of Jenga? It rarely happened.
If I had no crises among my friends, I could sure find one online. Political debates, religious discussion, someone being wronged, or something worth fighting for was only a click away. There’s a never-ending, 24-hour stream of something-much-more-stimulating than laundry or toddler diaper rash, and it’s a continual struggle to stay away from it.
The worst part: I had thought this was a virtue. I thought that constantly resolving conflict, or constantly listening to or helping other people, was a way to positively live out my religious faith. I couldn’t understand why other people didn’t do it, until I had kids. That’s when I realized that living this way left me no energy to engage with my family. I was too tired and emotionally spent to even hear about the games my daughter played with her friends at recess.
Gina once gently encouraged me to “Take care of your own little red wagon.”
So, for this chapter, let’s discuss:
- Which of the mystifying ADHD Roller Coaster Twists and Turns in this chapter could you relate to?
- Were you surprised these can be stimulation-seeking ADHD symptoms in disguise?
- Can you see any of these behaviors (in yourself or your ADHD partner) that you or your partner tout as virtues but which are obviously stealing quality of life?
Please leave your comment below!
Read More in The You, Me, ADHD Book Club Series:
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.
From the Tunnel of Love to the Roller Coaster: Could Your Partner Have ADHD?
7 More Mystifying Twists and Turns (this post)
Roller Coaster Whiplash and G-Force Confusion: How Many Plunges Before You Say, “Whoa!”
Your Relationship and the Art of Roller Coaster Maintenance: Four Success Strategies
Success Strategy #1: Taking Care of Yourself
Introduction: The Amusement Park’s Emergency Room
Success Strategy #2: Dealing With Denial
Introduction: Roller Coaster? What Roller Coaster?
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
21 Rx: Treatment Results That Last
22 Maximizing Lifestyle Choices, Minimizing Rx Side Effects
23 Catch Your Breath and Take Five
Adult ADHD Evaluation and Diagnosis
“But I Heard That…”: More Background for the Unconvinced
Three Views from Decades on the ADHD Roller Coaster
Your Comments Welcome.
The Book Club is Always Open!