Chapter 8: Explaining The Inexplicable

stress

By Taylor J.

Chapter 8: Explaining the Inexplicable

Now that we have a better grasp on what ADHD is—and the mystifying twists and turns it can bring to life and relationships—we turn to the other partner who needs support: the partner of the adult with ADHD.

(Notice that Gina never uses the term “The non-ADHD Partner.” That is because plenty of us in the support group have ADHD ourselves. Opposites can attract, but sometimes birds of a feather flock together.)

As the partner of an adult with ADHD, what are you experiencing? What are your struggles? What do you need?

We are now in Section II of the book: Roller Coaster Whiplash and G-Force Confusion: How Many Plunges Before You Say, “Whoa!”

Welcome back to the “You, Me, and ADHD” Book Club—and Giveaway You Me and ADHD book clubContest!  Two winners are drawn from each post’s comments to receive a copy of my book (paperback or Kindle).

Here, Taylor shares her insights about Chapter 8, the section of the book that examines poorly managed ADHD’s effect on the partners. This was the first in-depth examination of this topic anywhere.

Struggling to Make Sense of What is Happening

As the first chapter in this section devoted to the experience of the “partners of,” Chapter 8 covers “Explaining the Inexplicable.” It’s a catchy way of summarizing how those of us in a confusing situation try to make logical sense of what’s happening to us. We try to understand it. We try to put it in neat little boxes. We try to reconcile the good parts of the person we love with the illogical behavior that’s smacking us upside the head. We tell ourselves, “All relationships take work.”

Typically, we don’t wake up one morning and say, “Oh noes! I married someone with a mental illness who refuses to get treatment, is draining our bank account, and makes me twist into a pretzel to work through all his double-binds while I churn out babies, work nights, and organize his collection of wrapping paper into scrapbooks!”

Rather, we say, “Oh, this month he forgot to pay the electric bill, so we have that one extra fee, and I forgot to get a babysitter, so I need to switch my work schedule…and dangit that leaves us $140 in the hole, so I have to figure out how to cut that out of our grocery and fun money…which means I won’t be able to go out with the girls’ group next weekend (dangit, that would have been fun)…and I’d better remind him to take the baby to her checkup, because I have to work, and if he makes me late again, I will get written up! Gosh, I’m so tired. ”

I didn’t set to do it, but check it out: I squeezed six out of the seven sections of chapter 8 into that one paragraph! They each describe, in detail, the ways we cope with inexplicable behavior.

It begins with denying and minimizing—and can end with becoming isolated emotionally and psychologically. Next stop, for some of us: depression, anxiety, addiction, and physical illness.

Sometimes, I Lost It

I never needed to walk on eggshells around my husband; he doesn’t have a volatile temper. But I’ll confess: He certainly walked on eggshells around me. I was wound up so tightly that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe, emotionally speaking. I felt like I was always juggling money and children and schedules and crises—and that I could never, ever make anyone happy. Sometimes, I lost it.

I wish I could go back in time to talk to my unmedicated self. I’d hug her, try to calm her down, and let her know that it would all be okay—and soon! I wish I could go back and apologize to that confused, bewildered husband, who had no idea why his wife was so upset.

There Is Always An Alternative Explanation

For some ridiculous reason, we humans need to believe everything is simple and normal. We don’t want to face the fact that something strange or bad is happening to us. We blame circumstances, childhood upbringing, the economy—or in my case, not being a good enough Christian.

 

After seeing several family members’ marriages fall apart, I was determined to be a good wife. I read everything I could find on Christian marriages, and how God supposedly designed marriages to function. The current trend in some theological circles is that husbands are supposed to “lovingly lead” their families, and wives should “choose to submit” to their husband’s leadership.

Always.

In every circumstance.

As life became more and more complex, the advice rendered from fellow Christians was to trust God to lead my husband. God would hold my husband, “Dr. Math,” accountable for his actions. It was my job to follow Christ and follow my husband.

Always.

In every circumstance.

These theological circles also encouraged women to be stay-at-home mothers, and even to home-school their children. Oddly enough, it was still my responsibility if my kids didn’t have enough clothes to wear or food in the house. It was still my responsibility if my bills weren’t paid. It meant I wasn’t being wifely enough to inspire my husband to take up his manly mantle. The message was clear: I should be more positive! More encouraging! I should trust God more! And I should still submit to my husband’s leadership and trust God to provide.

Always.

In every circumstance.

The most fun part of these theological circles? They have their own “mental-health experts” who believe that anyone struggling with mental health is really struggling with sin. That is, taking medication for mental illness is seen as denying responsibility for sin.

My way of “Explaining the Inexplicable” was simply to be a better wife, repent of sin, submit more, and trust God. …until I awakened and realized: God had never approved of this course of treatment.

I believe in sin! I believe in right and wrong! I believe in God, that temptation is real, that the devil is real, that Jesus actually rose from the dead. I also believe that none of that has anything to do with whether or not biological brain disorders are affecting people I love.

ADHD is a brain problem. It can become a marriage and parenting problem. It shouldn’t also be a faith problem. I should not have been put in a position to question whether God exists, or whether I was disobeying God by not obeying my husband, simply because I got us both access to good mental health care.

Yes, the human tendency is to “normalize,” to rationalize experiences in neat little boxes. I learned the hard way, however, that some dudes with a masters in divinity may proclaim that they know more about the brain than neurologists. Sin may be a problem, but the brain may be a problem as well.

“Explaining the Inexplicable” may mean that, like me, you realize your faith leaders (or therapists, or physicians or…) do not have all the answers about every part of life. It may mean that you learn and grow and stretch your understandings of certain things in painful ways.

Discussion Points:

So, for this chapter’s reading:

  • Which of the seven coping mechanisms of “explaining inexplicable behaviors” did you experience? Denying? Enabling? Carrying around a fire extinguisher?
  • There’s a disturbing excerpt from Paul Wender’s book, ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adults (2000) at the end of the chapter. Did any of the scenarios remind you of your marriage?
  • If you have a belief in a Higher Power, how did that help or hurt you as you tried to navigate the ADHD roller coaster?

 

21 thoughts on “Chapter 8: Explaining The Inexplicable”

  1. I think the marriage counselor gets it. He recommended we check out Russell Barkley’s work after our very first appointment. I will be sharing your book with him soon. There is progress being made, albeit slowly, so we press on.
    Thanks for your important work, G. 🙂

    1. Oh, that’s good, Deb.

      Even if he knows Barkley’s work, though, he might not understand the couple issues.

      Dr. Barkley asked me to contribute the first-ever chapter on couple-therapy to his “gold standard” clinical guide. It was published in 2014. Maybe your therapist has a copy and can check out that chapter.

      g

  2. Gina, have you had a hidden camera in my house for the last 10 years? Because ALL OF THIS has happened in my life! All of the seven coping mechanisms have come into play at one time or another. Seriously, ALL of them, even me becoming depressed. (I had already experienced post-partum depression/was prone to depression, so it wasn’t a far jump for me.)

    A couple quotes jumped out at me: p. 110 “it’s hard to be an equal partner AND the reality referee.” Yes, yes, and more yes!
    Also, the group member who talked about her sense of relief when her husband was out of town on business trips. YES! So much freedom to just BE when my ADHD-partner is out of town!

    The coping mechanism that has been the most challenging for me the past few years is the isolation. We don’t have any true “couple friends” because there is always some reason why we can’t hang out with someone (“oh, he’s too blue collar, oh he’s smarter than me….). I have just given up trying. I would go out with girlfriends but then I got to the point where I felt like I was leaving him behind all the time and that’s not good for a marriage either. There’s also the public face vs the private face thing going on, too, and honestly sometimes I am worried what will come out of his mouth when we are at family parties or socializing with other people. Even now, the preferred “date night” for me is for us to go see a movie so I don’t have to endure his constant talking about nothing and everything.

    As for the excerpt from Wender’s book….I thought it was a succinct explanation of how ADHD can play out in a relationship. I thought that if DH won’t read your whole book, maybe he can read these two pages? Or maybe I can show these two pages to our marriage counselor so he REALLY gets it? Not sure…it might be too “in your face” too. Time will tell…

    1. Hi Deb,

      Yes, is it time for me to remove the video feed now? 🙂

      It sounds like you are bearing the brunt of his not stepping up to the plate, vis a vis ADHD management.

      Yes, I love that excerpt from Dr. Wender,too. It’s thanks to that man that Hallowell and Ratey had a book to write.

      If your marriage counselor doesn’t “get” ADHD, I would stop going and spend the money on activities to re-charge your batteries. Because what’s the point?

      “In your face”? For the counselor? No. For your Dh? Maybe some other passages would be better. For starters. Or some blog posts.

      best,
      g

  3. Pingback: Chapter 10: The Third Plunge on The ADHD Roller Coaster

  4. Hello Everyone
    I am tuned into the discussion of ADHD which is very new to everyone. We have one very bad deception we do not consider in our lives, which influence the way we react and think of the world around us, and that is what we are learning indirectly thru TV. From everything what we see and learn around us, is that we are in an untrustworthy society without honest leaders to guide all of us and that all of us are scared constantly rushing about . We sit and watch TV and see the producers give us daily violence and crimes which allows us to see the world as Schizo’s daily and there is no stop. We have no control of watching ridiculous programs where producers create people acting nuts and un able to speak or react in a calm manner. So all these things we see and believe come real in our lives that effect us how we think of ourselves and others daily. Excuse me, if instead of leaders telling us that we need to have trusting leaders who give us direction and faith for a bright future. I would like to go deeper but this is a source of where we feel so miserable and watch people racing everywhere so he can be ahead of life. Did you ever think if we watched healthy programming on TV we ourselves would be pretty healthy as well. The majority of people are scared and frighted in a un- protected society where no one is taking responsibility to make honest changes without being influenced by material success, they do not care about others if you live a condemned life by living in fear and dishonesty. Why do cultures differ watching TV programs in other countries, they watch differ styles of corruption in the hearts of our producers who make them. Excuse me cut, take another take on that movie scene, we want you to act a little more goofy or scared and slurred speak like a nitwit. Wait cut say that line over with extreme emotion so the audience feels that pain. and see how people believe what they watch. How to change watching TV and do something better is about learning to read and have an interesting life doing what you would like to read & know. Make activities without the confusion of the TV. All the opinions on TV you listen to without any break or real sanity. You need a refreshment to think clearly, about a lovely life around you that you have purpose to enjoy without depression constantly.
    Now to change the subject:
    A good comment about God I would say is, that we were really never taught that you can know about God, and how we should act in the world guessing what is right or wrong about God. This is what God says If you need medicine, you need to take medicine. There is more to say but we need to know about God from people God sends us to know if you ask God seriously. Now with correct teachings of God you will have a very balanced life style of how to live and knowing that our creator has a plan for us for those who know what the doctrine of what the bible says.You will be able to speak about it correctly. There are many crazy people in mental institutions for bible readings, and people interpret what God says thru illogical thinking not knowing the history and time God spoke and how to live. God is teaching us to know howto prosper in everything we do, and to have a good and happy life because of God. God is who supports us in all we do if we receive the right teachings. It is as the same teaching if you were a doctor or scientist but never learned to understand the profession correctly from others of professional teachings, then that would lead us to happy lives because of it. When you have come to the point of all you earned and built, and then you die. why was i born to die. Why didn’t I look and believe in God that allowed me to have a brain to think and enjoy all of creation and live a calm life, No I never calmed down to ask for God seriously. God is the one looking for serious hearts to give them a new and better life. That means you have to be honest with our creator to start and God does the rest to show you how. The God i am speaking about gives you talents and skills of spiritual gifts to receive now and know he exists, among so many other teachings that only the people of God only know. People who have doubt wait until the disaster strike rather than experiencing Gods guarantee he is here for those who believe.
    Thanks Joseph

    1. Hi Joseph,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think you make an excellent point.

      Many of us are unthinkingly exposing our brain to too much violence and fear-mongering. We should pay attention to this “diet” as much as we pay attention to our food.

      best,
      g

  5. Hi, I stumble of this site after starting to lost hope, I am 27 years old and 4 months ago after years of struggling and not understanding why I was diagnose with ADD. Now that I am being treated for it I feel so much better, like the world has clicked into focus. The only down fall is that my boyfriend of two years who I am about to move in with does not seem to like the changes. He was been very loving and supportive of who I am and the process of seeking help, but recently that seems to have changed. When I asked him if he noticed a difference he told me he did that I wasn’t as “fluffy” anymore…but he said it like it was a bad thing. He seems to feel that since I am on medication he doesn’t have a purpose. I use to be so dependent on him for so much due to my untreated add. Now I can manage so much on my own he said he feels useless. That he likes taking care of me. I love him very much but he now makes comments when I do make mistakes like “aw it’s like my old Emma is back”. It hurts very much to hear this from him. While I am aware that I am different now I can’t undertand why he feels it is better to be needed rather then just wanted not for what he can do for me but who he is. I am either “to task oreianted” or “to on track”. I tired dedicating extra time and attention to him and the things he likes to do together but it doesn’t seem to help. Now he almost clings to me l, constant texts, and visits to my apartment just to see me quick. I am a manager at a very just restaurant and work 50/60 hours a week. Sometimes I just want a day to myself to catch up. When I ask for that he takes it as me not needing him around or loving him. Sorry this is so long. I was wondering if this is something others have gone through? Will it’s get better with time and work? What do I do? I finally don’t feel horrible inside about myself but the person I love doesn’t like who I am anymore.

    1. Hi Emily,

      I know this will be hard to hear, but I have one word for you: RUN.

      I’ve known some women with ADHD who were in these kinds of relationships. They gravitated toward someone who could help them manage life, and who “needed to be needed.” And the transition, once they were diagnosed and treated for ADHD, did not go well.

      It is NEVER going to go well when your partner needs you to be weak in order to feel strong.

      I am very happy for you, and I know you can find someone who will appreciate and fall in love with the strong you.

      Good luck!
      g

  6. I’m feeling a little left out in this chapter, as someone who hasn’t had a partner living with him, well, let’s just say ever. Even so I just read the following from a partnership comment elsewhere on another RollerCoaster topic.

    “cannot have a conversation about things that bother her without letting them build up and explode, cannot accept people for who they are (they are either good or bad, no middle ground), thinks that any slight is a direct affront to her, reacts to her emotions rather than reality.”

    I copied it because it was familiar. I’ve heard it . And I have a great deal of difficulty responding , or explaining that while the peolple who say similar things to me, are, to me, being understood, as to what they are saying,,
    What frustrates me is that the framework of emotions shapes my reality. When people say that a person can compartmentalize certain “aspects” or areas of their life, I have a great deal of difficulty with that. How do you put away one aspect of your life, and take up another, as if they aren’t intertwined?
    I’m not talking about situations. I understand that there are things you will do, say at a bar, that you wouldn’t do at work, or in front of your children. There are different purposes and norms in those situations.
    My reality, based in emotions and the foundation of experience, education, or knowledge can be rooted in right, wrong, my understanding of God, “in our image” good, bad, righteous, evil, good outcome ,bad outcome, some good, some bad, Those emotions don’t lead me to thinking a person is all good, or all bad, or that slights are all directed at me.
    What I don’t seem to ever get, which causes the problem, is more about how I can discern when it is and should be a problem, versus when it is not.
    What happens is that the angst of little meaningless or minor slights are left to fester, due to a feeling on unsureness, “it’s probably just me”. But with ADHD, I’ve seen others and have learned firsthand, that if your not quick verbally, or are seen as “not fitting in” by others, the slights do add up in your head, and a few (fortunately) others do try, consciously or not, to, for lack of a better term “advantage themselves using you” or just attempt to disadvantage you, for who knows what reason. In some cases they seem to view you as a threat, or just a “competitor”. All in an amazing variety of ways.
    Since I react to most everything based on emotion (my reality), even when the slights are horrendous, the focus is easily put on me, regardless of the situation. I don’t hide hurt well.
    I grew up on the receiving end of yell, criticize, repeat, and was never aloud to go or practice the offense or defensive tactics. If your reality is, as in my case, in right and wrong, good or bad, necessary, or just convienent, and not tactics you just learn to lose almost every time.
    The frustration is there even when I know I am right, the emotional outcome (baggage) doesn’t change. Even when I am rightly fighting to change the situational outcome, the focus, is, again, on me. The rational base of right or fair, or whatever, from my present or immediate reality, is by the definition of others not rational.
    In the end, I, most often, am trying to get people, my friends or people who have “rational” authority or power to change my situation, to also teach or show me how to acquire that ability, or at least understand why what seems to be happening to me is not supposed to happen, or why it’s ok for what happened to have happened to me.
    Two things, I’m pretty sure haven’t happened for me yet.

    It’s important to know that these incidences are years apart. But they play a huge role in shaping how I view myself and the world around me. I criing most of the time whenever anyone is yelling anywhere. When it comes from me, I am surprised. Please understand, it has never been violent or abusive, in terms of putting the receiver of my wrath down, but it did put both the receiver and me in an uncomfortable situation, that is difficult for anyone to come out ahead in.

  7. Gina,
    Thank you for your reply to Maryann, for not shaming her.
    Maryann, I also left my ADHD husband, for a variety of reasons.
    After 28 years together.
    Ironically part of it was not only his anger outbursts and his depression – for which he refused
    Medication – but for his own judgmental behavior about what I felt were my own ADD issues.
    So ADD and ADHD affected us both.
    And yes our very wise dear talented daughter was also probably born with a fire extinguisher in her hands.
    Fortunately she is doing well, has a fantastic marriage and describes a “happy childhood”.
    I still feel guilty re leaving the marriage, breaking up our cozy family, but I couldn’t take it anymore. Twenty eight years is a long time..
    And we simply lacked the chemistry necessary to hold things together.
    I think without that chemistry tolerance and compassion for the trials of an ADHD/ADD marriage becomes all hardship and little excitement.
    I do feel I failed as a wife. But if I had stayed I think I would have died.
    Sometimes it’s Ok to leave.

    Madelyn

    1. Hi Madelyn,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. It might give someone the “push” they need to claim a better life.

      Good for you. And good for your daughter.

      best,
      g

    2. nathan stoner

      hi, my name I Nathan. I am 28 years of age and was diagnosed at the age of 8 with adhd.

      After years of not believing that there wasn’t anything wrong with my head, that there was no chemical imbalance. That I was “normal” that ADHD, ODD, ADD and these things countless doctor assessments had me labeled as were just, mothers’ easy way out and quick fix to her “problem child’.

      So after many years of constantly hiding meds and defying anything that even resembled an authority over me. Made constant evaluation hard, at age of 11 i started smoking cannabis, by 12, 13 my medication was out the window. and the self-medicating began……. constantly smoking since age of 8, weed constantly since 11, an age 14 I was experimenting with acid. at 16 extasy was abuse daily. then with a major break up and depressive state aged 19 I smoked meth, and it wasn’t like I smoked meth to get stuff done or to be bouncing around like others would be. it was the only thing that made me think a thought and then end that thought. Not constantly of course but just enough that I could think fogless thoughts. so then chasing that feeling of normal turned into an addiction. spiraling into depression. and constant resentment of well: lateness, losing wallet phone keys(constantly, like ive been looking for my phone for free days now. misplaced again ) drinking, driving not getting fired were constantly effected. crashed nearly every car I’ve owned, over 20,000 in fines. lost family, friends and quickly watched every relationship end.

      At 25 I convinced myself of bp2 but never ticking all boxes of hypomania and depression. but still I refused to seek help, mainly of the fear of being diagnosed with bipolar and having to be medicated. So on the rollercoaster continued, that was until a week ago. cause a week ago I researched ADHD and found myself in tears.. Cause I tried my hardest to not tick all those soo many boxes but ticked them all. So I rang my mum and I apologized for all the hell I put her through when she was the only one in my life that never gave up.

      Knowing that there is a different chemical balance in my head then other non-adhd brains have.. that if I did not go and see my doctor and organize to seek some form of help. that I was gonna lose the people I love most and wouldn’t be able to be the father I strive to be for my girls. all those goals were never gonna be accomplished… so from now on I finally have a plan.

    3. Dear Nathan,

      I found your story so painful to read, I cannot imagine what it was like to live it — you and your mum.

      I can’t help but wonder if a better education about ADHD when you were a child would have won you over earlier. Some of the stories I hear, about some therapists and psychiatrist…wow, I think I’d rebel with all my energy, just to save myself. Children are so vulnerable and are so unable to articulate their perceptions, feelings, etc. at least not to an adult level.

      SEems like a miracle that you’ve survived all this intact. And now you finally have a clear path..I wish you all the best in getting the help you deserve. At long last.
      best,
      g

  8. Six months ago I finally I left my ADD affected husband. I do have moments of sadness and guilt over not trying harder but just could not continue one more day being that unhappy. Sadly, in six months the home that we built has become a pig sty with no hopes of it ever being inhabitable again. I hate sending my 13 year old son there. But it illustrates just how much work I put into managing his chaos and mess, and how even today, with our marriage nearly over, he still cannot bring himself to face his issues. I went to a therapist and she said that every one in the family has been working really hard to try to make the family work – every one except my husband.
    I am so tired of the PARTNER being left out of the equation. Every thing I read discusses the ADD affected individual and how we should try to understand what they are going through, but nearly no articles discuss the partner that tries to survive the relationship. We all deserve some level of happiness. My two cents.

    1. Hi Maryann,

      I am so sorry you’ve been through all that exhausting …. nonsense. But I’m glad that you’ve come to realize that life is short, and you might be happier on your own.

      As for the partner being in the equation, I was one of the first people to bring attention to the problems of ADHD in relationships and definitely the first to focus on the experience of the partner. So, you’ve come to the right place.

      That doesn’t mean I “side” with the “partner of” — because sometimes their problems are as bad as any coming from the other partner’s ADHD.

      But I definitely highlight the realities of many partners of adults with ADHD, in an effort to show Adult ADHD is real and it needs to be acknowledged and better managed if anyone in these couples and families is going to thrive.

      I welcome your comments to future posts.

      best,

      g

  9. As the daughter of two parents with ADHD, I was born with a fire extinguisher in hand, and I am REALLY good at putting out fires. This skill has served me well in a marriage where I am both partner to someone with ADHD, but also have ADHD myself. I put a lot of effort into strategizing to move beyond the fire extinguisher as a habitual coping tool. In some ways we have done very well and in others we have a lot of work to do.

  10. Having gotten rid of the “God baggage” long ago (sorry Taylor), I was left open to not blaming myself for the issues rising up in my marriage. So the next problem was to try to figure out *why* did my husband act the way he did and what would help him?

    He was already being seen for depression and wisely declined to take any medication for that. It would have been a big mistake. But I knew they didn’t have him dignosed correctly and weren’t they the experts? I’ve become really disillusioned about mental health professionals, but that’s probably another chapter.

    I tried to reason with him. “Why did you feel like you needed to make yet another hole in our bedroom door with your fist? Why couldn’t you control yourself?” We were living in an older mobile home that was fragile. Things were easily broken. Did he really need to help break them? In addition, they weren’t easy to fix because the doors weren’t standard door size. I ended putting stickers over the holes.

    Reasoning didn’t help. At least he would talk to me about what was happening to him and what was happening seemed to be rage and not being perfect no matter how unreasonable that expectation was. Then he’d have depression over the rage even though he actually felt better otherwise….but it wasn’t good for either of us. His rages actually made me feel ill for a long time.

    Getting mad, guilt trips, martyr trips, or trying a reward system for chores I wanted him to do didn’t work either. He places very little value on money (which is why I’m in control of it) and figures if he waits long enough he’ll get whatever it is he is wanting. True, that. I’m not an ogre.

    Enabling & making excuses for him seemed to work a bit, but it didn’t make ME feel any better.

    It wasn’t until I found out about ADHD that we were able to move forward at all. Once we had a diagnosis, we could move ahead. We could see someone who understood he has ADHD and anxiety issues. We could get medications that actually helped him. We also diagnosed his sleep apnea as a side issue by exploring the ADHD questions.

    Are things perfect? Of course not. Are they better? YES – I’d say by 80% and that’s pretty damn good in my book.

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