Gina Pera on ADHD Relationships

Gina Pera on ADHD Relationships

My first clue that something was up? A higher-than-usual number of “Help, Please!” e-mails appeared in my in-box this morning.

Then my friend Doreen gave me the heads up on Facebook: MSN.com had featured a “When Your Lover Has ADHD” tag on its Valentine’s-themed homepage. It linked to an interview I’d done last year with Health.com: “When Someone You Love Has ADHD: Frequently Asked Questions About Helping Your Partner and Yourself.”

It begins this way:

When journalist Gina Pera married a man with undiagnosed Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) she embarked on a wild ride that took her from frustration and confusion to understanding and advocacy.

Today she runs support groups for people with ADHD and their partners, and her book Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?,  published in 2008.

“Wild ride” Indeed

But our marriage started out more on the rainy side.

That’s us at our outdoor wedding in 1998, above.  Despite the huge two-person umbrella, my husband still managed to position the dripline right over me. Fortunately, that kind of center-of-the-universe tendency is a relic of the past—or neither one of us, not to mention our marriage, would have survived!

Here’s a sample of the questions:

Q: How did you realize that your husband had ADHD?

Q: In the title of your book, you used the outdated term “ADD.” Why that instead of ADHD?

Q: What are the biggest issues that get in the way when one partner in a relationship has ADHD, based on your experience with support groups?

Q: Besides problems at work, how else can ADHD affect a family’s financial situation?

To read more questions (and answers), download the article here: Health.com – GINA PERA INTERVIEW – When Someone You Love Has ADHD_ Frequently Asked Questions About Helping Your Partner and Yourself

Below you’ll find two of the e-mails I received this morning. I’ve changed identifying details. The challenges and sentiments expressed, however, are common to the communications I’ve received for ten years now:

From Helena in Georgia:

Dear Gina,

I just read an article on MSN.com on the above.  It may be me.  The MSN article caught my attention because I read that your husband is a scientist. That is not the sort of occupation I would expect a person with this problem to have.  I’ve always had difficulty with organization and time management as well as priorities. I am, however, considered reasonably accomplished by most standards.

It takes a great amount of energy, though, for me to stay focused sometimes. I often run late and do miss deadlines, one of which nearly cost me my job.  When I am focused, I am far more productive than the average person. That is fortunate because when I’m not I spend hours getting nothing done.

I rarely check out a book or rent a movie that doesn’t go back late. Even when I tell myself I won’t forget, I always do.  My two older kids (10 and 14) find it amusing.  I’ve made great improvements on my own with my time and procrastination in the last couple of years, but still struggle to do better and to understand why it is an effort for me but apparently so easy for others.

“I Never Would Have Thought ADHD”

Mostly I’ve substantially reduced the things that are regularly on my “to do” list which has really helped. I have a history of taking on more than anyone could possibly do in a 24 hr day even without sleep. This is partly because, strangely, part of me enjoyed having to rush to get things done even though it is so stressful.  I realize that this is actually a problem. As I’ve done less, I’ve found that getting things done ahead of the deadline—even being early for appointments (wow)—feels so much better.  A no brainer for most I’m sure but it wasn’t for me.

I never would have thought of ADD.  I always understood that to mean a person who can’t focus on any task and who generally doesn’t do well in life as a result.  My sister is like that and is normally unemployed.  On the other hand, I worked my way through college and law school, which took great effort.  My ex once suggested I might have an attention deficit. I rejected it, noting that I couldn’t possibly have become an attorney if I did.  After reading your article I see that he might have hit the nail on the head.

If I could relieve the stress of wondering when I’m going to drop the ball again, and worrying if it will be one that sinks me professionally or personally, life would be so much better for me and my kids.  One of my fears is that my children will have the same problems I do.  I am going to look into this as a possibility in my life. Hopefully, I will find answers and solutions that I so badly need.

Thank you for shedding new light on this issue.

From Russ in Iowa:

Hi Gina.

Wow, I just read your article regarding adult ADHD.  I stumbled on it actually, but it immediately caught my eye. I have been married to a woman for over  20 years with (at least I am fairly certain) with Adult ADHD.

It has become much worse and has really taxed our marriage over the past few years.  She is a great person.  But she just can not get her act together on so many fronts – organizing and teaching kids about daily routines and chores,  social plans for us with friends,  and on and on.  

The kids (we have a son, 9, and a girl, 13) are becoming more frustrated too as it is affecting them more as they get older.  For example, if my wife says, “I will be there in a minute to help you” – she often gets back to them, if at all, hours later and after repeated requests.  If she tells us to wait before starting dinner, she may not show up for 30 minutes, or longer if not constantly prodded.  

“She Gets Lost, Always Scrambling”

She gets lost in so many insignificant things on her way to doing what she is supposed to be at any given moment. But she seems to not realize that she’s doing it — or why we’re upset.

She is constantly getting times, dates and names wrong even when we have what I perceive as clear conversations with her.  She often doesn’t remember entire conversations or issues we discussed and is adamant it did not occur.  It drives me nuts.

She is always scrambling at the last minute to plan birthday parties and other types of activities.  She often goes out for a simple errand (to pick up something at the store) and doesn’t come back for hours. I don’t know whether she’s taken ill or gotten in a car accident!  And this happens when we have definite plans later in the day, for which she is then of course late. When she comes back, she has bags of items she really doesn’t need.

She does not work outside the home, and we have a nanny and maid. Still, she is scrambling to get the kids out the door in the morning; nothing was organized the night before, and she usually sleeps through the alarm.  They’re always stressed and arguing because of it.

I love her and want to stay married to her. But this is not the kind of life I want for myself or my family. Our social life has suffered because she doesn’t understand the reciprocal behavior that creates friendships and social circles.

We’ve seen couples therapists, but it has been less than helpful. We really need some help since things are getting worse in a hurry.

Your article was so on point, and I will read your book.  Please give me any advice you can.  Thanks.

 

7 thoughts on “Gina Pera on ADHD Relationships”

  1. Hi-
    Is your book on CD? There is no way I will get my husband to sit still long enough to read a magazine, nevermind a book! I am the non-ADDer and would love to read the book. However, he travels by car and would be much more receptive to listening to your book on CD.

    My 19 year old son is diagnosed. My Husband of 25 years? Not so much.
    We are all in a rough patch and since my husband believes I am the only one with “issues”, I am trying to introduce materials suggesting he get it checked out.

    Thanks.

    1. Hi there — I wish the book was on CD already. Alas, since that is another job for me. It’s been added to the always-full queue but probably not accomplished for 6 months or so. And that’s being optimistic.

  2. I’ve just recently come to realize that my husband’s ADHD is affecting my life so much more than his inability to remember where he put something 5 minutes ago or forgot to pay a bill.

    He is definitely having challenges with impulsivity, we he isn’t but I am! Is it fair to say there are correlations between ADHD behaviors that of a Sociopath? Or am I just a lucky girl who got a blend? I would estimate he has 80% of the traits listed for a sociopath but I see the same traits referenced throughout your book.

    We are trying to find help and support but I think I want it for him worse than he wants it for himself. : (

  3. Thanks David.

    You’re exactly right — Adult ADHD is ridiculously underdiagnosed. And even for those with a diagnosis, treatment happens for only 10 percent.

    There are many reasons for this, including lack of access to care (many people with ADHD learn they have it — or are finally ready to admit it — only after they’ve lost jobs and all their money), denial, and more.

    It has been very heartening to see more blogs and websites devoted to accurate information about Adult ADHD crop up in the last couple of years. Before that, the Internet was hostile territory for evangelists like me. 🙂

  4. Really enjoyed reading this interview. It covered some of the more important points.

    It’s important to realize that there are many people with ADHD. We all know many people who have it! The problem is that only 1/10 adults who have it get some sort of treatment over a year.

    So Gina is doing a wonderful thing by helping raise awareness =)

  5. As you travel through your time, you may come to find that you do have some problems with focus and attention. Interestingly, ADHD problems often increase over time rather than improve, leaving the uniformed with a puzzling array of coulda, woulda, shoulda.

    The biggest problem with ADHD discovery is the shame of imperfection, – especially when you have been working so hard for so many years to correct yourself. We all hate to come up short, even a little bit, and especially with those we love. The pain with ADHD just isn’t funny.

    And once such a personal and interpersonal reality arises, the next very best thing is to find-a-way-out. Therein lies the rub. Everyone, including school kids and grandparents, cops and trauma surgeons, believes they are experts on the treatment and management of ADHD. They don’t treat ADHD, haven’t walked that path, but have read in the newspaper, or heard on the street some gossip about diagnosis and treatment, so they are self ordained, and ready to pitch in with the most unreliable trash observations.

    These inaccurate conclusions can simply be summarized as inaccurate public opinion, driven oftentimes by pervasive misunderstandings about the science that continue to exist within the medical community itself. If we docs don’t get it right, then it follows that the science is bad science, the diagnosis is wrong, and the meds are bad medicine.

    The next necessary step in that context is self education – and therein comes the necessity of reading and understanding yourself. The science is there, the complexity is understandable, and there are many well informed therapists who can speed you and yours down a less bumpy path. The implications of not following through with correct treatment are most devastating over time. One reason for denial is not that one small problem, but an ongoing series of often subtle problems that will wear anyone down.

    Enter Gina’s excellent book. I regularly recommend it as an important read to anyone with ADHD, including parents of ADHD children, so they can get the long term consequences of denial and misinformation. Start with the Gina basics, and the rest becomes easier.

    Be well,
    cp

  6. My mom sent me a link to this article, as my husband has ADHD. I already own Gina’s book and used to belong to a couple of her online support groups. 🙂 The book is wonderful and I highly recommend it. I also recommend giving it to any therapists who might become involved in the process (or recommending that they buy it and read it).

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