When Adult ADHD Feels Like “Not Being Good Enough”

When Adult ADHD Feels Like "Not Being Good Enough"

What does it feel like to have Adult ADHD in a relationship that doesn’t “meet you halfway”? What does it feel like to have ADHD in a world that can even feel endlessly critical and devoid of empathy? A world where adult ADHD means not being good enough?

What does it feel like to be constantly admonished for what you’ve done wrong — but seldom praised for what you have worked so hard (sometimes five times as hard as your critics) to do right?  What does it feel like when it’s the people closest to you — a partner, a spouse, a parent — who constantly criticize you?

This powerful first-person essay should give you an idea. But first some background.

This is a long essay. You might find it unsettling or even “extreme”. You might not be able to personally relate. Still, please consider reading it. (And be sure to check the comments, where the writer provides an update.)

My goal in all my work is bridging the divide between “ADHD and non-ADHD” (the latter a term you’ll never catch me using). Creating, if you will, dual-empathy.

To see how common ADHD-related challenges can manifest even in dual-ADHD marriages,  please consider reading the essays from two women with late-diagnosis ADHD—each married to men with late-diagnosis ADHD:  You, Me, ADHD Book Club.

The Importance of Ranting

For many years, I’ve read thousands of e-mail “rants” or “vents” from the partners of adults with ADHD. They come via my free online discussion group (ADHD Partner)

A rant/vent is a post wherein the writer releases long-simmering frustration. Why do I encourage it? Two reasons:

  1. It’s an important step toward finding one’s voice and creating positive change.
  2. It’s better to vent these frustrations to the group than to their ADHD partners, who need all the post-diagnosis optimism they can get. 

Typically, the most tortured essays come from members who live with “in denial” mates. That is, adults who cannot or will not see the adverse impact of their ADHD symptoms on loved ones and themselves. The number seems to be on the upswing, perhaps due to the plethora of sites peddling ADHD gifts and ADHD superpowers.   This is catnip for people with poor self-esteem, low empathy, and high grandiosity.

Sometimes, ADHD symptoms can so entangle and limit the perspective of these adults that they blame everyone else around them for their problems.  If they are confident enough that this is true, they can be very convincing—and even intimidating.

As a result, their partners (not knowing that ADHD is afoot or what it really means) accept an unfair share of responsibility for the couple’s conflicts.  I wrote extensively about this phenomenon in my first book: Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Adult ADHD relationship


The Double-Sided Sword of Denial

Yet there exists a parallel phenomenon for some adults with ADHD: They endure people who remain “in denial” about ADHD and the sometimes-formidable challenges they are up against. In this way, the “denial” sword cuts both ways. So can an apparent lack of empathy.

Here’s the thing: I also facilitate a face-to-face group for adults with ADHD.  And, I receive many e-mails from adults who have ADHD. But I’ve not been privy to written rants from adults with ADHD (excluding those tortured souls who flame me as being a Pharma Shill or Whore, despite no pharma funding).

Perhaps the adults in our local group are simply polite. Perhaps their friends and loved ones are more enlightened about ADHD—not “in denial” and actively empathic on developing joint strategies.

Just possibly, though: They beat themselves up over their missteps so much. Hearing it from others just tosses one more justified critical voice on the heap. It’s been going on so long in their lives, perhaps they don’t even think to mention it.

A Visceral Kick to the Gut

Recently, I received this e-mail from a new acquaintance, L. Friesen. We met when she read some of my posts on an ADHD discussion forum and sent this message:

Months ago I wrote to you about wanting to send you something I was writing. I realized that I was having difficulty articulating what I felt needed to be said. It’s taken months of going back and forth with it and it’s evolved from where I first started.

It’s not all that polished and I apologise for that. [She uses British spelling.] I find few in the helping area that I truly respect and you write with a sensitivity that is often very touching.  I’m curious about your response to what I wrote.

Here is my response to Ms. Friesen:

A visceral kick to the gut.

I’ve always felt empathy for the challenges of adults with ADHD, including the pervasive misperceptions and myths about it, because I made a point to educate myself. But still, this essay’s raw and heartfelt emotion stayed with me for days. 

My gratitude goes to Ms. Friesen, for allowing me to share her powerful essay with you. I hope her words give voice to your personal experience—or help you to understand the people with ADHD in your life.

—Gina Pera

ADHD Partner perspective

On With My Vent In All Its Offensive Glory

By L. Friesen

I’ve observed that prefacing what you’re going to say with “I’m just venting” means you are declaring immunity from criticism for being irrational or unfair. You can be irresponsible about the casualties that read what you spew or be as bigoted as you want.

I’m invoking this “right” for myself.

You will simply have to put up with my impertinence because, as you already know, venting is not something allowed to those who are neurologically questionable. For us it is called “making excuses” or, gotta love this one, “being negative.”

I don’t care to be objective because it’s my life and my experience, which isn’t an objective experience. I’m out of control, I’m breaking the rules. This is my “oppositional defiance” and not a legitimate “vent.” Legitimacy is only for the normal. So on with my vent in all its offensive glory.

A Lifelong Sacrifice to Public Opinion

From my earliest years, I recall the disapproving voices.

“Little girls do not run up and down the block screaming.”

“Look at you, you got mud all over your dress!”

“What were you thinking?”

“What is wrong with you?!”

There was never an answer to these hurtful questions. My parents, injected with fears that they were badly permissive parents, left me no shelter from this storm of accusation. No one was coming to rescue me.

I felt like a sacrifice to public opinion.  I watched the people who loved me—more than anyone else in the world—berate, scold, and many times slap me for reasons I could not understand.  “With a spoiled child, here is what you do,” they were told. Or, “Just give me that child for a week and I’d fix her.”

I began to believe that I must be bad, that everything was my fault even if I couldn’t figure out what it was that I had done. Now I am told I care too much what others think and that I “have low self-esteem.” I don’t actually believe this.  It becomes impossible to manage a self-image that is bombarded with negative attributions, and I need to be ever vigilant in order that “others” do not penalize me for just being myself.

From the earliest memories of my life, my treatment hung upon the whims and mercies of an unmerciful other out there. Never knowing when the looks would come or why, the disapproval hung thickly as if I was followed by a flock of crows. A group of crows is called a “murder,” and perhaps in some ways, this is apt.

ADHD empathy

I Never “Grieved” For My Own Children

At least I was spared the indignity of having my parents “grieve” over me. Blessedly,  I never once grieved for my own children. I never felt I was put upon by all their energy or the homework we had to get through each night. They broke stuff and got into all sorts of things. They did try my patience on certain days. But each night, when they were asleep, I’d go into their room and see what a little angel I had in each of them.

There is a certain rage that wells up inside of me when I hear parents who are angry and resentful of their child—or those teens who are floundering desperately and get heaped with all sorts of lingo about consequences and contracts and threats of being thrown out to fend for themselves. I look at the grievances and the blame that gets heaped on those young shoulders and wonder how they will do well. The steady drumbeat of criticism has already done its damage.

I don’t think there’s anything more offensive to me than seeing the blame perpetuated onto another generation. When I read of the suffocating control that some parents wield,  in order to “keep their sanity,” I am filled with such that only one who’s been there can know. I was just a mom with wonderfully spirited children.

The Adult ADHD perspective

No Excuse for “Symptom Leakage”

Now, as an adult, should there be leaking of any symptoms, there will be room for interrogation, along with lots of “should” and recriminations.

To have ADHD means that you will be subject to the continuous and damning refrain: There is no excuse. I must look normal—and act normal—because there is no excuse otherwise. Oh, we’re told that it “can” be an explanation. But it’s just a well-worded and appropriately self-deprecating acknowledgment of culpability for our crimes.

What are these crimes? Apparently, refusing to take our designated place as unworthy of actually being excused. We must always be pardoned by the grace of those rising above our behavior and proclivities. As if they’re walking around with that condescending smile and token accommodations saying, “You’re welcome” to me all day long. The message also gets sent that we are ungrateful and callous for not saying thank-you for any allowance at all.

Yes, I know that mouthings are made here and there, a much rarer event than the monkish intonations of  “You must not use ADHD as an excuse.” In theory, I am absolved upon a rare “bad day”. But in practical terms, this is not the case. I can be called to account for any leakage. Inevitably to follow:  The disparagement or disapproval of my failure to utilize one “coping” device or another.

There really is no excuse for having ADHD. Messages to the contrary are a salve doled out so sparingly that usefulness is moot. My voice will be excluded because my reputation precedes me. I’m one of “those” who can’t be trusted, for we are ever under the critical and suspicious gaze. I have been positioned as someone of inferior reputation. Therefore, I must be lying, I must be making an excuse.

ADHD partner perspective

I Lack “Self-Awareness”—Oh Really

It’s true, though: After a lifetime of interrogations, you learn to watch what you say when those questions begin. You learn that it’s humiliating to hand someone the stick that they will beat you with. I will be dismissed with lines such as, “People with ADHD lack self-awareness.”

I have become very aware. It won’t do, however, to allow a voice that isn’t filled with anxiety and trepidation for your favour that today I performed okay. In short, any defense is labeled patronizingly as “defensiveness.”

When you’re losing ground in an argument, you can always push one of the buttons on the laundry list of my diagnosis. For example, the button self-doubt works wonders: my view of reality is skewed by my condition. The button of lacking self-awareness. It doesn’t do to point out that this lack of self-awareness cuts both ways, that you are no more aware of or understand the cues I send.

It is irrelevant to mention: I am inconvenienced by any number of rituals that slide so fast past your awareness—because you expect and demand that I be normal.

Your reasoning becomes harsher as your unchecked expectations escalate. Your blinded awareness of my state leads you to characterize your observations in the most hurtful ways. You say,  should I ask for consideration, you are forced to ‘”lower your standards.”

It’s a pointless exercise to wonder or dare to ask aloud: Why is it always me that needs to learn their verbal, emotional, physical language and to heed their default rules of conduct while also translating mine into theirs for their comfort?  Why is their communication style, their processing, their outputting the decided template—the one I can fill in with bits of me that are whitewashed and made more palatable for them?

The Adult ADHD perspective

You’ve Made a Twin of Me In Your Mind—the Normal Twin

You say I mesmerized you with my hyperfocus—a bit of magic dust I covered myself with to trap and enslave you. It wasn’t that I was actually a warm, funny, decent human being with any redeeming qualities. Now, with bitterness and rank self-pity, you complain that the real (inferior) me was concealed beneath a magic glow.

The resentment you express over my “deception” just adds to my disorientation. You’ve made a twin of me in your mind—my normal twin, the one you really want.

You measure me constantly against this figment-of-your-imagination twin and I am predestined to fall short. At some point, you will threaten to abandon and scorn me. Then, as the anxiety and the part of my brain that allows for super performance tries to stave off the loss, you watch and sighhh and commiserate that it’s just a manipulation to stave off the inevitable. I won’t truly change, you say ruefully. Because to truly change (to your standards, anyway) would require a level of perfection impossible for anyone.

ADHD hyperfocus

Why Is This “Ideal” Twin The Goal?

Ultimately,  you don’t want to participate in the give and take of my coping strategies. That requires your maintaining an uncomfortable level of vigilance while modifying your habitual ways of doing something. When you find this difficult and sometimes impossible, you throw at me that you do everything and then insist you can do no more—all the while insisting that I maintain this same level of effort for you.

Why is this ideal me (the one in your head) the goal?  Do I get to show you the lovely box I’ve constructed for you from my ideal template? Shall I walk you through the exact instructions you’ll need to follow in order to wedge yourself into it?

You will allow me to show you how much I care for you by throwing some “opportunities” my way to make me feel better. That is, to let me feel slightly less like I’m trying to keep a raft afloat—held together with duct tape as parasitic fishes poke microscopic holes in it. You’ll let me think my foundering is getting me closer to your realization: that I do in fact love you and want you in my life.

Oh, and you’re welcome.

Super-efforts only last a few weeks and you can’t understand why? They do for you as well. But then, you don’t have to use this part of your brain for normal performance as well. Many times you will leave, grieving for the hypothetical twin. I am left wondering if I can begin again. Maybe I can find someone who will care about me without my own loving feelings being rated according to performance-based system.

ADHD partner perspective

Dodging Social Landmines Is Exhausting

My social timing will never be perfect. I’ll stand out from the crowd, which will lead either to unsolicited and often unhelpful advice or they will back away slowly. I strain to contain the thoughts, to remember the hundreds of niceties, correct postures, correct lines of the conditioned script you call empathy and socially adaptive behaviour.

Anxiety will spike as my mind floods with potential social landmines, things you give no thought to. I know that, should I find myself feeling enjoyment, a laundry list of how I’ve socially failed and embarrassed you will soon follow. When I’m enjoying myself, the tight hold I must maintain on my body, my facial muscles and my thoughts loosen and “here there be dragons.”

As we finally leave this field of landmines, the exhaustion overwhelms me, leaving me little ability to fend off the recriminations over my moments of unchecked control. This will be followed by finishing the list that I must accomplish before my day is done. For, not to do so means having to listen to you say that I never do anything and you have to do everything. That I have just exhausted myself in “doing” for you so that your social needs will be met is swept aside as negligible. Those efforts are invisible to you, so they don’t count as doing.

ADHD empathy

Meanwhile, At Work: More Landmines

The next morning I go to work, where similar landmines await.  I’ll spend the next 8 hours jogging around those landmines. Should my attempts be too imperfect, the ax is waiting.

In fact, I see it coming now, when my differences reach a critical level and I begin to be treated with disdain. I move on, with you unaware. Nor can I tell you. I never do anything. Then you will wonder why I quit yet another job.

But how about you? Will you acknowledge several times each day that you have not lived up to the ideals imposed upon you by society. Or, will you make some pretense?

I look for support and see none around me. So I go online.  If not vilified, then I am certain to run into the overly cheerful, overly pumped up, positive voice of what appears to be a special ed teacher transitioning into adult practice.  These are the places where commentary and narratives of the non-ADHD partners share their pain, where:

  • Embarrassingly over-confident cheery tips for “handling” my  ADHD are doled out like recipes for “never fail” pastry.
  • Bigotry and ADHD-ist statements flow freely.
  • I dare not chime in my own experience because it might contradict the ongoing debasement, censure, and denouncements. I was personally told it’s a measure of their pain and that I have to understand.

The unspoken message: I am insensitive and blissfully unaware of my bull-in-a-china-shop ways. I need to “pay attention” so that I can learn just how destructive I am.

Your Pain Eclipses Mine

I damn myself the instant I confess my condition, do I not? How selfish I am to be so unaware of your pain and do nothing. It couldn’t be that—after a lifetime with no treatment and a lifetime of abuse—I am in no position to do so? This, along with a complete lack of acknowledgment that what I’ve faced is a condition at all. I don’t know how to help myself, much less help your pain. Your pain eclipses mine. You are the innocent victim of my ADHD. I am cast into the role of victimizer, which adds to a lifetime’s burden of guilt.

It couldn’t be that your comparing of me to “what I could be'” is more often the source of your pain than anything I do or do not do?

It’s very understandable, you’ll be told; “They” can make you crazy. You’ll toss out the occasional “I’m not perfect, either.” But you wield the weapon of our symptomology while your own lack of perfection remains concealed. Not very much of a level playing field, is it?

They extoll your virtues—what you put up with. poor dear. It’s chaos and madness—the terror of the roller coaster. For me to cry, to rage, to acknowledge what is being done and how my reputation is being shredded will only bring on yet another accusation of self-pity. I am evil by nature. Tis my nature, said the scorpion.

The Adult ADHD perspective

My Caring About Your Pain Is Not Credible

I actually care that you are in pain. I’d like to help, I’d like to share with you so that you could understand perhaps where you are mischaracterizing, where you can push for more, and how you can be more effective.

Unfortunately, I am not credible. That crazy ADHD brain is described as out of touch with reality—skewed.  Then there is the implied motive that I’m gaming you. Who would take advice from a doctor or lawyer whose view of reality is skewed? If I correct a misperception, I am being “defensive.”

There are so many methods to silence me, to discredit me, that I am left mute while the flow of your rage burns a psychological acid on my character. It would appear my role is to be one of acknowledger of how we people with ADHD run around and wreck people’s lives.

It’s all sewn up neatly, and  I am immobilized, a silent stone.  Speaking out brings chiding or censure; emotional reactions are forbidden. I must apologise and comply. After all, I need to be examined, treated, and cured. Emotional reactions reflect my bad brain. I must be grateful to be your affliction—and most of all to be polite and say “Thank you.”

To acknowledge shame is shameful; to acknowledge my hurt frightens you. I might “give in” and no longer march towards that destination I can never reach. That destination being to look and act and perform like an NT [neurotyical].

Everyone is taught to conceal weakness, to mask “the problem,” and soldier on. If I try and conceal mine, the accusation of lying or deception is forthcoming. You will never accept that I was giving my best performance because it wasn’t good enough.

When Adult ADHD Feels Like "Not Being Good Enough"

Adult ADHD Means Not Good Enough

I dare not mention it for I know what’s to come. That relentless urging to be better than I am, as I am clearly not good enough. “What could you have done differently?”, the kindly yet patronizing voice will ask.

It is not mine to express frustration or demand acceptance; otherwise, that lightly scolding tone will tell me I’m being negative. I learn that my reality and my experience and my nature is negative. To speak of the reality of it is to jeopardize a cultural need for everyone to be the same.

So I sneak in ways of soothing and resting myself for the next onslaught and I’m told that these methods are “not good enough.” These methods are in fact relieving and pleasurable. Naturally, that’s maladaptive. I must employ and perform an inexhaustible amount of compensatory strategies.

I must go to bed at night at a prescribed time so that I can lie awake and perform an inventory of my actions to satisfy any recrimination that I am not “taking care of myself,” making excuses, or lacking empathy for you.

If this doesn’t work, then medication is the answer. My partner now sees that all is right in the world as I behave closer to “normal.” I’ve become medicalized, a project that feels like a punishment, the demand to obediently take the medications despite the intolerable feeling in my body from the side effects. The demand to obediently follow the script of wellness and getting better. “I’m getting better! I’m doing better. I didn’t forget to do that thing you asked me to today.”

When Adult ADHD Feels Like "Not Being Good Enough"

“I Can’t See You Doing Anything”—How True Indeed

There are moments when the thinly veiled disgust washes over your face as you find my small triumph an embarrassment for its mundanity. It’s also glaring evidence that you live in blissful ignorance of the struggle you expect me to make look easy. You can then  say, “I can’t see you doing anything?” True indeed.

I need and want to develop strengths. I want to pursue goals and live in a way that allows me to be comfortable. Yet, in all this narrative, I feel oddly left out.

My experience of desiring to achieve is overshadowed by your fear that I don’t have the correct desires—or any desires at all. Your fears and demands create such anxiety in me that my head swirls.  The relentless herding towards a satisfactory goal leaves me on my personal “trail of tears”—exhausted, confused, and parts of me so undernourished that I become disoriented in my own life.

I have been battling for survival all my life. As society disallows any legitimate symptoms, I am now in a double bind.  The rhetoric is designed in such a way that, should I complain, I am just “buying into” a defeatist attitude. Or that the judgment is all in my head or that I lack empathy for those who are affected by my ADHD. It is expected of me that I will labour perpetually to become that which I will never be. To prove I’m normal.

Even though you can’t see all of the labours I put forth daily, I am labouring and it’s a heavy burden. What makes my burden unendurable are the needlessly ever-present insinuations and devaluations that like rain, weigh me down, often past the point of my endurance.

L. Friesen

More Stories on ADHD & Relationships

Myth # 2: ADHD Is An Excuse for Irresponsibility

I wish I’d Known Earlier about Adult ADHD

ADHD and Lacking Empathy: Was I Raising a Narcissist?

Breaking Out of ADHD Relationship Dysfunction — After Not Breaking a Fall

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—Gina Pera


131 thoughts on “When Adult ADHD Feels Like “Not Being Good Enough””

  1. Fifteen years ago I was so derogatory of ADHD – I echoed all of the common sentiment around ‘it’s not real, it’s just a pharmaceutical industry money spinner, it’s just badly behaved kids… etc. etc’

    Then, I started ACTUALLY reading about it.

    And I realised what it really is.

    And, god forbid, I realised that it explains and demystifies everything I’ve ever experienced and suffered from the age of 4.

    I am now on a (very long) waiting list for a diagnosis. This is the second try, after I ripped up the referral letter 10 years ago because I was too ashamed of the idea to follow through.

    Now, I am in trouble, yet again, at work and 95% of the issues raised by my manager are owing to an ADHD related issue and a stress-induced melt down.

    I am not putting my hands up to say I shouldn’t have sent ‘that’ email. I am not denying that during the upsetting teams meeting with a colleague – which unavoidably took place in an open plan office – I wasn’t loud and obnoxious. And I am sorry to the colleagues who had to endure my suffering for an hour (trust me, try 40 years of the same)

    But if I’d had an epileptic seizure or an asthma attack in the middle of the office, I’d have had half the office on it immediately, medical intervention and care, understanding. There would be no snide comments to my boss over messenger, asking her to have a word with me, no repercussions, I’d be given time off to regroup and recuperate.

    I still am very much of the opinion that it’s not an illness. And I am convinced we shouldn’t NEED medication. We are hunters in a farmers’ world. We would have been the tribe members that were scaring off predators, climbing to the tallest tree to get the best fruit and staying awake all night to keep our families safe.

    Wind the clock forward and we have to comply with certain standards and behaviour types that are completely incompatible with our brains and genetic make ups. It’s not an illness. It’s a neurodiversity. And the qualities that I, as a human, bring to the debate – innovation, creativity, courage, humour, loyalty… the list is endless, are real and valuable. But to channel those qualities takes so much energy. And for a third party, to elicit those qualities for the benefits they bring by having me on the team seems to be more trouble than it’s worth.

    I’ve spent the last two weeks intermittently bursting into tears and going into shut down about the meeting I have on Wednesday – I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with managers, colleagues and HR to know that it’s never pretty and always to my own detriment.

    I am devastated because, yet again, I am in a position where I am not even sure what I’m doing wrong half the time, but I am in trouble at work for being me. The only tangibles are where my ‘conduct’ has not matched what is expected. Worse still, I open up and disclose for the first time ever about my ADHD and it was like I’d not said anything. I still end up in a probation review for what I thought was my dream job, with my boss who has invited the Head of HR and Chief of Staff. I have a union representative to ensure it doesn’t just turn into a three on one attack.

    If there was ever a way to raise the anxiety of someone already suffering I can’t think of it right now.

    Thank you for this piece of writing that has reached into my brain, resonated clear as a bell and makes me feel less alien.

    1. Dear Debbie,

      It’s a powerful piece, and I’m glad it validated you.

      I’ll just add that the writer went on to pursue ADHD treatment and has a slightly different perspective now. That doesn’t negate what she was feeling then, but it does show that it might not be necessary to continuing existing in this painful state.

      The people that want you to believe that ADHD is just about “being a hunter in a farmer’s world” do not have your interests in mind. They also have NO basis in science, even if they sct like they do. They have their own attention-seeking and sometimes profit-making motivations. And, quite often, their own denial of their significant problems means they must deny ADHD for EVERYONE. I’ve seen the phenomenon for 25 years.

      ADHD is not an “illness” just as poor vision is not an illness. But both are problems that we no longer have to tolerate here in the 21st Century.

      We have science and nuance. And new possibilities.

      That means, though, that we have a responsibility to “do something” about what is considered a (mostly) highly treatable condition. It seems your belief system years ago has created nothing but suffering. Maybe time to update your beliefs. They are guaranteed to keep you stuck. I’ve seen it again and again.

      The world is the world. Humans are humans. There is no giant “neurotypical” convention that contrives how to make things hard for people with ADHD. In fact, many people with unrecognized ADHD make things hard for people with ADHD! Including the hustlers and frauds that want you to believe that you’re the victim of neurotypicals.

      I encourage you to get serious about your education around ADHD and treatment strategies.

      It seems you are in the UK, so treatment will NOT be as easy as it should be. But it’s surely possible. Many people do pull it off.

      I would not be passive about the evaluation. I would go in with notes ….. specifics about how ADHD has affected you from age 4 on. A list of short bullet points. Many people with ADHD seek “professional” help and are diagnosed with everything BUT ADHD.

      This blog is a wealth of valuable information. My courses can help take you to the finish line.

      I wish for you an easier life, where you can enjoy all your natural gifts.

      take care

  2. Men's Healthanon

    Thanks for finally talking about > When Adult ADHD Feels Like "Not Being Good Enough" < Liked it!

  3. Thank you for writing this.

    I’ll keep it short (I say, before writing paragraph upon paragraph). But this helped me realise that it’s OK to do things my way rather than the way society wants. I always knew this, sort of, but it wasn’t “acceptable” or “legitimate” in my head.

    I’m not really sure what this means for me in a practical sense yet, either. I’m about to quit my job actually, not for any horrid reason, but I just don’t want to work anymore and want to move to studying full time. In my brain, society says that because I am 30 I should have a job. My boss certainly thinks I should have the job she has provided for me. But actually, I don’t need a job right now. I don’t want a job. It’s getting in the way of how I want to run my life.

    *I’m not doing anything wrong by leaving.*

    It is not a moral deficit to be unemployed. It’s not even a moral deficit to be a NEET, which I will not be, because I will be studying to become a doctor. It should just come down to “Will this be good for you in the future?” and “Are you financially able?”.

    Since the answer is “yes”, and “yes”, becoming unemployed is morally neutral at worst, no matter what anyone happens to say.

    Also, this essay helped me realise that because of ADHD I will actually be unacceptable to the world no matter what I do. This seems very negative but it is actually positive. Because if there is no ability to “win”, then there is no need to “try” anymore. Living alone, I can be as weird and dysfunctional as I damn-well please, provided I at least do the basic things to take care of myself (which are a challenge on their own, mind you. How do people even eat and sleep?).

    The last two years, I’ve been on a self-improvement trainwreck. It took over my life. I could only think about improving or health or whatever because it was the only Morally Good (TM) thing to do. I’ve seen myself as a helpless wretch who’s hard to live with and hard to be around.

    Actually though, I wasn’t. My emotions normalised since then. My neuroticism is only produced in response to specific behaviours in other people. I introduced myself by warning people about my horrid personality. But it isn’t horrid. They like it. Even when there is a typhoon of emotions, they stand by me. It’s just that society told me my symptoms meant I am horrible wretch so many times, I started to actually believe it.

    Somehow, in a backwards sort of way, this essay made me feel like I could claim my personality back from the health improvement s***storm in my brain.

    Society will never approve of me. Instead of trying to achieve the impossible, perhaps instead I should try to become the Weirdest Doctor. Daresay I’d have a few people in close competition, in a field like medicine. In a strange way, if you wield enough Weird in just the right way, and you do your job very well, it seems to convert to awe and respect.

    And that, I think I can do.

    1. Hi Sudo,

      I’m glad you found this essay and that it spoke to you.

      It’s funny….”weird” has never bothered me. I’m probably pretty weird myself!

      To me, ADHD “treatment” isn’t about being weird/not weird. Though I definitely see how receiving “you’re so weird” feedback for years can make that seem the core issue.

      To me, ADHD treatment is about gaining better control of one’s life, to not be at the mercy of symptoms that get in the way of health, career, and interpersonal goals. For oneself, not everyone else.

      For example, can a “weird” doctor handle the workload, remember salient details in meetings, follow through when you need to, remember patient details, etc…? Weird is one thing, doing an important job poorly is another.

      Just my two cents.

      good luck

  4. I have spent all day and half of last night, hyper-focused on your video series and the many rabbit trails about ADHD. I am hopeful that people with ADHD, ADD or AD/HD (however correct to say it) will find their voice, but I am also conscience of the fact they are going to be competing against the millions of “other” voices out there. “Everyone has their problems, their hang ups, their issues”, and though this is true, nobody’s story is someone else’s. For those of us with ADHD, we are just as much entitled to sanity and healthy mental states as anyone on this planet, but it is not going to be attained without extensive effort.

    I don’t like to comment because I usually am reading old posts and my timing is terrible, but this writer’s pain is so familiar to me and I, like so many other readers, find comfort in knowing we are not alone.

    Note: I didn’t expect this to be this long, either, but it just started flowing out of me.

    A Brief Version of My Story:

    I was diagnosed at 36, I am close to 58 now. By that time, I had already had around 35 jobs (only fired from a couple) , did not complete technical school for law enforcement, (2 courses short and never earned my Assoc. degree), washed out of the U.S. Air Force and due to undiagnosed ADHD, even though I was wronged, I just thought I was the failure all my life), I did not complete truck driving school ( 2 weeks away, lost financing) I certified as a Emergency Medical Technician, but failed the state license exam and never went back, I tried going to regular college for Leadership and Organizational Studies but withdrew or did not complete from some core courses, ( I now had 90 credits but never went back to even finish my Assoc.)

    My professor told me that she had received more comments about me and my interruptions, than anything else on the student evaluations. it was during this time that I was suspected of having ADHD and did get the diagnosis.

    Before this, I got married too soon, we had 2 boys and then divorced before 10 years of marriage, just as I was diagnosed.
    After diagnosis, I received Social Security Disability on the first attempt but due to my ADHD, I lost it within two years. I was convinced that I was going to be one of the “experts” on ADHD, even having my doctor tell me “you know more about this ADHD stuff than I do”. Finally I had answers and I now knew why God allowed me to go through this, have all this talent everyone said I had and still fail, despite all my good intentions. I really believed my future was going to be great and I was going to help many people, especially Christians. However, here it is 20 plus years later, even after writing a book on the spiritual side of ADHD for Christians (on Kindle, but very few readers), I failed to progress, and continued in my destructive path and I thought I was intelligent enough to overcome this.

    Fast forward to today, I now have had over 70 jobs, ten or more businesses (no success and short lived), over 8 years of accumulated unemployment. I am a writer and I have written songs, over 50 deep thought poems, and hundreds of Christian articles on the pain associated with ADHD but I haven’t published them due to a “hidden wall I don’t understand” called ADHD.

    I married a Peruvian women who had 2 kids from a previous marriage after only 5 months, and we have been together for just over 20 years now. She is by all standards, controlling and narcisistic (not diagnosed but explains a lot) but I ignored or missed all the red flags and there were many. Obviously we have had good times, but she is one who compares me to her cousin, the lawyer, who she says “He was told he had ADHD but being from Peru, it was his parents discipline that “took” it out of him.” She says because I have ADHD (if it is a real thing?) then I should be able to be successful like him all I need to try harder.

    On top of this, whereas she is the financial stability, any issues she has is ignored because of her “sacrifice”. Not that I don’t appreciate it, as I don’t know where I would be without her and I do love her. I have unbelievable ADHD clutter and no real financial means ( I am waiting over 2 years on SSI again, but ironically, feel like a failure if I do get it.) Of course there is so much more to my story, but I am sure you get the picture!

    One of, if not the hardest parts of my ADHD journey is the spiritual side, trying to understand and have faith against all this life of turmoil. I hope I am not stepping over any boundaries here, and I am not going to shove belief down anyone’s throat. So far, all of the ADHD general communities I have found online have strict guidelines, so discussions about God is taboo and I understand why.
    Yet, This part of a persons life should be there sanctuary and when prayer, obedience, study and worship are linked with ADHD, there is a plethora of fallout, from self, from naysayers, holier than thou’s, and directly from the church. Even more disheartening is the stigma that ADHD is a “demon spirit” or something to just be prayed away. To many well-intended but mis-directed believers, ADHD is just a lack of faith and that prevalent mentality is hurting so many sincere Christians.

    I do believe that my ADHD has a Godly purpose and it is painful to find that I have not been able “fix” my life, or “gone through the fire, so I can lead others through”. I am hopeful that this attempt, with medications and therapy, will finally offer me that breakthrough I have been searching for.

    I truly have been blessed by your videos and what I have seen so far, It is a very busy world and for you to take time to personally answer these comments, shows your true heart and passion for the ADHD community. Thank you!

    1. Dear Brent,

      A sincere thank you for sharing your story here.

      I try to keep most posts here “evergreen” — not going out of date — so it’s never too late to join the conversation.

      I am so with you on the “ADHD is just a lack of faith” issue.

      When my first book came out, I exhibited at the SmartMarriage conference — to be held here in San Francisco that year. I did not realize that it is heavily “Christian-influenced” (whatever that means, and I am reluctant to speculate). I also did not know that. many of these “non-profits” were getting huge government grants (this was in 2008) to “promote marriage.”

      Trouble was, many of the outfits represented…I saw very little in the way of professional credentials. Most of it was “faith-based.”

      I’ll never forget one thirty-something man. He was kind of listing around. I displayed a vintage toy roller coaster (that’s the theme of my first book), so that caught his eye. I invited him to come over and check it out.

      We got to talking….he said, paraphrasing, “All my life, my pastors and church community have told me that my problems (….a hint of sex addiction, maybe, or porn) were due to my not praying hard enough.”

      I was shocked. It felt like the Middle Ages (or worse). I tried to assure him that no, this can be a biological influence and that he deserved better answers.

      I don’t know if he ever got them, but I’m glad you have. I’m just so sorry that it took so much time and suffering to get there.

      To me, it’s insane. We’ve had the science for decades now. How is it not “sinful” to withhold this information and treatment from people who deserve it?

      I wish you all the best and hope you visit the Roller Coaster again!

      take care,

  5. Today is a bad day, I came online to find some supportive, yet thinly vailed advice, after being told I need to think things through more. I type into the search bar ‘ adult adhd sick of feeling like I’m hopeless and useless’. I did not expect to find this tear jerker (ok I’m a sobbing mess), it broke me even more today.

    I can’t even share it with the one person who is supposed to at least pretend to understand, because I will be me feeling sorry for myself, or making some excuse for how I messed up again.

    Whilst this broke me today, I feel less alone. I can now have a deep (sobbing) breath, wipe away the tears, pick myself up and try again.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Dear Kate,

      I’m glad you found some catharsis here. But I hate how painful this is for you.

      For what it’s worth, there’s never been a better time to have ADHD. Even compared to when I started, in the late 1990s, after Adult ADHD had just been declared a valid diagnosis.

      I encourage you and the “one person” to consider taking part in my online training. Designed to warp-speed your learning curve and get you off the roller coaster and onto solid ground.

      take care!

    2. Sending deep, deep empathy and love.
      You’re not alone. I’m weeping, too.
      All of our amazing talents and huge capacity for allowing others to “be themselves” are not nearly as valued as making sure we know how much we screw up.

  6. Pingback: Others say it better than I can…. – Desperately Seeking Dopamine

  7. John Jourgan

    Huge thanks to L. Friesen and the site maintainers for sharing this. Like a few others I saw in the comments I wish I could share this with my partner, but it would be an attack even though though the intent is actually desperate plea for acceptance.

    Still, even if this isn’t something I could share with the person I want to share it most with, I am so grateful to feel a bit less deluded and alone. I probably will share this with my therapist though.

    1. This resonated so much with me. It felt like I was reading my own life and I cried bitterly during my first of many readings.

      I did share it with my partner out of desperation during a fight. Then we made up and I considered deleting the message but kept it in the end. All she said the next day was “why do you go to bed so late? You always used to go to bed at 9pm when we started dating. Now you want me to read more stuff about ADHD?” The fight was completely unrelated to my bedtime by the way. I doubt she’ll ever read this. She always says the reading material I share makes her feel burdened and that I expect her to change everything about herself. Meanwhile I am expected to dance to a very specific tune at all times or be vilified for symptom leakage.

    2. Hi Henri,

      I can sympathize with both of you.

      You might want to be accepted for who you are, or at least understood.

      Your partner might want more cooperation and answers to bewildering questions such as “why are you going to bed so late now, when you didn’t while we were dating?”

      The answer might be in both of you moving toward the middle. That is, toward solid education about ADHD and maybe medication treatment.

      As L. Friesen said in a comment to her essay, things have improved since she started treatment. That did not invalidate how she felt at the time. But it did indicate that improving her functioning improved her life.


    3. Sending love & empathy. I too have a partner that is unsupportive. Any of his imperfections are not acknowledged, as my issues are what is focused on. All my talent, efforts (I honestly can not remember the last time he gave a kudo or anything) are overshadowed by his pathological need to find what is wrong with me today (usually several times a day)
      I’m constantly on eggshells.
      It’s such a helpless lonely feeling.

  8. I feel like forwarding this personal account of ADHD to my estranged family so that they might finally get it, but I wont because I know they wouldn’t even bother reading it

    1. Hi David,

      Why not send it anyway, with no expectation? If it makes you feel better.

      Given the heritability of ADHD, maybe your family is in denial of their own challenges.

      I’m glad you found answers, despite them.

      take care,

    2. David, I feel similarly to you. I want to share this with my wife so she can maybe see how crippling my experience can be, but I know confidently that it will be taken as an attack. I am so deep into my own “lies” and lack of “self control” that if I try to look for help in a way that isn’t approved I will just push it over he edge and lose everyone. Great feeling huh?

    3. Hi Anonymous,

      I can only imagine how “great” the feeling is. 🙁

      And yes, I would not anticipate getting a positive reaction from sharing this post with her.

      If she has been suffering, too, from your ADHD-related challenges (however unintentionally on your part), she just might not be able to “open her ears” to empathizing with you.

      At least until her experience is validated. And maybe not even then. I can’t say.

      But I do know that when both partners have their experienced validated through education and peer support, both are more likely to be open to new strategies.

      I will soon be launching my online training. Be sure to subscribe to my blog here in order to be notified.

      It will be a game-changer.

      take care,

    4. Margot Mare Richards

      I feel the same way, feel like they will just be dismissive, its comforting to know others go through feel the same about how their family treat you. I find it overwhelming masking my anxiety and just stay inside and hide .

    5. P.S. Margo, it’s a painful way to live.

      As the author of the essay notes in the comments, her pursuing ADHD treatment has made things better for her.

      If you haven’t tried medication, I encourage you to learn more about it. And not rely on the average prescriber.


    6. Love to you David. I know what it feels like. I was always (and continue to be) the big screwup in our family. And continue to be so in my marriage.
      Blessings to you.

  9. And here I am, 46, reading my life, lived by others, a genetic tract speeding silently around the world in synchronized chaos, hidden within brains.

    It’s 1:38AM on a Friday night and I’m avoiding going home because I can’t face my wife and another headache-filled weekend of guilt and frustration because my ADHD is a burden, insurmountable, and her therapist says I am a neurotic and just need to take responsibility. The telemedicine from out of state.

    I now distrust therapy by telemedecine. She has ended therapy with our couples therapist. For her, there has not been enough progress, no return of the sweet feelings she was looking for. Dispirited. Disillusioned. She is bitter and tired.

    Growing up miserable, neglected, and traumatized herself, her flights of fancy into a horror show of negativity, divorce threats, feelings of hopelessness, and repudiation become four hour marathons draining my body and mind as I try to right a sinking ship using a broken paddle with a hole in the middle. She says she’s done enough.

    She works with stunning efficiency, around the house, picking up dirt, doing laundry, and snappily delivering lunch to myself and our young son. I arrive at work, frazzled, under-slept, and too enervated to sit down and eat what she has prepared. Too frazzled to work, often, for hours, unless convenient string of small emergencies and gratitude temporarily structure and sustain me. I push back with every ounce of self-control that the issue facing us is not my neuroticism or that I just need to take responsibility. As we do this dance she refuses to acknowledge her part. Maybe briefly, reluctantly, hours later.

    She is oddly insistent and confident to the point of arrogance. She is fine. She’s done the work. Now I’m the problem. The proof is there. She does her job well and keeps organized.

    Her childhood was worse than mine. So I must be weak. Neurotic. I am privately disgusted by that word. It can be used to deny every legitimate emotion of a sensitive person.

    Can anyone else imagine having to talk your emotions home in a bucket, and sort through which ones are legitimate, and which ones are overreactions? I lapse into hopeless silence myself. How can I possibly explain? Loud and insistent, I am re-traumatizing her. Annoyed but calmer, and I am indulging in uncontrolled ADHD symptology. Quiet, and I am denying the connection she desperately needs. Measured, and she says I sound forced, not credible. Begging, pleading, I debase myself and encourage the dysfunctional cold power wielding patterns she learned a a child.

    Nothing works and my emotional brain searches desperately for air. She agrees that we are a universe apart in our thinking but bitterly complains about our lack of intimacy, which is now nearly total.

    She wants to be held tenderly (who wouldn’t?) while she drops verbal bombs that scar for months but — dare I bring them up — become new fodder for conflict, searing complaints about my over-sensitivity, and what a burden that is to manage. Should I be silent? A social worker herself, she compulsively analyzes and evaluates my behaviors from a clinical perspective but laden with the heavy notes of a frustrated and exhausted wife, exacerbated by an admitted unwillingness to share her own feelings directly. Instead any talk of hurt feelings are met with talk of, again, separation. How I don’t understand her. It is always vague and I am an excessively precise person. She groans and complains.

    I try to white knuckle my way through requesting enough detail to understand what’s going on without sounding petulant. The perennial threat of separation, of giving up, is now arriving several times a week, almost daily. I am integrating it; I am learning the ways of trauma and drama. I contemplate mirroring the drama and letting the relationship burn down; knowing the tremendous disadvantage I would be, alone, in simply running a new life.

    I try to be fair minded and have healthy inner dialogue; but this is fruitless. Am I exaggerating or avoiding? Dialectic thought or any other intellectual technique comes up short. In my gut (right?) I feel — paralysis. I could ramble for pages. Writing comes easy. Action does not.

    Her diagnosis is unclear. She has received speculative diagnoses of borderline, PTSD, and depression. Nothing quite fits. It is a smorgasboard. Her father was terrible. Her mother was absent. She was alone. She doesn’t remember well. The ghost of her father follows her everywhere. The men in her family were useless, abusive. I feel like I am paying the price for my family’s misfortunes and hers.

    I run my own business. I have not processed payroll since early November. I just processed three but now my account is empty. I have 40 invoices to send out and 3 more payrolls to catch up. I have done none of this, despite having every opportunity. I could, and sabotage myself with thoughts about the futility, to work diligently towards supporting a life filled with so many other tightly wound layers of conflict that it will never be unpacked, that I am biding my time until it all falls apart. The scarring comments. The criticism. I’m too sensitive, and being told that again and again is a horror show of recursive stab wounds. I don’t want to go home.

    1. Dear Daniel,

      You have my enormous sympathies. I’m so sorry that this is your day-to-day life right now.

      I read every word, and I saw nothing about ADHD treatment.

      You might protest, “Can’t you see my ADHD is not the main problem here?”

      That might be true. But here’s the thing: You seem to be in a very difficult situation, one that requires the most from all your Executive Functions (planning, emotionally self-regulating, initiating, etc.).

      In fact, I was just writing about this in an online training module. That is, even though your spouse might have her own problems, for now, that just doesn’t matter. The best thing you can do is optimize your ADHD treatment.

      Forget the random therapists. Most of them don’t have a clue about ADHD — and can make things worse. I devote a chapter to “How The Wrong Therapy Is Worse Than No Therapy” in my first book (which also explains evidence-based therapy for ADHD): https://amzn.to/39iichT

      ADHD is largely not a therapy issue — at least in the beginning.

      Medication is the single most effective tool in the ADHD toolbox for many, many adults with ADHD. No, not everyone with ADHD “needs” medication. But it seems to me that you are a good candidate.

      Will it be easy to get right? No, unfortunately. It will take some vetting and questioning. I guide readers through the medication-optimization process in You MeADD. So it will be useful for that, too.

      FOR NOW, I do NOT recommend that you share the book with your spouse. You don’t need any more fuel thrown on your fire right now, imho.

      Instead, YOU read it. But start with the Success Strategies. You need optimism and hope and a Way Out of this pain.

      ADHD treatment offers you the most likely path.

      The more you become clear and higher-functioning (at work, etc.), the more clear you will be in what’s happening in your marriage.

      Perhaps you will see that it’s an untenable situation, and you make exit plans. Or, you begin to see your dysfunctional behaviors from a more functional (and empathic) vantage point. In other words, it might be that you are over-attributing problems to your wife’s past and under-attributing problems to your ADHD-related challenges.

      Do something about them, for yourself and potentially your marriage. That is the best I can tell you.

      Best of luck

    2. I wanted to reply to Gina’s comment below.

      First, it is reassuring and heartening that the author indeed reads these long, pained, ranty messages and responds fully. I’m very impressed.

      To fill out the rest of the story: I never suspected I had the condition, especially with most of the popular press being about children and the hyperactive side. (Ironically 20 years ago a speech pathologist intuitively suspected it after meeting me socially for an hour.)

      About two years ago, my wife insisted I find a personal therapist with an ADHD diagnosis as a strong possibility and it fit like a glove.

      I have been on medication for about that much time as well after making several adjustments. I meet my prescribing doctor every 3 months for a detailed interview.

      My therapist, who I meet bi-weekly, and I are constantly working on daily living techniques to help, from wake-up alarms, to calendaring, to delegating routine tasks delegation, to coping techniques.

      I have grimly accepted, for example, that there is a lot of similarity to addictive and alcoholic behavior, so you simply dispose of all the “booze” in the house, rather than white-knuckling one’s way through resisting temptation.

      I have tried to reduce my irritable responses or apologize afterwards now that they are coming into focus.

      It also lets me see my wife’s irritability and frustration more clearly when my own noise is not polluting the space. The point is taken, though, that self-care especially regarding the business is important no matter what happens.

      It’s making peace with the “no matter what happens” part that is part of that “wall of awful”.

      She already read some of the book and as you predicted it did not lead to good things because she focused on the negative spousal experiences and pursued them aggressively, and I was not ready to listen to a one-sided discussion of grievances about hurtful behavior from a spouse.

      I will take the book to work and get through it as a “distraction” from whatever work I am avoiding :-). That is good practical advice.

    3. Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for replying.

      Okay, so you’re already on a treatment path. And your therapist knows that practical strategies are part of the plan. Great.

      From my vantage point of 20 years, with thousands of adults with ADHD and/or their partners, parents, etc.. it’s pretty rare for medication to be done right for ADHD.

      In fact, the stories I hear on a daily basis might just curl your hair. 🙂

      So, I would not assume that your prescriber has optimized your medication. There are also issues around sleep, caffeine, diet, etc. — even citric acid consumption. Even this huge issue around the Concerta crappy generics, it’s only through reading my blog that some consumers discover this — and then they have to convince their MDs and the pharmacists.


      Our couple-therapy model includes practical interventions where couples can work on joint strategies — around to-do lists, planning for various things (vacations, retirement, etc.), completing projects, etc.. But those work much better when the spouses have declared a truce and put in good-faith efforts.

      I’m sorry your wife had that reaction. It’s just a book. 🙂 The big variable is the personality and perspective that a reader brings to it.

      Read the reviews on Amazon and you’ll find many 5-star reviews from adults with ADHD. Also, it’s important to remember that it was about the 3-4th book on Adult ADHD alone, not to mention relationships (only ADD & Intimacy came before). This blog was only the SECOND on Adult ADHD. Period. There was pretty much zip awareness back then. Hence, the many scenarios, to help people recognize.

      I always say that it takes enormous empathy and intelligence to understand ADHD—and how to help a person increase functioning. Those two qualities aren’t found over-abundantly in the world, imho.

      Through my longstanding support groups for the “partners of,” I can see that clearly.

      In my training, I emphasize the important of airing reactions to the diagnosis——but at first with one’s peers or a professional.

      I especially caution the “partners of” about laying into their ADHD partners with a litany of past grievances. Their ADHD partners are having to grapple with some shocking news and many emotions. They need space for that in a neutral, supportive setting. The partners also need to “vent” but that’s what their peers are for. After enough vetting, they start to come around and become willing to work on joint strategies.

      I know how much the folks in my local Adult ADHD appreciate and benefit from peer support. I hope that you can find that somewhere. Wish I had something to refer you to.

      take care,

    4. Thank you, thank you for such a poetic, beautiful essay on your experience.
      Yes, I recognized myself and it brought back many memories and sorrow.
      I continue the journey of battling the constant criticism and disappointment. No matter any wonderful things I do. There is always criticism.
      Love & peace to you.

  10. Then don’t get married/partnered. So simple really. If you know all this about yourself, then at least do unsuspecting folks the favor of not wasting their time and emotions. ADHD folks want it both ways. They want intense almost impossible understanding and consideration and also for the other person to have zero expectations or needs. You are living in a fantasy world where everyone is supposed to offer you things you can never return.

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t think it’s so simple, though. 🙂

      Here is the essay author’s comment on the post:

      As for being decent, I know in my past I wasn’t able to be decent to my partner.

      i had untreated adhd, postpartum depression, and two little kids.

      I did know I had adhd because I was one of the rare girls who were diagnosed as a child in the 60’s. Adhd in adults was not recognised at the time, and I had no idea I was depressed, I wasn’t sad, I just had no energy for anything and the life had just drained out of me. I look back and wish someone had told me i could get treatment. During that time, I strained the relationship I had with me ex in ways that were so unfair to him. He had to do his job and most of mine.

      I’m grateful there’s more help for people now. There’s no magic pill, you still have to put in the work, and find pieces of time just for you but I do believe people’s lives can be made better if we reach out for help.


    2. Sarah, I hope this is not what you’re trying to say, but it seems like you are saying that those of us with ADHD do not deserve to have relationships because we’re not very good at them. Happiness should not be reserved for the neurotypical people only. That’s really unfair and a way to make the world a less happy place. We still do our best, but sometimes, we need others to at least try to understand what it is we’re going through instead of constantly criticizing us.

    3. Laurel Bowman

      This is not a description of who the writer is. This is who the writer is seen as by their significant other. The answer is not to admit that you are defective and have no right to expect anyone to ever love you or even spend five minutes with you because you’re so disgusting. That is just how the writer’s SO makes them feel. The solution, frankly, is for the writer to ditch this person who actually hates them, and find someone who appreciates them. This is an abusive relationship and the writer is the victim, but like all abuse victims, the writer is being made to feel as if it is all their fault.

    4. Hi. It’s obvious that you’ve been through the incredible frustration of living with someone who struggles with ADHD.
      But, there are those of us that do not want our partners to hurt. We seek support and help, we work hard on peaceful communication and being aware of our partners frustration. I for one am constantly reading up on issues on both sides of the aisle. But there are days I just feel so hurt, sad and alone in my struggle. My husband is beginning to be aware. I have to be patient with him when he makes sarcastic remarks or hyper criticizes.
      Yes, this essay was a vent if you will, but it doesn’t demean your pain.
      And honestly if you were involved with someone who has ADHD and refuses to seek help and support, well then yeah I’d be majorly pissed off when I felt unheard.
      An essay of your experience could be helpful to “us” too.
      Sending Love & Peace

  11. I’m crying during your essay.
    Your ability to articulate the feelings within yourself to me are astounding.
    Thank you for allowing me to feel empathy towards myself.
    I’ve been described as non-empathic and I have recognized it within myself.

    1. Dear April,

      So glad you found L’s remarkable essay.

      It’s unfortunate that so often, “You are not empathic” is thrown around as an insult or attack.

      The more we learn about this highly variable human organ called the brain, the better off we all are.

      With ADHD-related difficulties around empathy, for example, we have research, including showing that stimulant medication can enhance one’s innate empathy, especially in terms of acting upon it. I wrote about it here: https://adhdrollercoaster.org/adhd-and-relationships/adhd-impaired-empathy-and-dopamine/

      take care,

  12. What I have read in a single breath with 200% concentration is what I have been trying to explain for my whole 35 year of life!!!

    I was diagnosed with adhd 3wks ago after my son was diagnosed.

    The hours of arguing just to get my point across has been exhausting and heart braking, without knowing I had adhd I found a way to live happy out of the peering judgementental eyes of society’s elite (normal) that came a a cost of self isolation! For as long as I can remember!

    From my experience I have no trouble working out how other people feel admittedly over analysing. Constantl knock back abuse violent relationships and yet I still have the ability to love hard and even through fighting the war of life still have a loving attitude some may say blind sighted and still believes people have the ability to love and care as hard as I still do. Instead of making us adhders do what you normal folk do why not work hand in hand with us and a utilise our super hero abilities to accomplish the things you normal folk could not even begin to understand what we can do! Try it is selfish negative adheres may just suprise you!

    And as for not trying to explain how we feel, in my case that’s all I spend my days trying to do it’s just normal folk can’t hear me because they are filled with angry emotions of unfairness and at Times inability to listen or ask the calm questions to male what we say understandable.

    Mindful writing for people with adhd comes from years of fighting for acceptance and then they finally accept who they are! Try hiding and fighting your natural urges and creativity of being who you are burning to be but can’t because you don’t act like every one else who behavior, interests, creative expression, or yearning to love as who you are isn’t framed.

    Y the majority as normal that my love takes real skill. How many ways can a person explain them selves or feelings. Behind why they walk over dirty laundry to fix a diy bedside cabinet lol. Would you keep explaining when no one and I mean no one listens ??? Would you explain yourself when you’ve spent the best part of your life just trying to be accepted for who you are!!??

    My son was expelled from school at 5 for being different, frustration of not being understood or failure to sit down at a desk as he’d rather stand, in the shameful society if you do not conform to what’s socially accepted you are shunned out of society as you are defected, growing increasingly angry and frustrated that you may exhibit unwanted agressive behaviours.

    I do not nor would I even dream of casting judgement on others in the way people do me. Lastly after all that nasty ruthless treatment I would still help the next person no matter what they seemed to be. From reading most messages it’s clear to see us adhers have an inhuman ability throughout all our adversity and trial we still over power that evilness with a burning desire to love and be loved.

    1. Love to you, Kelly. I agree that many of us ADHD survivors. Smile. Have an enormous capacity for empathy, acceptance and kindness.
      Blessings to you.

  13. sounds about right. always wondered why i’m supposedly the socially awkward one, when it seems that the social process itself is about 2 dozen scripted interactions lol. thanks for putting it all into words.

  14. My husband has ADHD and a lot of this really resonated. I can see when something bad happens, it spirals in his mind to everything about him that’s not good enough. If he has a bad day, he says he’s been struggling for weeks. It always seems like the negative has such a greater impact on him than the positive. It doesn’t match the facts and it’s torture to watch him struggle with it and not be able to help him. I don’t know what to say or how to help. He has lost a lot of jobs because of his ADHD. If he is really low he will start talking about how I should just leave him because he’s going to destroy me with his depression and misery. I’m never going to leave him. I love him so much, I can’t imagine life without him. I never let him get away with those comments because I want him to know it’s not even a thought that crosses my mind, because I know he’s afraid of that. He’s afraid he’ll push me away and he also kind of wants to so he can indulge the suicidal thoughts and maybe act on them. It’s getting worse, he’s moving in a direction of bipolar. I don’t know how to help him and I want to desperately.

    1. Hi Kath,

      It might not matter how much you tell him these things. His brain is telling him something else.

      You say he has ADHD but not if he is pursuing treatment.

      It sounds like he is really struggling, lost in his symptoms.

      I encourage you to read my first book, maybe together with him parts of it.

      Know that it doesn’t have to be this way, most likely.

      But improvement will not come from talking and support. It will come from taking ADHD seriously and getting him the help he deserves.


      Good luck!


    2. Hello Kath.
      I envy your husband a little bit. I am 42 years old, coming up on my 20th anniversary (maybe), and we have two young kids, 6 and 8. I have been treated for depression on and off for a decade and was diagnosed with adhd about a month ago. Bringing up adhd with my therapist was my wife’s idea. It fits all the problems that have plauged me for as long as I can remember.
      The reason I say I’m envious is because of your support and understanding you show your husband. I am getting the opposite. I am threatened with divorce regularly, despite her being well aware of my medical issues. She says she’s been understanding and patient for long enough. And in some regards I don’t blame her. I have been a terrible person to live with. I want to be so much better. I want to be lovable. It’s just so hard to be better and lovable when the person you care most about constantly reminds you of how awful and inadequate you have been. Being told that I pulled a bait and switch by being a good boyfriend/fiancé, and turning out to be a rubbish husband. I just wish she could understand that I’m trying. I wish it counted for something.

    3. Hi Monstercat,

      I totally understand what you mean.

      With the new diagnosis of ADHD — or at least deciding to take it seriously — you need optimism. And, when your partner is constantly tearing you and your motives down, it’s hard to sustain optimism.

      It’s hard to enough to get competent help for ADHD — and that’s the key to turning your ship around. Showing your wife that ADHD is real and what she viewed as willful behaviors are symptoms — that typically respond to treatment.

      So, that’s your first order of business, imho, whether you remain in the marriage or not.

      I encourage you to check out my new online training. I haven’t written the blog post yet. You don’t need to take this as a couple. Either partner will benefit — and typically, once one starts, the other will be pulled in.

      Your wife also needs acknowledgement and validation of what it’s been like for her. Once she gets that, she might be more open to working as a team.



    4. Hi. Hopefully he will be open to meds. Meds have helped me tremendously.
      Sending love.

    At this point, I am turning 59 this year, and I have experienced all of this and more. I can hide my conditions for a time which has allowed me to get a job (I’ve had over 30 short term), go to college (4, with no degree obtained) relationships (always ending up one-sided and abusive, physically and or verbally/emotionally) (“I never thought he would marry someone like you”)

    All I want is for it to end. I also have severe, chronic major depression as well as PTSD due to many traumas inflicted on me up to about 20 yrs old, including 8 times raped starting at 6th grade, beatings by too many ppl to count, leaving home and living on the streets at 15 with no friends and no protection.
    I was shy but by now I over talk and talk over ppl. I feel like crying all the time and have had suicidal tendencies tendencies since the age of 12. I’ve been to many therapists and I have a psychiatrist and have been on many diff medications.

    Ppl have no problem telling me what they think…what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you ever finish what you started? Look at your hair! You’re gaining weight, aren’t you? Why aren’t you listening to me? Pay attention!

    My mom is the same exact way. I don’t know how she raised 5 kids..well, she was terrible at it, marrying abusive men, to her and to us and moving us to a violent neighborhood with guns, pimps and drugs and me, a shy 10 yr old white girl that wouldn’t escape it for 11 years. That’s a lot of days and nights.

    After I left “the west side”, I met and married a guy who was verbally abusive, telling me how lucky I was that he accepted me, that no other man would have me. I left after 8 months. Second husband was so hypercritical, always hoping I’d suddenly become someone else. It was his mom who said, I never thought he would marry someone like you. He ended up finding someone more suitable, while we were still married and I eventually divorced him after 12 years. I felt so horrible I didn’t ask for anything, house, 401k, education funding, and I got nothing. I’ve been homeless, literally living outside, many times since then. And he is rich, living with his new wife in the house I picked out and molded.

    Everyone’s always saying they never met anyone “like me” and that I am “special” and that I shouldn’t change. Truth is, I don’t know what they mean by that. I don’t think I’m that different yet everyone inevitably makes comments to me, about me. Their uninvited assessment. And I have no friends. I never have any friends. Career women judge the most. I can see on their face, their disdain for me. I don’t wear makeup, or have fancy hairstyles. I don’t know how to buy or wear outfits. I bite my nails so they look junk.

    However, I am kind, trustworthy and honest to a fault. I am smart, (I had an assessment test. The guy said I am smarter than 90% of the people. I asked him why can’t I keep a job then? I’ve helped many ppl esp girls, esp street girls, and homeless ppl, I love all animals and creatures and the natural world. I’m intentionally a really good person. I have every reason to be a bad person but I choose to be kind bc the world is so horrible I think ppl should experience some kindness…to know it exists. But I have paid the consequences since it makes me a feeder mouse for anyone to try to take bites. I can’t wait for the day when I will be one with the earth and this hell can end.

    I’ve tried to go to school but I can’t complete anything. I’ve been able to get jobs, but not keep them…you seem so smart, but then you do this (waving a page of numbers that were incorrectly added or subtracted) How did this happen?? Uhhhh I don’t know.

    I went to a training session at a small pop-up adult school and as we were sitting around the table, after we each introduced ourselves, the leader started to talk, stopped, turned to me and said, I don’t feel you fit the qualities we’re looking for. They all stared as I had to get up and walk out. I don’t feel I said or did anything differently than anyone else. I do get embarrassed when I talk until I warm up, but I don’t know what other ppl see in me that’s so wrong.

    The best job I had, my dream job working with computers…all I had to do was be a receptionist for a few months. They tested me on computer skills to get the job and said they’ve never had anyone finish as much as I did, and in so little time. I was never so happy and excited about the future. The salary was great (to me 28k per year was a lot) For the life of me, when I went to forward a call, I never noticed which line it was 1, 2, or 3 and the guy goes madder and madder. He hated me and within a month they crushed me by letting me go. I wish I hadn’t, but I practically begged saying, just tell me what it is and I’ll change! His beautiful sophisticated perfect wife/business partner said, TWICE, It’s just your personality. It’s just your personality.

    Now I live with my boyfriend who acts like he barely can stand being in he same room with me half the time, I’m on disability getting $800 a month and my rent alone is $500. I am depressed as hell and only leave the apartment to shop for food or goodwill items. I have so much self-loathing and I’m so embarrassed for anyone to see how horrible I am, like I am a monster. Inside I know I’m a good person and all I want to do is help people yet I keep trying to live up to everyone’s most basic expectations and fall short. Just yesterday my bf looked at me and said, Look at you. Why would I want to be with you, with your hat and your gray hair and the way you act. Maybe it was a joke. Apparently everyone needs to feel superior to someone and I fill that need for them. But I felt so small. It surprises me to know he feels this way even after 13 years. Leave him right? And go where? And by myself so more people can abuse me and take advantage of me?

    Maybe this all sounds, like one therapist said: ” I’m wallowing in self-pity”. Well, whatever. Honestly, I just want to…not be here anymore. I don’t want to try, I don’t want to shop, I don’t want to meet the next person who will judge me out loud, I don’t want to see what’s behind the next corner.

    What I want is professional euthanasia, since I can’t even do that right, tho I’ve tried many times and failed. They do it for people dying of disease, why not for this?? Every day I suffer. I force out what I can to spend time. It’s a waste and I want out. There’s nothing more I want to do here and I just want out. Why does the world force you to stay? Why can’t they see that I need mercy? Why is suicide so frowned on to the point the actual word is banned in some online sites? Probably nobody will read this whole rambling comment but this is the other side of untreated ADHD, after years of being berated and judged and made to feel inadequate and the question remains, what is wrong with you?

    Don’t be judgmental to people who don’t fit the mold that society has crafted. They’ve already been told everything that’s wrong with them.

    1. Dear Frances,

      I’m filled with sadness at reading your account.

      I can only imagine what it is like, to have the best of intentions and to learn that they are somehow going awry in the world, in a way you don’t understand and don’t know how to fix.

      Coupled with neuroscience-ignorant people who compound that with poor empathy.

      Obviously, your life experiences will not suddenly go away if you treat what might be your ADHD symptoms. But do you have confidence that your prescribing psychiatrist….has a clue?

      I’d like to smack that therapist who said you were “wallowing in self-pity.” Too bad she lacked the skills and intelligence to help you—and instead, it seemed, blamed you.

      The public largely has no idea what a “crazy quilt” our “mental health system” is. A mashed together conglomeration of biases, outdated knowledge, preferences, tunnel vision, and excellent expertise. And you never know what you will get.

      Take care,

    2. Tiffany D'Antonio

      I feel like i just read something i wrote, although worded alot better n not skipped all around….i am amazed that someone else feels so much like i do and thinks the way i do. I truly am amazed. Thank you so much for sharing. I will show this to people to explain what i deal with, finally. Finally i have words that explain it exactly the way i need it to be heard. Seriously, thank you…. –

    3. @Frances
      Oh my gosh Frances!! I so feel for You!! I have tears streaming down my cheeks reading your comment… As I so relate!!!
      I never seem to make anything work out, and no matter how much I try, I just fail, fail, fail. And no matter how much this impairs me, and I have no money and can’t figure out a way how to help myself (no matter how much google searches I do), those at the Social Security Administration deem me to be NOT disabled… They say it’s all VOLITIONAL, if I WANTED TO, I can come on time, I can work, I can do whatever is necessary. Yup, I wish that was true. It’s disheartening to not be believed and understood.
      Even though I totally understand why you feel the way you do, it breaks my heart reading it… and I wish you didn’t feel like that. I wish you had a reason to live every day. I wish you had joy to wake up to every day.
      If you do ever read this, just know someone out there in the world is feeling for You… and even though that might not really change your life or circumstances, I’m hoping that my heart’s wishes for you somehow changes your life for the better miraculously…

      Hoping for brighter days, months and years for your Kind Soul ❤.

      With Love,
      Mandy ❤

    4. HI Mandy,

      I’m so sorry it’s been so difficult for you….ADHD is often called an “invisible” disability. Rather like chronic-fatigue, fibromyalgia, etc.

      The person “looks okay” and seems “with it.” So how can the person have a disabling illness?

      Since you’ve hit that wall at SSA, I encourage you to try your hardest to find treatment for your ADHD. Make that your only purpose.

      I know you say you have no money. Are there any mental-health clinics near you? I know a few people who have actually been treated by Medicaid.

      But it does take perseverance. If you have a buddy you can recruit to help you, please know that that is a perfectly reasonable strategy.

      Good luck!~

    5. I would also like euthanasia as I’m not able to watch TV, read a book, cook a meal, do a job, go for a walk etc.
      What is life without these little pleasures?

    6. Dear Hector,

      I sympathize with your feelings. Most people have no idea how frustrating, on a minute-by-minute basis, ADHD can be.

      Have you been able to try treatment at all? Medication can’t always perform miracles but it can help improve functioning in all those areas.

      I know it’s hard to feel hopeful, and then to also overcome ADHD-related challenges with initiation and motivation in finding a competent professional.

      Do you have someone who can work with you on this?

      take care and I’m so sorry,

  16. Hi Gina,

    Thank you so much for your reply! Lots to think about–you’re probably spot-on about almost every point. And indeed, I did not intend to disparage the book in any way. I bought it, yes impulsively, based on the insight and empathy of the introduction alone. But while I wasn’t looking for a bubble bath, I was hoping to let us flounder around in the shallow part of the pool first… instead, we got a good dunking in the deep end. To say the obvious: I think it unnerved him to think about how far down the bottom might be, and made me (more) worried that I’d end up drowning us both. But you’re right that we’d do best to not avoid those questions.

    1. Thanks for understanding that my intention is to help. Ego is not my trip. Service is.

      I think my favorite one-star review title is, “This book has a deficit and its author has a disorder.” 🙂

      (What’s hilarious about that review is that the man who wrote it was e-mailing me at the same time to ask for my help with his medications!)

      I never thought I’d win a popularity contest writing that book. In fact, my husband asked what the home security budget would be. 🙂

      I was countering the dominant “ADHD is a gift” propaganda of the go-go economy (late-1990s to 2008….the book was published in 2009). Few people remember how crazy it was. How very “gaslighting” to people who needed solid information and guidance.

      As a result, so many people were suffering needlessly. Especially those who felt, “I can’t have ADHD because I am not the life of the party and cannot start an airline!” 🙂

      At that time, it was the partners of adults with ADHD who seemed to be piecing the puzzle before their ADHD partners. That’s why I decided to direct the narrative to them — but I wanted it to be a primer on ADHD patterns and treatment strategies, too.

      I sit with all kinds of adults with ADHD every month for a face-to-face group (as you probably read). I see what happens when smoke gets blown up their skirts. It doesn’t end well, typically.

      Fortunately, the rest of the group is there to add balance so I don’t have to. 🙂

      The book came out just as the economy was imploding. People with ADHD found themselves on the bleeding edge. My plan to use the book as my “exit strategy” from so much pro bono work flopped. Instead, there was more need than ever.

      Imagine…back then, the only two people writing about Adult ADHD on the Internet were Jeff Siegel (Jeff’s ADD Mind, now offline) and me. Now….wow….it’s everywhere.

      With the revision of the book, I will try to ease folks in more gently. I won’t have to work so hard to counter the “gifts” message because more adults are onboard now.

      I’m sorry, though, that you felt dunked. I hope that some day you look back and say, “Yeah, he wasn’t right for me, anyway.”

      Sorry. Didn’t mean to write another book. I’m tired and brevity is eluding me.


  17. Thank you, L. Friesen… thank you for standing up with such force of vitality for y/our identity and experience. Your insights are so articulate and helpful.

    I am simultaneously working through both my own acceptance and comprehension of my ‘neurodivergent’ self while trying to convince the man I would like to marry that ADHD is a condition that exists and needs our mutual attention. At the same time, I’m trying to maintain some amount of optimism and hope on both our parts, and anyone who’s reading this website will know how difficult that can be. (To add to the challenge, we’re now trying to do this long-distance while I finish an MSc… wish us luck.)

    So I’ve been looking for written resources that present an even-handed, constructive, and positive but realistic approach to building relationships involving ADHD… ones that emphasize the dignity of both partners, and recognizes the adjustments of expectation and give-and-take that has to be done on both parts. (At this early stage of understanding, I hesitate to send my partner off into the wilds of the internet to forage for information about ADHD on his own for all the usual reasons: stigma, failure, denial and bile).

    Recently, in a scramble, I suggested we read Gina’s “Is it you, me or ADD?”, having only glanced through the introduction, but quickly back-tracked on it after going through the first chapters. (Unfortunately, he had already read them too, and I’m a little afraid the damage is done.) I understand the rhetorical and contextual reason why Gina included so many ‘horror’ stories in the beginning of the book: it’s written to serve as the fire brigade for couples whose houses are already up in flames. But for him I think it was deeply discouraging, while for me it felt like ‘a kick to the gut.’

    I just wish I could find another option out there aimed at couples who’d like to take preventative measures of understanding to nurture compassion and equality–an option that provides a balance of ADHD and their partner’s perspectives–an option that includes the perspective which L. Friesen has so courageously and unusually voiced. With the help of such a guide, maybe new couples (more and more of which now come into relationships with prior diagnosis of ADHD) could find ways forward which don’t involve so much stigma, shame, guilt and blame or end up requiring so much ‘venting’.

    For now I plan to compile excerpts from various sources that resonate, including this post (in the no-time I have while also writing my thesis.)

    Any suggestions would be welcome…

    1. Hi B,

      I’m sorry you both had a poor reaction to my book. I hate that you felt it as a “kick to the gut.”

      I wonder how far along you are on your ADHD treatment path. Maybe not so far?

      You know, it might not be my book. 🙂

      Many people, with and without ADHD, in severely stressed relationships or those with more “logistical” than emotional challenges, find much of use in the book. They take what applies to them and leave the rest. They find the third section, the Success Strategies, particularly helpful. If you couldn’t get that far without taking everything personally, maybe it’s time to work more on yourself before attempting a long-distance relationship and completing an advanced degree?

      I don’t say this as a defense. I say it as the truth based on knowing many newly diagnosed folks with ADHD over this 20 years.

      I could be wrong, but it sounds to me that what you’re wanting is something to sugar-coat potential problems. If that’s the case, you’ll find PLENTY out there. In fact, I find that the preponderance of information on ADHD and relationships online panders to people who want to believe it’s only a matter of “celebrating differences” or “try these five easy tips.” Whether they have ADHD or are in a relationship with someone who has ADHD.

      What kind of “damage” is done? Could it be that your boyfriend received validation of what he was experiencing in the relationship? Or, was he unable to learn with discernment, insofar as what has been happening with you two and what happens with other couples? If it “hit you in the gut,” maybe you’re not at that point, either? Perhaps it all hit too close to the bone?

      I’m not sure why you didn’t read the book first before giving it to your boyfriend. You said you were in a “scramble.” So, impulsivity? I usually recommend that adults with ADHD read it first, at least so you can be prepared.

      The fact that you call yourself “neurodivergent” makes me wonder if perhaps you are not taking your own diagnosis seriously. If you’re not, hypothetically, why should he?

      I don’t know what you mean by “even-handed.” ADHD symptoms can be a serious challenge, to the individual and to the intimate partner. If you are looking for an “it takes two to tango” approach that minimizes the potential effects of ADHD and makes both partners equally responsible for the relationship conflicts, well, just read any of 10,000 books on relationships — or couple therapy. 🙂

      I greatly admire L. Friesen’s essay but even she recently remarked: I hadn’t read this in years, and I expect my tone would be softer now, I guess as I grow older a lot of stuff now either just rolls off or I’ve become able to deal with it much easier.

      ADHD is a diagnosis for a reason: there is impairment, typically in several areas. That is not “neurodivergent.” (All human brains are “neurodivergent,” by the way; there are no two alike.) It is something to acknowledge and “own” for one’s own sake, not to mention for an intimate partner and the health of one’s relationship.

      “Hope and optimism” can come to naught if not backed up with a solid understanding of ADHD and effective strategies. I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is. I find it goes best when the other partner is fully educated about ADHD and willing to adopt cooperative ADHD-friendly strategies. I find it goes poorly when the person with ADHD expects all the compensating to come from the partner.

      Perhaps you would find our couple-therapy book useful. We focus on many practical strategies around cooperation, communication, and, most of all, learning solid information about ADHD and the evidence-based strategies shown to help.

      Good luck,

  18. Peter Hjemdahl

    “Who told you that you were not good enough?”. The simplicity of that question in that context and the way it resonates and reverberates for me who also heard it first late in life is powerful. It’s both an emotional implosion and explosion at the same time. I feel with you.
    For neurotypicals to get that, it takes empathetic capabilities that extends well beyond normal. And the understanding that “normal” and “good” are perhaps the most ‘relative’ of all words in the dictionary.

    I am also sad that your partner is trying to understand you looking through a microscope. You and I know that he will never understand how you work by looking at the pieces, no matter how much he can get them in focus.
    He needs ditch that microscope and put a wide-angle lens in front of him to see all of you, and all the pieces in context.

    All the best wishes


    1. Just a quick note…I have known several children with (untreated) ADHD whose parents have done nothing but be uncritical and supportive (and really not wanting to “medicate a child”). Teachers, too.

      But these kids…they knew…they knew that something was off. Even before diagnosis. They could tell from their interactions with other students, for example, how they couldn’t remember the rules of the games or follow them or couldn’t focus on conversations or remember important details about a good friend.

      It wasn’t only their self-esteem that was suffering, it was also their very sense of self. To form a solid sense of self, one that remembers our successes and our failures and can make sense of both, one needs a certain amount of prefrontal cortex functioning. Without it, the sense of self is fleeting, often dependent on the last interaction, the last success/failure, etc. Very tentative.

      So, in many ways, I think this “not good enough” starts early. The “negative feedback” can come simply from trying to make one’s way in the world, the effect of coming up against natural laws (actions have consequences, etc.). Even if one’s family is loving, kind, and accepting. (Some might even border on enabling.)

      Of course, acceptance on a basic level is always important. That’s a given. But these kids wanted to do better at all the things they were not doing well. They couldn’t understand why their intentions weren’t always evident in their actions. I believe it’s best to be honest with the child and to keep an open mind about medication. The earlier the better, if symptoms are severe enough. Because those early years can pack a wallop.


  19. I discovered your blog when I was reading your comments on Bottle of Lies.
    I was first diagnosed with Adult ADHD when I was 40 but the generic Ritalin made me so angry and agitated I decided to deal with it the way I had always dealt with it. As that therapist said: You have made remarkable adjustments to ADHD without even knowing that was what you were doing.
    We were hit head on by a hurricane 15 years ago. The turmoil send my perfect world into a mental abyss I went to see a Psychiatrist and therapist. The one question that the therapist asked that has stayed with me forever was: Who told you that you were not good enough?
    That question haunts me every day. And if I were honest, I would say that it is my partner of 50 years. Pretty sad.
    Three years ago I lost my hair as a result of a generic drug mess. I asked my GP if he might suggest a therapist just in case it was psychologically driven. As soon as I sat down and spoke for half an hour she said: Have you ever been told you have ADHD? Well, basically everyone who meets me can give that diagnosis.
    I went through the testing again and she called my GP (a rare event according to him) and said: Please, get her on medication, She tests out at three times the levels.
    I finished the MMPI long version in 43 minutes, and that included me checking my work and also leaving the room to get a new pencil.
    So now, at 67 I am on Vyvanse.
    My husband has been retired for 20 years. I hate being under a microscope every day. The microscope is one of investigation. I feel like I am never good enough.
    I was in a major University at the age of 16. I had been valedictorian etc.
    My diagnosis actually made things worse for me. Now that I know how intelligent I am, I am angry that I allowed the whole male dominated society that I grew up in to tell me that I would be a good stay at home mom and housewife. I raised two EXTREMELY competent and powerful adult children, but that meant that I lost me.
    I am sad for so many of us who find ourselves marginalized and treated as inferior.

    1. Dear Valli Girl,

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      I suspect that many (MANY) women with undiagnosed ADHD have been thwarted from larger aims in life. Never feeling good enough. Even when not directly told that by other people, there is often an internal sense that…something is off. So my friends tell me. Many women with ADHD also shun marriage and children, because they just don’t feel up to the task. Some of these women might have fulfilling jobs but they don’t think they can do both career and family/marriage. It truly does take a of executive functioning; I marvel at the women who do it well.

      For you to be a valedictorian and in university by the age of 16, and still not diagnosed until age 40….I find just astounding in this Modern Age. That one’s on the medical and therapeutic community, imho.

      I’m sure that therapist thought she was being kind and supportive by asking, “Who told you that you weren’t good enough”? If only she’d been able to combine that with useful therapy for late-diagnosis ADHD. Same for the one who said, “You have made remarkable adjustments to ADHD without evening know that was what you were doing.” That’s all great as far as it goes. But some therapists, in bending over backward to not “label” or “judge” or whatever, can mean people with ADHD are discouraged from getting the legitimate help they need — or help them get it. Thank goodness for the last therapist.

      I can’t imagine how it must feel to have one’s partner of 50 years constantly scrutinize and criticize. I do have some experience being partner to an adult with ADHD, and I can assure you, even the best of us can get bogged down in exhausting and confusion. I hope that your partner gets on board with education and that you two can develop collaborative strategies. Perhaps you and he can at least read the last chapter of my first book — all about sharing responsibilities equitably.

      I’m sorry the generic worked badly for you. That is one reason I beat the drum so loudly: Some people will not know the generic is the problem, so they will give up treatment altogether.

      best of luck to you,


  20. Grendel’s Mom

    Oh yes, I forgot “and don’t have flaming temper tantrums where they’re going to upset other people”. I figure I’m still allowed to scream at my computer, as long as no one else is around … 🙂

    1. Honestly, GM, with all the day-to-day frustrations that many people with ADHD endure, I can understand a “flaming temper tantrum now and then”. In fact, I might see it as necessary! 🙂

      I was chatting with one man at my local group, another person with late-diagnosis ADHD who has challenges arriving place on time. I asked him, “How many times do people say, ‘If you’d just leave earlier”? haha. He rolls his eyes….”you would not believe how many times.”

      I mean, how do you stay cool after that 150,000 suggestion? You’re a better man than I, Gunga Din! 🙂


  21. Grendel’s Mom

    Re: Hallowell, I did miss that, if you are referring to this incident? ( https://sudbury.wickedlocal.com/news/20150908/groping-case-against-sudbury-doctor-to-be-dismissed-after-probation ) I just did a little googling now. Is there something more recent?

    What I really think is that we all have a duty to be kind, considerate, compassionate, support our family and friends, do what we said we would do, be where we said we would be, when we said we would be there, and do the job we’re being paid for. Some of those things may be harder for some of us than others. If we find them hard we need to find the help we need, or the routines or the supports or whatever it is we need, to do those things. Because we still have that duty, and we can’t blame other people for wanting us to do those things, or for being upset with us when we don’t, or for not doing them for us. These things are our responsibility to do.

    1. I agree (though many would not!) that we all have a duty to be decent to each other.

      The trouble comes when someone has big trouble doing exactly that. I try to help those people—the ones who “mean well” but can seldom match intentions to actions, and both they and their loved ones suffer because of it.

    2. Lori Friesen

      You’re right Gina, it was Hallowell, I’d forgotten. I remember reading hallowell’s book when it first came out and the adults he used to illustrate Adult Adhd were so far from my own experience. These were successful working people, holding down impressive jobs. I felt I was too far gone to be helped and I didn’t seek help for another 15 years. In a way, Hallowell’s focus on the adhd achievers worked against me but I’ll take responsibility for giving up back then as well,

      As for being decent, I know in my past I wasn’t able to be decent to my partner. i had untreated adhd, postpartum depression, and two little kids. I did know I had adhd because I was one of the rare girls who were diagnosed as a child in the 60’s. Adhd in adults was not recognised at the time, and I had no idea I was depressed, I wasn’t sad, I just had no energy for anything and the life had just drained out of me. I look back and wish someone had told me i could get treatment. During that time, I strained the relationship I had with me ex in ways that were so unfair to him. He had to do his job and most of mine.

      I’m grateful there’s more help for people now. There’s no magic pill, you still have to put in the work, and find pieces of time just for you but I do believe people’s lives can be made better if we reach out for help.

  22. Grendel’s Mom

    That is interesting, both about Hallowell’s comment that people with ADHD frequently pair up with sadistic controlling spouses, Send your disagreement with it, because people with ADHD frequently see others as sadistic and controlling when actually they’re just at their wits’ end trying to figure out how to deal with the person with ADHD.( I am not sure what difference it makes that his clients are usually wealthy.)
    I am in an online closed group for women with ADHD, and something that persistently comes up, that really astonishes me, is how very often they are in despair because they are dealing with partners who are genuinely, by any measure, severely emotionally abusive.
    On the other hand, I am the product of a marriage in which the father has severe and undiagnosed ADHD, and he was the severely emotionally abusive one. I mean, truly awful.
    I think Hallowell’s point has some merit. I think people with ADHD are often attracted to people who will, I’m not quite sure how to put this, externalize for us the discipline which we are well aware we need, but find very hard to produce for ourselves. But some of those highly disciplined people are not particularly sympathetic to the struggles of people who find discipline difficult to manage, and they can become genuinely contemptuous of us. And then things do not go well. And once things have gone down that road they are not easy to retrieve.

    And some of them, of course, are actively looking for somebody to feel superior to and actively enjoyed making us feel worse about ourselves and so on, and don’t even want us to improve because then they wouldn’t be able to feel superior so they cut us off at the knees a lot. These people are jerks and should be avoided as soon as they are identified.

    But some people with ADHD are jerks too. I wonder if the difference is power. Hierarchy in relationships is very often gendered – in a heterosexual relationship the male very often is in the position of power and the woman is subordinate, even these days, and certainly when my parents got married in the 1950s. And whoever is in a position of power, whether it’s the one with ADHD or not, is the one who is in a position to be in a jerk if that’s what they want to be.

    Solution: try to have egalitarian relationships; be partners, not master/servant. Also, don’t marry a jerk.

    1. Hi again, Grendel’s Mom,

      Well said. No subset of humans has the lock on being abusive. 🙂 There are many reasons, neurobiologically and culturally, for abusive behaviors.

      I find it hard to say which comes first: power or an abusive “personality.” 🙂

      I can assure you, though: When neither partner knows that ADHD is afoot and symptoms are severe enough, even “normal and non-abusive” people can suffer such stress that it affects them neurophysiologically. Women, in particular, are vulnerable to serotonin loss via stress. As a direct result, many will experience a level of anger that is unprecedented in their lives. And I know exactly why. Living with and being directly affected by another person’s destructive behaviors can be absolutely crazy-making. Our very survival is at stake (also that of the children).

      Without a doubt, some of the women you encounter in the group are in emotionally abusive relationships. I know many such women who were drawn to “strong, in command” men—and lived to regret it. If they are able to work their way toward diagnosis, it is typically without their partner’s support and often it is counter to their wishes/dictates.

      Yet, I bet there are a few women whose objectivity and empathy is so compromised, they fail to see how their behavior is abusive, too, even if not intentionally abusive.

      Like you, I’ve seen this issue from many angles, and my take-home message is: There are no cookie-cutters.

      In my work with couples, I focus on exactly what you suggest: being partners in life, not designating one the personal assistant.

      Believe it or not, tons of psychiatrists and therapists recommend to their clients with ADHD: “Find an organized partner.” Never mind if the client is already married! Or, heaven forfend, the partner has ADHD, too! I find this simply passing the buck. They don’t know how to help these clients on a practical level, so they push it off on a partner. THEN, they blame that partner for being “sadistic and controlling.” It’s a no-win situation. For both partners.

      For every adult with ADHD who pairs up with a highly organized type, I know about 10 others who either cannot start a relationship or are in a very bad relationship with a person who is less functional than they are. Initially, such a relationship can serve as an ego boost. Their partner doesn’t criticize them (sometimes because they don’t even notice what is happening). In fact, I have seen quite a few dual-ADHD couples where one partner’s ADHD provides motivation for the other ADHD partner to stay on top of things. They know that no one will be picking up their slack.

      It’s adults in these dual-ADHD relationships that are most sympathetic to the “non-ADHD” partners of adults with ADHD. (BTW, that’s probably the only time I’ve used the term “non-ADHD partners” because I find it ridiculous. Defining someone by what they aren’t? Setting up this false dichotomy that people with ADHD are monolithic and so are their “non-ADHD” partners. Newsflash: people who are “non-ADHD” can also have big problems! 🙂

      Hallowell time and again has failed and probably still fails to acknowledge the complexity. He has relentlessly pandered to people with ADHD who are “in denial” of their own adverse effects on others. It does not typically serve them well. But they feel better in the moment when they hear, “No, you are the talented, gifted one, and your partner/boss is controlling and sadistic.” The smart folks I know with ADHD don’t fall for it.

      Why does it matter if his clients tended to be wealthy? (My understanding is that he hasn’t seen clients in many years.) Because that means you see only a subset of people with ADHD: those with intelligence, resources, functioning levels, and buffers (a staff, personal assistants, etc.) that allow them to be successful, at least in their jobs. (Though of course, some do inherit wealth.)

      At my longtime adult ADHD discussion group in Palo Alto, we draw all types, from people living in shelters to top engineers at the big-name tech companies. They all find common ground. 🙂

      Thanks for the conversation.


    1. And to know that it’s all upside down. That all there is are symtoms but not effects and results that will get you to the thing that is the prerequisite to get the explanation (read diagnosis) that will open your’s and other’s doors to alleviating what is now and preventing what will come. The hyperacitivity or the noactivityatall, the lack of emotional balance and the inability to adapt physically and mentally to any or all situations on demand was never explained to me. I always knew I was different. And at times I relish in the thought of being able to without effort being what so many seek to be. The ones with a touch of adhd. I am that, but where has that gotten me. How has my to-do lists and my strategies for becoming on of them inside their boxed reality helped me? Not one f bit. It is for me still all about feelings and not about abilities. Because what I don’t feel, I dont react to. I would’t even wake up if that were the case. Add to that that I feel (or at least perceive to feel) all and everything that is felt around me – especially about me. My biggest f obstacle in social situations and life as a whole maybe. Because for me that is draining. Everything else comes to a standstill when I pick up on even a glimmer of .. negativity? from others? Without irony something like that, only more pure and less confused by the realities of not being an animal, is also true about my cat. Maybe even more true, because that little thing feels me. That’s all he can do. And he just knows (feels). But he does not react other than show me that he feels. Maybe sometimes a sideswipe with his paw to rip my sock if the shrimps are not served timely enough and as expected. Kind of like a teen on the raging hormone ride (which I think is an analogy that could describe the lifelong existance of adhd if you think about the ‘I know I could do it but I don’t know if I can just because I have to.. thing) My cat i a philosophical creature. How he understands is maybe a philosophical question, but he at least can differentiate between feelings, something I am still working on.

    2. Sounds exhausting, Peter. As if life isn’t exhausting enough sometimes.

      re: detecting negativity. On the most basic level, that is what happens when the limbic system over-powers the prefrontal cortex.

      The prefrontal cortex doesn’t kick in to say, “Now wait a gosh darn minute…are you sure that response was negative?”

      The limbic system says, “SHUT UP! WHAT THE **** DO YOU KNOW ABOUT SURVIVAL!!” 🙂


  23. Grendel's Mom

    I was diagnosed in my late 50s, and had been married to a wonderful supportive spouse for many years by then. But I had some truly terrible relationships before I met him, including one long-lasting nightmare that sounds just like what L. Friesen is describing.

    Everything I did was wrong, and no matter how hard I tried it was never enough. There was always something I had forgotten, and that was always used to prove that I was a horrible selfish person who didn’t care about anyone but myself.

    Once I was diagnosed, I thought about emailing that ex-partner to say that I was sorry for all of the ways I had disappointed, failed, and hurt him, and it turned out that there was a neurological reason for all of it, and how sorry I was that my neurological issues had caused problems.

    But then I thought, no. For one thing, I had already apologized to him more than once.

    For another, I wouldn’t be writing to apologize: I would be writing to make one more attempt to make him see that I really wasn’t a horrible selfish inconsiderate self-absorbed spoiled brat who never cared about anyone but herself. But he was never going to accept that; I would just be making excuses, again.

    And for a third thing, I wasn’t the one who should be apologizing. HE should apologize to ME. He never did. I tried so hard to do what he wanted, and I never once got credit for it, and the criticism was constant. I woke up to it, I went to sleep to it; everything I did was wrong. I never once spoke to him that way.

    My spouse of many years has never once treated me that way. He is dealing with the same person as my ex-partner was. I have the same failings I always did. But to my spouse, I’m a fine, loving, creative, kind-hearted, interesting, responsible person who’s devoted to him and the kids, and who frequently doesn’t notice the mountain of dishes, but never mind, he’ll do them, it’s not a big deal. And I’ll respond by folding the laundry, and he’ll thank me.

    What is the difference? The difference is that my ex-partner was an abusive jerk who really enjoyed having someone around that he could criticize and feel superior to. He really enjoyed making me feel lousy about myself, and he did it every day; it made him feel good. My husband doesn’t need to make himself feel good by putting other people down. He notices my strengths, and thinks my weaknesses are unimportant.

    In the end your partner is on your team, or they aren’t. If they’re on your team, problems can be dealt with, and work-arounds found. If they criticize you 24/7 and think everything is your fault, they are not on your team, and THAT is the problem. It is better to live alone than live with an enemy in your own bed.

    And as for my many years ex-partner? The real reason not to write to him is, why should I care what he thinks? He was not kind to me.

    1. Thank you, Grendel’s Mom, for sharing your story.

      I’m glad you two found each other.


    2. Grendel’s Mom,

      You make a really good point. Some people are abusive, it’s part of who they are. I can recall reading “somewhere” that people with Adhd will often pair with someone overly critical thinking that regimental form will assist them, and the overly critical person want’s/needs someone to ‘fix’. I don’t know if that’s true but I have considered it while reading spousal forums.

      I hadn’t read this in years, and I expect my tone would be softer now, I guess as I grow older a lot of stuff now either just rolls off or I’ve become able to deal with it much easier. I do still encourage people with Adhd to set boundaries in their relationship that will assist them in managing their Adhd. One of mine, for instance, is that I won’t commit to doing an errand on the way home from work. For me, it’s the worst time, and almost guaranteed to fail. I am feeling so relieved at being finished work, the tension is pouring off me and I’m sliding in to a much needed zone out. Don’t get me wrong, my partner can ask, but if I forget, it’s not something I’m willing to take any crap for. I will even happily run right back out and get it, however, I expect a good attitude about it. It has worked really well for me to have these little concessions respected.

      Gina, I’m glad if this has helped anyone. I was delightfully surprised to hear from you that it would be run again. All the very best to you.

    3. Hi L. –

      Thanks so much for re-visiting.

      I find that you have a remarkable ability to articulate these issues and thus to create empathy—a “way in” to understanding.

      For example, in 20 years of reading, attending conferences, leading support groups, etc.., I’ve never run across such a clear explanation of why “picking up something on the way home from work” can be so difficult.

      I do know it is a point of contention in many relationships, though. From the “partner of,” it tends to be seen as anything from benign forgetfulness to a less benign “selfishness.”

      Instead of saying, “No, I cannot help you with that,” you offer an alternative: “I will go back out and get the thing.” I know that would go over so much better for many of the partners because it acknowledges the desire to help.

      Of course it’s not always possible to “go back out”; the distance or timing might make it unfeasible.

      But the issue is PROBLEM-SOLVING. That is my big thing: troubleshoot the problem with a bit of dispassion.

      Thanks, L.


    4. P.S. As far as where you read that “people with ADHD will often pair with someone overly critical thinking that regimental form will assist them,” I think I know where.

      For almost two decades, Ned Hallowell has been repeating the same trope: “The biggest mistake people with ADHD make — and they make it a lot — is marrying people and working for bosses who are sadistic and controlling.”

      Wow. The first time I heard that in a conference hall, I was astounded. Perhaps his own (untreated) ADHD meant he had little objectivity. Perhaps he took at face value the reports from his (almost exclusively wealthy) clients.

      The fact is, for some people with ADHD-related challenges, they view every outside force as out to “control” them. They scoff at “society’s rules” (which are often simply natural laws).

      I remember one 60-something man coming to my local group, so relieved at finally being diagnosed and starting medication treatment, seeing an entirely new life opening up. He was so happy and excited! The thing that cracked me up was when he said:

      “And get this! After 30 years of marriage, I finally realize that my wife is not the nasty *itch I thought she was!”

      So, yes, some “sadistic and controlling” people do exist and I am sure they prey on the meeker adults with ADHD. I have seen this more with women who have ADHD, being with very controlling men.

      But nothing is cookie-cutter with ADHD. I also see some adults with ADHD who are “sadistic and controlling” of their partners as a way of trying to keep their own internal chaos at bay.


  24. Betty Bennett

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this article. The issues I have spent a lifetime dealing with are so clearly articulated. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Betty. I’ll be sure that Ms. Friesen sees it.

      I found her essay masterful.


  25. What a brilliant post. It has made me question so much of how I have unknowingly treated my wife. It is such a delicate balance, to try and love someone just as they are, let them grow how they can, and yet to call them to a higher place at the same time. I have to believe that those three things are mutually exclusive.

    Thank you again for the honesty and the time it took to do this post.

    1. Hi Jason,

      Yes, it’s so easy to get caught up in “reaction” mode—often quite understandably.

      The training I am developing will help couples to develop cooperative strategies that ease stress and frustration for both partners.

      So many couples are twisting in the wind — and so unnecessarily.

      Stay tuned!

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sure Ms. Friesen will appreciate it.


    1. HI Elizabeth,

      I’m sorry that you can relate but glad that at least this post helped to validate and let you know you aren’t alone.


  26. From “the neighborhood over,” also known as “high-functioning autism,” I would like to issue a cavalcade of resounding– make that deafening– applause. Complete with wolf whistles, cat calls, shrieking, cheering, hats tossed in the air, and one small-statured woman bowing down before you.

    DEAD ON!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am bookmarking this for my ADHD husband and mother-in-law.

    By the Grace of God (and all the hyperfocused, perseverative force I can bring to bear), may this never be my ADHD son’s story as well.

    1. Make that, “may this never be my beautiful, exuberant, inquisitive, sensitive, tender, delightful ADHD son’s story as well, or that of my incisive, willful, brilliant, bold, exuberant, inquisitive, tough, potentially ADHD daughters.”

    2. Not sure there’s room for that new title, MC. 😉 But I catch your drift.

      Early diagnosis can make a world of difference!


    3. She did a smashing job, didn’t she? So glad you found validation (?) here.


  27. Yes; thank you, Dylan, for your input. It definitely sounds like you know how I feel. It’s a difficult and scary place to be in. I know enough about myself to believe that I AM a good person and that I care a whole lot for other people. However, I have realized the disparity between my actions and my thoughts/feelings. I have hurt many people’s feelings or inconvenienced them to the point of giving up on our friendships. I have been in denial for so long that I had anything to do with their “abrupt” standoffish-ness and dramatically minimized or discontinued interaction. I have problems with facing issues realistically and objectively, and sometimes knowing that just makes me question myself even more. :S

    My husband is an INTJ, and I’m an ENFP, if that means anything to readers and Gina. We both agree that these personality types accurately describe us. Looking at the description of ENFP’s after my ADD diagnosis, I have to wonder if this is describing me/my personality or my ADD? Does ADD have an influence on a person’s personality as well as their symptoms in the “spectrum”? Or is it the other way around?

    To update you wonderful and sympathetic readers, I am still on the look out for a coach. However, the fees may hinder my selection or eliminate coaching as a possibility all together. I have just seen both my psychologist and psychiatrist last week and have follow up appointments for them already booked. My psychiatrist has increased my Adderall RX dosage to 40 mg. There doesn’t seem to be a significant difference from 30 mg, but only time will tell.

    My husband and I are unfortunately still not doing well. I have just been informed that I need to shape up for the holidays and make nice OR this will be the last Xmas we spend together… :'( I know that there are two of us in this relationship, but I’m apparently the one that isn’t doing my part. -____-

    1. HI Erin,

      When it comes to Meyers-Briggs, I find it mostly unhelpful when there is an unrecognized issue such as ADHD. Not only is the M-B not considered scientific, but it can give people the feeling that their acronym (INTJ, ENFP, etc.) is fixed, unchangeable. I think that is harmful.

      As for ADD influencing personality or vice-versa, I’d say there is probably some of both when it comes to late-diagnosis ADHD. After a few decades, it can be hard to separate the issues. Less so with children who are diagnosed young, because they don’t develop the “emotional baggage” that often comes with late-diagnosis ADHD (the poor coping strategies, the alternative explanations such as lazy, etc.)

      As for a coach, did you check with any of the ADHD coaching organizations? I think new coaches have to put in a certain number of hours and the often do this without charge. Worth a shot, anyway!

  28. Hey Erin, thank you for your openness.

    If your husband would take five minutes, just five minutes to read about executive functions of the brain, he would easily know that ADD is SIGNIFICANTLY more impairing than depression. Dr. Russell Barkley has stated it is the third most pervasive mental health disorder, leaving it behind the psychotic disorders: Bipolar and Schizophrenia.

    At it’s core, ADD is a problem of impaired executive functions, which include: poor working memory, problems activitating to a task, difficulty regulating emotions, etc.

    People with ADD have the working memory of someone who is older. You know the grandparent that can’t remember why they entered the living room for something. Does this sound familiar? It does for me. This has been what I’ve dealt with my entire life.

    ADD is a performance disorder! It affects everything someone does. That’s why people with ADD have money problems, will get divorced more often, and are more likely to get fired from a job. It affects what you do.

    Glazing over your post, you’ve mentioned a lot of things you struggle with.

    “And yet, I cannot handle common tasks and issues that should be simple to learn or are common sense because I believe ADD is debilitating, although ADD isn’t really a big deal.”

    Erin, remember something. It takes TWO people to cause dysfunction in a relationship. TWO.

    ADDers tend to take on so much blame while NTs pour it on as they sit back as mere victims. People with low self-esteem love to project this onto others. We don’t know any difference, because it is what we have experienced our entire lives. Consequently, we make easy scapegoats for problems.

    My ex-wife blamed the downfall of our marriage on me. I believed her, and it really hurt. I loved her so much. There’s something really interesting about this story though.

    About a year after our divorce, she was remarried. She wanted to have children and was a born-again Christian, which without a doubt sped up the marriage process. About a year after I learned of her new marriage, I was at work one day when a coworker, who went to the same church as my ex, told me something that made my eyelids open wide.

    She had been divorced again.

    Take care.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Dylan.

      I’d just like to point out that we create unnecessary misery for ourselves if we put any group of people into a bucket — people with ADHD or “NTs”. Whatever those are. 😉

      In 10 years, I’ve met thousands of people with ADHD and their partners. And the only commonalities I’ve seen are that the people with ADHD are somewhere on the ADHD spectrum and their partners are reacting to the symptoms of their partners with ADHD. After that, all bets are off!

      We’re all individuals, with many aspects to our personality.

      Oh, and by the way, many people are in dual-ADHD relationships! And even they have unique challenges, given the nature of their distinct challenges with ADHD and the rest of their personalities.

  29. Hello Gina Pera and L.Friesen,

    Thank you both so much for taking an interest in my comment. Although my diagnosis is only a few months old, I have suspected/believed that I had ADD for at least 6 years. Looking back on my childhood, all the signs were there for inattentiveness, but like many ADD girls, I wasn’t hyperactive and did well in school.

    I have been prescribed 30 mg Adderall RX and 20 mg Citalopram (anxiety from Adjustment Disorder). I believe that there is a noticeable effect from the Adderall, but I still lack the confidence and nerve to get over my fears and take charge. I haven’t really been much of a take charge person — EVER.

    My husband is a very supportive and compassionate person. I did not intend to However, as Gina had suggested, he has become totally warn out and extremely frustrated with me. He acknowledges that ADD may be the cause of my inattentiveness but does not believe that it affects other aspects of my behavior, thinking, and life. He asserted that clinical depression is more difficult to live with because it affects everything he does, and he has been able to deal with it and live a normal life. And yet, I cannot handle common tasks and issues that should be simple to learn or are common sense because I believe ADD is debilitating, although ADD isn’t really a big deal. I understand that depression is a difficult mental and personal burden to cope with, but I do not agree with his assessment of ADD or its affect on me. (I did not mean to sound so dismissive of his own mental health issues in my own comment. That was a poor communication on my part.) I tried to voice my disagreement with this last night but was countered with the fact that he was not interested in arguing over it, just my improvement.

    There are times when I don’t understand why he says certain things to me. I do not take criticism very well. I tend to see it as negative attacks against me. My husband (AC) is very objective and direct when he talks. He tells me how he feels and what he observes with an open mind. However, I have perpetuated such a volatile and disappointing existence for so long, he has no patience with me. I get so tense and freaked out whenever I can tell he’s getting annoyed or upset that I get stuck in an infinite thought-loop in my head where I agonize over the entire situation. “Hmm…AC’s being quite. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe what I’m saying isn’t interesting. I’ll change the subject. What should I talk about? Work! Work? No…I don’t want to bring up that right now. How abouuuuut… Oh no! I haven’t been talking this whole time! Crap! He’s looking at me, and he doesn’t look happy. Oh no…what did I say? What did I do?” …and so on…

    I really love AC, and I know I’ve been the cause of all these problems and have been perpetuating them. It just really hurts my feelings when he doesn’t believe what I say. I have really messed everything up because I can’t remember conversations we’ve had or promises I’d made to change until we have the same conversation all over again. I feel like a bad person for treating AC so badly. He has often said that my treatment of him is emotional abuse. I’m not sure what actually happens when my chest tightens and burns when I hear this, but my imaginative, over-dramatic self would believe that it was my heart breaking. (Corny, I know. But that’s how I felt.)

    My diagnosis gave me some temporary comfort knowing that I ACTUALLY HAVE a neurological reason for behaving this way, that my actions were not spurred by malice, and I’m not lying through my teeth to avoid responsibility. I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether AC believes me now. Since I received Gina’s initial response, I have done a lot of thinking, and she was right. I really need to buckle down. Regardless if AC believes me, I will still have to change to salvage what I can of our relationship. I try to focus on the positive things that could come from taking more chances and trying new strategies (not walking on eggshells, making AC happy, having a family, etc) and not focusing on my feelings of impending doom, how stupid I sound, or countless other obsessive things in thought-loop.

    Anyhow…I hope that clarifies the gaps I left out. I’m happy to continue the conversation if need be. I was excited to get such a quick response or even have anyone take notice of my comment, let alone the author of the book I just read! 😉 Again… thanks for listening. I cannot express enough how much I appreciate the both of you for your time, advice, insight, and compassion. And to whomever else that may be reading this, thank you.

    1. Hi Erin,

      Thanks so much for filling out the details. It’s so hard to give thoughtful replies without a little better understanding of the particular situation.

      To me, your words indicate a capacity for reflection and deliberation, and that paints a picture far different than that of someone who is too caught up in the whirl to notice what’s been happening over the years.

      Technically speaking, ADHD is considered the most impairing psychiatric outpatient condition, more impairing than depression or anxiety. So, even though it’s never helpful to wage a “who suffers more” contest, there will always be ways in which some people with depression can function at a higher level than some people with ADHD. Someone with depression (and no ADHD) can still be great at “keeping the trains running on time.” In fact, in Abraham Lincoln’s time, depression was seen as a “gift” — the sign of a serious, deliberative, thoughtful person with a clear grasp on reality. Unless they’re depressed to the point of being laid flat, depressed people can often function well on some level, at least when it comes to practical, day-to-day things.

      To illustrate the point, imagine the depressed person as one who is a little too attached to reality, to outcome, to consequences. And imagine the person with ADHD as a little too DEtached from reality, outcome, and consequences.

      Stress can deplete a depressed person’s “serotonin supplies” even farther, and so can add a magnifying glass to problems and obstacles. They can become more pessimistic and see little reason for optimism anywhere.

      In women, they might also develop physical disorders such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, migraines, etc. Men seem less vulnerable to developing these physical disorders but their depression can also take on a different flavor than depression in women; that is, they can be more irritable and angry, more shut-down.

      Are they aware of these changes? Sometimes. But sometimes depressed people are truly convinced that their situation really is hopeless and see no reason to nurture optimism. There is that passage in my book from psychologist David Wexler, where he was depressed (but didn’t know it) and kept fault-finding in his wife, convinced that she was the problem rather than the physical injury that was keeping him bedridden.

      All this is my long way of saying, your husband’s perceptions could truly be impaired by his depression. He could be more pessimistic and less supportive than the situation merits. Then again, if he is not well-read, if he has little education in the sciences, ADHD can be a hard concept to grasp — especially with all the nonsense floating around on the Internet.

      I’d go back to my original point: The more you can focus on your own treatment and achieving some progress in dealing with your ADHD symptoms, the more you will give him undeniable proof that ADHD exists and that there is hope for change. It sounds like you’re unsure if you’re on the right treatment path. I would encourage you to re-read my chapter on medication, specifically the medical protocol. It is just not enough for a doc to hand you Adderall or any other stimulant; there needs to be a thoughtful procedure and, where possible, some psychoeducation, to help you transition from undiagnosed ADHD to late-diagnosis ADHD, with its common “emotional baggage.” Perhaps your husband’s treatment could also be optimized.

      In the meantime, I feel your pain. A friend of mine, diagnosed in the last year, has been working so hard on treatment, new strategies, etc. and has made such strides. But her partner? Well, she refuses to give an inch, refuses any encouragement or even interest in ADHD. I find it infuriating. This couple has two very young children and both work full time as teachers, with summers off. So maybe that’s part of it — lots of demands on her partner’s cognitive skills, and she just can’t afford extra time to learn about ADHD. But still, it breaks my heart for my friend. The best I can do is applaud her progress and encourage her to seek positive reinforcement from people other than her partner (for now).

      One place for you might be the discussions at http://www.addforums.com Or, if there is a CHADD meeting for adults in your area, try that. http://www.CHADD.org (“finding support”).

      At the Adult ADHD discussion group I lead locally, there are several attendees who either have no significant other or live with family members who are “in denial” about ADHD. For them, the group is an invaluable support.

      I hope this helps!

  30. Maybe my vantage point is limited, and I’m willing to acknowledge that but I do read stuff all over as much as I can and I have trouble finding it. I’d LOVE to be shown some of this. It would actually help me to see this.

    The poster didn’t actually give enough information to really say much to her other than what you did give her. For instance, I’ve never been called cruel by anyone in a relationship with me close or distant so I have trouble relating to that.

    I’m just saying, if you’re starting out your treatment journey with someone who is passive aggressively sabotaging you don’t expect much in the way of success. I am sure that’s not what people want to hear but it is a reasonable conclusion.

    1. Aw, but gin, how do you know for sure her husband is “passive aggressively sabotaging” her?

      Sometimes I find that people with ADHD who are not actually around a broad cross-section of other people with ADHD sometimes see issues through their own personal ADHD lens. Maybe you’ve never been called cruel because you haven’t been.

      Maybe our friend here wasn’t “cruel” on purpose (as I noted in my response) or even cruel at all, but unrecognized ADHD symptoms can lead one to be thoughtless, selfish, and lacking in empathy. Some cases of this are detailed in my book; they really exist! 🙂

      For years, I’ve seen both sides of this issue of “denial” and low empathy — from the partner with ADHD and the other partner. From any angle, the issues are complex. That’s one thing I’ve learned about ADHD: no simple answers and no cookie-cutter explanations or solutions.

      Going back to our friend….I can only read what she has written and try not to extrapolate from it. For example: “but I keep acknowledging that having ADD DOESN’T absolve me of ANY responsibilities; it just makes things more difficult to deal with.”

      Notice there is no mention of treatment or “now the knowledge gives me the key to actually start developing new habits and letting go of bad ones.” There is no mention of change. I can see how, to an exhausted spouse who has long felt unloved (from the sound of it), this is not the stuff of which optimism is made. 🙂

      Maybe our friend will weigh in with more details. At any rate, thanks for the discourse. Always so helpful.

  31. Hi L. Friesen, thanks for weighing in. Wowee, are you a fantastic writer.

    You wrote that “I see a massive hesitancy of people questioning the NT partner on what they are or are not doing. It’s just not done. It’s assumed that they are ‘trying everything’ and that the adult with adhd needs to get a correct view of this situation.”

    I’m not sure what your vantage point is. I see plenty of people questioning the NTs (including me!) and trying to educate on what “meeting in the middle” means for both people in the couple (and it’s ALWAYS different; these people are individuals, not clones).

    I always say it takes a lot of intelligence to understand ADHD’s nature, especially as it applies to an individual, because there are so many different manifestations. No across-the-board cookie-cutter explanations or solutions. And some people just aren’t that intelligent. :-0

    I think given the poster’s comment, I replied as best I could with possibilities. Notice that she’s been diagnosed only 2 months; she might not understand herself how ADHD has affected her life, and she mentions nothing about treatment.

    And we don’t know how much reciprocity is in the relationship. We just don’t know. It can’t just be all about her, that’s for sure. And too often that is the case.

    It’s understandable that someone new to the diagnosis might be overwhelmed with the processing of it, knowing what to do next, etc. and will expect a partner to jump on board. But the sad fact is — and we cannot under-estimate this or even fully understand unless we have been in their shoes– the partners are often exhausted and hurt beyond measure. For many years.

    It can take a long time to heal these sounds, and there will be little trust (thrice+ bitten, once shy) until the “ADHD discovery” actually offers hope for change instead of more accommodation from one who is exhausted to his/her last neuron./

  32. In my book, I do briefly talk about denial in the partners of adults with ADHD Since the book is directed to the partners of adults with ADHD, though, you can see why I don’t go into great detail.

    Actually Gina I do think this needs to be stressed. It’s actually NOT true that because a partner acknowledges ADHD in their partner that they accept it or aren’t in denial about it.

    Many partners are fed a constant stream of how great things are going to be once a partner is treated and when this doesn’t happen to be the miracle cure they’ve been hoping for they are still fairly ignorant of what ADHD actually is and reflexive moralizing is the norm.

    I see a massive hesitancy of people questioning the NT partner on what they are or are not doing. It’s just not done. It’s assumed that they are ‘trying everything’ and that the adult with adhd needs to get a correct view of this situation.

    My advice to Erin is quite different actually, I don’t disagree with the suggestions you’ve given her but when I look at what she’s written I’m seeing someone with no power and no voice. She is being made responsible for his denial and when she’s climbed thru who knows how many hoops maybe then he’ll take an interest in her ADHD?

    That’s just not going to work. There is a dominant paradigm of rhetoric that steam rollers over our ability to communicate. You can even see it in the responses here with one woman frustrated and angry with her spouse. She changes the topic and runs off on any number of topics, waxes philosophical about the necessity to take responsibility and doesn’t actually address the subject at hand.

    Taking responsibility is an act of empowerment, and not necessarily an admission of culpability, but what I see most often is adults with ADHD begging for the smallest amount of understanding. Begging is not powerful, listing your failings, saying your trying and hoping against hope that someone will actually validate that yes, your partner needs to shape up too is something that adults with ADHD need to hear, their rhetoric, their answers to common refrains that position them inferiorly, position them submissively need to be spelled out.

    People will not and cannot respect a weak begger it fosters conditions that lead to emotional abuse. Instead of prefacing her request for understanding with a list of how she’s failing and then being told, well it’s probably true, you’re probably a total vacuum in the relationship and hence until you shape up you don’t actually deserve to be heard or honoured. I don’t think that’s the message that yousent or intended but it is a common enough message and it is the subtext that IS heard.

    The relationship playing field has to be leveled and there are many ways to do this. One way is the the partner with ADHD to get treatment, yet treatment alone will not solve a troubled relationship. Another is for the other partner to meet their ADHD partner as an equal. It will not help any relationship to maintain a ledger of accounts whereby the person with adhd has a negative balance and generally a substantial one.

    Leveling the playing field is understood in academic accomodations but is neglected in relationship advice. Adults with ADHD need to know HOW to level this playing field or how to respond when there’s no give. Dignity and healthy self respect are not negotiable from either side. It’s something all human being deserve.

    My advice? Follow Gina’s advice, it’s not easy to inventory where we do not meet our partners needs. Meeting ourselves with honesty and clear visions of ourselves will not destroy us, and it’s necessary for not only our partners happiness but our own. At the same time insist upon respectful treatment and be prepared to give the same. Yes, we have ADHD, Yes it causes difficulties but my having ADHD does not give licence to load me with guilt or bulldozer over very real limitations.

    Denial of ADHD is abuse, denial of how our symptoms interfere with functioning is abuse. It creates an environment where functioning diminishes. Demoralizing your ADHD partner is sabotaging not just your partner but your relationship.

    Just offering a different perspective,

    L. Friesen

  33. One last word: I neglected to show my utmost appreciation for L. Friesen and her essay. I happened upon this entry through searching for “non-ADD partner denial,” and it was the one and only hit. I commented right away in a futile effort to choke back my tears at work.

    Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you THANK YOU SO MUCH! I’m sure you may know how nice it feels to know that you aren’t a COMPLETE crazy person. 😛 I’ve often been called slow, self-absorbed, crazy, space cadet…you name it! Just from reading this entry and its comments, I can see that we all have shared common experiences.

    Your strength is inspiring. I want to be more courageous like you. <3

  34. Wow… I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I was just diagnosed with the inattentive/impulsive side of ADD about two months ago. I have just finished reading “Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?” and was disappointed to see that there was no discussion on non-ADD partner denial.

    I’ve been having the worst time with my husband. He believes that I am cruel, uncaring, and selfish. The chapters describing how ill, exhausted, and demoralized non-ADD partners can become EXACTLY narrates my husband’s experiences for our last 5 years together. Everyday just keeps getting worse and worse, and I have no idea what to do. We have the same argument everyday, and every time I even breathe a word of ADD, he tells me that I’m being defensive and making excuses. I do have problems with denial, defensiveness, and stalling, but I keep acknowledging that having ADD DOESN’T absolve me of ANY responsibilities; it just makes things more difficult to deal with. His response was that he doesn’t complain about his clinical depression making life hard, and he is still able to deal with it and be a supportive and nice partner (unlike me). I wanted to tell him that ADD is completely different from depression and can even cause it, but I decided it wasn’t worth the argument. He has refused to read any of the literature I’ve purchased or do his own research, which he typically replies with, “Why would I do anything for you when you treat me like sh*t?”

    I’m totally in a personal crisis — my own neurological-impairment-and-spousal-misunderstanding HELL.

    I’m sorry for being so dramatic, but, to put it simply, this sucks. And websites like this are the only “safe” place I can express these feelings. I have either alienated all my non-ADD friends or go to them to vent, and they just feel bad for not having any advice or see my husband as the problem. I’m currently searching for an ADD coach and any advice as to how to convince my partner to at least learn more about my disorder.

    1. Hi Erin,

      I’m so sorry to hear of your situation. In my book, I do briefly talk about denial in the partners of adults with ADHD Since the book is directed to the partners of adults with ADHD, though, you can see why I don’t go into great detail. After all, someone in denial wouldn’t read the book! And the book is intended to break down the denial in those who read it. As for the rest, well, you know…you can lead a horse to water…..

      One thing about my book you might have noticed: I NEVER use the term “non-ADHD partner.” Everyone else uses it but I never have. Why? Because it makes no sense! Just because a partner doesn’t have ADHD doesn’t mean they don’t have other problems (which I DO mention in my book, but in a book about ADHD, you can see why I can’t delineate every possible human pathology — there are so many!!!). And just because they have a partner with ADHD doesn’t mean they do NOT have ADHD. That happens so often! And plenty of times, the person with ADHD doesn’t know they also have a partner with ADHD — until the person gets treatment and starts seeing things clearly!

      But there are always other factors….low empathy, for example. Depression can be pretty darn debilitating, too, you know. People with ADHD don’t have the lock on impairment. 😉

      But perhaps…perhaps….your husband might just be sucked dry because you have been (however unintentionally) “cruel, uncaring, and selfish.” Maybe he is simply exhausted from hearing what more he can do for you. If he were to actually read the book and see that it acknowledges his suffering as well, he might be more open. But if he thinks he has to read it to help YOU, well, he might have had his fill. Do you do anything to help him, to show that you care about him?

      I’ve written about this topic in different way, in my other blog for couples: http://www.YouMeADD.org Maybe you could read those posts, along with the many comments. Maybe you could print out just one for your husband and leave it lying around for him to come across.

      In the meantime, my best advice to people with ADHD who are having trouble with family members “believing” in it is to OPTIMIZE YOUR TREATMENT. Give your loved ones PROOF that ADHD exists because you are truly changing, doing things differently than you have in the past. Give them some positive signs that will give them faith that things can improve.

      I know you are fairly new to the diagnosis, but if you haven’t tried medication, why not? That is the singlemost proven factor that will mitigate ADHD symptoms. If you are taking medication and it’s not working very well, know that you aren’t alone: You have to be pro-active in your medical care (that’s why several chapters in the book address how to optimize medication).

      Good luck,

  35. Andrew Kinsella

    Oh I know that very well, but it is the dominant culture that causes us most of the trouble, and arguably the dominant culture that causes most of our dysfunction through its rigid insistence on one size fits all standards of education and workplace behaviour.

    I am getting very good at finding groups of people who are not ADHD and do not fit into the “neurotypical” mold. In fact I put a premium on doing so- as I see them as the most likely group in which to find good friends.

    Equally- I push the term “neurotypical” to try and jar a few people out of their acceptance of the dominant culture. Consider it an irritant- a challenge to step outside the box and consider the world from somebody else’s point of view. A little resort to cartooning may shock a few people out of complacency.

    However I do thank the autistic people who coined the term neurotypical and highlighted the lack of generosity inherent in a culture that values conformity so highly that it cannot see how its own imperatives distress different people so badly.

    I think it is totally appropriate for us to learn to function in society by adapting to our differences rather than being forced to conform.

    There are many ADHD sufferers who complain that ADHD treatment causes them to lose their creativity and not be able to be themselves.
    This is what happens when people are forced into the straightjacket that our society demands ( and is sometimes fitted for size by ADHD coaching)

    I suspect that most of the neurodiverse are more comfortable as visuospatial thinkers rather than using an auditory processing style of thinking. However if we look at the stats for that psychological characteristic, it appears to run at 40% of the population.
    Many of that group seem to manage the imprinting of the dominant culture without too much trauma.

    L.Friesen is quite right- the conventional rules of engagement in conversation such as not tolerating interruptions are quite bizarre and inappropriate and severely disadvantage many people in our society. As a rule many people seem to feel they have a god given right to monologue. The trouble is that people with visuospatial thinking styles, and active brains soon get lost in a sea of objections and confusion when subjected to this kind of approach.

    I have seen the headmistress of my daughters previous school subject a thousand tired kids and parents to a 3 hour extolling of the virtue of her schools many marvelous features, without even a toilet break. How many people does she think came away from that event with anything other than the heartfelt wish never to see her again?

    Nowadays I virtually always insist on seeing complex material (such as this near monologue) in a written form- so it can be more carefully considered.

    Equally I usually manage monologuers by pretending to lose track and asking them to start again straight after the “Now listen carefully Andrew.”
    Try it- it is great fun, as they have usually forgotten the point they were trying to make by the time they finish.

    The bottom line is, however, conversation is a 2 way street, and success does not lie in becoming clones of everybody else.

  36. Andrew Kinsella

    I fully understand and empathise with the original letter here.
    I was diagnosed with ADHD only bout 30 months ago.
    My recovery has been dramatic, and I now use meditation, diet and exercise to give me all the focus I need.

    I can honestly say I am not troubled by ADHD at all. I am happy in my work and family relationships. However- any ADHD person can spot me as one of the tribe a mile off.

    Quite frankly I find neurotypical communication patterns controlling and emotionally dismissive. Equally I see neurotypical patterns of social control as destructive and essentially pathological. ( Look at the current state of the environment, and the economy. There is no honour to be found in being a well adapted member of an utterly dysfunctional society).When at work I am paid to act neurotypical but when I am off duty- I expect to be able to communicate in a away that I find satisfying.

    What this means in practice is that I am totally comfortable with a lateral, rambling conversations, interrupting and tangents. I am certainly not prepared to accept neurotypical monologing or subtle forms of bullying behaviour that are accepted as social norms and indeed celebrated in most of the TV soaps we watch nowadays.

    This post needs to be understood not as a rant, but as a fully conscious declaration of the validity of the concept of neurodiversity. It is time for a revolution in social mores.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Andrew.

      I must say that I find little “neurotypical” in the world. All that is not ADHD is not “neurotypical,” you know. 😉

  37. I wish I could say all that to my parents who still have no idea how dysfunctional, worthless, and just “wrong” I feel about myself due to the way they “handled” me growing up.

    1. Hi Tyche,

      Thanks for your comments. You make excellent points.

      The last few years have seen a mushrooming of thoughtful blogs by people with ADHD. They offer a great window into the “lived experience” of life before diagnosis, grappling with diagnosis, and the challenges of pursuing treatment.

      For ten years, I’ve tried to “bridge the gap” between adults with ADHD and their partners, in the process trying to help everyone understand unrecognized ADHD’s effect on everyone. There can often be so much stress and confusion on both sides that it’s not easy to articulate the issues in a way that everyone can hear or process them.

      Thanks to everyone here for sharing your comments. It all adds valuably to the discourse.

  38. Tyche Fortuna

    I was an ADHD partner to a non-ADHDer (not neurotypical), who liked to claim that she did all the work to maintain the household, but the reality was that I actually did a lot more of the housework than she did, outside financial matters. It did often seem that if I forgot something that I had never actually done it and history ceased to matter, but that’s gaslighting. I find it questionable that every non-ADHD partner does everything all the time and ADHDers just sit around and do nothing. It seems like the narrative of relationships with ADHDers is almost strictly governed by non-ADHD partners, in which both ADHD and the ADHDers are constantly positioned as the problem that needs to be solved, as the one in the relationship that does nothing while the non-ADHD partner does everything, copes with everything, describes ADHD partners as burdens, as children, as needing parenting, as being incapable of communication. There seems to be an utter lack of understanding – really understanding – the kinds of challenges ADHDers face even if many non-ADHD partners have book knowledge about what ADHD is.

    My 2 Cents,

    You seem to know all the words but you don’t seem to understand the music that underlies them. The book knowledge is there, but you seem to lack either the awareness of what that really means or the ability to empathize with ADHDers, since you are so focused on where we can put our hyperfocus (as if it’s possible to control it) or whether we have enough initiative to do what you think we should be able to do on demand. L. Friesen said it took months to write this vent, to come to enough understanding to be able to write it. This is how it often is. Initiative is impaired. The ability to control what you focus on is impaired.

    I often wonder whether people who talk about disability so glibly understand that the dis part of that word means that some tasks are more difficult than others, or specifically really truly understands what it means for ADHDers to find initiating and sustaining tasks to be so difficult, because the idea that we can “just do it.” We can just “trade the video games for some hyperfocus into the ‘new’ pertinent matter at hand” even though hyperfocus is not controllable. We can just leap to a full understanding with enough study, we can overcome a lifetime of messages that say that we’re failures, that we never try hard enough, that we’re lazy, that say ADHD is trivial and the symptoms we exhibit are moral failures. We can do this, we’re told, but it’s not that simple. The point of ADHD is that focus – attention – is not easily controllable. Yes, we can decide to do things, but we cannot always decide to stick to those things. We cannot even always decide to do things.

    I think that it’s really one-sided to characterize ADHDer “rhetoric”, as defensive and iconsiderate. I think this shows a profound lack of understanding of ADHDers in general. Part of it is, a lot of ADHDers don’t really understand their symptoms, and are frustrated by them. They do understand that they’re characterized unfairly as “unwilling to try” “needing to apply themselves” as lazy, as inconsiderate, and so on, without any understanding that we – ADHDers – are often trying as hard as or harder than most neurotypicals to accomplish things with less results. We understand that these characterizations are incorrect, but it is not always easy to explain this in detail because again, ADHD can interfere with that, and living with constant messages (messages you are, by the way, reiterating at length here) that ADHD symptoms are really personal failings that can be overcome with effort means having to overcome those messages as well and understand that ADHD-caused limitations won’t just disappear if we want them gone badly enough, or if they happen to inconvenience other people and just wishing that inconvenience weren’t happening.

    It’s frustrating to see someone talk about ADHD as a real problem, but then lay the blame for actually experiencing ADHD symptoms at the feet of ADHDers. Like we somehow choose to experience these symptoms and it is our fault for not being able to turn them off on demand. And that somehow, what you see is strictly what you get, ADHDers apparently have no inner life. If you see us doing something it means that there is nothing else we’d rather be doing, and we chose to do that one thing and could easily choose to do something else. That our disability is apparently not disabling at all and we could just choose to be different.

    And that we need to be lectured on what we’re doing wrong and how to change it. I mean what kind of patronizing lecture is that you’re giving L. Friesen there about being willing to finally speak up? About how we should all be willing to stand up and educate y’all on demand because you don’t understand us well enough and can’t get your partners to explain themselves as well as you think they should (but certainly not respecting their own limits in their ability to explain themselves as well as they are able).

    There is, honestly, a lot of of ADHD commentary on the internet. I found out that I should get myself checked out by reading what other ADHDers had to say – three other ADHDers, actually. And there are more. We are not silent, but we do not apparently frequent the same online spaces that you happen to look in.

    It’s hard to take your heart as big when you spend so much energy describing our motivations, our actions, our thoughts in terms of your inaccurate perceptions, try to shame with your language, complain that ADHDers are perhaps too angry (or “rancid and defensive”) and everything we could possibly do except put as much effort as possible into setting your mind at ease as the wrong thing. It seems to me like you’re doing much of what L. Friesen was specifically venting about.

    1. Thank you for spelling all that out! I was just diagnosed with ADHD about a year ago in the midst of my falling apart on the job but not understanding why I couldn’t just think to do what seemed so obvious to everyone else. LOL I never even knew I had any issues with focus or time management until I my manager called me out on the deadlines I missed. It’s taken a great deal of work and some therapy sessions to even get a grip on what my actual symptoms are, even though I’ve felt that “something” was off all my life.

      Basically, you can’t communicate what your issues are and what accommodations you need when you only know something is wrong but don’t know exactly what it is. You can’t change your behavior if you don’t understand exactly where you are going wrong. And this is what happens when you spend most of your life with undiagnosed ADHD.

    2. Very well said, Mikayla:

      Basically, you can’t communicate what your issues are and what accommodations you need when you only know something is wrong but don’t know exactly what it is. You can’t change your behavior if you don’t understand exactly where you are going wrong. And this is what happens when you spend most of your life with undiagnosed ADHD.

      That’s the number 1 reason why couples find themselves entrenched in such mutually hurtful conflict. Neither knows what he or she is dealing with!

      And, some people with ADHD….they don’t know that everyone doesn’t have the same problems. Self-awareness can be limited. They are doing their best, trying to get through each day, and don’t understand why everyone’s on their back!

      Congrats for making an important discovery!


  39. It would be nice (and quite helpful) if more folks with ADD/HD, such as yourself, would consider the importance of, and therefore take the initiative to, offer up such honest, concise, and heartfelt communication regarding this condition to the world at large.

    As a nonADHD spouse of an ADHD spouse. half the battle has been this informational void regarding the firsthand ADHD experience. I have often gone out of my way to genuinely attempt to learn about it only to receive the not very helpful “I don’t know” response – if there was any response at all, in fact.

    Likewise, it is nearly impossible to accommodate a “special needs” (which, honestly, this is!) person without any reasonable explanation and insight into what those needs are. Because folks with ADHD generally make their way through society’s “checkpoints” they will necessarily find themselves on the “able” side of the “able”/”disabled” fence and will therefore, as a consequence of occupying that space, necessarily be held to the normative standards for society at large.

    On the contrary, those (such as some schizophrenics, people with Down’s syndrome, and the like, for example) who find their condition and general social demands for communication and interaction too demanding for their available ‘faculties’ are not held to the same normative standards of behavior. We exempt them from these social expectations because we are aware of their challenges and know they are trying as hard as they can. We know that for a dyslexic to make it through college and succeed on the other side will likely require more hours dedicated to homework.

    Autoimmune thyroid disease (and the accompanying brain fog and a plethora of other permanent changes) for someone who once spent nearly 2 years in medical school is no picnic either. You go from straight As to Cs in no time and need to learn to compensate. Add complete hair loss and a not-yet-diagnosed ADHD spouse and I sometimes felt I was living a slow death too.

    We thyroid folks also get the “just pop a pill” rhetoric and are left to our own devices – and initiative – to meander our way around the internet or via support groups to find head and tail and treatment. There ain’t a whole lot of sympathy for us either if we want to partake in society on the “able” side of the fence. Plenty of stigma out there regarding thyroid (many are fended off for decades with many anything from ‘too lazy to exercise’ to ‘early menopause – at 20 yrs of age!).

    But sitting back and waiting for the world to adjust to us is not an appropriate plan of action, no matter how much compounded damage has been done to one’s self-esteem. We are still responsible for finding ways of coping, for reaching out and using the information and tools that are available, and most importantly, for making an extra effort to hone in on how one’s circumstance may be affecting loved ones.

    The latter would include presenting the loved ones with a thorough illustration of how this is impacting us, how it may impact them, what contributions we CAN make, and what specific concessions/adjustments we have come to ask them to make to accommodate our circumstance. If only more folks with ADHD would truly embrace their reality (which you thoroughly detail), and grasp the inherent social responsibility (if they want to partake in general society and not hang around in a half-way house, harsh, but seriously!) by sittong down at that beloved computer and trade the video games for some hyperfocus into the ‘new’ pertinent matter at hand, I am quite convinced that their brilliance and creativity would unearth many useful and helpful insights for themselves and their loved ones.

    As a nonADHD spouse, the utter notion of witnessing such non-solicited INITIATIVE would in and of itself take a huge thorn of resentment and frustration out of the relationship – a relationship that, most likely, has already endured tremendous amount of strain and disappointment on the part of the unwitting nonADHD spouse who thought their experiences during courtship would naturally be a reasonable indicator of what might be expected from the subsequent marriage.

    I feel time and time again, that if only ADHD folks would do the appropriate thing and truly and wholeheartedly embrace their basic responsibility of, first, educating themselves and then their nonADHD spouse about the condition – from a neurobiological and personal perspective, an enormous amount of wrath, agony, and frustration – for both parties – could be easily avoided.

    I never did expect my spouse to be the one to hop on the internet or scour the shelves at the local bookstore for me in pursuit of information to solve MY thyroid/autoimmune mysteries. Perhaps the ADHDer does not expect their nonADHD spouse to cruise the boards for answers on their behalf either, but time and time again, they don’t appear too terribly busy (due to symproms, yes I know) examining how their inherent ADHD behavior (unique and lovable or not) can absolutely devastate a partner’s patience, self-esteem, need for reciprocal adult-level communication, and ability to live a life that extends beyond racing around trying to keep things together while single-handedly managing all household duties (and oftentimes also a full time job, regardless of gender).

    There is an expectation, held by an overwhelming majority of members of society, that if we wish to partake on an equal footing and be perceived as an equal member, regardless of whether we have apnea and feel like zombies because we get no sleep, or whether we must make it through the day assisted by braille and a dog, or suffer post-war consequences of PTSD or what have you, we must necessarily make an effort to understand not only how the world affects us but also how we affect the world, including what specific demands and stressors we contribute to it.

    Of those of us on the “able” side of the fence, only sociopaths are truly exempt (and are often in prison because if it) because their brains totally lack empathetic capability – they don’t know right from wrong and therefore, by default, will act accordingly. They still get to pay the price.

    So, thank you very much for taking the INITIATIVE and time to present the ADHD perspective in no uncertain terms to those of us who, however much we might try, aren’t mind readers. As a nonADHD, you lost me a few times where a re-read was necessary, but this precisely demonstrates the need for this kind of ADHD participation in this debate which is, first and foremost, about them.

    In lieu of the customary defensive and inconsiderate rhetoric, we nonADHD spouses would much prefer to see input such as yours. I am sure it took far more effort to produce than much of the rancid, defensive ADHD rhetoric we ‘lost’ nonADHD spouses often encounter in this discussion space.

    ADHDers, please emerge and fill the void with more of this constructive input so the rest of us will stand a fair chance at understanding you. If you won’t let us know you we necessarily won’t have a clue as to how to best help you (most of us really do have big hearts, even if one of your common symptoms means you may not actually notice :).

    1. Many, if not most people do not know how they feel or even know what they have been through. Because you can express yourself well does not mean everyone can. Also not everyone wants to share. If i don’t know if i can trust you after i have felt so betrayed , it can take time. Everyone needs a non judgmental space and calmness to consider sharing.

      I also have ASD and I am fortunate to be on the wordy side of things but i am a minority. I suggest trying the public library for bios and other books by ADHD people.

      Many people feel we are not trying when we are but we don’t understand what those around us want. I suggest you simply ASK and stop thinking that you will ever read another person’s mind.

      I am not trying to be cruel. I am doing what you asked. Humans are not simple. You need to treat everyone as an individual with no shortcuts. I have no idea if you will understand me here. All I can do is try.

    2. Thanks for your comment, Nora.

      In my observation, it can be very difficult for people with newly diagnosed or poorly managed ADHD to recognize their symptoms as symptoms rather than….their personality. A given. Immutabl.

      For example, my husband used to get very annoyed at being interrupted. Even for important things. I mean VERY annoyed.

      It took a few years into treatment before he had perspective on why he felt annoyed—instead of just blaming me for being annoying! 🙂

      He realized that, with medication, it didn’t take him hours to find his focus and then lose it immediately when asked a simple question (“Are you ready to eat dinner?”) and then have to spend hours finding his focus again.

      He was better able to transition quickly from one activity to the next.


    3. Sittong down at my computer I don’t.. as welcome and interesting your take on/experience of adhd symptoms playing out is, it appears you’re applying a brush that don’t fit me, let alone all.
      Your assumptions may stem from and fit your circumstances but for me it’s the other way round. Just diagnosed with ADHD at 51, and a fragile but burgeoning relationship implodes. My being forward and outing became a double sided sword. It highlighted the lack of commitment on his side. Or is it my fault for not fitting expectations and letting down the lifelong guard of masking.

      Also, careful not to confuse codependency or attachment issues with adhd. Yet hell yeah, they sure can intertwine… we’re all complex beings and oftentimes carry more than “one” issue. A Blanket approach is the comforting way out…
      It’s difficult, for everyone involved, the question from this for me is why we remain in questionable dynamics- a lesson I’m learning the hard way, again.
      The work required to bridge fundamental differences can be done, but takes awareness of and a fundamental willingness to face challenges arising.
      * Fail she may, go she must.
      (*Fail we may, sail we must).
      I’d love to add my mustard, appreciate the quest, but am so tired, that am barely able to bring this post to a dignified full stop. Be well.

  40. As a woman with ADD, and the wife and mother of two ADD’ers, as well as someone who treats adults and their partners with ADD, I am so blown away by what you have written I can hardly speak.

    What you write about the idealized twin self that charms and then (seemingly willfully) disappoints one’s partner, the sense of “I can’t win”, the despair at ever being understood, the patronizing “suggestions” about how to be better – these are all experiences I have either had or been guilty of perpetuating on another.

    I think you were put on this earth for a reason, L.Friesen – to enlighten others. Because no one I have ever read has ever articulated these complex feelings with such passion, clarity and integrity. I hope you never destroy yourself trying to “be” someone’s idealized version of you. You have a gift for saying what others are thinking and feeling that transcends any ability you lack for tact, organization, finesse, housekeeping or self control.

    I’m glad you survived the crows, L. Friesen.
    You have the voice of a prophet.
    Don’t give up.

  41. Pingback: Adult ADHD – VictoriaClaytonWrites

  42. When I read this very moving transparent blog post I decided to use it to increase my awareness. My exbf was ADD and I am not. Here’s what I do when I read such a powerful article.

    • I will copy and paste the post the linked article the woman wrote.
    •I will slowly read each sentence and think how this might apply to my experience with the add boyfriend
    •I will seek to make some kind of real world personal application to our interactions (as frequently as possible) and insert these thoughts into the document in italics.
    •I will search myself for any hurtful thing I might have done without realizing
    •I will seek to understand what the adder experiences

    I usually find this activity very insightful, especially when someone has been so transparent in their writing. Thank you L. Friesen for sharing.

  43. I cannot imagine how much time this took you to write. Thank you for your willingness to put your heart on your sleeve. After all the years I have been a spouse to one with ADHD, this has given me more to think about than any information I have run across in a very long time.

  44. At 37, I have just been diagnosed with ADD. I cried while reading your letter. It’s as if you were narrating my life. I felt ever word. Thank you.

  45. Word. The damage from constantly being told to “try harder” and “do better”, without being given concrete actionable info on how to do that. If I knew how/what to do I would be doing it.

    With ADD you never get a moment or day off. You have to vigilant 24×7 – no matter how tired, stressed, etc. you are – which means guaranteed failure. Sari Solden’s book on women with ADD saved me. Literally.

    1. Andrew Kinsella

      Virtually no non ADHD person havs absolutely NO idea how hard we try.
      NONE whatsoever.
      However– “we” see how proficient “you neurotypicals” are in ignoring, and in dismissing the worthiness of “our” pathetic trying. (Lots of trying but no results— so who cares?), there is no profit to be made here. so, No matter how hard we try– it is worthless. IE OUR trying does not line YOUR pockets.

      Our own perspective is that “YOU” are masters at trying really hard to achieve victories that to our perspective are worthless.

      Lets face it– this Western civilization is about to collapse under the weight of its own greed and myopia. So- when the American dollar ceases to be the reserve currency, when the USA collapses into civil war, when the banks collapse and cannot supply the funds that we seek to withdraw, will you really be able to say that by buying into the “consensus reality” you have been smart, and up to the latest correct information, that you have really been right?

      I really do not think so.

    2. Hi Andrew,

      I’m afraid I’m not following you. You think people with ADHD are “lining the pockets” of neurotypicals? That hasn’t been my observation.

      Do you truly believe in this “us and them” attitude? That there are people with ADHD and “neurotypicals” and never the twain shall meet?

      That has not been my experience.

      As far as the “greed and myopia” that you say Western civilization is about to collapse under (and I might agree with you on that point), we could argue that chasing the “reward” of money is a common trap for people with poorly managed ADHD.

      Otherwise, I find it illogical to place people who are “neurotypical” (whatever that is) and people with ADHD at polar opposites. Or to even imply that there are two types of humans.

      I call ADHD “Extreme Human Syndrome,” because nothing about ADHD is foreign to the rest of the population; it is the degree and severity that makes the diagnosis.

  46. I have no words that are good enough to…forgive me for not being able to find the right words. I am compelled to try. An indescribable… inside me…. that had never been touched…. has been touched tonight.

    Thank You for this moment

    1. Wilmouth Elmex

      I read the article, I am the male AHDH partner this is the first time that I have ever read an article that describes how I feel , think and act . It is as if someone scanned my entire brain and developed an exact copy in detail of my entire human existence from the time I started to think and form my own concept of the world around me. Thanks ever so much

    2. Dear Wil,

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      I am both glad and sorry that the article resonates so well for you. I knew that the author had articulated incredibly well what had to be a common perspective. Because how could it not be common?


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