“I Wish I’d Known Earlier About Adult ADHD”

I wish I'd known earlier about Adult ADHD

“I wish I’d known earlier about Adult ADHD.”

That came through loudly as the recurring theme of responses to the ADHD Partner Survey question:  “What do you wish you’d known earlier about ADHD?”

[Note: I conducted the ADHD Partner Survey as part of my research for my first book:  Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? My methods were rigorous—not simply post a survey on the Internet for anonymous people to complete.  You can read more about the methodology at the link above.]

Even now, more than two decades after Adult ADHD was declared a medical diagnosis (in 1994), ignorance remains. That means millions suffer in isolation.

In this post, partners of adults with ADHD detail the cost of that ignorance.

You Might Find This Post Painful

I do not share this information glibly. Knowing that it might painfully re-open old wounds, I must have a higher purpose.

I share it for one reason only: Validation is critical to the healing process.  To push back these feelings, to deny them entirely in favor of sugar-coating? I’ve rarely seen that to end well. Instead, it seems to prolong misery and isolation.

Instead, when we finally receive validation of our long-denied reality, we begin to cope more positively.

If you are past the validation stage and don’t need painful reminders, then just please skip this post.

Question: What do you wish you’d known earlier about ADHD?

ADHD Partner Survey respondents completed the sentence stem “I wish I’d known earlier:” in these ways:

• What ADHD is and how it could affect me.

He seemed to be able to live with it quite well, except for the fact that all his girlfriends eventually run away screaming. I guess he never learned because there was always a line of new ones. He’s very handsome and charming. At first.

• That there was a medical problem.

I wouldn’t have taken it all so personally – and he wouldn’t have felt like such a jerk. Over the years, if other adults are like my husband, untreated ADHD causes people to make excuses for their behaviors and blame others for them. It erodes their self-confidence and generally destroys relationships they value most. My husband believed for years–and still does to some extent–that I was the cause of all of his unhappiness. Of course, there was the self-medication: loads of diet Coke, alcohol, E-bay and prescription pain meds. For years I put up with the “random” behaviors, but what finally threw me over the edge were his mood swings and verbal abuse.

• That ADHD has so affected everything.

I always suspected something else was wrong. But because he is able to keep his cool around everyone outside the home, it was me who looked unstable. I wasn’t. I was overwhelmed.

• Not to trust my husband’s mom, the psychologist.

Her golden boy had no problems; he was gifted! Now, I really struggle with anger about how long this went undiagnosed. Her blind narcissism didn’t help any of us, least of all her son or her grandchildren.

• Not to dismiss ADHD years ago as another “disease of the month.”

I now see ADHD among friends, family, and co-workers and have a greater understanding of how this affects all family dynamics. Even society at large. Even politics and business on the highest levels. Greater awareness will bring adult ADHD “out of the closet” and allow us to discuss this openly without encountering ridicule, ostracism, or fear from “educated” people who don’t have a clue. And don’t get me started on the therapists who tie all the symptoms to childhood. Talk about clueless!

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• That medication can increase creativity, not diminish it.

With treatment, my husband has become more able to negotiate the “everyday world,” where things get done and people pay attention. This has supported, not diminished, the unusual, creative side of his brain that I was so attracted to in the first place.

• That knowledge would have helped our now-grown children’s relationship with their father.

Knowing about my husband’s ADHD when they were young would have prevented many upsets over his impulsive spending, irritability, and poor judgment of time. It’s hard for children to not associate these behaviors with lack of love, which sets up so many difficult dynamics for them later in life. If we’d known, we all could have supported him in getting some help and my children would have learned different lessons about love and family.

•How full of nonsense these anti-medication blowhards are.

I used to think they had a point. Now, I suspect most have considerable mental problems of their own. I want people who have ADHD to understand how much better things will be for them and their loved ones if they only seek help and honestly deal with their challenges. With my eyes now opened to how common these “minor” disorders are now, I can’t tell you how much undiagnosed and untreated mental illness I observe! Disorders that cause the person – and the world – trouble. Some people will admit that they think they have a problem. But they are scared to seek help because of the anti-medication hysteria. I see these people throwing away so much potential because of their unfounded fears.

• That ADHD could affect our sex life…

…as it has for so many partners in the group, that he would lose interest in sex like the rest of his “hobbies.” What a disappointment.

• How badly public awareness of ADHD stinks…

…especially the campaigns by various groups about how awful it is to give people medication. My partner and I continually encounter people who don’t “believe” in ADHD, as if it’s the tooth fairy. They should live it. And those adults who have ADHD and don’t know it–but do a lot of “self-medicating” with tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, sex, or speeding on the freeway—should learn about it.

I know that having untreated ADHD deeply affected my partner’s health. He used to get so exhausted just getting through each day, dealing with the stress of trying to function “normally” at work and lapping up way too much coffee, sugar, and adrenaline. Medication helps him to function better and work more efficiently so he’s not continually exhausted and he gets better sleep.

• That as a teacher, I knew appallingly little!

People are going through so much unnecessary pain. Facing retirement now scares me — I won’t have my office and coworkers to escape to, and he will be around 24-7 disrupting the order.

Knowledge gives me hope, though. I see ADHD in so many of my friends’ husbands. We need a serious, national information push.

• That many divorces occur because of this “secret” condition.

We almost ended our relationship many times before my partner was diagnosed. Now we try to have a sense of humor about it, and there is a lot more understanding.

• That ADHD means more than these folks couldn’t sit in their chair.

Little did I know that was the least of his problems!

• That a whole lot of pain stemmed from the fact that I believed that his brain worked essentially like mine.

That means I kept viewing his actions through my frame of reference. Wrong-oh!

I wish I'd known earlier about Adult ADHD

Simply: I Wish That I Had Known

Some respondents expressed a global desire, to have simply known about ADHD at all.

I wish:

• My wife’s parents had known.

She and her siblings bear huge emotional childhood scars due to their father’s severe untreated ADHD. That led to his alcoholism as well as spousal and child abuse. A sad “legacy” probably going back generations.

• We’d known before marriage.

That way, we could have put strategies into place. Instead, he couldn’t cope with being a husband and then a father while holding down a job, and I didn’t understand. The public needs to know that ADHD has a major impact on relationships and that their “problems” are not unique to them: they are, in fact, symptoms.

• We’d known about ADHD many years ago, we wouldn’t be in the damaged emotional place we are in now.

How could I ever have “coped” with some of the more challenging aspects of his untreated ADHD? How could he cope, either? Hard as he tried, he continually failed. He had to watch me begin to distrust him and see the pain that he caused to the family he loved, but he was powerless to stop the behaviors.

• I’d known all this twenty years ago.

In the worst part of it, I looked forward to being dead and wouldn’t relive those years again even if they were the only years offered me.

•  I’d known exactly what my wife meant when she said…

… prior to our marriage, “I’m going to drive you crazy. I want you to know that upfront.”

• I’d known it all!

I wish that screening happened earlier, in childhood. Without treatment to help them clear their clouded view of the world and people’s unenlightened reaction to them, the ego builds up immense self-defenses. By adulthood, these defenses are often iron-clad.

• That we hadn’t gone  30 years before finding out…

… too late what had made our lives so miserable and unhappy. What a horrible waste. We developed such horrible habits in how we treat each other. And, the effect on my children. Gasp.

• I had known much more about ADHD when I met my partner.

It would have saved me years of pain and suffering, feeling like he just didn’t care and was intentionally doing things to make me feel badly. I grew so depressed I couldn’t see straight.

And Finally:

• I’m glad that there is finally a name for the behaviors.

I’m glad that there are support groups to share what has worked. With more awareness comes greater acceptance. If people would seek help instead of hiding behind defense systems, unrecognized ADHD would not be destroying so many relationships.

[This article originally posted on August 22, 2008—but the subject remains timely.]

Related Stories:

Here are two more post based on the ADHD Survey Results:

The  Signs of ADHD Are Obvious, Right?

How Did You Learn Your Partner Might Have ADHD?

My online training, for ADHD individuals and couples, will explain the details—and solutions—you need: Solving Your Adult ADHD Puzzle

Did you  pay a price for society’s widespread ignorance about ADHD?

Please share them in a comment to help educate the public.

—Gina Pera



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