“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!

• 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 is another post from the ADHD Survey Results:  The  Signs of ADHD Are Obvious, Right?

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

What price did you pay for society’s widespread ignorance about ADHD?

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

—Gina Pera

44 thoughts on ““I Wish I’d Known Earlier About Adult ADHD””

  1. I was married to my wife for twenty five years, before we divorce. It was terrible and I did not understand her behavior, unorganized, money problems, risky behavior . She fanially got treatment once we divorce. I would not wish this disease on anyone. It tore our family apart. We have two wonderful boys, whom I raised practically alone. I was alone even though I was married, we had lost all connection between each other. I knew she needed help, and sought out her doctors, but she would get mad, I sought out to her sisters and family, they ignored me, and supported her out of controlled behavior. I am so happy that she is out of my life.

    1. Hi Darren,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Ignorance about ADHD costs us all — individuals, families, society — way too much. ADHD comes in all shapes and sizes — and also extremes.

      Your story is not uncommon, unfortunately. Family closes ranks (often because other family members have poorly managed ADHD). Most doctors fail us. Even many high-priced psychiatrist do, too.

      I’m glad you and your boys are doing well — and that your wife finally got treatment. Sometimes that’s the only way that “in denial” people with ADHD get it — hard consequences. Then it’s too late.

      best,
      g

  2. Huh, I don’t doubt any of the pain in these accounts, but it makes me feel a bit odd. I’ve had none of the issues spoken of and I have ADHD. So do I actually have ADHD? I’ve been dx’ed twice in adult life, but hey, maybe they are wrong. I’ve always been thought of as reliable, dependable, and punctual. People tell me that all the time. It takes a lot of effort to be that person and it tires me. I feel drained constantly. If anything, I’ve been treated pretty badly in romantic relationships. I was married for 11 years, divorced because my ex-husband cheated on me. Probably more than once, if truth be told. I was a bit cranky at times, but my god I was so stressed. I cooked, I cleaned, I ran the money, I raised our child, took that child to therapy because he’s autistic and nonverbal, got a college degree, volunteered for multiple political campaigns, etc. – I did everything. I’m sure the ex had ADHD and was treated for it as a child. Not that I really care much, the cause of his proclivities are no reason to abuse me.

    I know my self-esteem is crap, but if I’m honest, I don’t believe romantic love is real. I think, quite often, we stay in “romantic” relationships because they benefit us, or our lives get so entangled we can’t walk away when we want to. I look back in regret because I stayed too damn long, not because I snipped at him or didn’t do the dishes on time. I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was and some of y’all need to remember you didn’t deserve some of the things that happened to you either.

    I stay single now – easy to do when you have a disabled child and are an ugly woman. I can manage my life much easier now and have been content for the last few years. I can live my life the way I want. Sounds selfish, but it’s improved my happiness dramatically.

    1. Dear Ann,

      That’s been my enormous challenge in writing about ADHD….to constantly remind that ADHD affects individuals, not clones. And there is much else to an individual’s personality than variable manifestations of this variable syndrome.

      You sound like many of my older female friends with ADHD. They pushed themselves all their lives to get good grades, to be reliable, dependable, etc.. For some, it’s like the duck on the water that looks calm but look underneath….paddling like crazy.

      Also: in dual-ADHD relationships, one partner typically over-functions. Just as “non-ADHD” people do when an ADHD partner is under-functioning.

      Some people feel they cannot leave a relationship in which the ADHD partner remains untreated and otherwise “in denial.” Why? Because they cannot trust the ADHD partner in a shared-custody arrangement. Or, the ADHD partner’s impulsive spending means they carry lots of debt and cannot afford separate living spaces.

      For many, it’s complicated. Mostly, though, it’s because they are so confused and exhausted regarding the behaviors, they just get …. stuck.

      I’m glad you are content. Doesn’t sound selfish to me at all.

      Thanks for your comment.

      g

  3. Finding a new path

    Phew. Yes, so much regret and so many wishes for what could have been. I wish my ex-wife had been diagnosed before we were married, and set on a path for managing her behaviors, but also giving the other people in her life the understanding of why she is the way she is. I wish I’d known about RSD and the impact of having children on people who have ADHD. She left me at the end of my (mutually planned) pregnancy when she just couldn’t hold it together anymore (I was blindsided). Now I’m left having to coparent our children with someone I don’t trust, who can’t control her impulses, and has a history of dropping every project she’s ever started. Undiagnosed ADHD, combined with childhood trauma, destroyed my marriage and devastated my children.

    1. Hi there,

      I’m sorry to read your account — and wish it was the first I’ve heard along those lines.

      There are too many, and the mental-health profession is not stepping up fast enough.

      There is also much misinformation online, including from MDs and commercial websites that ostensibly offer “expert” information on ADHD.

      For example, there is no “RSD” (Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria). That is a highly irresponsible claim made by one MD. Even worse: his recommending dangerous medications to treat it.

      It’s horrific, what that site gets away with. But consumers have a difficult time discerning solid sources from iffy for-profit ones.

      I wish your wife had been diagnosed long ago, too, and had the benefit of treatment. That is typically the best path for “managing behaviors.”

      The core challenge with ADHD is self-regulation. And it’s not a manner of “learning” to do this. It’s a manner of supporting brain chemistry that supports self-regulation.

      It is perhaps not too late for your ex-wife to pursue medication treatment. But self-education and self-advocacy are a must, and a third-party should be involved (if not you, then a responsible friend or family member of hers). We simply cannot trust the average mental-health professional—whether a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist—to know how to recognize and treat ADHD properly.

      It seems that your ex-wife might have been told by a therapist that childhood trauma was a key issue. Maybe it was.

      But there is also a big trend in some mental-health circles toward attributing ADHD in adulthood to childhood trauma. There is no science. There is no evidence. Instead, there is a forceful and very profitable power grab by people who are not deserving of trust.

      The fact is, trauma is often part of growing up with poorly managed ADHD in a parent (or both parents). There might be domestic violence, erratic “disciplining” (swinging from extreme to extreme), financial uncertainty, disorganization, and general chaos.

      Even if the parents and home are stable, negotiating the world when one has unrecognized ADHD can create so much confusion, hurt, misinterpretations, negative self-talk, and, yes, various levels of trauma.

      No therapist or other mental health professional can say that a person’s behavior is caused by trauma, though. That is conjecture. That is speculation. Based on their theoretical bias. And also based on their ignorance of ADHD’s effect on the person and the parents.

      They also have a very large bucket they describe as trauma.

      The most responsible approach is to recognize the ADHD, provide evidence-based treatment, and then deal with any lasting effects of traumatic experiences.

      I wish you all the best in creating a smoother, happier life for you and your children. If shared custody is untenable, please speak with an attorney about how to manage that.

      take care,
      g

  4. this was a great article. I started dating a guy that has ADHD also and your story describes what I have been dealing with for the past 8 months. It is extremely challenging as his temper is off the charts and blames everyone for his misfortune. No intimacy at all and lacks interest in the bedroom as well. He`s such an amazing guy and I do want to be with him yet I don`t think I can handle it. lol I also have a 10 year old with adhd and he`s a handful himself.

    1. Hi Savanna,

      ADHD is one thing. ADHD when the person who has it isn’t “owning” it and implementing appropriate strategies can be something else altogether.

      I encourage you to stay grounded and take care of yourself.

      Thanks for visiting.

      best,
      g

  5. GOZALAVIDAAL100 Enjoylife

    GINA!!!!!! THAT AWESOME BLESSING OUT HERE ON EARTH BKESSING US WITH HER STUDIES AND EXPERIENCE!
    THANK YOU!!!!
    WELL, MY DOCTOR AGREES IT IS ADHD. THEY STARTED ME ON BOPUTERIN AND WILL BE ON IT FOR ONE MONTH BEFORE REFERRING ME TO A CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST. THE GOAL IS TO SEE WE HAVE TRIED SOMETHING ALREDAY WITHIN OUR MEANS. THIS WAY THE DOCTOR DOES NOT TRY AND DISMISS THE ISSUE.
    MY WIFE WONT ACCEPT MY DUAGNOSIS AND SAID IT SEEMED LIKE I WAS TRYING TO FIND AN EXCUSE FOR MY FAULTS. THAT I NEEDED TO WATCH OUT ON WHAT I PROCLAIMED OVE MY LIFE. SHE REFUSES TO SEE A PSYCHOLOGIST AND REFUSES TO DO ANYTHI G TOWARDS OUR RELATIONSHIP. I ASKED HER IF WE WERE GOING TO TACKLE THIS TOGEHTER AND WORK IT OUT OR IS SHE DONE. SHE SAID IF I WAS ASKING HER HOW SHE FELT RIGHT NOW SHE WAS DONE WITH THE RELATIONSHIP. SHE DIDNT KNOW IF SHE COULD LOVE ME OR FEEL THE SAME WAY AGAIN. I TOLD HER TO WAIT… THAT IS TOO FAR IN THE FUTURE. I JUST NEED TO KNOW WHETHER YOU ARE WILLING TO GIVE IT A SHOT. SHE MENTIONED OUR CHILDREN AND I TOLD HER CHILDREN WERE NOT AN OPTION TO STAY. WE ARE HURTING THEM MORE SLEEPING IN SEPERATE BEDROOMS THAN BEING SEPERATE. I TOLD HER I LOVED HER AND MY VOWS WERE FOREVER BUT IF SHE FELT DIFFERENT THEN I WOULD LET HER GO. I ONLY WANT THE BEST FOR HER.
    SHE HAD NO RESPONSE OTHER THAN I DONT WANT TO WORK IT OUT. I WILL TAKE MY TIME TO REMINISCE AND SELF EVALUATE. THANKS FOR BEING HERE.
    I KNOW I HAVE TRIED MY ALL AND HAVE NO REGRETS.

    NEVER GIVE UP, ALWAYS GIVE YOUR ALL. REMEMBER NO ONE IS PERFECT AND WE ALL DESERVE TO BE LOVED

    1. Hello again, my friend.

      Thanks for the kind words. I do my best to help, because I know what it feels like to be lost in the ADHD maze.

      What you describe is so very common, unfortunately.

      By the time ADHD is discovered—and connected to chronic challenges affecting the person and the relationship—the partner is sometimes too exhausted and hurt to care.

      Often, they have been living with excuses and denial and misplaced blame and all kinds of other behaviors that can just wear a person out. For their own survival, they might feel they have to draw the boundary.

      But here is what I have noticed:

      Often, these partners of adults with late-diagnosis ADHD hear “diagnosis” and “you need to help me” (from their ADHD partner or therapists, etc.) and just cannot tolerate doing yet another, BIG thing for their ADHD partner. Where will it end?

      That’s the wrong approach, imho, but it is one even many self-described ADHD specialists use: Shaming the partner and viewing them in unfavorable terms if they don’t jump up excitedly at the prospect of doing even more for their ADHD partner.

      Their pain needs to be acknowledged. They need their experience validated and “seen”.

      If, having tried that, your wife is still not willing to accept the diagnosis and cooperate, that’s unfortunate. But it’s not the end of it.

      If you want to catch her attention — to let her know this “ADHD thing” is real — do all you can to “own” and manage your ADHD-related challenges.

      Pretend that you are a single person!

      You might get a more optimistic answer from her if you show her that you ARE making progress, with or without her.

      You say you started medication…bupoterin. Maybe you mean Bupropion? That is the generic for Wellbutrin.

      That might help somewhat. But it is not considered a first-line treatment for ADHD.

      But if I am understanding correctly, you feel the need to show the MD you’re “cooperating”.

      If it helps, great. But try to be mindful and try to note your progress (or regression) every day in a simple log. Just note….better or worse for what you consider your key symptoms (e.g. impulsivity, anger, etc.)

      If you keep noting that things are “worse” instead of “better” — bring that log to your doc. Nothing beats hard data.

      Good luck to you….one day at a time.

      g

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