Welcome back to the You, Me, and ADHD Book Club! With Chapter 11, we discuss the importance of self-care for the partners of adults with ADHD. It’s the first chapter in the final-third section of the book: Success Strategies.
What does self-care mean? Whatever it looks like for you. A wife and mother with late-diagnosis ADHD — partner to a late-diagnosis man with ADHD — explains what self-care means for her.
By Taylor J.
We arrive at Part 3 of the book. It is here we start getting equipped with strategies for making positive changes in our lives and relationships. This third section of the book is called Your Relationship and the Art of Roller Coaster Maintenance: Four Success Strategies.
Chapter 11 opens the first Success Strategy: Taking Care of Yourself.
Self-care for the partners of adults with ADHD? Whew!
I admit, when I first bought the book, I went straight to this chapter, before I read anything else. (If you’re really depressed and struggling, and you also have ADHD, you might want to skip ahead, too. But be sure to go back, though, and read the skipped parts.)
When my counselor revealed to us that my husband also had ADHD—it wasn’t just me with ADHD–I felt like I’d won the lottery. Finally, I knew what was happening with us! The mysterious problem had a name, and we could fix that, right?
Wrong. My husband completely brushed me off. It was impossible for him to have ADHD, he said. He had a PhD; there was no way he could have a “learning disability.” The counselor was wrong. Even though he completely trusted this counselor, to the point of saying he would never consider seeing any other counselor, he was certain this was a mistake.
I remained steadfast. From learning about ADHD for my own diagnosis, I knew the answer to many of our long-term marital struggles: “Get his ADHD properly treated and managed.” Now, my job was to figure out, “How the heck do I do that without coming off like a controlling nag?”
Enter this chapter’s “Strategies For Right Now.” Gina reminded me to take care of myself, after years of riding the ADHD roller-coaster. She also helped me to remember what self-care looks like. This isn’t just a luxury. Self-care for the partners of adults with ADHD is a necessity.
The fact that I also have late-diagnosis ADHD? That just meant I had to focus harder.
Three Basic Truths
There were three basic truths I determined to re-learn, after reading this chapter.
Self-Care Truth #1:
“Bad behavior is unacceptable, whether or not [he] ever learns about ADHD or pursues treatment.”
Regardless of my faith, or my background, or the coping mechanisms I’d developed over the years, I had to set boundaries about what I was willing to tolerate. For example:
- If the bills couldn’t be paid, I would not go into debt to cover them. Ever.
- I would no longer accept blame for things that were not my fault.
- I would refuse to cooperate when a course of action was unacceptable. (Like, “Hey, somehow I spent all of that reimbursement for the math conference—can you work some overtime to make that up? Oh, and I really want a new dremal set.”)
At one point, instead of working overtime while caring for two young children, I suggested he sell his guitar amplifier. Imagine my surprise when he actually sold it! It was one of the first times I saw him take responsibility for his financial mismanagement, instead of expecting me to twist myself into a pretzel to make it all work.
Self-Care Truth #2:
Reconnect with “activities and people that bring [me] pleasure.”
I’m a musician. I’m a writer. At that point in my life, however, I couldn’t remember the last time I really enjoyed making music and stories.
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It didn’t happen all at once, but I started finding ways to write again.
It started with demanding childcare so I could build up my writing portfolio or meet with other musicians. (In the past, he’d said that any amount of childcare was unacceptable, because it was “other people raising our children.”)
I even applied for—and received—a financial-hardship scholarship to attend a Christian “Creative Training” conference. A local family let me stay in their guest room, with a fluffy king-sized bed and a key to their house. I flopped on that bed and cried, and then slept for ten hours straight. The next three days I spent with people who were living the life I wanted to live.
Sometimes I’d get weepy on a moment’s notice. That surely made some people uncomfortable, but it was startling to see how far I’d drifted from the person I was before unwittingly climbing aboard the ADHD roller coaster. I began to have hope that I could be that person again.
When I returned home, my husband presented me with a bouquet of flowers along with a card that said, “I pray that I will always support you in your dreams, the way you’ve supported me in mine.”
Self-Care Truth #3:
“Learn how to detach from the chaos.”
Despite the fear and anxiety that financial hardship brought me, I had to realize that I would not die if we had trouble covering the bills. (The book, How to Get out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously, by Jerry Mundis, was very helpful here.)
We had enough money to keep a roof over our head and food on our table, even if Mastercard and Visa didn’t get paid. We would fix everything else when we could. Until then, worrying was like a running on a treadmill—I’d be working hard, but not getting anywhere. This was not Gina’s idea of self-care for the partners of adults with ADHD.
I started intentionally disconnecting from as many sources of “drama” in my life as I could. Some friends did not receive callbacks, some projects dropped, and some playdates canceled. I even stopped reading certain news sources. It took a while.
Once I was able to face my life with a clear, peaceful mind, I was able to find more helpful solutions to many of our struggles. Self-care was the key.
But What About Dr. Math’s ADHD Treatment?
I could not force my husband to get treatment.
Since he knew I had ADHD, though, Gina suggested that I back off pressing the point of his ADHD and instead focus on optimizing my own recovery and treatment. Then, I shared the success stories!
- Look honey! I was on time for the last four days! Can you believe it? I can’t believe it.
- I’m so glad I got that timer app on my phone. It helped me keep track of how long I was doing dishes, so could keep anything else from distracting me.
- Wow, yes, it sounds like your grading is really piling up. I read about X method of keeping track of that stuff that might be helpful. What was the book? Oh, it was ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life. No, I didn’t say you had ADHD. I said that book was helpful. You don’t have to use the method, but I’m going to use it.
Our life became more peaceful. Slowly. One little change at a time. It happened because I realized that my first “success strategy” had to be, as Gina advises, “Put on my own oxygen mask first.”
I want to end with a quote from “Janet” on page 153:
My life started changing for the better when I came out of the trance I’d fallen into so gradually [that] I didn’t even know what had happened. After struggling to keep my family on track for 20 years, I finally accepted that I’m the lead dog in charge of getting the pack in line. I had to decide—finally—what I wanted out of life and stake my claim….
What surprised me was that my husband responds to strength, not dependence. All those years I spent waiting, even pleading, for him to be the “leader” of this family—that just led us all astray. I had put all the balls in his court, and he couldn’t manage them, which just made us all more stressed.
For this chapter’s discussion points:
- What do you need to do, right now, to take care of yourself? (Or if your roller coaster has been calmer for a while now, what did you need to do…)
- Have you been on the receiving end of any physical, emotional, or financial abuse? How did you work through that?
- If you find yourself in that situation now, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for information and resources in your area, at 1-800-799-SAFE.
Thank you, Taylor J!
Next Chapter: Starting to Understand Denial of ADHD
When I first started learning about ADHD, in the late 1990s, I wondered why no one was talking about “denial.” That is, the fact that many adults with ADHD had trouble seeing their behavior objectively. In other words, they lacked self-awareness. This can really confuse loved ones, who keep trying to Explain the Inexplicable.
The common understanding of ADHD denial is that the person refuses to acknowledge ADHD-related challenges. Sometimes that is the case, but sometimes they simply cannot see themselves as others see them.
To help individuals and couples navigate this very tricky territory, I decided to explain ADHD denial in full. The first book to do so — and still the most comprehensive and timeless.
See you in Chapter 12: Solving ADHD’s Double Whammy
— Gina Pera
We welcome your thoughts below in a comment. Your story will help others.
Here is a hyperlinked list of all the posts in this series:
Read More in The You, Me, ADHD Book Club Series:
And now for the preview of the chapter-by-chapter lineup: the book’s table of contents. Chapter titles appearing as hyperlinks correspond to an essay in the Book Club. Click to read.
We stopped at Chapter 20. Would you like to submit your own essay to the Book Club? We welcome it! “Finding Your Voice” is an essential part of slowing your ADHD Roller Coaster.
From the Tunnel of Love to the Roller Coaster: Could Your Partner Have ADHD?
1 Who Has a Ticket to Ride? Spotting ADHD’s Surprising Signs (this post)
Roller Coaster Whiplash and G-Force Confusion: How Many Plunges Before You Say, “Whoa!”
Your Relationship and the Art of Roller Coaster Maintenance: Four Success Strategies
Success Strategy #1: Taking Care of Yourself
Introduction: The Amusement Park’s Emergency Room
Success Strategy #2: Dealing With Denial
Introduction: Roller Coaster? What Roller Coaster?
16 More Solutions and Strategies
Success Strategy #3: Finding Effective Therapy
Introduction: Calling in a Consultant to Help Retrofit Your Ride
17 Why the Wrong Therapy Is Worse Than No Therapy
18 Therapy That Works for ADHD
19 More Solutions and Strategies
Success Strategy #4: Understanding Medication’s Role
Introduction: Tightening the Brakes on the Roller Coaster
This post from Jaclyn at The ADHD Homestead touches on a range of issues within this section on medication
21 Rx: Treatment Results That Last
22 Maximizing Lifestyle Choices, Minimizing Rx Side Effects
23 Catch Your Breath and Take Five
Adult ADHD Evaluation and Diagnosis
“But I Heard That…”: More Background for the Unconvinced
Three Views from Decades on the ADHD Roller Coaster