Living with undiagnosed ADHD, in a loved one or in oneself, can feel like being lost in the fog—often on a roller coaster. In fact, after the term roller coaster, the word that people most typically use when telling me their stories is fog.
I opened Chapter 2 of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? with Edith’s story:
I hope others can be spared from stumbling through the fog like my husband and I did. For our first 25 years of marriage, I thought Joe was lazy or selfish or both.
Edith also wondered if she was failing as a wife because she had so little success in motivating Joe to be more cooperative and thoughtful toward her and the children. At times she chalked it up to her and Joe marching to the beat of different drummers.
For years, I went back and forth in confusion, with no idea that adult ADHD existed. Then he was diagnosed at age 55.”
Guess what? Adults with ADHD also use the fog metaphor, including this woman, who was diagnosed at age 52:
I don’t quite know how to describe my life to people who haven’t experienced ADHD the way I have.
Imagine driving a car in a heavy fog. You get tense, because you can’t see the edges of the road or what’s in front of you.
In other words, you often can’t see how your actions will result in predictable consequences, which instead seem to come out of nowhere.
So you inch along, gripping the wheel, anxious that you’re going to crash into something.
Welcome Back to the You, Me, ADHD Discussion Group
The virtual group refers to a series of essays, each reflecting on a chapter in the book that put ADHD marriage and relationships on the map: Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? Most are followed by comments from readers—of the blog post and the book.
Fortunately, my friend Taylor J. agreed to host the discussion. She is a mom of four, wife of a man with late-diagnosis ADHD, and has late-diagnosis ADHD herself. So do several nuclear family members—though not all have accepted the possibility.
In other words, she knows this topic from all angles—and she’s a wonderful writer.
Laying the Roller Coaster Track’s Foundations
By Taylor J.
I just reviewed my personal journal entries from 2007 and 2008. Nearly all of them had the same theme:
- Why can’t I finish these projects?
- What is it that makes decision-making so hard?
- How come it is so much easier for my peers to manage all of these variables?
Prior to my ADHD diagnosis, I stumbled through my life, lurching from one crisis to another. As I tried to explain why, I often used the word fog.
I woke up this morning in such a brain fog… could hardly function until 10am! I should make another pot of coffee…
So, it was eerie to read the opening lines of Chapter 2:
After roller coaster, the word that people most typically use when telling their story to the support group is fog.” And for good reason: Living with unrecognized ADHD, in a loved one or in oneself, can feel like being lost in the fog—often on a roller coaster.
Yep. Living with undiagnosed ADHD, in our selves or our partners, can mean that every problem we encounter in our marriage is amorphous, confusing, and hard to grasp.
Pulling the Plug on the ADHD Fog Machine
Here in Chapter 2, Gina worked to “pull the plug on the fog machine.” She does that by answering the most common questions she hears in support groups—the cause of ADHD, the diagnosis, and the treatment. For example:
Question: “Why can my partner pay attention when she wants to? She could spend hours reading or playing video games!”
As Gina explains, ADHD’s core challenge is not so much paying attention as it is controlling attention. Psychologist Russell Barkley states that “ADHD is really not so much a disorder of attention as it is a disorder of self-regulation.”
Gina points out that recent brain science discoveries have indicated that ADHD affects specific brain areas—areas that release certain brain chemicals that arouse and maintain attention until goals are met. In people with ADHD, those areas require higher-than-average stimulation in order to trigger interest, maintain the interest, and end the interest at appropriate times. “That’s why one psychiatrist calls ADHD, the Search for Stimulation syndrome.”
Search for Stimulation Syndrome
This is a grossly simplified explanation, she reminds, and nothing about ADHD is simple. Especially living with undiagnosed ADHD.
But guess what can help stimulate those under-active brain areas? (Prepare yourself for a massive eye-roll here…)
- Fast driving!
- Spending money!
- Picking fights!
- Eating junk food!
- Jumping out of airplanes!
- Being the Life of the Party!
- Whipping into a workaholic frenzy! “
These activities produce initial feelings of focus, and a paradoxical inner calm. Over time, however, over-the-top stimulation typically makes everything worse.
The question that follows naturally:
“Does this mean my partner gets the stimulating fun tasks, but I get all the drudgery?”
Good question! This came up over and over again in our own lives: Is my role in our marriage just to be the janitor who cleans up all the messes my husband makes? Not at all.
But understanding why these disparities exist marks the first step toward rectifying them.
The act of “trying harder” can sometimes even make things worse, thanks to a particular glitch in the ADHD brain, which is explained as being related to glucose flow to the brain, at least in part.
So, you mean that when we cried, yelled, or accused our partner of not caring, they literally could have made their symptoms worse by “trying harder?”
Imagine how much pain we’ve all lived in—thanks to our own and/or our partner’s ADHD—when we believed that our partners simply didn’t care, or weren’t mature enough, to tend to all the variables in our relationship and our adult life.
Or that the same was thought of us.
Living with undiagnosed ADHD is not for wimps.
Other Issues Covered in This Chapter:
- My Partner Has Lots of Attention—for Some Things!
- Isn’t There a Genetic Link with ADHD?
- My Partner is Consistent—at Being Inconsistent!
- So My Partner Can’t “Try Harder” to Pay Attention?
- But What is ADHD Exactly? A Disease? A Disorder?
- My Partner Gets the Fun, and I Get the Drudgery?
- Maybe My Partner Just Needs to Grow Up
- What about Medication?
- Which question resonated most for you?
- Which answer surprised you the most?
- Did you find the Question and Answer technique helpful, as opposed to a running narrative?
- What was the hardest part of living with undiagnosed ADHD?
The You Me ADHD Discussion Group is always open. Join the discussion with a comment below.
Read More in The You Me ADHD Discussion Series:
Below you’ll find a preview of the chapter-by-chapter lineup: the book’s table of contents. Chapter titles appearing as hyperlinks correspond to an essay. Click to read.
We stopped at Chapter 20. Would you like to share your own essay, based on reading my first book? 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?
2 Laying the Track’s Foundation: What Is ADHD, Anyway? – 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