How can you be blindsided by an ADHD diagnosis? It’s easy. Our culture has alternate explanations for virtually all ADHD-related challenges. Moreover, even in this 21st Century, the public and even the mental health profession has not caught up to the science. So, when we finally learn, we are shocked: Why did we not know this before?
How many relationships are imperiled by unrecognized ADHD? I suspect it’s in the millions, just in North America. No matter how many “and then my spouse was finally diagnosed” stories I hear, each one moves me—and motivates me to keep beating the drum.
Recently, I shared the story of a woman named Khanji, diagnosed with anxiety and depression—repeatedly—throughout her life. She dutifully took prescribed antidepressants, which did not help. Here is her story: Misdiagnosed Until 39: “Best Week of My Life”
This guest post comes from a woman named Claudia. I met her via a friend who is an Evangelical Christian—and who beats the Adult ADHD drum loudly in her community. You’ll see a post from her on that topic soon.
My friend tells me that so many church friends find themselves and their marriages in dire straights because 1) ADHD has gone undiagnosed, and 2) their church teachings call for wives to submit to and support their husbands. Cultural situations of all kinds can add another layer of invisibility to the presence of ADHD.
That is, in part, Claudia’s story about her newly “diagnosed” ADHD marriage.
Let Me Preface This
Let me preface this:
I love my husband.
Wouldn’t trade him for the world.
And I will not lose what we have over something that can be/will be better with treatment.
This is a look at my life.
I Take the Hits for His Lack of Urgency
In over 10 years, there’s never been a time when my urgent was most urgent. I’ve been an hour late for dinner with friends many, many times because my husband was talking to someone and “couldn’t get them to stop.”
He doesn’t take the blame for this; I’ve typically covered. As a result, I may have come across as insensitive to some of my best friends. I’ve lost job opportunities because he couldn’t get home in time for me to attend the interview ; it was out of his control.
He doesn’t even remember this. It’s not at all conscious, just that his in-the-moment urgency was far more important. I’ve delayed, canceled, scrapped, and given up on plans time and time again. He has no idea how many times. I don’t even try to remind him because it doesn’t matter and he feels bad.
Forgotten Promises—When They Are Made to Me
Yesterday, he promised to care for the kids all day so I could get a jump on client work that’s stacked high. But then it was more urgent for him to do some house projects (current obsession), so I had no choice but to put off my projects to keep the kids alive.
I should note that this is a guy who has never been late for work a day in his life. That’s part of his urgent.
Meeting with his pal? Wouldn’t dream of being late!
Dinner with my friends? Let’s sit around and chat for another half hour before leaving, despite my prodding. Again, this just isn’t at all intentional.
When it’s part of his world, he internalizes meetings, deadlines, and stresses and stews about them.
When it’s part of my world, I have to remind him 10 times on the day of, and he’ll still tell me he didn’t know.
Why Are We Learning About ADHD Only Now?
One time our children were with grandparents, and we had a one-night mini-vacation scheduled at a B & B 30 minutes away. He didn’t get home until 10 pm, because he was messing around with a project that had no deadline.
That left almost no time for us, certainly not to relax. But he has fond memories of that night out as something he did special for me. I remember crying for 2 hours because I felt like he didn’t care about me.
Right now, I’m struggling, coping with this ADHD diagnosis. It feels unfair & unjust in so many ways.
• Why couldn’t his family figure this out decades ago?
• Why didn’t I recognize it from the beginning?
• How can I help him, without entirely losing myself?
And I have resources, thankfully.
I’m learning, educating myself, educating him slowly, as he’s able to accept it.
We’re moving forward. I’ve seen some thoughts on ADHD being a “difference” instead of a “disability.”
I don’t entirely disagree. But I’m not ready to embrace that thought train yet. Untreated and unrecognized ADHD is devastating. To the patients and to those who love them.
Motivated? Let’s Talk About That for a Bit
We’ve been in a whale of a financial mess recently, and we desperately needed more income. His answer?
“You need to make more money, baby. You’re really good at what you do. You just need to get more motivated.”
I am really good at what I do. I work part-time, run a mini marketing agency on the side, and care for my two little kids.
He’s right: I could make a lot more money.
I’m smart, people love my work, I understand business.
If I had time.
Here’s Where My “More Motivated” Goes
—My kids go to daycare, partly because I can’t get anything at all done when they’re home. Both have ADHD symptoms.
I’m totally responsible for them otherwise. It’s impossible for him to be there for pickup.
—If someone’s sick, he can’t take off work. So I do.
—I also cook, clean, do laundry, buy groceries, handle all the paperwork and household issues because he can’t.
Not that he’s incapable or even unwilling. Just that it’s not part of his urgent.
—My time is 1000% taken up with my “fire department” labors—putting out all the little fires he leaves behind that occasionally turn into forest fires.
I battle flames alone because there’s no one to help. His (also ADHD) parents figure I’m probably lazy or we wouldn’t have these issues . And my husband silently agrees.
—My parents don’t have the resources or understanding to come to my rescue.
We don’t live very near any family members. And, we moved to an area where we knew no one a few years ago.
So when the car breaks down, the AC goes out, a child has to go to the ER, or any number of other crazy things happen, there is no one to call.
A Weird Complication in All of This
Until fairly recently, I assumed all this was normal.
We both grew up in extremely fundamental complementation churches, where the wife is expected to support her husband and “work quietly at home.” [Complementarianism is a theological view in that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.]
I simply didn’t know that everyone doesn’t deal with this much extreme crazy. My husband’s parents believe it’s my job to follow, submit, and help my husband. So all of our issues land squarely on my shoulders.
My parents have been successfully fooled into thinking my husband is sweet, hard-working, and charming.
Make no mistake: He is. I’ve gone out of my way to hide the rest.
Then We Were Blindsided by the ADHD Diagnosis
Two years ago, my husband’s official ADHD diagnosis blindsided me.
I had no idea.
I’m an educator, and I’ve spent hours researching ADHD. I’ve taught children with a variety of learning disorders and delays, written about them, and worked hard to connect. But I’d never known an adult with ADHD before.
I didn’t know what it looked like. I didn’t know how the symptoms shift, change, and mask themselves in adulthood. I definitely didn’t know that “submitting” to my husband’s leadership like I was taught to do could destroy us completely.
Life goes on. As we learn about ADHD, his life—and by extension, mine—will improve.
The diagnosis has already helped. It took him from “I’m a stupid idiot” to “OH, there’s a reason I’m this way.”
But this weekend, I’m grieving the stupidity of a cultural system that fundamentally doesn’t believe in the importance of mental health. I’m referring to the church system I grew up in, but this applies to a broad swath of America as well.
God help us, we’ve got to do better.
We have no excuse.
Can you relate to any part of Claudia’s story? Were you “blindsided by the ADHD diagnosis”? Tell us about it.
By the way, you can read another essay by Claudia at The ADHD Homestead: How One Day Of ADHD Meds Gave Me Hope For My Marriage