Back in the “bad old days,” before my husband and I started happily traipsing through the woods singing “I Got You, Babe” (see above), back when we were getting whipped around on the ADHD roller coaster, we desperately needed better strategies—fast!
As for Valentine’s Day, sometimes we were lucky it wasn’t the Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Both of us learning about ADHD and my husband taking medication helped immensely. But that went only so far to counter entrenched patterns developed not knowing that ADHD was in the picture.
One particularly pernicious pattern I call the “Dreaded Downspiral of Despair”. It’s that feeling of futility each time the roller coaster dropped again.
In the early days of ADHD diagnosis and treatment especially, progress sometimes means two steps forward and one step (or even three steps!) backward. It’s tough to keep believing that the situation will ever improve and stabilize.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I offer to ADHD Roller Coaster readers a few tools that I wish we’d had then—and that we still use now, 22 years after our first Valentine’s Day together. I hope these tools help to ease the drops and dips in your relationships (not just the romantic ones, either), including your relationship with yourself.
A Treasure Chest of Memories
When I spied this box at a local store, I knew I’d found the perfect gift for my husband Valentine’s Day last year: A Treasure Chest to store the hand-made cards and funny notes we have made for each other over the years, along with little mementos of good times together. Why such an idea? I’ll tell you.
It is all too easy, when caught up in the heat of an argument or disappointment, to forget all that’s good in the relationship—and the other person. Of course, this is true for humans in general but it seems especially true in ADHD-challenged relationships, especially in the early days after diagnosis. Reacting “in the moment” sometimes means forgetting the Big Picture. If a trove of positive remembrances sits prominently displayed, you needn’t go digging into drawers, folders, and envelopes to spark your memory. It’s right there.
Even single adults with ADHD often find themselves losing sight of the Big Picture in their lives. That old adage about there being two kinds of time for folks with ADHD, Now and Not Now, can leave them stuck in Now, with no conception that things might look different in Not Now.
When their string of successes is interrupted with one slip, they “hyperfocus” on the slip, giving it undue weight and forgetting all they achieved before it and will go on to achieve after—if they don’t let themselves become preoccupied with the one slip. They can benefit from an active strategy for offsetting this negative pattern, to avoid sinking their mood and self-esteem and paving the way to an attitude of “why try?”
The same can be said for the partners of adults with ADHD, who after years of frustration can become sensitized to yet another another dip on the ADHD roller coaster. Even after steady progress has been made, the dip can too much remind them of all the past disappointments. The tendency is to think the worst.
One way to avoid falling into either of these extreme negative positions is to build “institutional memory” for remembering the many good qualities about one’s relationship or oneself. That’s why I brought home this little Treasure Chest. But you can substitute a simpler method, such as a Memory Jar like this one:
Couples can write a little note to thank the other for a kind word or note a kind deed—or simply express an appreciation or brief memory of a lovely time together. Individuals can jot down successes large or small (“A student thanked me for understanding her” or “I completed a report in record time!”). And there the notes remain—colorfully visible, just waiting to be dipped into when the need arises.
How to Say “I’m Sorry” and “I’m Grateful”
What I wouldn’t have given, years ago, to hear my husband offer a heartfelt apology. It would have dramatically cut short long-simmering hurts and resentments. Instead, I had to drag apologies out of him, which hardly served the purpose.
You see, he harbored a pragmatic bias against apologies, born of years living without benefit of ADHD diagnosis: “Why apologize for a behavior that I know full well I’ll probably do again? An apology implies that I would correct the behavior. My offering an apology would be a false promise.”
Okay, sometimes he does sound a bit like Commander Data on Star Trek. And, you could call his defense either a pragmatic attitude or run-for-cover rationale. Call me gullible, but I took him at his word. Recently, I ran across a brilliant solution that I wish I’d discovered years ago: Formal Notices, from the Bureau of Communications. They work sort of like the old children’s game Mad Libs, that game where you fill in the missing words of a story, read to uproarious laughter.
My husband would have loved these fill-in-the-blank templates because they’re both practical and clever. And because an undercurrent of humor runs through them, it makes it less intimidating to convey the sentiments expressed therein. For my many friends with ADHD who have shared with me their struggles with composing letters of this sort, it seems the perfect solution.
Of course, some recipients might be put off by a “form letter” that offers an apology or pays a compliment. So you want to choose the recipients wisely. (And recipients, try to lighten up just a bit!) Personally, I see no reason why heartfelt cannot sometimes also be hilarious. Then again, a huge coping skill for my husband and I has been a keen appreciation of the absurd and an ability to laugh at our sometimes over-the-top behaviors.
Below are my favorites: the written scaffolding for expressing an apology, offering forgiveness, and expressing gratitude—all of which are important for both adults with ADHD and their partners. All “formal notices” are printed on glossy stock; just pull out of the book, fold, and deliver. You can even send through the mail.
I wish you all much love and happiness, especially this weekend but always. And, I welcome below your Valentine’s Day stories, whether horrific or beautiful.
Closing now with a little musical number from my husband (aka “Dr. Goat”) and me—in case you missed it above.