Why An ADHD Roller Coaster?

Why an ADHD Roller Coaster?

Why, of all things, an ADHD roller coaster? If you know ADHD up close and personal, you don’t need to ask. 

Roller Coaster is the most popular word I’ve seen used to describe the ADHD “lived experience”. It’s so popular, in fact, it’s in the subtitle of my first book: Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?: Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder.

How could it not be? For years, in my support groups, I heard it repeatedly: “It’s like a roller coaster!” Adults with ADHD say it. The partners of adults with ADHD say it, too.   

ADHD Roller Coaster

On A Roller Coaster…Through the Fog

A little background. For almost 20 years, I’ve led three free, open-to-the-public discussion groups—two in Palo Alto (Adults with adhd a, one online. 

The partners say: Life with their ADHD partners (largely undiagnosed or otherwise poorly managed) can be thrilling. But it also can be whiplash-inducing—from unexpected drops and loop-de-loops of moods and impulses to distractions and forgotten promises.

The adults with ADHD say: They feel as if they’ve been living their entire lives on a roller coaster—or drifting through heavy fog, sometimes on a roller coaster—until they learned they had ADHD. Then suddenly life started making sense.

One night, I was driving home from one such meeting, still wrestling with how to open Chapter 1. Then it hit me. Simple! I describe what goes on in that meeting room with both groups, month after month. Below, see a short excerpt from Chapter 1.

Ride the ADHD Roller Coaster — Without Getting Whiplash

Above, that is the book trailer I made. It still makes me laugh. I hope it brings you a chuckle—because nobody survives the ADHD Roller Coaster without a sense of humor (and a sense of the absurd).

My mission? Helping adults with ADHD and their partners to

  • Recognize their particular roller coaster,
  • Read the maintenance manual,
  • Secure the structure
  • Tighten the brakes, and
  • Nail down the loose planks so they can live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

Some folks assume that my first book is about “ADHD and relationships.”  That’s true, but only in part.

I did write for both partners, the adults with ADHD and the “partners of”. In fact, wrote the book I wish my husband and I had when we were stuck on our own ADHD roller coaster back in the early 1990s!

My intention: Providing a clear, science-based guide to adult ADHD that validated perceptions and shined a light on the path forward. For readability’s sake alone, I needed to address it to one partner or the other. I chose the “partners of” for three reasons at that time:

  1. There were few books  on adult ADHD but none for their spouses and partners.
  2. Their situation was off most experts’ radar screen. You Me ADD was the first to detail the range of potential effects on the partner.
  3. In many cases, it is the partners who start connecting a mate’s behavior to ADHD. They’re the ones who start reading the books, seek support groups. (This is still true now, but it was extremely true in the 1990s and 2000s.)

Adult ADHD Couple Therapy

Next: Adult ADHD-Focused Couple  Therapy™

After spending many years serving the ADHD community pro bono—and spending 8 years researching and writing my first book—I thought I could get back to regular work.  But no! Now I faced a new problem:  Many couple therapists were not catching on. The problem was two-fold:

  • Traditionally trained couple therapists who didn’t know how to or refused to incorporate Adult ADHD into their approach
  • ADHD specialists whose idea of couple therapy was extending their approach for treating Adult ADHD to the partner— too often by recruiting the partner as a helper.

When a major professional publisher asked me to produce the first clinical guide based on the evidence, I said no. Then she asked a third time. That day, I’d heard a surplus of couple-therapy-gone-wrong stories. Bottom line: I am a problem-solver. And, I had one more big problem to solve!

My second book is Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy: Clinical Interventions (Routledge, 2016). With my esteemed co-author, psychologist and longtime ADHD expert Arthur Robin, we reach out to professionals with solid education and interventions. It took us four years of diligent and constant work.

In the book, we merge into a flexible model:

  1. Evidence-based Adult ADHD treatment strategies
  2. Empirically sound couple-therapy principles

We wrote it for the couples themselves as much as the professionals, because they need this help yesterday.  To learn more:

It is the first book of its kind, with a foreword from Dr. Russell Barkley and more endorsements from preeminent experts in the field of ADHD and of couple therapy. 

Gina Pera's ADHD online courses

Now: ADHD Success Training, For Couples And Professionals

Right now, I’m taking it directly to the people.  That is, offering online training for people with ADHD, their partners and other loved ones, and treating professionals. The site is called ADHD Success Training.

Here is the first course—the comprehensive education and training you might have been seeking from therapy and/or coaching.  But not finding it.

Solving Your Adult ADHD Puzzle 

With sincere thanks for your interest in my work and good luck riding the AHDD Roller Coaster,

Gina PeraADHD Roller Coaster

Book Excerpt: Two Views from the ADHD Roller Coaster

Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Below is an excerpt:


The monthly meeting comes to order in the heart of Silicon Valley, a world center of leading-edge technology. Household names such as Google, Yahoo, Apple, YouTube, Netflix, and Hewlett-Packard dot this short stretch of coastal California between San Francisco and San Jose. In attendance this evening are software developers and computer scientists, some from these very companies.

What’s on tonight’s agenda? The Next Big Thing in high-tech? Not exactly. Not unless you have adult ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). In that case, keeping track of your keys can be a very big thing indeed.

Phillip,* 32, a talented software programmer with a beautiful smile and an engaging personality, begins: “Okay, I’ve been practicing some of the suggestions we talked about last time for keeping track of my keys, and I can’t believe how well they’re working.” No one snickers. No one rolls their eyes. Most people attending this support group for adults with ADHD chuckle and nod in agreement, relieved to hear someone speak openly about an embarrassing problem that they, too, have, or a problem similar to theirs.

Make no mistake: Silicon Valley might be a worldwide magnet for people with ADHD, what with their stereotypical love of the new and novel. But even here, ADHD is not limited to young men who tinker in high-tech, and its challenges aren’t limited to lost keys. The people gathered tonight—male and female, professionals and blue-collar workers, teens and retirees, long-time locals and new immigrants from many different nations—find themselves dogged by a few or many of these other difficulties:

  • Losing track of priorities
  • Arriving late to events and missing deadlines
  • Having trouble initiating tasks and following through to completion
  • Being chronically disorganized
  • Managing finances poorly
  • Losing their temper easily
  • Overspending, smoking, video gaming, and other addictions
  • Not being “present” in relationships


Same Meeting Room, the Following Tuesday, 8 PM

Be careful talking about good intentions to newcomers at this week’s gathering!

It’s the same room but a very different crowd. The people gathered here tonight aren’t adults with ADHD; they are their partners. And most have had it with good intentions. They are also done with being doormat and “dumpee,” warden and watchdog, crisis manager and caretaker, and a parent instead of a partner.

Ironically, the two meetings that take place one week apart—one for adults with ADHD and the other for the partners of adults with ADHD— typically show little overlap. That is, one partner or the other in a couple
is either “in denial” about ADHD or feels no need to learn about it. It’s too bad, because when couples act as a team in learning about ADHD, they tend to speed through the learning curve—with fewer bumps and
bruises, too.

The group assembled tonight has come seeking knowledge. They also seek clarity and hope that they can somehow stabilize their lives with partners who seem focused on destabilization. Until recently, most did
not know that adult ADHD exists, much less that it can affect their lives so profoundly. Or they’ve suspected ADHD for a long time, but they just can’t get their partners to consider the idea or do anything about it.

When they finally hear other people voicing similar threads of befuddlement, the floodgates open. Let’s listen in as the new folks introduce themselves:

“Communication problems” plague Donna and her husband

“When we started dating, we had great conversations. Now I can’t speak a word before he changes the subject or zones out. I hate the way this makes me feel, like I’m boring or not worth listening to. When I try breaking off the relationship, though, he becomes attentive again, only to backslide two weeks later. He finally told me last week that he has ADHD, but he insists it is an asset. I’ve read some Web sites that advise us spouses to be more understanding, but that’s not helping.”

Jose’s partner has a spending problem

“On impulse, she bought 20 expensive handbags on sale months ago, planning to sell them online. She’s procrastinated and they sit in the spare bedroom, along with the other ‘bargains.’ I love her, but we can’t afford this. If I complain, though, she says I make her feel bad. She’s been treated for depression for years, but a friend recently suggested learning about ADHD.”

Sheila’s husband gets distracted while watching their child

“He left our squirming baby on the changing table when the doorbell rang— and stayed to chat with the mail carrier! Maybe he has ADHD, as our therapist suggests, but is that an excuse? To top it off, he got angry with me when I pointed out the risk! But what do I do when I can’t trust my husband with our child?”

Surrounded by clutter, Lauren feels she’s “catching” ADHD

“Our home is so crammed with my partner’s crafts projects that I can hardly move or think! I’ve read about the association between ADHD and hoarding, and came to learn more.”

Brenda’s fiancé is the love of her life, but…

…his difficulties at work are driving them apart. “Paperwork takes him twice as long as it does his coworkers, who seem half as smart as him. He loses track of time, works until midnight, and then forgets to phone me. He was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid but says he outgrew it. I don’t think so.spen

26 thoughts on “Why An ADHD Roller Coaster?”

  1. Hi Gina. I was just recently diagnosed with ADHD. I am 78 years old and have had a very successful career. However my relationship with my wife is getting very painful. I recognize the challenging behaviour I display and want to do something about them. My dr says that taking an anti depressent like Welbutrin might help. My wife is against using anti depressents and said she would leave me if I tried them. I feel like just taking them without informing her. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you so much for your help.

    1. Dear Ray,

      First, congratulations on finally getting the diagnosis. I beet it has explained a few things in your life. 🙂

      I’ve found that much-later diagnosed folks who have had success in business and other areas of life still harbor questions about why they do the things they do. Or did the things they do. ADHD provides some answers!

      Second, I’m not sure what your wife is thinking. But at any rate, anti-depressants are not considered treatments for ADHD.

      Wellbutrin is an atypical antidepressant. It is not considered a first, second, third, or even fourth-line medication for ADHD (based on evidence of efficacy). Still, many MDs prescribe it because 1) it is not a schedule II substance (the first line treatments, stimulant medications, are), and 2) it has some stimulating properties.

      Many people with ADHD find it increases their anxiety. And, it has a higher side effect profile, including cardiovascular.

      At any rate, you both should have a thorough education in ADHD first. And of course first you should be evaluated. I guide couples through all the important basics in course 1 of my online training. I encourage you to look into it.


      Take care,

  2. I stumbled into this site after desperate search for help and some sense of sanity.

    I married an amazing man with a beautiful heart & mind. After 4 months into my marriage I find myself riding a roller coaster of emotions, heartache, & despair. I have fallen into a depression and sometimes want to end it all.
    My husband admitted to having ADHD but never has been medically diagnosed.

    He will admit to his hyperactivity in relation to add but all the other symptoms, his zoning out, out bursts, and my most difficulty symptom is when all our miscommunication turns to blaming me and hurting him.

    I let go of so much because I love him enough that it’s ok to pick up the trail however, I feel beat and the hardest thing for me is feeling loved by a distracted individual.

    I am slowly shutting down & losing myself, my marriage.

    1. Hi Yvett,

      You came to the right website. Please take care of yourself, and know that when ADHD symptoms are severe enough, it is too much to try to compensate for. Treatment might help.

      In order to work together as a team, it’s important to ground yourself in solid information and to be validated in your perceptions. I designed my book to do just that, and more.

      If you keep riding the rollercoaster, the confusion will continue. Instead of reacting with confusion, truly, become educated and know what you are up against. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981548709

      Good luck!

  3. I am separated from my husband of 30 years. A marriage counselor about 15 years ago suggested he had A.D.D. He worked with a coach for awhile, and that seemed to help. He is brilliant (reads physics text books for fun!), and often makes the unreasonable seem reasonable. Reading your book has been an epiphany for me. He is treated for bipolar and depression, but I am realizing after reading your book that his treatment is totally inadequate. So many years lost to A.D.D. The scary part is I now realize our 24 year old son is VERY A.D.D. Just his past week my son stopped in and described his latest A.D.D. bump….. stopped by the police for a moving violation, found out he was driving on a suspended license from an unpaid parking ticket, and had an issue with his car title (which be knew about and never took care of), the car was overdue for inspection. It turned out the next day my son had an appointment with his doctor who has been prescribing A.D.D. medicine for four years…. however his doctor does not have a clue. I am trying to find a more informed doctor and a counselor who UNDERSTANDS….. but it is difficult. I am hoping by using the guidelines for choosing a doctor/therapist in your book I can find him help that his insurance will cover. For many years I just didn’t get it. Your book is enlightening, and I thank you for it.

    1. It’s amazing, isn’t it, Charlean? In this 21st Century, so many people still stumbling around in ignorance of ADHD — and having to read one stupid story about it after another in The New York Times. Such a disconnect.

      I’m so pleased that my work has made a difference in your life.

      Best of luck,

  4. Hi Lori,

    Does he have ADHD, too? That’s pretty extreme to be “totally against modern medicine.” I hear that from some people with ADHD who are “oppositional” to the core, but most reasonable people are willing to consider the evidence for medication.

    Perhaps he is operating from a fear base, not a knowledge base. Is there an ADHD support group in your area you both could attend, so you could hear from people who have tried medication?

    If you haven’t read my book, it includes three chapters on medication, including before-and-after stories. It might help to make the role of medication more clear and “real” to him, less abstract and scary.

    The thing is, there are real risks to untreated ADHD. Including health risks, driving risks, and more.

    In other words, untreated ADHD could be endangering your life.

    Taking medication for ADHD is not like amputating an arm or leg. The medications take effect quickly and clear the system quickly. You don’t have to take them forever.

    But when and if you take them, I strongly encourage you to be a savvy mental healthcare consumer. Read my book’s chapter on medication, photocopy it and bring it to the prescribing physician. INSIST on a careful titration at the lowest dose and trials of both classes of stimulants. Take it slow, and see how it goes. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.

    Good luck!

  5. Hi Gina,
    I have a friend at work who has ADHD. We get along well, but it can be very difficult at times to know what is the ADHD and what is him. Any thoughts or advice would be truly appreciated!

    1. Hi Olivia,

      Your question covers a lot of territory! There’s no way I can cover it sufficiently in a response here.

      If you haven’t read my book, I recommend that you do that. It will help not only with your friend at work but with any other people you know.


      Meanwhile, you can read this post (What is ADHD? What is Personality?) at my other blog: http://adultadhdrelationships.blogspot.com/2011/04/q-on-adult-adhd-what-is-personality.html

  6. Hi Gina,
    I think drugs may work wonders with ADHD. I want to know the effectiveness non-stimulant drugs on ADHD, which may have beneficial effects on those persons with other disorders such as seizure. Thanks.
    Haja Sahib

    1. Hi Haja,

      That is a good question. And a hard one to answer, even if you asked experts with more medical expertise than I possess.

      Because it really depends on the person. Individual neurochemistry — and the rest of an individual’s biochemistry — are key.

      In my observation, the non-stimulant medication for ADHD (Strattera) works well for many people as a “foundational” medication, meaning taken at a lower dose in combination with a stimulant. It provides 24/7 “coverage” and helps with the sleep issues that plague so many people with ADHD.

      At the higher doses, I mostly hear of side effects, especially for men. With prostate, urinary tract, etc. Or sedation.

      But, if the stimulants are contraindicated for other health reasons, there are MANY other medications available today that can help with various ADHD-related symptoms. Typically, they were not developed to treat such symptoms but are used “off label” in lower doses.

      Dr. Ted Mandelkorn reviews many of the common medications used to treat ADHD+ in this blog post and the subsequent installment:

      All About Medications for ADHD – Part I

      I hope this helps.

  7. Hi Gina,

    Thanks for the advise. I am reading your book (rollercoaster) but no, I haven’t read it all yet. I will read it cover to cover as you suggest. I’ve also read “The ADHD Marriage Effect” which had some good info in it as well.

    I’ll be in touch when I’ve finished reading the book. Then I think my best option is to call every therapist in town and try to ascertain their level on the topic and see if I can find one that is helpful. Thus far our therapy sessions have been based on explaining each-other’s feelings and asking if I can be more accepting; aka parent my wife essentially.

    Thanks again for your time and your book has been helpful, although the reality of the situation is often harder to bear than that initial hope for some kind of solution to magically appear. 😉

    1. Just be sure to read the chapters on therapy before you go shopping. It should save you time, frustration, and $$$$.

      Solutions will not magically appear. But they appear a lot more readily if you follow the evidence-baased strategies in my book. They come not only from my personal experience in my life and as a facilitator of groups for both adults with ADHD and their partners, but the research of top experts.

  8. Hi Gina,

    I’m reading your book now and it is great. The difficulty I’m having is, while my suspicions that all of our past therapists were clueless appear to be validated, I don’t know how to find someone who can help us.

    My wife is taking dex and wellbutrin and while she seems to be getting a lot out of it I see essentially no change. I’m in a marriage where I’m essentially alone. I don’t have the hyperactive crazy husband syndrome that is so often mentioned in your excellent book. I have the quiet wife who ignores her kids school work, ignores me and is disorganized to an epic extent. Once I fell out of her hyper-focus I’ve become “That guy who lives here and pays the bills who forces me to answer questions on occasion.”

    Ideally I’d like to find a psychologist who can see us both, individually and separately and provide us with some helpful advice and exercises . That my wife feels benefit from her meds is a good thing, but sitting with her daughter to work on homework equates to climbing mt. everest for her. I end up managing everything and I can’t even get her to pay attention when it’s all laid out in front of her. It’s epic adult inattentive add.

    That being said, she’s also awesome in many ways and I’m committed to working toward an improved marriage. We’re 5 years in with 2 sets of step-kids,

    As your book amazingly guessed, I for the first time in my life have started taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds. I am having a lot of trouble remembering what fun we once had.


    1. Hi Jay,

      Actually my book does not focus primarily on the “hyperactive husband.” You must be thinking of another book. 😉

      And it doesn’t sound like you’ve read the medication chapters and the rest of the Success Strategy chapters, because ideally you should be working with your wife to identify medication targets the track medication efficacy. A team approach is what it takes. No amount of therapy is going to compensate for poorly treated ADHD symptoms. Period.

      I know it’s hard, but really, there is no “easy” way around it.

      If you don’t have a skilled therapist with ADHD expertise to guide you week by week, you need to read my book. ALL of it. 🙂

      And you need to follow the success strategies therein.

      Even after your wife’s medication (and yours) has been optimized, there are other strategies. Such as perhaps finding a high school kid in the neighborhood to help your kids with homework. Your wife, even if well medicated, just might not be able to do that to anyone’s satisfaction — hers, yours, or the child’s.

      The point is to think PRACTICAL, not always expecting therapy to solve practical problems. Sometimes a professional organizer with knowledge of ADHD will take you much farther than therapy.

      Good luck,

  9. How do I find a truly qualified psychologist/psychiatrist to meet with my wife and me to try to make some progress? After many tries at therapy I don’t think the general professionals are adequately trained in this field of study. Specifically, my wife has rather severe inattentive type adult ADD and nobody we’ve ever sought council from appeared to understand the first thing about the challenges we face.

    Colorado springs area

    1. Hi Jay,

      I know. It’s so frustrating.

      In the early days, my husband and I would redouble our efforts to resolve our problems rather than face another trip to a therapist who couldn’t help us. And would take our money. While sitting there with mouth agape.

      I grew tired of paying money to educate/entertain couples therapists about ADHD! 🙂

      Now, I am working on a clinician’s guide for couples therapists. I was asked to write it, in fact, by a major professional-guide publisher.

      To answer your question:

      1. have you read my book?
      2. is your wife pursuing medical treatment, and has that been optimized (read my book’s chapters on medication)?
      3. I’d forget about therapy until you’ve done 1 and 2.

      Occasionally, I will provide limited telephone consultation. I don’t always have time, and it’s not something I advertise. But I feel for couples who are really up against a wall. And, an hour or two with me often helps couples to zero in on good targets instead of continuing to circle in chaos.

      Contact me if you are interested: gina@ADHDRollerCoaster.com

  10. Kathy Anderson

    After 37 years of marriage I am near calling it quits. My husband has just embraced the fact that he has AAHD and has started medication therapy. Although the medication has helped him, I am having problems trusting his efforts to be more reliable, accountable and engaged. The anger and frustration built up over the years as a result of his behavior is eating me up and he has no recognition of the pain I have been in. Now I feel like the one with the problem!

    1. After 37 years, Kathy, I can understand how the old patterns and hurts could be hard to heal.

      I encourage you to talk with a compassionate therapist who understands the impact of untreated ADHD on loved ones. It’s important that your pain be validated. Unfortunately, your husband might not be the best person to do that now. He is no doubt dealing with his own “emotional baggage” of living many decades without benefit of ADHD diagnosis. So much bewilderment and adjustment for everyone.

      take care,

  11. This year is our 10th year of marriage. Last week-end, I actually told him that if it were not for our 2 daughters, I would have left him this last Saturday.

    And today (after 2 months of intense stress, frustration and high desire to put a name on the situation) I discover this blog and Gina’s work.
    HOPE !!!! A sign that there might be an exit to those 10 years of roller-coaster !!!

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Gina and all partners sharing their experience.

  12. vanessa, I truly hope the relationship is getting better, being afraid of how the other person is going to react will always lead to an unstable relationship. I have a.d.d. and it has caused alot of diffuculty in my relationship with my wife but the is a bright side of it, I feel that our relationship is getting better with the help of the medicie and the books that are out their, we are here to help….dave

  13. Vanessa, you don’t deserve to walk on pins and needles, ADD or not.

    Unhealthy or negative mood states seem relatively easy for me to drift into. I carry around note cards that help me get out of them. For instance, if I’m feeling like I haven’t been given what I have wanted out of life, I’ll read my note card with a list of things I’m grateful for. It takes something external to shift my mood into something healthier.

    I’m sure my ex could empathize with you, and I hope you realize it’s more about him than you.

  14. Vanessa, I completely understand. My partner is the same. He is particularly bad when driving a car. He gets so aggressive with other drivers. I will be trying to say something and he will interrupt me to shout at another driver.

  15. My husband has ADD and it is a constant battle to understand why he does things sometimes. More often than not I feel as though I am walking on pins and needles, helpless in my own relationship in the fact that I am trying my best to be understanding and helpful. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always help. If there is some outside factor that triggers his mood, there will be an immediate shift in mood and hurtful things are said. – Vanessa

    1. Hi Vanessa,

      It’s no fun to walk on pins and needles. I hope you can find a way to get him to consider treatment.

      good luck,

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