Why, of all things, an ADHD roller coaster? If you know ADHD up close and personal, you don’t need to ask.
It so happens that Roller Coaster is the most popular word 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. (That’s separate groups. I don’t have a death wish!)
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—one virtual and two in-person (click here to learn more):
- Partners of adults with ADHD (online and in-person, in Palo Alto)
- Adults with ADHD (in-person, in Palo Alto)
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 and a link to a free PDF of 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 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”. I 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:
- There were scant few books out on adult ADHD but none for their spouses and partners.
- Their situation was off most experts’ radar screen. My book was the first to detail the range of potential effects on the partner.
- 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 less true now, but it was very true in the 1990s and 2000s.)
Next: Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy™
After helping so many people to recognize ADHD and learned about its evidence-based strategies, 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 wouldn’t 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. I’d heard that day 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:
- Evidence-based Adult ADHD treatment strategies
- Empirically sound couple-therapy principles
We wrote it for the couples themselves as much as the professionals, because they need this help yesterday. (Learn more and download free worksheets at the book’s site: ADHDFocusedCoupleTherapy.com)
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. Our four contributors have particular expertise in their chosen topics.
Soon: ADHD Success Training, For Couples And Professionals
Is that a dorky title? I am not a marketer! But I do know my content and how to deliver it.
Right now, I’m producing online training and in-person workshops for people with ADHD, their partners, and treating professionals. The site is called ADHD Success Training. Stay tuned! Sign up to be notified here.
Don’t worry: I have neither time nor inclination to bombard you with e-mail. (Seriously, working at this for 16 years and only recently developing a mailing list?)
With sincere thanks for your interest in my work and good luck riding the AHDD Roller Coaster,
Two Views from the ADHD Roller Coaster
Below is an excerpt (download a PDF of the first chapter here: YouMeADDPartI-Intro- free download):
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
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.”