Okay. How do I explain this so people can understand?
Favor request: Please set aside any preconceived notions, biases or opinions you have about ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ADD. Less than a year ago, I thought it was a bullshit, totally made-up thing drug companies used to sell pills to kids who were just being kids, or undisciplined, irresponsible adults who didn’t want to grow up.
But then I was introduced to other explanations.
For this post, maybe imagine that “ADHD” is a generic umbrella label to describe common behaviors you may believe to be nothing more than immaturity.
Is that too boring of an intro? Should I maybe just write about how I experience life? Probably. But I’m out of time. Dammit.
I write about marriage and relationships a lot because my parents divorced when I was little and I got a divorce a few years ago and it was all very bad for me. Because of how bad it was, I’ve worked almost as hard as someone like me can to figure out why it happened, because I never want to go through it again.
I look around and see things that should be better than they are: the political process and how elected officials conduct themselves (I’m American); our public education system; the insane economics of the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries; silly rules at my job, or the inefficiencies I run into unexpectedly just living daily life. You know the ones I’m talking about. Like when a company screws you over with crap service or an accounting error, and then when you call their customer service line, you have to give your full name, phone number, and account number to the automated system only to have the person who picks up following 35 minutes of ‘80s-pop-song elevator music ask for your full name, phone number, and account number a second time.
“Why don’t you already know this, Call Center Person!?” God.
In many industries, there are accepted “best practices.” After trying something a kazillion different ways, the people with the most knowledge and experience conducting a particular process or task compared notes and settled on a mostly universal “best way” of doing whatever they’re doing.
Because there are—forgive the expression—multiple ways to skin a cat, there are sometimes many very good ways to do something, which is great. All good ways are probably good.
I feel like with today’s technology and global mobility, we should be able to easily figure out what those good or best ways are.
Take the United States for example. Our biggest and most-debated problems are what? National security. Government debt. Illegal immigration. Public education (including the insane and financially unworthy cost of higher education). Health care. Environmental policy. And all the social issues people scream about.
There is a country that is “the best,” or very good at national security.
There is a country that is “the best,” or very good at managing finances.
There is a country that is “the best,” or very good at handling immigration, or the education system, or achieving high citizen satisfaction in (insert thing you care about here).
And at the risk of oversimplifying complex issues, I’m always dumbfounded by the deliberate choice people or organizations make to NOT do things in a way proven to be successful. Why not just round up the five leading experts on any given subject, or study the five most successful governments or organizations at whatever problem you’re trying to solve, and model solutions after them? I don’t get it.
Good God. Look how long this ranty tangent was! Over 350 words! Just so I could make a silly point about marital best practices which wasn’t even the main reason I’m writing this! People sometimes complain that I write too much. Maybe this will help them understand why. No. They probably stopped reading already, or ignored this altogether. I wonder if the people who called me fat, boring and pathetic this morning are reading. They probably still think I’m boring and pathetic. Fine. But, fat? I only weigh 173 pounds fully dressed with stuff in my pockets. I wanted to tell them, too, because: Screw those bastards, but then even more people would see how defensive I am. Which is what’s happening right now. Dammit.
There is a “best way” to behave in marriage. Just like there’s a best way to manufacture corrugated polyethylene highway drainage pipe, and a best way to design emergency stairwells in high-rise buildings, and a best way to prepare and bake angel food cake.
There is—taking into account the differing needs of our partners, children, and lifestyle—an optimum way to treat those we love, and give our relationships the best chance for success. Best practices for dating and marriage, if you will.
I think it’s worthwhile to try to figure out what those best practices are. That’s why I write about this stuff all the time. I don’t know anything, so I try to write in the first-person to make it clear that I KNOW I don’t know anything.
I just think things.
And I’m mega-ADHD! Are they getting this? I can’t believe how long this is getting. That’s what she said.
Because I write a lot about relationships, people sometimes ask me questions I don’t have answers for. I created the Ask Me Stuff page because I thought it might be a cool way to interact with readers and generate good writing topics, not because I actually know enough about anything to help people. But still, people ask me stuff. One frequently asked question in comments and emails following the new and unexpected attention this blog received from a recent popular post focused on to what extent I thought my ADHD behavior contributed to my divorce.
I didn’t even know enough to ask that question before last spring when I was diagnosed.
The most honest answer I can think of is: No matter how real ADHD is, I exhibit a series of specific behaviors consistent with the ADHD diagnosis which I believe not only doomed my marriage, but also damages many of my other relationships. I tend to have great relationships with people I see regularly, people who love me unconditionally, people who exhibit patience and don’t take personally my erratic and infrequent communication, and everyone who totally relates because they’re the exact same way.
Everyone else gets inconsistent attention from me, and that sometimes causes friction and hurt feelings for some people, and sometimes that ends with me never talking to them again, which isn’t ideal.
I think if my wife and I had more knowledge about, and respect for, ADHD (along with everything I’ve learned about relationship dynamics in the past four years), I’m pretty sure our marriage would have survived, and maybe thrived, with fewer fights and headaches.
We’re 1,000 words in, and I haven’t done what I set out to do. Maybe some of the people who don’t think I’m fat and pathetic and boring will keep reading. Do I really look THAT fat in the photo? Maybe I should have a new one taken. I totally should. Maybe I’ll look skinnier. Probably not. Dammit.
Does Your Partner Have ADHD?
Here are some things that have always been true about me, and because I didn’t know there was another way to experience life, I never wondered whether it was weird that these things happened.
Through the prism of hindsight, I remember all these little moments where my wife must have thought I was a stupid moron, but since she can tell by things I say and think that I’m sometimes smart, certain ADHD moments must have felt to her like I was doing them intentionally, or at best, mindlessly as if I didn’t respect her. You know—like leaving a glass by the sink, or forgetting about some event on the calendar she had mentioned three times, or putting off a home-improvement project she wanted me to do or help with.
You can be talking directly to me and I can be paying attention to you, and then you’ll see my eyes sometimes wander off because something you said triggered another thought, OR something weighing heavily on my mind overpowered your story for a second and I accidentally thought about it instead. She used to say: “Please look at me, and not through me.”
I, along with most people with an ADHD diagnosis, have a superpower. We can sometimes “hyperfocus.” It happens a lot when I’m writing. It happens when I’m meeting a girl for the first time. It happens when I’m reading a good book or article. It happens when I feel particularly motivated to finish a project or am up against a deadline. And because we can demonstrate competence, attention to detail, and the ability to complete complex tasks successfully, it must appear to some during other times as if we are bored, disengaged, thoughtless, stupid, high, mean, or neglectful. Maybe even some other bad things. Sometimes I’m awesome at stuff. And sometimes, I feel overwhelmed in ways hard to describe.
But I wanted to try (and totally failed) in this post! I guess I’ll try again Monday. Maybe if I can accurately capture how I experience a day, or an event, or life management tasks, something will make sense to someone.
I’m sometimes awesome at idea generation but bad at execution.
I misplace things.
I sometimes forget a portion of a set of instructions, making something harder than it needs to be, or failing altogether.
I often avoid things requiring sustained mental effort (long conversations I am not motivated to have, reading and answering email, making phone calls for personal or professional reasons that will take a lot of time, including my parents and other family).
I talk a lot.
And the most interesting (to me): I have trouble estimating how long something will take. I struggle with time perception. People with ADHD often do not develop the ability to accurately gauge the passage of time. Like, moving from task to task at an appropriate speed when getting ready for work or my son ready for school. Or mapping out a future schedule where I block out time necessary to accomplish something (like writing a book). Or remembering to make restaurant reservations or doctor appointments with sufficient time clearance.
I read one neurologist say: “To an ADHDer, there are only two types of time: NOW or NOT NOW.” And yeah, that sounds about right. I procrastinate in ways I imagine most people could never believe or understand. (My navity set is still out from the holidays, and just this morning I found some unopened Christmas cards in a stack of mail in my kitchen. Seriously.)
Maybe it’s the way my brain naturally works. Maybe it’s just a lifetime of bad habit formation. I won’t pretend to know.
But ADHD behavior is commonly interpreted by people who don’t understand as self-centered and/or narcissistic.
And it makes sense to me why spouses dealing with those behaviors without information they need to manage it effectively can find their lives and relationships spiraling out of control and ending in painful, messy failure.
In my experience, having an explanation or reason for why things are a certain way can make all the difference in the world in my ability to deal emotionally or psychologically with things that suck. Maybe if ADHD is affecting you or your relationship, and then you connected those dots, you’d feel better and maybe as if you now have some control and the power to make things better.
They say knowledge is power. So, if any of this makes sense to you? Get powerful.