My wife didn’t marry a grown-up; I think she was drawn to the fun. Thankfully, she was still around when I was diagnosed with ADHD fourteen years after we married. That same year, she went with me to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association’s first conference, about 25 years ago. I’m lucky the conference was in Merrillville, Indiana, too far from Chicago for her to entertain herself. She attended some sessions on her own. When she saw Dr. Daniel Amen’s SPECT scans of ADHD brains, her perception of me, and our relationship, shifted immediately. I believe she saw what we could be.
I credit mostly my wife’s understanding, and secondarily my discovery of meditation retreats, for the opportunity to “try another way.” That became my mantra, and we became actual partners. There was no way around mutual effort if we were to have a real partnership, and mindful awareness of the ADHD effects would be necessary.
I fully understand why some spouses of adults with ADHD have the wisdom and courage to leave an unhealthy relationship, and some have the wisdom and courage to stay and insist on partnership. The alternative is hopelessness.
Spouses of adults with ADHD grow tired of repairing messes that their partners make. Examples of messes include forgetting special occasions, being late to events, interrupting others, being angry when others interrupt, blurting out what should be private, getting lost in solitary activity, neglecting priorities, losing track of time, misplacing important items, cluttering shared space, postponing tasks, driving too fast, drinking too much, talking too much, changing jobs too often, paying bills and taxes late. And perhaps the worst…ignoring one’s relationship partner.
You may be dealing with these or other messes if you are married to someone with ADHD. It is not easy. Adults with the disorder may ask their spouses to cut them some slack. After all, they can’t help how their brains are wired, and they’re not making messes on purpose…right? That may be correct, but it is unfair for the ADHD partner to start there. The first order of business is acceptance, which includes accepting that ADHD has an effect on others. Caring enough to listen respectfully to reasonable complaints is one way to live well with ADHD. If your partner doesn’t do that, he is not being a partner and will miss the benefits of skillful partnership.
Non-ADHD spouses who have had an excessive dose of “co-dependency” therapy often say something like this to me: “I’ve done my work; he needs to do his. I’m done with fixing the problems he creates.” Who wants the job of cleaning up a partner’s messes? Being an effective partner is something else, something that can’t be done alone. Resenting takes just one person. Denial takes only one person. Blaming takes only one, but it creates a blamer in response. Both partners lose in the blame game.
The solution is simple, but often uncomfortable. Years of feeling judged may contribute to the ADHD partner’s shame and defensiveness. I can be defensive when I feel shamed, and my defensive response takes my wife’s complaint off the table. My complaint supplants hers. For example, I might not like her tone when she tells me how my behavior has affected her. My mindless reactivity takes over when I fail to tolerate my hurt feelings with grace. If I get angry at her for being angry at me, or shut down to avoid uncomfortable feelings, we both lose.
The non-ADHD spouse must differentiate between taking care her partner’s ADHD and taking care of herself in relation to it. The former is burdensome, the latter practical. My wife is the bill payer. To make sure we had adequate funds in our joint account. she once put a deposit slip on the seat of my car when it was my turn to make a deposit. She was not taking responsibility for my bad memory, but taking care of her needs. She once asked me what I could do to assure her I would be on time for an important meeting that evening. Her question prompted me to think of a strategy. She avoided assuming the burden of telling me what to do.
Partners in a business are mutually responsible for the success of the business. If either stops doing his job, the business fails. Successful partners put the partnership first, prioritizing it over individual desires, differences, and personal comfort. Partnership doubles the power of individuals in dealing with life’s challenges. Life situations don’t cause divorce; treating a partner as an enemy does. Blaming generates more problems and solves none.
If you get stuck in conflict, listen more and speak less. If your goal is to understand rather than be understood, your partner will reciprocate, and mutual understanding will result. When you remain respectfully engaged with your partner in a conflict, you will solve problems. When you react aggressively, or retreat to avoid uncomfortable feelings, you will create problems. If you don’t find solutions immediately, you can still maintain respectful dialogue and enhance your partnership. To “win” an argument is to create a loser in your partnership. That is not what competent partners do.
Our Labor Day potluck (September 3) will be at the same park we have used before. River Park is just off I65 in Brentwood. Turn left from the Concord Rd exit and proceed to Knox Valley Dr. and turn right. You will see the Brentwood Library on the right and basketball courts on the left. River Park is behind the basketball courts. Sara’s website provides a link for signing up to bring a dish. Labor Day marks the 13th anniversary of ADDNashville. Sara’s website: http://www.skillsetorganizing.com
I went to Target yesterday during my brain-dead hour, 5-6 pm. The only turmeric supplements they had on the shelf were chewable gummies with sugar…what? Sugar is not good for inflamed joints…I didn’t buy them.
That’s not my ADHD story. I checked out with only one item, a box of 13-gallon garbage bags. My rush-hour trip to Target in 90-degree heat had been a frustrating bust. I inserted my debit card into the machine, and it displayed an option for requesting cash back. When I removed my card, the clerk asked if I wanted my receipt in the bag. Yes, I answered and turned to walk away.
He caught me pivoting and handed me a twenty dollar bill, which surprised me. The garbage bags cost about eleven dollars. For a moment, my rapid math brain imagined a nine-dollar credit…are you following this?
Reasoning caught up, and I thanked him for reminding me of the requested cash. He said you’re welcome with a smirky smile. His look spoke volumes: Good luck finding your car, old man!
Breathing Appalachian air while rocking on the balcony of a B & B made me sleepy this morning, despite the coffee conversation about a black bear that surprised our neighbor at dusk last night. I’m walking that same trail now to wake myself. I am capable of walking aimlessly down mental trails, but this morning I am walking mindfully. Exercise and vigilance on a mountain path are good for the heart and mind…seriously!
Written June 6, 2018 in the mountains of Western North Carolina
I recently suffered, survived, and thrived at a weeklong silent meditation retreat. If you know me, you understand what an accomplishment it was for me to be silent for a week. My wife couldn’t imagine it!
Meditation retreats are enlightening…they turn up the lights on our internal world and our perception of the external world. A week of mediation leaves no room to escape seeing oneself with the clarity of a microscope. Acceptance, compassion, and suspension of judgment are the meditator’s tools. A retreat is not a magical mystery tour, nor a vacation. It is the challenging practice of seeing and accepting life as it is, impermanent as it is, at any given moment.
As expected, the retreat experience did not cure my ADHD. I took it with me, sat on a meditation cushion with it, experienced it fully, and brought it back home with me.
You might ask, then, how my ADHD brain has benefited from meditation retreats. Here’s how. I see my symptoms more clearly. I observe lapses in mindfulness more quickly and reset my attention more seamlessly. I listen more fully and speak more succinctly. I’m less defensive when criticized. I complain less and attend more to the beauty that surrounds me. I’m less judgmental of myself and others. I’m more conscious of ways I can be helpful to others in my daily life, and more aware of when I need to pause and regard myself as I regard others. Over the many years that I have practiced meditation, I have gradually achieved more ease of being in my life.
Now, you might ask how I know that I still suffer from symptoms of ADHD. Here’s how. For one thing, I discovered on day six of the recent retreat, while turning the pages of the schedule, that it had a seventh day! I had scheduled psychotherapy clients for that entire last day. My need to depart early changed the work schedule. When preparing to take a walk on my last morning, I was approached by a retreat manager who whispered, “Are you making breakfast this morning?” I mimicked his whisper, “Yes, I’m on my way now,” which was partially true…I only had to turn downhill to the left, instead of uphill to the right (the cafeteria was downhill).
I elected to journal in my room during an optional yoga period one day (I injured myself at yoga the day before…who does that?). After the yoga period, I mistakenly thought it was time for the next walking meditation, and I walked right past the person striking the moktok, a wooden instrument that alerts us to the next round of sitting meditation. I discovered at the end of my half-hour walk that all the other participants were where they (and I) belonged…on the meditation cushions.
I felt certain that other meditators saw me as oppositional. But judging them for judging me was not mindfully correct at an insight meditation retreat. The judgment was just my mental activity and not necessarily theirs. I returned my attention to observing my string of incessant thoughts, as if watching them on a screen. I dropped the judgment…aware that I don’t know what I don’t know…and don’t need to try to know what I can’t know…and don’t even need to try not to try…to know…you know?
Ease of being does not come easily, but the benefits are worth the effort — i.e., the effort involved in abandoning unwise effort. The practice of meditation has proven beneficial to adults with ADHD, but it will not “cure” a neurological difference that you were born with. Living well with ADHD requires acceptance and practice, not just understanding. It is not about becoming better than you are…it is about being who you are and cultivating skills to unleash your creativity and resourcefulness.
This inspiring article is from Casey Dixon who coaches adults with ADHD. Many of her clients are university professors and attorneys throughout the U.S. She is a great resource with her coaching practice and her second website that includes brief and accessible mindfulness exercises. You can find links to her practices on my “resources” page.
Forget your goals for a moment and consider your core values. What would a meaningful life look like for you? What is important for you to accomplish in your time on this planet? What have you done today that reflects what you value. If you value writing as a form of entertaining or informing others, have you done anything today that corresponds with that value? If you value being kind to others, have you engaged in acts of kindness today? If you value earning enough money to support your family and your children’s future, are you taking some action today on your path to actualizing that value? As someone who values taking care of your mind and body, what have you eaten today, and where did you exercise?
If you are criticizing yourself for what you are not doing, you are not learning anything from your experience of avoiding. Avoiding taking action on what is important to you is not failing…at least not yet…it is simply not activating.
For years, I thought self-criticism was not only normal, but necessary. It was a noble way to challenge my lazy self and insulate me from the pain of being judged. But it only made activating appear more difficult than it is. Having your attention derailed by something more immediately rewarding is understandable; it feels good. Unwillingness to fee temporary discomfort (e.g., fearing failure) may be the biggest obstruction to starting and sustaining effort.
Self-criticism is pointless, superfluous, obstructive, and above all, it is self-centered. Being task-centered instead is a better way to move forward. You don’t need to bother yourself about your mild discomfort; it is not abnormal. Just put your wheels on the tracks…nothing more…and when you get derailed, return the wheels to the tracks as often as necessary. Acceptance is more useful than self-criticism.
How does it feel to be told you’re not okay as you are, and that you need to overhaul yourself? This message appears too often in the professional world of “treating” adults with ADHD. It is insulting and inhibiting. One popular author and speaker claims to be healing ADHD. Try following his advice and see for yourself if you no longer have ADHD afterward?
Doubting your brain’s potential is not a place to start. Judgment impedes progress, according to research that I’ve reviewed. Acceptance and willingness, on the other hand, are foundations for improved functioning.
I could have written a book to make you feel bad about yourself and promised to fix your broken brain. But then I would have to live with myself for tricking you into believing that I’m your personal savior. Instead, I think you’re better off understanding and accepting your brain so you can get busy actualizing your dreams rather than dreaming about brainpower.
Negative thoughts about yourself may be your biggest problem, bigger than the symptoms of ADHD. People with average ability often accomplish more than people with genius IQs. Overachievers are not obsessed with trying to perfect their brains. I’m less impressed with how well someone sharpens his tools than how well he uses them.
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, author of My Stroke of Insight, said, “Stop saying you’re wasting time; it’s a waste of time to say it.” The opposite of wasting time is doing something. I believe that most adults with ADHD already have all they need to start and finish tasks. Dr. Russell Barkley said it’s not that adults with ADHD “don’t know what to do; they don’t do what they know.”
The youngest success story featured in my book was fifteen when I first met him. He underachieved in high school, and some of his teachers thought he was oppositional. One teacher told him that she understood him and knew he was going to do well. He is now a clinical psychologist conducting research at a major university. When I interviewed him for the book, he told me this: “Encouragement changes lives, and criticism makes you want to give up.”
Surround yourself with supportive people who will encourage you, and then start doing what you know.