When I was dating my husband, Adam, he mentioned to me casually that he has ADD. Thinking back, I realize that although he definitely was honest enough to share this bit of information with me, he kind of said it as a throwaway line. In the midst of a fun and exciting dating experience, where we seemed so in sync and perfect together, it just didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time.
No one in my family has ADD, and I never really knew anyone close to me who suffered with it. I heard about it, but usually in a joking way. Someone would say something like, “I can’t focus … I’m feeling so ADD today,” the same way someone might say, “I’m so anxious,” but you wouldn’t react with any particular concern.
Anyway, after just a few months, I’m totally shocked at what my married life with Adam is like. I think back and can’t understand how I didn’t pick up on how severely impacted he is by this illness. I guess when it’s all about sweet talk and fun, it’s not the focus. But apparently there were so many parts of his life that are affected, and I had idea no idea about it.
For instance, his sleep habits are a whole crazy story. More often than not, Adam will stay up till all hours of the night. Then he will not be able to get up in the morning. Sometimes I’ll go to sleep before him and he’ll tell me that he’ll come to bed soon. And then I wake up hours later, and I might find him wide awake at his computer doing who knows what. He’s finishing up his last year of graduate school. He is quite smart, and I’m guessing he’ll graduate with good grades. But what frightens me is thinking about what will happen when he starts a real job and has to be at a desk by nine a.m. and is unable to do so.
When I try having a conversation with Adam about his problems, he doesn’t have any good explanation. He just tells me that this is how he’s always functioned and he’s always gotten by. But it seems not normal to me. There are so many other areas of our lives that I believe are being corrupted by his ADD. I’m noticing that he’s not paying bills on time or taking care of other timely issues; he tends to just put them off or forget about them altogether. It’s scary for me to watch, and when I picture what my future might be like with him, I’m beyond nervous.
I’ve spoken to him about medication, and his response is that he tried medication as a kid and hated the way it made him feel. I’m spoken to him about therapy, and he tells me that no therapist will be able to rid him of his ADD. His response is that it’s just the way he is, he warned me about it, and I need to lighten up and just deal with it the way that he has learned to.
I don’t know what to do at this point. I don’t want to talk to my parents about it because I feel that it would be a betrayal to Adam. I’m feeling so alone, as well as uncertain about how our future will be affected. By the way, if there is an opposite condition to ADD, that’s what I would be diagnosed as having. I’m extremely organized, take care of things way before they need to be taken care of, and I’m very responsible. So you could imagine how I’m cringing as I take in the full scope of Adam’s lifestyle.
Where do I go from here?
I’m sorry that you are first now waking up to who Adam is, through and through. Having nothing to do with all of his wonderful traits that I’m sure drew you to him, he does seem to be suffering with the various symptoms associated with ADD, which are not unique to him. They sound rather typical.
Though he was forthcoming with you in telling you that he has ADD, he didn’t explain to you exactly what that means and how it impacts his daily life. Mind you, no one stopped you from doing your own due diligence, but even if you had researched what ADD was all about and what you could expect from marrying him, you likely would have still married Adam, as it sounds as though the two of you have much in common and a wonderful chemistry.
So I’m sensing your question isn’t about love, but rather about how to deal with his issues. First off, since it sounds as though you aren’t all that informed on the subject, I suggest you read a few books that will clarify for you what ADD is all about and help you understand how it is impacting your marriage, as well as the options for dealing with his symptoms more effectively. The three best books are “Driven to Distraction,” “Is it You, Me or Adult ADD?” and “The ADHD Effect on Marriage.” After you’ve completed these books, you’ll be more knowledgeable on the subject, understand Adam in a way that you’ve never understood him before, and learn helpful tools.
But to answer your question from a broader perspective, your biggest challenge as someone married to a person with ADD will be in learning acceptance — losing judgment and replacing it with knowledge and compassion. People who have ADD, like any other condition, didn’t ask for it; they pay a high price every day to deal with it, and they benefit most from being around people who “get” them and accept them.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t have any say in the matter. You should insist that he work with a therapist to learn tools for managing his issues better. And perhaps the two of you should also explore therapy together, so that you gain the support you need, your own tools for dealing with your fears (and perhaps anger), and coping strategies.
Also, though your husband had bad experiences when trying medication as a youth, that doesn’t mean that it should be off the table as an adult. Besides the fact that there are so many newer medications available today, as an adult, the experience could and should be very different and is worth exploring.
The bottom line is that you need to educate yourself. Knowledge is power and will replace fear. Keep in mind that many people suffering with ADD still manage to lead successful lives, enjoy wonderful marriages, and have exciting careers.
We’ve all got stuff. Some people have more to contend with, some less. The trick is to be honest with ourselves and our loved ones and work toward being our best selves. Adam has been trying to pull it together on his own. That often does not cut it. Let him know that you are on his team and that you are willing to work with him to get on top of this situation, and feel confident that you’ll pull through together.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.