We sat on the sofa together facing our marriage counselor in her too-small office.
It was only 2 weeks into our counseling and she asked my husband a question.
“Have you ever been on medication for your ADD?”
I thought we’d be going around and around about the reasons why I’d had an affair and how we could get through it as a married couple. Instead, after addressing some initial big problems our therapist honed in on Chad’s lifelong struggle with ADD.
“Yeah, Ritalin when I was a kid,” he told her. “But not since about the second grade.”
“You’ve lived your whole life up to this point withOUT medication?” she asked, amazed. And then added, “How’s that working for you?”
As they openly discussed Chad’s ADD, his symptoms and his feelings of failure I watched my husband’s face. He was relieved to finally be able to talk about it and for someone else to acknowledge the severity of the disorder, how it can affect relationships and work habits.
Could we finally be getting to the bottom of some of our communication issues? The sarcasm? The anger? I thought. I knew my contribution to our marital mess was tantamount to marriage suicide and his symptoms of ADD were in NO WAY equal to what I had done. But even so…
Things began to finally make sense for both of us.
We left that appointment with a phone number to a psychiatrist and a recommendation from our therapist for Chad to try medication.
It’s Not Funny
When we got married 13 and a half years ago, we always joked about Chad’s ADD. That by the time he was 18 he’d had more jobs than years he’d been alive. That he always lost his keys, never would be on time, and that he misplaced his wallet daily. We would laugh at his constant change of subjects, about the way he “interrupted himself” during most conversations, and about his lack of respect for authority. We were proud that his ADD contributed to his artistic tendencies: his love for music and songwriting. He was always the life of the party…
Until it all became not funny anymore. For either of us.
He would regularly get frustrated at his own inability to stay focused and would apologize almost immediately after a sarcastic remark had left his mouth. He became disappointed in himself at not being able to function like most other men: Type-A, calculating, and organized. He had trouble sleeping at night and would often experience night terrors (sleep disorders can be a symptom of ADD) and had difficulty turning “off” his brain at the regular time at night. He could never conquer the piles of paperwork that towered on his desk at work and transferred his feelings of inadequacy into an I-don’t-care attitude.
Crowds agitated him. Chaos made him nervous. Too much noise made him edgy. And details? Too many details almost sent him into a catatonic state.
I couldn’t count on him to pay the bills because he’d forget. I was forever making excuses for our delays because he was always late, without calling. He’d simply forget he had to be home. He regularly did things like locking his keys in the car or locking himself out of the apartment, which, to my own frustration, I would have to fix. I’d call his name repeatedly and he’d ignore me. I’d ask him a question and he wouldn’t answer, but tell me a story about something he read in a magazine earlier. He used sarcasm and belittling words as a defense mechanism.
He couldn’t protect me or take care of me because he could barely take care of himself.
And I had no idea how to take care of him either: a grown man with ADD that needed different things than other husbands might.
Like a Box of Cheerios
One morning in our apartment, Chad tried to open a box of Cheerios for breakfast.
He fought with the inane plastic inner bag for a moment and POOF! The bits of cereal exploded all over the floor and found themselves into every corner of the tiny kitchen.
Too. Many. Pieces.
He froze. He couldn’t deal with all the little details that cleaning up an entire box of Cheerios would entail. There were just too many.
I screamed and laughed and offered to help sweep while he held the dust pan. He couldn’t even do that much.
He walked out of the room leaving me in the middle of a pile of cereal.
He describes ADD like a hundred radio stations all on, all at once in his brain. Listening to me is like trying to tune a single station at once while all the others are playing music and vying for his attention. It’s exhausting at best and nearly impossible at the worst.
And the Cheerios are the details that he has no hope of ever organizing. There are just too many so instead of trying to do what he can, his tendency (symptomatic of ADD sufferers) is merely to do nothing.
Chad saw that psychiatrist and she listened to him. She offered him a bit of hope in the form of a new (at the time) medication called Concerta. Unlike Ritalin, which had to be taken once every 4 hours — impossible for someone who forgets everything to remember to consume — Concerta was a once a day med, taken in the morning and would wear off by bedtime.
Chad lived the first 29 years of his life and the first 7 years of our marriage like that. When he started medication everything began to change.
On Monday you’ll get to hear from Chad and I will also be giving suggestions on how to live in the same house with an adult sufferer of ADD. I’m not a therapist or a psychiatrist, but I’ve lived with my husband for 13 years and we’re learning, together, to navigate the ADD waters.
[Note: Before you send me a bunch of crazy emails, I'm NOT advocating medication for EVERYONE and I'm not talking about PARENTING a child with ADD. I'm only talking about being a spouse of an ADD sufferer. Even though ADD can be hereditary, neither of our girls has been diagnosed yet.]
Any thoughts? Is anyone else out there married to or close to an adult with ADD?
Chad is writing about ADD and folding laundry on his blog today. Go read!