Driving back from the evening exercise class I teach, I’m feeling more scared than relieved to finally get home. Will the house be destroyed after I’ve been gone a mere two hours? Will my daughter be bathed and ready for bed, or wide awake, covered in spaghetti? When I’m not home, these are often the things I wonder about — because my husband has a problem. Or should I say, our family does.
The man I married is a 28-year-old, hardworking father of one. He is kind and considerate and one of the most generous people you could ever hope to meet. I’m the lucky person that gets to call him my husband. But he also has severe Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — ADHD for short — and this has led to challenges in our family that we’re still learning to face.
As someone who’s suffered from mild ADHD since high school, I’ve suspected this for years now. I’ve always known the symptoms, but when I really started becoming concerned about my husband’s dwindling attention span, I did some research to refresh my own (often) short-term memory. According to WebMD, a person with ADHD may exhibit all or some of the following symptoms: difficulty paying attention to details; a tendency to make careless mistakes; becoming easily distracted by things others can easily ignore; forgetfulness in daily activities; procrastination. There isn’t one thing on this list that hasn’t been a constant in my husband’s life from what he has told me, and they’re now all constants in mine, too.
When we first started dating, I didn’t mind that things were a bit chaotic, but I also didn’t have a daughter to take care of. The lost keys, running out of gas, constantly running late — they were all part of the person with whom I had become so infatuated. Maybe some of that chaos is what drew me toward him in the first place. He had this sort of “whatever” attitude, which was likeable, yet now I’ve come to realize it’s his defense mechanism for something he can’t quite control. I could totally relate to the attitude. In fact, it was mine in high school whenever things got hard. But knowing I had to work harder than normal to pay attention, I’d somehow learned to function by reminding myself to refocus as an adult. Though my husband hasn’t had a formal diagnosis from a specialist yet, a therapist we’ve began seeing to talk over these issues has confirmed our suspicion: no, he isn’t just the most forgetful person on the east coast, he’s just showing some common symptoms in adult ADHD.
In the three years since we’ve had our daughter, things have often become difficult to manage. While I’m already caring for one toddler full time, I sometimes feel like I’m picking up the pieces of someone else’s half-finished tasks far too often. But his intentions are good, which makes it hard to get angry (although sometimes it’s inevitable). He wants to help with dishes, laundry, and, most importantly, our sweet girl. But frequently it seems that for every bit of help he gives, 15 other things fall out of place in the process.
There have been times when he’s left our front door wide open while we were out for an entire day. He’s left the hose running all night, creating a swamp in our next-door neighbor’s yard. He’s impulsive with our finances, occasionally spending too much money on a night out with friends when I’m not there to do damage control. Things like locking his keys in the car or forgetting his phone and wallet generally happen weekly, or bi-weekly, if we’re lucky. And his frustration level when he makes a mistake is typically that of a small child’s; he spins into a self-deprecating temper tantrum that makes me want to close my eyes and cover my ears (and I often do).
Now that our daughter is becoming more aware, I’m worried about what these constant occurrences and our arguments are teaching her. I don’t want her to see his actions, or my reactions, and think that this kind of chaos is a normal way of life. I certainly don’t want her to replicate it. I’m also concerned about her safety; of course I trust my husband and I’m not afraid to leave him home alone with our daughter, but I do worry that it is a bigger struggle for him than it should be. I’ve seen him do things carelessly on impulse that could be potentially dangerous. If I didn’t pick his tools up and put them out of reach or shriek in the car when he drifts into the other lane because he’s distracted by something out the window, I’m not sure what would happen. Honestly, I’m not sure if my nerves can take any more excitement.
While I realize it sounds like I’m keeping a running tab of all my husband’s faults, that’s really not the case at all. In fact, what used to be anger at his mistakes has turned into guilt for not offering to help sooner. Since he’s never been treated for his ADHD, my husband has spent his whole life letting his issues break his confidence, never fully understanding what was wrong or why he couldn’t focus. My concern is that he doesn’t have much peace in his life at this time. After all, he has to work twice as hard to maintain things that other people do with ease. I want him to be present for our daughter, not constantly distracted by ten unfinished tasks, what’s going on across the street, or the thoughts floating around in his head.
It’s taken two and a half years since these difficulties became more apparent to me, but, after many screaming matches and misunderstandings, we finally realized it was time to seek help. The fact that my husband has been living this way for 28 years makes me fear that it will be more difficult for him to change now that he’s set in his ways. Though I don’t want him to be medicated, I know that might be a necessary step in the process, and I am hopeful that modern therapies can help him get a handle on his ADHD, for our family’s sake. I want him to learn the skills he needs for us to function together as a unit, rather than working against one another each and every day.