Ten Ways to be Happier When You Live/Love Someone Diagnosed With ADHD
This article is very personal to me, as it’s entirely based on what I’ve learned from the past five years being married to someone without ADHD.
I write a lot about how to be a better everything with ADHD. Whether that’s a better father, husband, wife, friend, boss, manager, or employee. But I don’t often focus on what it must be like from the other side. If you have the fortunate circumstance of loving or living with someone who’s Faster Than Normal, I can guarantee that sometimes, it doesn’t feel even remotely fortunate. In addition to the usual arguments you have as a couple, throwing ADHD into the mix can sometimes be the ultimate recipe for disaster.
Here’s the thing, though — If the person with ADHD knows they have it, then it’s a good possibility that they’re already doing things to make living/working/playing with them easier. But in the heat of the moment, when you wake up to the trash smelling up the whole house because someone forgot to take it out, or you’re presented with a proposal for a new corporate idea that seems completely absurd, it certainly doesn’t seem like they’re doing anything beneficial.
With that, I offer ten ways to make your life just a little bit easier, for those moments when you’re packing a bag while questioning whatever prompted you to date/fall in love/marry this person in the first place.
10) Our ADHD occasionally drives us insane, too! Always remember that on those rare occasions when ADHD gets the best of us, it drives us even more insane than it does you. Can you imagine living a life where you absolutely, positively, 100% intend to do something, and then forget to do it? You’ve written down reminders, you’ve noted the time every five minutes, and you’ve set multiple alarms, but for whatever reason, you simply don’t do the thing? Yeah. That sucks. And as much as it sucks for you to be on the receiving end of it, trust me — it sucks a million times more for us. Not only didn’t we do the thing, not only didn’t we fulfill what we were supposed to accomplish, but worst of all? We let you down. And that just kills us. Which leads to…
9) Thanks, but we already feel like complete crap for what we’ve done wrong. You don’t have to remind us. Think back to that time when you were a kid, and did something truly horribly wrong. Remember how you felt when you got caught, or maybe when you came clean and admitted it? Remember when your mom or dad said “I’m not angry, I’m just very disappointed in you. I thought I raised you better than that.” Remember how you wanted a hole to open up in the floor and the universe to suck you through to oblivion? Yeah. That. That’s how we feel when we blow something we truly intended to do. Do you have every right to be angry? Of course you do. But, if you’re thinking about how to hurt us in response, know this: If it’s truly an ADHD moment that caused us to not do the thing, we’re already beyond hurt. We’re horrified, mortified, and many other verbs that end in -fied, and we’d do anything to take back what we didn’t do.
8) Sometimes when we’re excited, our brains move so fast, that in our heads, we’ve already friended, best-friended, argued, broken up, and divorced you from our lives in the space of four minutes. Let me explain to you how excitement works when someone has ADHD: Imagine I just landed a huge contract, worth a ton of money. In my head, here’s what happens:
“Well, thank you, Mr. Johnson. Yes, I look forward to working with you, too. Excellent. We’ll be in touch tomorrow morning. Yes, sir. Goodbye.”
OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE I GOT THIS I DID THIS ALL MYSELF THIS IS SO AMAZING I NEED TO SHARE THIS WITH THE PERSON I LOVE AND PROVE I DID THIS THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!!
<DIALS PERSON’S WORK PHONE, NO ANSWER> WHY ISN’T SHE ANSWERING? DOES SHE KNOW HOW GREAT THIS IS AND WHAT I DID? WHY WOULDN’T SHE WANT TO TALK TO ME ABOUT THIS? SHE’S SO DAMN SELFISH!
<DIALS PERSON’S MOBILE PHONE, NO ANSWER> WHAT THE HELL? THIS IS AN AMAZING THING I JUST DID WHY DOES SHE ALWAYS DO THIS? SHE OBVIOUSLY DOESN’T CARE THIS IS BULLSHIT, WHY AM I WITH SOMEONE WHO OBVIOUSLY DOESN’T CARE ABOUT ME?
<DIALS WORK PHONE AGAIN, NO ANSWER.> THIS IS RIDICULOUS. I’M SO DONE WITH HER. WHY WOULD SHE DELIBERATELY GO OUT OF HER WAY TO RUN MY AMAZING MOMENT? THIS IS CRAP. SHE’S EVIL AND I HATE HER.
<SENDS EMAIL> Dear person in my life who obviously doesn’t care about me: I had really great news and was in an amazing mood and wanted to share it and celebrate it with you so you could feel the same as I do and I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to do that and you obviously dislike me, you’re a horrible person and you’ve totally taken all my happiness today and just crushed it like putting out a cigarette with your boot. I’m coming home and packing my things and moving out. Goodbye.”
<Five minutes later, phone rings, it’s person I love calling me> — Hey, honey, I was in an impromptu meeting with my boss, I saw that you called — What’s up? Oh, I got an email from you as well, let me… WHAT IN THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?? <CLICK.>
Occasionally, you’re going to get these kinds of situations from us. It’s not you, it’s us. And we’re embarrassed that we did it, and hopefully, over time, they become more and more infrequent. But on occasion, our endorphins get the best of us, and they’ll still happen every once in awhile, because, no matter how good we get at slowing down our brains, sometimes our brakes simply fail. When that happens, laugh it off, dial us back, call us an idiot, and then congratulate us on our good news. We’ll try even harder to prevent it next time.
7) You know the reason for “no parking” zones? The same logic exists within “no talking” zones. Ever do this? You call the ADHD person in your life, and they answer with “hey, is everything ok?” Yeah, all is fine, I just had a question for you.”
Chances are, the next thing out of ADHD’s mouth is going to be “OK, can we talk later? I’m in the middle of something here.”
I know, because this happens to me all the time. Why? Because when you’re ADHD, you can’t shut off your phone, in case “something happens.” That something could be a new client, or the person we love falling down a manhole. But therein lies a problem: If we answer, you assume we have the time to talk, otherwise, why would we answer, right? But that’s not how we work, and unfortunately, therein lies a paradox, and it usually goes something like this:
“Hi, hon, can I call you back later? I’m in the middle of something here.”
“Sure, I just want to know this one thing…” And then you proceed to ask us a question. You know what the problem is there? The problem is, you’ve just taken us out of our zone. See, when you’re ADHD, “zones” are lifesavers. They allow us to work nonstop, they allow us to go from idea to paper to computer to implementation, all in a matter of minutes, while it would take a “normal” person hours, if not days.
But — If we’re interrupted, we’re screwed, and getting back on track becomes a process that often results in us not doing anything at all. It’s simply the way it is. We have zones. Happy zones, work zones, love zones, we have zones. Work with us to figure out what our zones are, let us alone during our “work” zones, and we’ll be awesome for you in every other zone there is.
6) Don’t downplay our sharing. Embrace that we want to share with you as much as we do! You know what makes someone with ADHD truly happy? Sharing. The ability to share with someone good or bad news, or even our latest crazy purchase, idea, or thought. We buy a new jacket? We’re going to want to show it to you. The same thing applies when we have what we think is a good idea for you, whether it be personal or professional. When we first get to share the idea with you, you know what we don’t want? We don’t want notes. We don’t want to know it’s a crappy idea. We don’t want you to tell us why our news, purchase, or even life-changing idea is wrong. We don’t want anything like that. All we want for the first few minutes, is to be heard. You have no idea what it’s like to share all that excitement with the person we love, only to have their first reaction be “You know, that’s not really the — — Fill in the blank, it doesn’t matter, you’ve just crushed us.
If it truly is the stupidest idea you’ve ever heard, feel free to tell us — But not right away. Give us an hour. Let us get it out of our system, let us enjoy it. Let us have those few seconds where all that build-up finally gets released. Let us recover from that, and enjoy the afterglow for a few minutes. Then, you can tell us that our idea sucks. Just give us that first few minutes. Because if you don’t, over time, we’re going to stop telling you things. And even worse, we’re going to find other people to tell. And that sucks, because we’d much rather tell you. But if you rarely share our enthusiasm, we’re going to stop telling you.
5) If it seems strange, it probably is. TO YOU. When one has ADHD, one does things that to any rational person with a slower brain, would NOT seem normal. Things like running at 3:15am. Things like flying to Asia to write a book. (Or this blog post.) But it’s not that we’re strange. (Well, not only that we’re strange. Fact is, we’re also methodical, and we do the things we do for a reason.
I can’t tell you how many people with ADHD manage it by exercising super-early. Why? Because we know that’s the only time we can, and if we don’t, our days aren’t as good as they could be. We get up early to fly somewhere for one meeting that could be handled via FaceTime not only because in-person is always better, but because it’s ten hours round trip of uninterrupted writing time. We don’t do things because we know that if we do them one time, we’ll do them a thousand, because we’ve got ADHD, remember?
Trust us — We know ourselves. And we also know some of the things we do seem crazy. But they work for us. So let us do them. Heck, ask to join us every once in a while. You’d be amazed what you could learn.
4) We’re naturally curious. Help guide us as to what to be curious about! We love asking questions. We love knowing what’s going on. We love talking to people. When you see us at the water cooler talking to someone, it doesn’t mean we’re blowing off work. When we’re with you on an airplane and before the flight already know everyone on the plane, it doesn’t mean we’re not interested in you! It just means we’re interested in everything. Those with ADHD are surprisingly loyal. Don’t think our natural curiosity means we’re looking for something better. We’re not.
3) When you can, try and eliminate choice. The worst thing to do to someone with ADHD is say “oh, whatever you want is fine.” Chances are, it won’t be fine, because the person with the faster brain doesn’t think entirely the same way you do. If you truly want to give them a choice, try and make it as limited a choice as possible. Instead of saying, “oh, you pick a restaurant for dinner, anything is fine with me,” how about saying “I’m good with either pizza or Mexican, why don’t you pick one?” Giving us two choices as opposed to an infinite number helps reign us in, and you won’t find yourself trying monkey brains when all you really wanted was a large pepperoni.
2) Show us that you’ve really heard us. When I get into a heated discussion, whether with someone in my personal life, or even my assistant, it’s imperative that I know that they’re truly hearing me. Not just “uh-huh’ing” me, but truly hearing me. Because if I don’t feel like they’re truly hearing me, I can’t let the situation go and move onto the next point.
When you’re arguing with someone with ADHD, try and make it a point to truly listen to them, and show them that you’ve comprehended what they’ve said. You certainly don’t have to agree with it, but at the very least, let them know you’ve heard them. That allows them to file, compact, and move on to the next point. If you’re not listening, we can’t do that, and we’ll simply say it again, but louder. That never solves anything.
1) None of what we do, absolutely none of what we do, is done maliciously or with hurtful intent. Sometimes we screw up. And the reason our screw ups look so bad is because they’re often things that people with slower brains wouldn’t screw up. You tell someone with a slower brain to take out the trash,they’re going to walk to the trash can, grab the bag, and take it to the compactor. Not us. We’ll have every intention of taking out the trash, and will probably even start walking towards the trash can. But occasionally, something will catch our eye, and six hours later, we’re looking up roman sewage canals on Wikipedia. It’s what we go through on a daily basis, and despite our best efforts, sometimes, we’re going to screw up. But know that we’re working on it, trying to get better every single day, and we’re not doing it to hurt you or make things difficult. Truly, we’re not.
This article was originally published on Faster Than Normal, the blog and podcast that focuses on embracing your ADHD as a gift, not a curse. I’d love it if you checked us out — You’d be amazed how many celebrities and successful people have figured out how to turn their ADHD into a benefit, and improve their lives!