ADHD and/or Major Depressive Disorder

I’ve been married for 19 years to a wonderful man who just learned in the last year that he’s had ADHD all his life.  We – everyone – thought his primary illness was Major Depressive Disorder.  But after many years of treatment for depression, when the forgetfulness, distraction, hyperfocus, etc. didn’t go away, a therapist suggested ADHD.  We’ve been reading lots of books and rethinking his whole life.  Now we think that the primary disorder has always been ADHD, and depression developed because of the effects of ADHD on his life and people’s negative reactions to it.

I’ve been reading this website for several weeks and decided to tell my story because it seems somewhat different from what most folks are experiencing.  Many posts talk about the ADHD spouse or partner being angry, belittling, supercritical, inconsiderate.  My heart goes out to the non-ADHD spouses who are suffering with this.  I don’t know if I could handle it.  Fortunately for ME (not for him) my husband turns his anger inward, on himself.  A lifetime of thinking of himself as a lazy f*up (because that’s what everyone told him and he believes it) has brought about his depression, and is very hard to eradicate, even with knowledge that it was ADHD, not laziness or ineptness.

Six years ago he tried to hang himself with a belt in our closet.  Of course this reinforced his diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder.  But now we have looked at that incident again.  The night the suicide attempt happened was the culmination of weeks of extreme insomnia, where he only managed to get a few hours sleep a night.  He was utterly exhausted and couldn’t stand to think of one more sleepless night.  So he self-medicated with alcohol and prescription antihistamines, which caused a temporary psychosis.  He heard a voice in his head tell him to kill himself, so he obeyed.  It wasn’t depression so much as it was ADHD.

Sleep disorders are common in ADHD and my husband has extreme sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and periodic insomnia.  He often stays up til 3 in the morning, hyperfocused on playing computer solitaire or a similar game.  He says he can’t turn off his mind, so he intentionally obsesses over this one task.  He always means to play for a short time, and loses track of the hours that go by.  He’s also constantly losing his keys, his wallet, his cellphone, his credit card; being late to everything and with work assignments; working 12 hour days because he feels guilty that he loses track of time during the day and feels he has to compensate.  All these “failures” he blames on himself.  I’m glad he doesn’t blame them on me, like so many of you experience, but it breaks my heart that he beats himself up, that he has so much self-loathing.

He is “seeing himself” in the books we’re reading, in particular one called “Scattered” by Gabor Mate.  This gives me hope that someday he’ll realize down deep that he is an intelligent, insightful, patient, loving man who has a brain disorder that nobody recognized.  It would be so great to see him happy.
How do I cope.  I suppose I have some “ways of being” that aren’t 100% healthy by some standards but they work for me.  I am intensely grateful to be married to my husband, who loves me and needs me, and I need to be needed.  By nature I have sort of a “cheerleader” personality and I get to use that with my hubby.  I have a small group of women friends and we gather every week for what we call “Whine and Wine” – it helps a lot.  He has been on Adderall for about a year but it’s not working, so we’re waiting for an appointment with his psychiatrist to get his meds changed.  My husband and I have an excellent counselor who understands ADHD. 

I guess what’s hardest for me to cope with is that, while our counselor has been giving my hubby lots of great strategies to help him be more organized, less inattentive, less distracted…my hubby isn’t doing them on a consistent basis.  I struggle with what I’ve read many of you do too:  is it inability or unwillingness?  There’s a part of him that has given up hope on himself, that doubts anything will help.  But even his inconsistent attempts are awesome, and heroic really.  I’m a lucky woman.
Thanks for having this website.  It feels so good to read about people who really get it.

You sound like a wonderful

You sound like a wonderful and compassionate person. Your husband is lucky. I have also suffered with self- loathing as a result of my condition and wasn't diagnosed until age 32 (2 years ago). I also have a touch of ocd- so my symptoms can look a little different than classic adhd. I do the video game stuff at night... but i don't lose things and I am usually pretty punctual and reliable (I check and recheck and recheck and obsess)... I can be anal- because when things are not planned, i get very overwhelmed and anxious. In my case I am hardest on myself about being intense, and talkative and anxious and emotional. I am never like the other women I know. There is just too much going on. I've always thought being a man would be easier on me- because I have a lot of traits that are appreciated in men and reviled in women. It's tough.

anyway- sorry for the tangent about me... I just wanted to say your post was really kind to your husband and lovely. He is lucky. As for whether he is not consistent with the tips for self-management because of lack of effort- I think that it's likely beyond his control to some extent. Just because he now knows he has adhd and is treating it with meds and therapy, etc... doesn't mean he is cured. He will continue to be forgetful and inconsistent and scattered.. Those are his symptoms... He may improve- but the condition still exists. This is what I have been trying to explain to my husband. I try not to get anxious... But I sometimes can't help it. But when it does happen, i am better at recognizing it and I try to go for a short walk or recover more quickly and I apologize for the way it affects him. I am doing my best.


good luck to you!

carathrace's picture

Doing your best

Thanks, Smilingagain, for your post.  I really appreciate hearing how it looks from your point of view.  About being anal, our counselor says to my hubby that it's ok to be anal right now.  It's the only way to keep some kind of consistent progress.  Maybe anal won't last forever; there's evidence that we can create new neural pathways by practicing stuff over and over and retrain our brains.  In "Scattered", Dr. Mate talks about how severely autistic children who are being worked with can learn new ways to be and can completely normal lives, and if they can, why not those with lesser conditions?

We are trying something new, a checklist.  We listed Goals on one side, and Strategies on the other.  For each Goal, such as "Leaving work between 5-5:30" and "Getting to bed by 10:00", we listed all the strategies he could practice to achieve that goal.  For example, some strategies for "Leaving work 5-5:30" are "Set alarm at 4:00" - "Spend last hour reading emails, clearing inbox" - "When alarm goes off at 5:00, STOP, turn off computer" ... Every time he does one of those strategies, he gets to put a check mark on the list.  The reason for the checklist is that our counselor says T. needs visual proof that he's making progress.  If he doesn't get to put a check mark, it's not a big deal, instead we're going to focus on the check marks that are there.  I'll let you know how it works!


It is interesting that similar neurology can manifest itself different ways. I'm an ADD husband also with a Major Depression diagnosis. I have just recently made this push to keep "working on it" on the front-burners, so I really hadn't yet considered which is primary. I am inclined to agree with the sequence you two have come to in that ADD (sounds like neither he nor I are H very much) is primary. I think of the deep depression years and apart from not caring about anything during that time all of it is easily seen as the consequences of ADD.

It sounds like you two are working the problem, and he is willing. As you said the sense around the forums is that this is more rare. I think those of us who are on board and don't have any kind of resistance to seeking help are at an advantage, but when we fall off the wagon we are prone to trick ourselves into thinking we are still on. It sounds like he a bit more aware and less self-deluding though. He is lucky to have a supportive cheerleader, and I am lucky to have the opposite. For a man who turns inward on himself having you there to keep him from going under will help. I think the driver to health for him will be his own internal exasperation, and your stance sounds appropriate. I just turn thoughts off, so guilt and worthlessness don't pop up on my radar nearly often enough or for any duration to adopt his stance. For me the driver is my wife's dissatisfaction with the martial consequences of inaction and non-thought. If she weren't so intolerant of me dropping the ball as a husband I would likely lead her down the primrose path for years until well beyond the point of no return.

Regardless of our different way of seeing things, he might benefit from the one tactic I've learned thus far (a few weeks into seriously fighting). He obviously has moments of clarity because he is willing to read an ADHD book or go to therapy. In those times where working toward betterment is the primary action item, have him go nuts with organizational schemes, reminder apps, and anything he can think of that will come back around and prick his awareness when ADHDing is not the focus. When I get a burst of imperative like this it is sort of a throw things against the wall and see if anything sticks adventure. I'm finding that posting in and reading these forums is also keeping betterment off the pile of things unintentionally-but-intentionally forgotten. Sometimes I feel like I have a split personality, and in moments of control it is urgent to quickly setup systems that will trigger a return from my more dominant alt. I'm not sure if any of this sounds familiar, you first start reading these forums and often it seems someone is transcribing your life story, but then you see the differences that make all of our situations require their own unique solution. Best wishes to him.

All of us have our advantages and challenges, and re: ADHD & Marriage I think the spouses response is key. Unfortunately there are some pairings that have too many challenges to overcome. If the ADHD spouse would do best with their partner having X, Y, Z attitudes in response, and X, Y, or Z are totally antithetical to who their spouse is as a person, it is going to be tough. I think both your husband and I could say with confidence that we aren't there. Thank you for being how you are to help him along, there is no "right" way.

carathrace's picture

There is no "right" way

I couldn't be more in agreement with you about that, Jack.  Since coming to this site, my eyes have been opened to all the manifestations of ADHD.  There are some key things in common but each story is unique, so there's no universal prescription.  We also attend the Throw-Things-Against-The-Wall-And-See-What-Sticks School of treatment strategies.  Most of the organization books he bought before he knew he had ADHD are pretty useless because they're talking to people who have at least some executive functions.  But we've found a few strategies in the ADHD books that work, when he remembers to work them.

One thing we are liking is sitting down together at the end of the day for what he calls VSE.  It stands for Visual Self Exam and he got it from reading about leprosy, how people with the disease have to pay close attention to their skin because they've lost feeling and can't tell how they're doing.  He knows he has a certain mental tendency toward numbness, and it sounds like you've noticed the same thing in yourself.  The VSE starts by looking at the checklist he's supposed to be keeping all day long, with a check mark for each strategy he practices.  If he doesn't have any check marks that day, he tends to want to give it all up, so I'm there to remind him of all the things we're learning in counseling about not giving up.  We end the VSE by each answering these 4 questions, which I got from somebody at this site:

1.  A complaint

2.  Something you like about the other person, something you've noticed about them which is positive

3.  A hope or dream for the future

4.  Something that went well for you that day

That may not be exactly how it was presented, but that's what we try to do.  We almost never have a complaint about each other, our complaints are about other things in our lives.  But I think we could have a complaint about each other if we wanted to.  As long as we answered the other 3 too.  The results of doing this at the end of the day have been very positive.  Sometimes we feel so good it sort of naturally follows us into the bedroom.  I was wondering if you might consider something like a VSE at the end of your day, with your wife.  Couldn't hurt, might help.  And there is no "right" way!