I'm a stay-at-home ADHD dad, and my wife is divorcing me.

I'll do my best not to write a book here, but there's such a lot to be said.

My (non-ADHD) wife and I have been married almost five years.  During the first few years, I was mostly unemployed, but my wife says she didn't mind supporting me because I was supporting her emotionally.  We had rough spots, but overally everything was okay.  15 months ago we had a son, and predictably, everything changed.  

I am, admittedly, pretty screwed up.  I was diagnosed early, but that was back in the early 80's, so Ritalin was pretty much supposed to be the 'cure-all', and for me it very much wasn't.  I have a particularly debilitating case of ADHD; in every way ADHD can impair executive function, I am heavily impaired, so medication itself was never enough.  My family dynamic was way dysfunctional because of my unbalanced behavior, and when I graduated high-school, I set out in life,  and I succeeded in nothing.  I spent three years in technical college, excelling in classes I liked and failing classes I didn't, spent the next two years living at home, moved out with a girlfriend for another two years before she got tired of my crap and left, then moved back home, all the while getting fired from job after job, and each year it became harder and harder for me to make myself get back out there and try again.  At the age of 27, I was still living at home, and my life had become centered around doing as I liked with the minimum of hassle.  I was armed with a double handful of the worst defense mechanisms there are, designed to keep me nice and safe and complacent, living in the now, and they worked around the clock to prevent any thoughts that might disturb me from entering my consciousness, simultaneously keeping the ocean of guilt, shame, anger, and resentment bottled up where it couldn't bother me.    I truly believed that dependency was all I was fit for, and that none of it was my fault or my responsibility.  I steadfastly ignored reality, and I made a damn good go of ignoring the consequences of reality, knowing that no matter what happened, my parents would never put me out on my ass.  I took ADHD drugs every now and then, but never committed to a regimen for long.

When my wife got pregnant, I panicked, because it was evident that I wouldn't be able to support the family, whereas my wife has a very good, stable job with a respectable salary.  The plan was always that I would stay home and take care of the baby, and she would work, which sounded okay so long as it was to happen sometime in the nebulous future, but the reality of the pregnancy lit a fire under me, and I immediately started looking for treatment options, because I didn't trust myself to be responsible enough to take care of an infant.  I found an ADHD-focused center, persuaded my parents to pay for it, and began seeing a therapist every week, and a psychiatrist every month.  For the first three months, my therapist worked wonders for me, and I managed to work through a great deal of my emotional hangups surrounding my childhood and how my family had dealt with my disorder.  The ocean of suppressed emotions finally began to subside, and I was finally in a good place to begin working on managing my ADHD...or so I thought.

I kept on seeing the therapist every week for eight months after that, but I made very little measurable progress in my one and only responsibility: keeping the house clean.  Once the baby was born, I did a good enough job caring for him, but what little housework i was able to accomplish went right out the window, and my defense mechanisms kicked in whenever my wife would complain.

Now, I have come to know my defense mechanisms, and how sneaky they are, but back then, I didn't realize the true depth and breadth of their influence on my behavior.  Whenever my wife would hassle me about something, they would kick in, unconsciously and automatically, and attempt to deflect responsibility, shift blame, and, failing everything else, they would provoke violent outbursts of temper (I never hit my wife or my child, but I've punched a fair few walls).  Failing all else, my defense mechanisms would tear open the floodgates keeping my suppressed emotions in check, reducing me to incoherent sobs.  In the moment, the emotions are very real to me, and when I'm trying to manipulate the conversation to shift blame to someone or something else, I really believe in what I'm saying.  It's only been recently that I've become aware of my defense mechanisms, and can realize when they have been triggered, and go back and say something like, "I'm so sorry, I didn't really mean any of that."  Alas, as all excuses do, that one wore thin.  Ah, I'm getting ahead of myself.

As I was saying, I saw the therapist every week for about a year and a half, total, but she wasn't helping me learn new patterns of behavior, and she either hadn't identified my defense mechanisms, or didn't feel it was important to address them.  She was basically an expensive confidant, who took my money every week and listened to my troubles, and (it seems to me) helped me cram my head firmly up my own ass.  Finally my wife (who was paying for it now), put her foot down and said she wasn't going to pay for therapy anymore, because it obviously wasn't helping.  She said she wasn't happy, and that she needed me to make a real change, or she was going to have to take steps.

That was a year ago.  I've tried various things to help me, but as long as I was given slack, I took it, as I always have.  For the last few months, whenever I would blow up at her, or try to manipulate her, she warned that those conversations were driving us further apart and ruining our marriage, but I was helpless to stop doing it.  I would resolve not to talk to her for the rest of the night after an argument, and an hour later, we were at it again.  So frustrating.  I wanted marriage counselling, but she's burned on therapy- she just doesn't believe it helps, and bitterly resents the thousands of dollars my parents and she had poured into it, with nothing to show for it.  I wanted a life coach, which I truly believe would have helped me, but she refused to throw good money after bad.  And all the time, my defense mechanisms were screaming at the top of my lungs that I shouldn't have to bear the responsibility for my actions.

As I said, just in the last month or so, after studying the problem extensively, I have become aware of my defense mechanisms, where they came from, and what they're designed to do, and I finally understand WHY I can say, "I'm not talking to you anymore," to my wife, and 20 minutes later, still be wrangling with her.  More and more, I am able to recognize devious thoughts like, "But there's a reason I didn't do the dishes," and, "If only my wife would agree to be held accountable for holding me accountable for things I should be holding myself accountable for, everything would be alright!" and, "My wife should accept her part of the responsibility for me being the way I am, she let me get away with too much for too long for me to turn things around now!"

Ack, I am writing a book.  I'll try to sum up.  

A couple of weeks ago we took a vacation back home, and stayed with my parents.  Being back in that familiar environment does something to me, and I usually slip back into the old routine of avoiding reality, without really realizing what I'm doing.  A couple of days into the vacation, my mom brought it to my attention that since I'd been home, I had been neglectful of my duties as primary caregiver of my son, and had just assumed that everyone else would take care of him while I sat in the back room on the computer all day long.  That really pissed me off.  So the rest of the week, I committed myself to becoming a better father and husband.  I resisted the urge to ignore reality, and I think that I did a pretty good job of being a responsible, considerate adult.  I decided that as soon as we got home, I would find a part time job, to show my wife that I was ready to step up and make an effort to hold up my end of the relationship.

Too little, too late.

A week ago, my wife came to me and said that our relationship was over, and that she was tired of waiting for me to change.  She's giving me a little less than two months to find a job, and find a place to live- in the meantime she is assuming full custody of our son.  She wants me to be a part of his life, but she simply cannot cohabitate with me anymore.  For the first few days, I committed myself to using my newfound awareness to clean up the house and keep it that way, which I was able to do, with great difficulty, but now I see I was again simply ignoring reality.  My wife and I had a conversation two days ago, I tried to convince her to rethink her decision, but she was adamant, and after she went to bed, I realized that my damn defense mechanisms had once again undermined me, and had tried to manipulate the conversation.  I immediately apologized, and said I wouldn't try to change her mind again (I have done just that twice already, damn it).

Now, I don't know what to do.  My inner demons are screaming at the top of their lungs that there's no way I should be expected to suddenly succeed in becoming independent after a lifetime of dependency, that my wife is responsible for enabling me to be an adult child, just as my mother had done before her, and she has no right to put me in this situation.  It's difficult to ignore those voices, or tune them out, because I'm terrified.  Whenever I try to grit my teeth and face the reality of what I have to do, the anxiety overwhelms me, I get an asthma attack and have to lie on the couch and watch cartoons until I am distracted enough to do what is necessary to take care of my son.  It's taken me three days to write this forum post, because I have to focus on my situation in order to describe it, and it isn't long before I'm overwhelmed again.

I'll be damned if I'm going to slink back to my parents' house, because I know there will be no resisting the seductive lure of a life of aimless complacency, where I can lose myself in my books and my games and turn my back on reality.  I don't want to be that person anymore!  I am so much more in control of my ADHD now, but that has been the easy work- the hard work is to rewrite the habits built up over a lifetime of oblivious dependency, and I don't know where to begin.  Every step before me is fraught with anxiety and depression, and I don't have the luxury of finding a way to cope, I have to act now.

I've spent my life sleeping in my safety net, and now it's broken, and I'm falling fast.  I know I am not the only one who has walked this path, and it seems reasonable that at least some of those people somehow learned to fly on their own before they hit the ground.  I don't know what posting this message might accomplish, but I need to at least try to reach out in the face of this black hopelessness, and maybe find something to help me slow my fall.  I'm so sorry; I've always been sorry, but I'm past the point where I can make things right with words instead of actions.  

Help.  ~R

 

Life without a net

Hello. I'm very sorry you're going through this difficult time. Having a brain condition can be very debilitating, to you and the ones who love you. Managing your condition, however, is your responsibility. Perhaps this will give you the opportunity to build those habits. Spousal support may be awarded to help, but getting your own gig is necessary. To me you don't sound well managed. Medication, sleep, exercise, healthy food can each help to manage stress and anxiety and help you function. When you feel overwhelmed, break the task into smaller pieces. You just need to do the next step. Break things into 15 minute time slots. Set timers. Sticky notes. Etc. Good luck navigating the path to functionality.