My Secret World

Hello friends,

I am new to this site, so I've not yet found much in the way of the emotional impact from an ADHDer's perspective. Feel free to point me the way.

I have struggled my entire life with ADHD, but did not know it. My marriage ended because of it. I always knew there was something lurking beneath the surface that was tearing us apart, but I could not put my finger on it. I asked for help many times, but my partner could only see the results of my behavior. Apparently, this is par for the course for spouses. How could she see what I myself did not see. I do believe that this is where marriages fall apart. It's much easier to find blame and fault than it is to to find the causes and do the work. Deep compassion is key.

People that meet me find me intelligent, friendly, funny, attractive, kind and relatively normal. I say this because these are the qualities that have made diagnosing ADHD so difficult. I can do many things and have some strengths in creativity and other areas. It is when I am tasked to do detailed, mundane, repetitive things that I come apart at the seams. Furthermore, loud noises, clutter, paying bills and household chores can send me over the edge. I want to run and hide from the barrage of sensory over-stimulation. Every person has a unique experience with ADHD, so what may be true for one, may not be true for others. I'd like to give you a little look at what my experience has been.

Imagine there is a room full of people and you are told that these people have some information to give you, in order to accomplish something important. You're also told that some of that information is critical and that you must retain it along with the name of each person. In addition, you're told that you must track the movements of each person as they walk about the room. As each person delivers their information, you try to store it in memory and track their movement as they walk away. As you're trying to memorize the information and track the person's movements, more people are approaching you with their information.

Still trying to focus on the first people, the new information coming in begins to cause a low hum in your head. The hum gets progressively louder to the point where you cannot distinguish what people are saying. Suddenly you realize that you are probably missing some important information and you try to break through the hum to collect it. Now you've lost track of the first person and begin to feel panic. You start looking for the first people in order to recollect their information, but you can't because you're still collecting from the others. Now every bit of information that breaks through the hum carries the same weight. There is no way to distinguish what is most important. You try to start over, but you've already forgotten much of the first bits you've collected. It's a losing battle and eventually you give up on that task and berate yourself for failing.

Take this scenario and apply it to virtually everything you have to do to function in life. It's impossible.

Now you want to prove to yourself and others that you are not an idiot, so you move on to the next task you think you can do. If that thing is in line with something that highly interests you, you may be able to hyperfocus and be successful. However, life is challenging even for someone who doesn't have ADHD and that brings a whole new set of problems. Add to the mix the responsibilities we have to our friends and family and their expectations of you as a normal person and you have the perfect picture of potential failure.

Once you complete the cycle a few hundred thousand times or more, you become defensive every time someone says "What's wrong with you?" or "I just told you that, don't you remember?" or "You need to try harder" or "You only care about yourself" or "You're just making excuses". Sadly, those are only some of the nice things people say.  Soon, people begin to dismiss you, or call you names and even laugh at you. They try to force you to do what they themselves can do. They are struggling to manage their lives and yours and they learn that you will step up your efforts if you feel bad enough.

Soon, you begin to avoid interactions with people and even isolate yourself, just so that you can feel a little break from the onslaught. However, this too is perceived as being selfish and uncaring. You may begin to defend and retaliate in order to protect any remaining self worth. This causes severe mistrust and conflict. Meanwhile, depression has been creeping into the picture and you are not aware of it until it has you in its claws.  You begin to play the victim, because you believe they must be right. The psychological impact of this is incredibly damaging to self esteem and personal growth. The impact of this on careers and relationships is not hard to see.

Now you vow to fight on and try harder, because you know that deep in your heart, you are a loving person who wants to contribute and share in the bounties of life that others seem to enjoy so easily. You so desperately want to please others and be accepted, but you live in a secret world of shame and self loathing. You begin to believe that there really is something wrong with you and that you must be a bad person. You began to step up your efforts to cover your tracks, so that you can show your loved ones that you care. The problem is, you are being judged as a normal person and people are beginning to only see you for your failures, further compounding the ugly feelings. Bring to the table life's confusion of careers, family responsibility, finances and people's personal baggage and you have a no-win situation.

If you are a person struggling in your marriage with an ADHDer, I implore you to find deep compassion in yourself and get help immediately. These people are trying hard to function and can feel great rejection, loneliness and isolation from the people they love. If you are a person with ADHD, do your homework and find a good, recommended therapist. Try to be patient with the people who don't understand you.

I'd like to thank Melissa and her book for clarifying so many of my questions and negative self-beliefs. I only wish I had found this information soon enough to save my marriage. I hope to hear from anyone who shares my thoughts.

Take care,





Thank you Richard, for taking the time to write something so illuminating.  I have often wished we heard from more ADHD people on this site who offer their perspective.  It can be so difficult trying to imagine what it's like but posts like yours give impetus to be more compassionate and also reaffirm it's not all about "us".  Let me ask you this, from your perspective, aside from giving unlimited patience and understanding, how do non ADD people get their partners to work on the problems in the relationship if they don't see there is a problem?  


Spy work;)

Hi, Got it. Thank you for responding to my post. Your question is a tricky one, because in addition to the perceived stigma of having ADHD, you're dealing with the fragile male ego. I'm no expert, but if I were him, I would want to make the discovery my own. Think of creative ways to let him find the information. Here's an idea. If possible, find a magazine that has a "Do you have ADHD?" test in it, perhaps an issue of Psychology Today. Put the magazine somewhere where you know he frequents i.e. the coffee table, kitchen table etc. Don't make it too obvious at first, let him see you reading it in different places. One day you leave the article open to the test where he can be alone with it in private. The bathroom is a great place...ha ha;) You might even give him the test verbally without him knowing it and then show him the results with an "I love you so much" attached:) Or, you might say "If there were a possibility of you having ADHD and the knowledge brought us closer together, would you want to know"?

Hope this helps. Let me know what you end up doing.


thank you


Thank you so much for your post.  I actually got teary-eyed when I read the paragraph that starts, "Now you vow to fight on and try harder . . .".  It bothers me so much to hear that you and others with ADHD are in that much pain.  If someone doesn't understand ADHD, or only understands it on a surface level, it's easy to start saying, "what the heck is wrong with him/her?!?!?!"  I've heard that come out of my own mouth a few times, but no longer.  The guilt/shame/fear/anxiety combo is becoming more and more evident to me in my ex'es behavior, and I feel bad for the way I've reacted to some of our interactions in the past.  I don't feel bad about myself, I just wish I'd known sooner how to react in a positive way to promote healing and health between us instead of escalating conflicts then standing there shocked wondering what happened.  He and I may never be together again, but I am a stronger and better person for having had him in my life.



Thank you OMT. It really is heart warming to know that there's someone out there who is making an effort to understand. I imagine most spouses just chalk up the behavior to being an ass****.

One definition of insidious is: "Operating or proceeding in an inconspicuous or seemingly harmless way, but actually with grave effect"

ADHD is insidious in relationships and many other areas of life. I don't think people really understand the depth of hurt and shame that comes with this disorder; it is scary and lonely at times. For me, it's like watching your friends at a party you're not invited to, because you can't guess the password they were all given. Imagine having to take an important test on a complicated piece of software that you have ten minutes to learn. Where do you start? What is most important? After you ride this merry-go-round a few times, you start to go mad, people start to think you're an idiot.

I lost the love of my life, because she could not see past my surface behavior. It was probably easier for her to pass judgment on me and attach malicious intent, than it was to try to look deeper. Explaining my behavior was termed "whining" and was coldly dismissed and punished verbally. There was no compassion. She holds me in this light to this day, two years later. The sadness that resulted will probably never go away.

In Melissa's book, she talks about the "Symptom-response-response. I believe this is the hook that makes it so insidious. Here is an example: Unloading the dishwasher is one of the tasks that makes me want to run. Two levels of different items that have to be put in different places. It's all a blur and then anxiety sets in. So, I try to separate it in to steps. I would put some of the glasses on the counter, close the top rack, put the plates and bowls away, close the washer and then put the glasses away. This worked best for me somehow. However, one day when my wife saw me doing this, she said "Why are you doing that"? My response was, "It's the best way for me to do it". Her response was, " One more step, Richard, one more step". This was condescending, unnecessary and one of the little things that chip away at relationships. The more she looked to blame, the blinder she became.

I'm sure she thought I was just being lazy and was going to leave the glasses on the counter, but she couldn't comprehend why I couldn't do it the way she would. This was her Parent-Child response in effect, probably the result of our other encounters. I can't remember what happened after that, but I'm pretty sure it resulted in an argument later on.

For all of you out there who have a partner with ADHD, please take the time to investigate what lies beneath and separate from your first perceptions in difficult situations.

I would have laughed


The dishwasher thing is hilarious.  I would have laughed (with you, NOT at you).  It reminds me of that book "It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It".  A man was rescued by firefighters after his bed caught on fire.  They asked what happened and he said, "I don't know.  It was on fire when I laid down on it."  Sometimes, we just CAN'T explain why we do what we do.  That's the fun of life!

I understand the pain of losing the love of your life.  My ex is mine as well, and I am his.  We have a long on and off history.  He is untreated and has developed some really awful coping mechanisms over the years.  Now he's a dad and as much as I think he wants to be with me, he just can't get his brain to process how to make it all work.  He gets overwhelmed, panics, and hands me the "I think I need to try and work things out with my ex wife because that's what's good for the kids."  Then a few weeks or months later when he realizes for the 453rd time that he and his ex wife will never get along, he calls again, apologizes and wants to try again with me.  You're right - most people would just write him off as being an a******.  In fact, many of my friends have him in that category, and I've questioned myself whether I'm just completely naive and he really is a jerk.

But the more I read on ADHD in books and on this forum, the more I understand how completely debilitating it can be to the person affected and those around that love him or her.  He's not doing it on purpose - he really does have good intentions - but that doesn't make it hurt any less. 

I've been working on a "hail Mary" letter to him.  I don't know if I'll ever send it, but reading what you've posted is helping me compose it in a way that is encouraging and supportive but still firm enough to say "you have choices in life - you can stay where you are and be miserable, or take a chance to improve your life.  You'll never be perfect and neither will I.  The truth is you're going to screw up.  Guess what?  So am I.  It's okay to screw up.  Let's screw up together!"


I would have laughed 2

If I wasn't one of the players in the scene, I would laugh right along with you:) That was one of the moments I could see the disconnect she had with my world. I couldn't understand why she felt the need to control that. I can remember the disgust in her eyes like it was yesterday. I suppose I looked like a deer in the headlights bent over a dish rack...LOL. Now that I say that, it seems I'm always surprised when I get that reaction from people. And now that I say that, I'm starting to realize how different I am from the non-ADHD world. I feel I am akin to Spongebob and Patrick. Those boys know how to party!

There's a lot of guilt that goes along with having ADHD, you really don't understand why you can't seem to accomplish as much as others. I can imagine your ex feels a lot of guilt and shame from the failure of his first marriage and compelled to want to explain it.

To know you've lost a love because of something you could not control is the worst kind of catch 22. On the flip side, no one seems to want to believe that you can't control certain things; it's like constantly going before a jury of people who have no interest in your innocence. This is not to say that because you have ADHD you are absolved of all of your behavior, but I do believe that you have to really consider the intent.

I always used to say to my ex "There's more going on than we know". I always hoped she would look one more inch below the surface to see the real me. Others have made an effort and I am thankful.

adhdmomma's picture

Now I get it!

My son does much the same thing with unloading the dishwasher. He fills the counter just above it, puts that stuff away, and then repeats until finished. I've talked to him many times about only moving items once so he can get done faster, which is what he really wants. I fight so much for people to let him do things his own way, and then I don't accept it with some things. I have come to accept his way of emptying the dishwasher and leaving him too it (which means leaving the room so I don't go nuts). He does leave many things on the counter though. ;)


Hi - I was moved by your description of your ADHD and thank you for posting it.  It is inspiring a number of non-ADHD folks here...and I hope it will also encourage others with ADHD to reach out and describe their own experiences.  Your dishwasher story made me smile - I worked with a client once whose wife helped him create a list of steps so he wouldn't be overwhelmed by the dishwashing sequence.  They laminated it and posted it by the sink.  He was so pleased with the results (able to now do the dishes) that he added setting the table for breakfast, as well.  His wife was pretty happy about that!

The sensations of mind and body.

Thank you Melissa. This site has been a great comfort for me and your book is amazing. Lately I've become very interested in the physical experience of ADHD. Ever since reading your book, my mind seems to be hyper focused on monitoring the sensations, situations and triggers within itself. I see the term "overwhelmed" used a lot and I want to describe the sensations I get when I feel that. I've noticed lately that my eyes seem to track a lot, even when I'm not feeling overwhelmed. It's as if everything around me is calling my attention to look at it. Imagine having a computer in your head that is constantly playing your theme music that needs constant monitoring to keep in tune. When things are good, the song that is playing is beautiful and in sync and when you're feeling overwhelmed the music is off key. You feel compelled to find the notes that are off key, but soon the music turns to noise and you just want to start a new song. The sensation makes you feel physically unsettled. If you add any additional noise from your surroundings, the feeling becomes painful. It seems to be a vibrational body sensation that is unmanageable and out of my control. I think this is why I start so many projects and have difficulty finishing them.

Distraction and Working Memory

Imagine there is a room full of people and you are told that these people have some information to give you, in order to accomplish something important. You're also told that some of that information is critical and that you must retain it along with the name of each person. In addition, you're told that you must track the movements of each person as they walk about the room. As each person delivers their information, you try to store it in memory and track their movement as they walk away. As you're trying to memorize the information and track the person's movements, more people are approaching you with their information.

What an absolutely perfect description of what goes on inside the ADHD brain!  I know because I live there, so I really understand.  Working memory and distraction; ugh...  What a fabulous combination.  

Don't you ever wonder how you made it this far in life with these challenges?   Yet, somehow we've both managed to learn to write coherently in English, and no doubt between us scores of other things.   

Relationships are the hardest part, no doubt.  It's one thing to make mistakes that affect the person who makes them.  We're used to picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off, no matter how demoralized we might feel.  It's a lot harder when someone who will never completely understand how HARD we are trying EVEN when we fail gets demoralized by our recurrent ADHD behavior and sees it as selfish.   I CAN'T STAND when my ADHD traits affect my husband.   However, my willpower and resolve have never, and sadly, will probably never be enough to suppress all of my ADHD traits.  I am a lot better with time management, for one, but I still get distracted at times, don't see the big picture, forget, don't remember at the right times.  In other words, I'm still ADHD.  Higher-functioning ADHD, as I see it now, but still...ADHD.

I've tried not being ADHD, but so far, it hasn't worked out so well for me ;).  

Thanks for sharing your story.  It's nice to hear from fellow introspective ADHDers.  It helps me process and solve my own issues, so it much appreciated.

Welcome to the site.


The Matrix

Hi ADHDMomof2. I agree about relationships being the hardest part and I think it's because there is emotion attached to the consequences of our behaviors. I think I try to compensate in my relationships in ways that others don't feel the need to and that leads to putting their needs before mine. I believe this may be learned behavior in order to cover my tracks. Ultimately, this leads to people capitalizing on my weaknesses, which in turn leads to conflict when I feel manipulated. It's a vicious circle.

I feel like I've been living in the Matrix all my life and I'm starting to get a glimpse of another world I've only heard of. What is it like, people of the outside? Is there peace in the promise land? lol. However, this begs the question; if we have trouble managing life because of ADHD, what is everyone else's problem? Just kidding.