Words of Encouragement from a Man with ADHD

I am a 72-year old retired professor of International Relations and Middle East Politics, with life-long experience dealing with my ADHD.  In my case this involves highly inconsistent memory, impulsivity and a restless mind bouncing from topic to topic. This post is designed to give voice and encouragement to those with this neuro-chemical condition and it’s challenging behavioral effects.

Despite my professional achievements, the unpredictability of ADHD effects was always lurking.  I hated my self-described 3 “D’s”: different, deficient and defective.  It seemed one or more of these popped up with each ADHD episode, driving me down into my rabbit hole.   In eighth-grade orchestra we were told to wear a white shirt for the big concert.  This instruction immediately left my mind, and the next day I was the only one wearing blue.  Luckily I sat in the back row entwined in a wrap-around tuba so the audience could not see this discrepancy. I would brood on these occurrences, building up a reservoir of guilt and shame.  The fear of being “found out” added to this burden.

My first big break from this scenario came when I enlisted in the U.S. Army Security Agency. Based on acing a language aptitude test during basic training, my next assignment was one year at the Defense Language Institute, Monterey, CA, followed by a year in Turkey, and two years at Ft. Meade, MD.  The  structure of military training and duty subdued the ADHD, providing my first sense of ability and accomplishment.  After honorable discharge I used the G.I Bill to earn bachelor and masters degrees, then later completed my doctorate.  The classroom, both as a student and a teacher, provided me the same structure and venue of competency that the military did.

However, neither I nor my wife could reconcile this professional success with my inability to manage the mechanics of every-day life.  This became more evident after my retirement.  ADHD was the elephant in the room, but we did not recognize how much it affected our relationship. I first learned of ADHD in a 2005 Atlanta Journal Constitution article listing 25 indicators of this condition – I had 23 of them! Later we found Melissa’s The ADHD Effect on Marriage, then we took her “boot camp” ADHD Effect seminar. Over the last year we did several counseling sessions with her.  From all this a few key items emerged.

First, it is critical to get sufficient information on ADHD, including the physical elements and how they relate to individual behavior.  Putting a name to the condition allows the person with it (and their spouse) to deal with the situation in a focused manner.  It is just as necessary to get the meds right; in my case that is Evekeo 5mg taken twice daily.  This may require finding a specialist to prescribe the exact drug, rather than relying on a general practitioner.

Second, it is very important to recognize that ADHD is a real physical condition, rather than to deny that it exists.  Therefore it must be dealt with just like any other medical issue.  Each person’s mix of symptoms varies, so it takes time to understand fully how to proceed. Finally, the non-ADHD spouse must recognize how their words and actions help or hinder the process of adjusting to the impacts on the marriage as they arise.  Taken as a whole, these three items allow both partners to handle ADHD effectively.

My main point is that anyone with ADHD can take control of their own approach to this condition. It means deciding for yourself that by doing so your daily life will be easier.   Your relationships with non-ADHD persons also will improve.  I definitely can attest my 45-year marriage has benefited from changing my mind-set from passive acceptance to active management.  So go for it!!