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Living with an adult with ADHD…and other conditions


The conversation (see link) about ADHD in adults on “Talk of the Nation” this week caught my attention immediately.  I had the equivalent of a “driveway moment” (wherein you get hooked on a story on NPR while driving home, reach your house, but can’t go in until the story’s finished) in my office. I’ve been married to an adult with ADHD for 27 years.  It’s a serious problem, and it’s getting worse for us all the time.  Excerpts from the show that really hit home for me:

(The following are quotes from Dr. Russell Barkley, a professor at the departments of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina, also the author of several books, including “Taking Charge of Adult ADHD”):

“…what we often find is that the A in ADHD is a gross misnomer and I think oversimplifies the seriousness and pervasiveness of the problem. It’s really a disorder in the brain’s executive system, which is the system that allows people to regulate their own behavior, stay organized, manage time, show self-restraint, control their emotions to a socially acceptable level and so on… 

Over 80 percent of adults with ADHD have at least one other disorder. Typically it is either demoralization and depression or anxiety disorders or learning disabilities and to a lesser extent difficulties with substance use and abuse… 

Also we find if they have another disorder with their ADHD, we often have to bring in the medication to help get control of it because we can’t treat the other disorders until the ADHD is managed, and that’s because ADHD is a self-regulation disorder. And there’s no way we can get you to engage in treatment and reorganize your life and benefit from self-improvement programs if, underneath all of that, you’re having a lot of trouble with self-regulation…

So that’s why ADHD is almost always the first disorder to get treated before we try to tackle depression, anxiety, drug use, marital problems because of its ubiquitous effect on self-regulation.”

My husband and I have known for a long time that his ADHD was a major underlying factor for his depression and anxiety.  He wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until long after the depression and anxiety took over his life.  Around age 38, he tried Ritalin, which brought immediate and drastic improvement in his ADHD symptoms, but also brought immediate and drastic increase in panic attacks.

Jump forward 15 years…his depression and anxiety were under control for seven years but are now again creating havoc in his (and my) life.  His ADHD is raging – I’m convinced the issues created for him by ADHD are a major contributor to his current depression symptoms.

Recently we’ve been dealing with some aspects of his conditions (sleep apnea treatment and increasing his dosage of antidepressant).  But having listened to Dr. Barkley this week, I recognize now that we’re going to have to address my husband’s ADHD again as well.  I’ve already reserved Dr. Barkley’s book at our library as a starting point. Next we’ll probably need to look into finding a therapist who can work with my husband once again on behavioral strategies for tackling his ADHD symptoms.  And next time he visits his psychiatrist, there will be a discussion of new ADHD medications mentioned by Dr. Barkley on “Talk of the Nation;” medications that are NOT stimulants and which, therefore, a person suffering from anxiety and panic might be able to tolerate.

Honestly, as an already-worn-out caregiver, the prospect of all this work ahead of us is exhausting.  Not to mention that we have a son graduating from high school next month and a daughter graduating from college and moving to the east coast (with a lot of help from us) this summer.  And we have another daughter, who, thankfully, is NOT in a state of transition and whom we don’t want to ignore.

I know quite well that what my husband is dealing with due to his multiple diagnoses makes his life hell some – many –  days.  I care about him, and I grieve over what he’s going through.

I also recognize that all of these issues have very serious consequences for our marriage, for our family, and for my own emotional health and ability to cope.

Caregiving can be very difficult.



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