Justin and I were a mystery. He was a math major, and I was studying creative writing. Why, then, did we seem to speak the same language? Maybe it was the guitar — we both played for student ministries and churches. We even wrote songs. Maybe it was the projects — we both juggled a host of extracurricular activities, singing in the choir, traveling, and crafting little gifts out of balsa wood.
Maybe it was the brain bonding — we would stay up half the night drinking coffee, seeing patterns in the stars and clouds, listening to music, dancing wildly in front of the school library.
Maybe it was the uncertainty — we broke up three times. Whatever it was, after a tumultuous and thrilling courtship, Justin and I were married at a little country church with a built-in waterfall. We vowed to stay together for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health — all of which come with having ADHD. Yet we didn't know we both had attention deficit at the time.
The ADHD Effect
It started with little things. Why couldn't he be on time? Why couldn't I keep the house clean? Why was I so emotional? Why did he stay up all night playing video games? We thought, "These are all normal new-marriage questions," so we didn't worry about it.
When our first child arrived, things heated up: "How can you live in this pigsty?" "Where did the money go?" "We're an hour late!" "Why do you always nag me about being late?" Our arguments went around in circles, with no solution to ease the anxiety in our hearts.
My turning point came one night, when I discovered a mouse in the kitchen who seemed unconcerned about being caught. He didn't race from one corner of the room to another — he moseyed, gnawing on crumbs, looking for something tastier.
Justin grabbed the broom and played rodent-golf until the furry guy flew out the kitchen door.
I ran to the bathroom, cried, and asked God, "Why can all my friends keep their houses clean, and I can't?" Deep in my heart, God seemed to answer, "Whose house do you feel most comfortable in?"
It was such an unexpected question that I stopped crying to consider it. "Well, my friend Amy's house. But she has ADHD, so that doesn't count..."
Wait...seriously? I looked up ADHD on the Internet at the library. I felt as if I were reading my life story. It didn't take long to get a diagnosis. My doctor said, "I told you last year you had ADHD!"
Meds to the Rescue
Taking ADHD medication was life-changing. I felt as if my mind were a mirror being sprayed with Windex for the first time. I could see. I could reach toward and achieve goals. I could enjoy my kids.
Yet, as happy as Justin was at my improvement — "It's like watching someone get glasses for the first time," he said — things weren't improving in our marriage. I had thought that my disorganization, procrastination, and lack of motivation were the source of all our problems. I realized that we had things to work out, and we needed counseling.
After a couple of months of joint therapy, I saw the counselor alone. She said that many of the things Justin and I were dealing with were "quirks" that came with "brilliance." I raised my hand as if I were a third-grader. "How come, if I lose things, can't keep track of time or money, get addicted to video games, forget to pay bills, and can't keep anything clean, it means I have ADHD, but if he does the same things, it's because he's brilliant?"
She smiled. "No, you're also brilliant. And he also has ADHD." I called him from the parking lot: "Tammy says you have ADHD, too!" "I don't like being diagnosed in my absence," said Justin. I didn't expect him to. However, I had the tools I needed to make things better. If I needed him to do something, I wrote it down. I set alarms on my phone to remind him. If we had to be somewhere on time, I would say we had to be there 30 minutes earlier. He would laugh, always forgetting I'd done this before.
If I wanted his help to work on one of my goals, I asked for it, with a plan to make it happen. I was prepared for his inevitable response: "I'm so overwhelmed with what I have to do that I can't make time for anything else."
Two Are Better Than One
About a year after the revelation from my counselor, I got a call from Justin. "Dotty, am I about to die?" he asked.
"What are you talking about?"
"I took one of your Ritalin pills this morning, and my mind has never been this calm. I took my pulse twice to make sure I was alive."
"Honey, you're fine. Why did you take my medicine?"
"I had to cancel a meeting, and skip the conference this weekend, because I was too overwhelmed with my workload. No one else is. I was ready to admit that something was wrong. Then the Ritalin kicked in, and the cloverleaf of thoughts in my brain stopped racing. I thought, 'I should go outside and enjoy the sunlight.' I wasn't jittery and fidgety."
I whispered hallelujahs and raised my hands in victory. He had finally realized that his struggles at work could not be solved simply by working harder. He understood — without my having to nag him — that he had a treatable condition.
Neither of us changed overnight. However, we believed, "Two are better than one. If either one of us falls down, the other one can help us up." The two of us, treating our ADHD and working together on our symptoms, saw a great improvement in our marriage.
These days when our problems don't seem to have solutions — when we walk and talk in circles — we say, "Med check!" Usually, one of us needs to take the next dose before we continue the discussion about our challenges.
We no longer try to fit ourselves into the equation Breadwinner + Homemaker = Happy Family. We have started making plans for a life that is compatible with the way our brains are wired.
We rejoice a lot these days. Our marriage went to the brink of divorce, but it is about to enjoy a second honeymoon. The love we'd found early on, fueled by hope and naiveté, has been rekindled with maturity and experience. We know what’s wrong, and we focus on how to make things right.
DOTTY YOUNG is married to an awesome math Ph.D., and is a mom to three incredible little girls. Young writes songs, stories, and skits, teaches gluten-free cooking classes, and battles her tendency to stay glued to Facebook.