I thought rage was just part of having attention deficit — but when my temper tantrums and my furious outbursts began to smash up my family, I knew I had to change my angry ways.
by Douglas Cootey
Earlier today I was on the phone with a mother whose son with autism has mood challenges. She and I talked about the difficulty of knowing when a child was misbehaving and when he was manifesting symptoms. My youngest daughter has epilepsy and is more than a little grouchy before the onset of a seizure, but she's so defiant and rude I often think she's just being a brat. Then the seizure happens and I feel guilty about overreacting, as if sending her to bed for throwing something at me is overreacting.
The thing is, we don't know whether we're overreacting or not until after we find out their little minds were melting down. I told that mother not to beat herself up over it since she was learning as much as her boy was. We are not born perfect parents; we have to work at it. Then I hung up and wondered, When did I, Mr. Explosive Temper, learn to be so patient and understanding? Years ago, I rode hard on the edge of angry almost every day. I was like Bruce Banner with a hair trigger.
“What do you mean you haven't cleaned your room yet?” I would say, as I morphed into the Hulk. I went through so many torn shirts. It was hard on the budget.
The truth is that, although I managed my depression by recognizing triggers and developing coping strategies, for some reason I believed that my anger was an uncontrollable symptom of ADHD. This belief made my family miserable. When my wife at the time threatened to leave me, I knew I had to make a change.
I couldn't stop having ADHD, and I couldn't medicate because of sensitivities to meds, so I had to train myself. From the moment you lose your temper to the moment you realize you lost your temper, a whole world of hurt can be laid down on co-workers, loved ones, and inanimate objects. In Hulk terms, you can lay waste to entire city blocks before you come to your senses. Saying "I'm sorry" doesn't usually cut it, due to the intensity of your ADHD rage. So what do you do? I call it "Closing the Gap.”
Work on shortening the time between outburst and realization. This will take practice, but eventually you can abridge that time until you are aware of the meltdown while it's happening. From there, you can prevent yourself from losing your temper before it happens. This hot temper is so ingrained in ADHD minds, linked with poor impulse control, that it takes time to close that gap. Work with your therapist, coach, or supportive family members. They want you to master this.
It's also helpful to keep track of your temper outbursts, and commit yourself to make them happen farther and farther apart. Jerry Seinfeld calls it “creating chains.” You mark each day on the calendar you finish without an outburst. If you slip, start again and try to beat your record. I used an app, but a wall calendar can be just as helpful.
No one wants to live with The Hulk. Do your loved ones a favor and tame that beast. Besides, you'll save money on shirts.