“When My ADHD Sucks Up All the Oxygen In Our Home — and Our Relationship”
“Experts say it’s safer at home, but how do we co-exist and co-habituate peacefully under one roof when my most challenging ADHD tendencies — annoying to family members during ordinary circumstances — are more apparent during quarantine? Survival, I think, has to do with boundaries.”
Hello from England. As I write this from my home in Folkestone — a port town on the southeast coast — the lockdown is in full force. Pubs and restaurants, non-essential shops, businesses, and gyms are officially closed and gatherings of more than two people (excluding family members) are strongly discouraged.
Staring out of a bedroom window into the hills and valleys that surround my home, I feel both grateful and afraid. To me, this place is a paradise that I’m lucky to share with a loving family and a dog who can run freely on the beach strewn with plenty of chewable driftwood!
These idyllic moments are fleeting, though, swallowed up in pandemic anxiety. It seems nowhere is safe from this invisible killer and we’ve been told to self-quarantine to slow the spread of the virus. School has shut down for my 7-year-old stepson, affectionately known as wee man, and his mom and I are working from home. This scenario, while cozy, is also challenging due in part to my attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Medication helps my symptoms, but amid all this hysteria, my new Elvanse (Vyvanse in America) prescription has yet to arrive!
Building Healthy Boundaries in Quarantine
Now my most pressing worry is shielding my family from the neurosis of my condition. Experts say it’s safer at home, but how do we co-exist and co-habituate peacefully under one roof when my most challenging ADHD tendencies — annoying to family members during ordinary circumstances — are more apparent during quarantine? Survival, I think, has to do with boundaries.
Wood, bricks, and insulation create walls that make rooms — a type of domestic boundary. Bedrooms for sleeping, reading, or meditating; a place for work and study; an area for cooking, eating, and gathering. Spaces support, accommodate, and enrichen our lives. They provide refuge and safety from the chaos looming outside.
Relationships are no different. If we are to survive this epidemic, and keep our relationships intact under these strange new conditions, we need to re-examine the spaces in our homes and our hearts and create new boundaries to meet our current needs.
Today’s circumstances are exceptional, and the fact is that we can’t protect our loved ones from our quirks — the ADHD attributes that are difficult to deal with in ordinary times, but bound to leave a bigger bruise now. There is no escape from my ADHD — for me or for them.
Cheese is bound to be found in the bread bin; sharp, pointy knives dangerously exposed in the dishwasher; the house key left in the door… Friendly reminders need frequent repeating. Right now, my mind feels like it’s made up of broken glass. I’m struggling to take in all the important information coming at me. I fear the harmony in our home may be threatened.
Keeping the Peace in Quarantine
As much as I celebrate the upsides of having ADHD whenever possible, I’m reminded on a daily basis — especially now — of its shortcomings. I didn’t ask for this condition, but I still have to take ownership of it as it will always affect the people I love. Taking my meds and supplements helps, but it may not be enough.
I’m blessed with an abundance of emotional sensitivity that, in many ways, helps compensate for my faulty working memory. I grew up in a chaotic environment — my parents both suffered from unhealthy addictions that contributed to a lot of dysfunctional behavior. Since tempers flared frequently, my emotions were always on high alert and I did my best to blend into the walls. When I couldn’t hide from the tense moments, I learned to turn on the charm. I could be sweet and affectionate or crack jokes to cause a distraction.
To this day, my internal barometer helps me sense pockets of pressure building around me. I constantly take stock of my family’s distress and look for ways to relieve it. When I feel like myself and my condition are taking up too much space — I try to create space for others instead.
Giving More, Getting More in Quarantine
I’ve found there’s always something you can do to help ease the burden and create space for your loved ones. I could always spend more time with my stepson or dig into chores to give my partner a break. I could walk the dog more. Brisk walks burn some of my excess energy and clear my anxious mind. House projects are a win-win, too, and this is where ADHD hyperfocus is an advantage! The other night, I spent three glorious hours putting together a bookshelf for the kid and now the oversized box in which it arrived isn’t taking up valuable space in the hallway.
My partner has mentioned a few times that she wants a relaxing space — a comfy place to escape with a book and an ADHD-free sanctuary. We have a spare room, but it’s filled with my stuff so that needs clearing out. This task is a large project that might prove difficult under these stressful circumstances, but I will give it a go. There’s already a to-do list on my laptop!
Through this process, I’ve come to realize that creating new boundaries — in both a physical and emotional sense — helps both of us cope better because even in isolation you still sometimes need to isolate yourself. When my ADHD starts to feel like it’s taking up too much room, I create space to lessen the strain. If you’re going to try it, though, my advice is that you leave a little room for empathy and compassion; I’m pretty sure there will still be cheese waiting to be found in the bread bin, even on a good day!
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Updated on April 24, 2020