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“Driven Beyond Distraction”

When conditions are clear and roads are easy, my husband finds distractions in conversation and music and all of the above. But when a blizzard or typhoon hits, his hyperfocus kicks in and I’m reminded of ADHD’s superpowers.

“Why are you slowing down?” I asked my then-fiance as he took his foot off the gas pedal. We were approaching an intersection, but the light was green as grass.

“Oh!” he said. “I don’t know.”

We laughed about it, and didn’t think much of it.

But then it happened again. And again. It seemed to be a regular part of his driving routine, and it was puzzling to me. Each time it happened, he had no explanation.

I began to notice other little driving quirks too — he rarely looked over his shoulder before making a lane change, sometimes he would slow down to 55 mph on the freeway while other times he’d be going over 90, and he didn’t seem to notice if someone was riding his tail. He also routinely missed exits and made daredevil last-minute corrections that made my heart drop into my stomach.

I was already a tense passenger due to memories of a terrifying car accident at 18 that involved several flips, so his driving became difficult for me to handle. I wondered if I was overreacting, but it was too much for me, and I found more and more excuses to be the driver.

He didn’t mind that I increased my time behind the wheel, and we went on our merry way.

But on our wedding day, when he told me he had missed the exit to our ceremony because he had been talking with his family members in the car, I knew his quirks were more than… well, quirks.

“I’m a Good Driver. I Swear!”

It would be four more years before he would have an official ADHD diagnosis, and even longer before we connected that the driving issues could be related to ADHD. In the meantime, our new marriage was punctuated with several car fights.

I couldn’t understand his behavior behind the wheel, and he thought I was too stressed out. He swore he was a good driver; he had never been in an accident, and aside from a few speeding tickets, he felt he always drove safely.

In fact, he loved to tell me about the time he went snowboarding as a teenager with a friend who didn’t know how to drive in the snow. This isn’t a problem in the sunny California city where they lived, and it isn’t even a problem if you time your snowboarding trips with the weather, but when they left the lifts that day, they came face to face with an unexpected blizzard. As his friend turned as white as the snow falling on his face, my husband announced he was good at driving in the snow, hopped behind the wheel, and navigated the two of them safely back to their precipitation-free home.

Here’s the truth, though: He had never driven in the snow before.

“How could this be possible,” I wondered. When I was his passenger, he couldn’t seem to stay focused on the road.

To minimize fights, we simply put me behind the wheel. His easy-going nature wouldn’t allow for his pride to be wounded, and we found ourselves with a happy solution.

His Driving Strengths Revealed

One day, as I was driving, we came upon a heavy blizzard. As my knuckles whitened and my jaw tensed through the decreasing visibility and slippery roads, my husband offered to take the wheel. I wasn’t sure. If I struggled to be his passenger on a sunny day, how could I handle being a passenger when the road conditions were treacherous?

But he reminded me of his snowy teenage driving experience, and we decided to give it a try.

Once he was behind the wheel, he became laser-focused on the road. He kept a safe distance from other cars, smoothly avoiding the ones that began to spin. I stayed silent as I watched him deftly maneuver our little family through the biggest snowstorm I had ever seen.

When we arrived home safely, he stepped out of the car with an enormous groan and stretch. Through the entire drive, he hadn’t moved a muscle in his body as he remained so focused on our safety.

Grateful for (and surprised by!) his skill and ability, I wondered if we had turned a corner in our relationship. Could we make it through a drive without a fight — if he was behind the wheel?

But the next time he drove, when conditions were perfect, he was back to riding the tails of the cars in front of him, making last-minute decisions, and just generally being distracted.

He noticed it too, but couldn’t figure it out. He claimed he didn’t have the same problems when he was driving by himself. Without an explanation, we went back to our earlier arrangement with me as the main driver.

Was ADHD to Blame?

It would still be several more years before we realized the ADHD connection to all of this. When he drives on a day with perfect conditions and no obvious threats to safety, he gets distracted by our conversations. He’s always able to make corrections at the last minute, but those last-minute corrections are too much for my nerves.

But when he drives alone — or in dangerous conditions — his hyperfocus comes out to save the day. When it’s obvious lives are at stake in the high-pressure situation of a snowstorm or downpour, he handles the roads with professional skill.

Recently, we were driving through one of the most dangerous canyon passes in Utah. I was behind the wheel, and wasn’t too concerned. But then the skies darkened and heavy rain started falling. I felt my knuckles tighten around the wheel, and knew immediately what I should do.

“Can you take over?” I asked my husband.

“No problem,” he said, and I pulled over to make the switch.

In the next hour of the heavy downpour, he was alert, watchful, and careful. He saw a boulder falling from the canyon wall before I did and made a safe lane change with plenty of time to avoid it. He passed slow semi-trucks only after careful approach and observation, and he avoided plenty of could-have-been accidents.

And me? I finally knew what was going on. Beautiful hyperfocus was stepping up to protect our family. The best thing I could do for that lengthy ride was stay quiet and let my husband do his capable thing.

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