Finding Peace in a Mad House
Sometimes it seems that my ADHD family’s dynamics consist of perpetual anxiety, flaring tempers, and tension butting up against tension, but then my wife, son, daughter, and even I surprise myself.
The Kids Are All Right
“I know I gotta get away. And I know if I don’t, I’ll go out of my mind.” – Pete Townsend
My wife Margaret, my 14-year-old ADHD daughter Coco, and I have just finished dinner, and I’m halfway out of the kitchen when Coco grabs my arm and stops me. “Dad, you shouldn’t worry so much,” she says.
My daughter’s right, of course. But since I worry like most people breathe, that’s not so easy to do. Coco should know; she worries and obsesses about everything near, far, past, present, and future so much that Margaret and I are sure we can smell her synapses smoking — even when she’s asleep. As a matter of fact, right now Coco’s burning up brain cells worrying about me worrying. And from the look on Margaret’s face, she’s worried, too. But let’s face it, my non-ADHD wife is no stranger to staying up all night, driving yourself crazy, and agonizing over every unsolvable thing in the universe. Given the right circumstances the three of us together could work up a Category 5 hurricane of neuroses.
My 21-year-old ADHD son Harry often regards the rest of us in the family with a look of such complete incomprehension that I’m convinced he thinks we’re an alien species. Then again, he keeps whatever insecurities and worries he has so close to the vest that sometimes I think that he doesn’t care about anything except whether I remember to get pot stickers at Safeway. Then I’ll overhear him talking quietly to Margaret in his room and realize that he may act like a post-hip-hop John Wayne, but with his learning disabilities, his feelings are probably rawer than most kids stumbling into adulthood.
But just as I’m trying to look, listen, and see Harry as the complex, whole human he is, he’ll lash out at his little Coco sister over something completely petty, and I get so furious I have to leave the room before I lose my temper and make things worse. I don’t see his side. I’m so consumed with the unfairness (he’s bigger, older) that I don’t see that Coco can handle herself perfectly well in any argument with her brother and sometimes instigates them just to entertain herself. Over and over Margaret tells me, “Don’t take it so much to heart. Let them work it out between themselves.” I find not taking it to heart nearly impossible when I’m in the same room, so I’ve learned to grab a book and make tracks to a peaceful corner of the house when the storm clouds gather.
This is what I was doing in the kitchen when Coco grabbed my arm to stop me. But Harry wasn’t even home. Coco was lashing out at her mother. She shouldn’t do that; Margaret loves her dearly, and has sacrificed so much for her. But Margaret instigated the fight this time, pushing a homework issue way too hard. I don’t know who will feel the wrath of my temper first, or the most, but it’s time to grab that book before I explode. And that’s when Coco says, “Dad you worry too much.” She and Margaret laugh, and I join in, understanding once again, that it’ll be okay, that they’ll work it out between themselves. Good thing I like to read.
Later, while doing dishes and worrying about worrying, I mention my concern to Coco about changing psychiatrists when we move to Georgia. I tell her I’m starting to look for a new one and since it’s worked out previously that she, Margaret and I end up sharing the same one, I wonder if she has any preferences.
“He should be young, like our guy now. He’s cool. Not someone your age,” she says.
I ask her if it matters if it’s a man or a woman.
“Considering how I don’t get along with women, it should definitely be a guy.”
Coco doesn’t get along with women? And she’s self-aware enough at 14 to see this as an impediment to effective therapy? You know, my wife’s right. When you stop worrying so much and start listening more, you learn all kinds of interesting things. Tomorrow I think I’ll try it with Harry.