Reply To: How to motivate college-age child with ADD & depression

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My husband did something similar when he was in college the first time. Stopped going to classes and didn’t tell anyone until the semester was over. Had a less than .50 GPA. The next year, he moved to a different state to a school for a major he was passionate about and finished with a 3.75. He rocked it. I was completely different. Stayed in college for 6 years floundering around trying to figure things out and ended with a 2.3 GPA in major that I liked but wasn’t very useful.

Now, we’re both in our 30s. He has a good job that he enjoys, completely unrelated to his degree, and I am back in school working on my Masters for a career I love. Point is, 20s are a hard age for ADDers. Most of our peers have some idea of what they want to do and have the skills to go after it. We mature much slower, and at 21-22 still very much think like children while feeling like we should be ready for more independence. Trying to think of all the next steps can be overwhelming. Transitioning to adulthood is hard, and when you have ADHD, it can feel like you’re stuck under a mountain of responsibilities you have no idea how to do. What’s worse is watching all of your friends fly by you in maturity. Even if you know you have ADHD, you can still have a feeling of “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I just get it together like everybody else?”

It might be helpful to sit down and have an honest discussion with him about what he wants out of this stage of life. He doesn’t have to have it all figured out now, but I’m sure there’s something he wants. Showing little respect for his autonomy and desire for independence can go a long way. Knowing that someone has your back, even if you fail, can give you the courage to take risks and determination to keep going.

I was depressed a few years ago. I finally got sick of being miserable and decided to figure out how to help myself. I did tons of online research. One of the most helpful things was sitting down and writing out what I wanted my life to look like in 10 years. Career goals, friendship goals, relationship goals, personal goals, finance goals, etc. Then, I picked a few of the things that were most important to me and wrote out steps for how to get there. Then I took a step. A teeny-tiny baby step. I think the first thing I did was repaint a dresser for the living room so we could have “a more organized and beautiful home.” Lol. 🙂 When I succeeded at that one, I felt a little better about myself. When my husband cheered me on, I felt more confident.

Then I took another step. Baby steps. I took a low-level part time job in a career I was interested in. Now, I am doing things I never thought I could. I’m in graduate school, making all A’s with no medicine and no therapist. (I don’t recommend this for everyone. It just works for me.) We’ve saved up enough money for a great vacation and to keep me from working full time while I’m in school. I’m proud of me. Those little successes, finding out that I COULD do the little stuff that seemed so hard, helped pull me out of my depression. Having my husband and my dad cheering me on helped me hang in there when it got hard and I felt like things might just fall apart.

I don’t know if your son’s story will be anything like mine or my husband’s, but I hope this encourages you. The 20s are a challenging time for ADHDers, but you CAN make it out alive. Once we hit about 30, our brains catch up with our peers a little more and things can balance out. The 20s are a great time for trying a lot of different things and finding out which ones interest you. It’s okay if he doesn’t have it all figured out now. He just has to start working on figuring it out. 🙂

One last note.
The trend nowadays is to go to college right after high school then get a job. That didn’t work for me or my husband. ADHDers do well with a goal. We need to know WHY we are doing things. Preparing for who knows what doesn’t make sense in our brains. We both needed to enter school with a clear career in mind in order to be successful. So, taking some time to try different jobs out is really helpful. Especially if there’s no pressure. We like challenges, so having fun learning a variety of different skills for a few years is a great use of time. It gives us the chance to slowly learn new life skills (paying bills, maintaining an apartment, time management). Eventually, we’ll find a career that we love. It just clicks. Once it clicks, we are way more determined to reach whatever goal we’ve set. Plus, most people switch careers at least 2-3 times in their lives now. These monumental decisions in your 20s aren’t nearly as monumental as they seem. You just have to get that momentum started. 🙂