Reply To: Dating a Man with ADHD — my anxiety has spiked, seeking advice please.

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Hey! ADD’er here and I can completely understand and sympathize with everything you are both going through. I mean I’m supposed to be writing a cover letter right now but instead meandered over here instead and got sucked in by your story.

My first thought when reading your post was that it doesn’t seem like your bf is on any kind of medication. And that’s super important. Amphetamines and stimulants (and others like Concerta) have been used successfully to treat ADD for decades and are proven to be both safe and effective. But of course to get those, he actually has to make it to the clinic. So Step 1, go to the clinic and see an ADHD specialist. Go at the right time, get a formal diagnosis, and work with the specialist (typically a psychiatrist) to start finding a medication that works perfectly for you (him in this case but you get me). There are a broad range of options available and everyone has to find the right dose of the right one that works for them. For example: Ritalin makes my hands shake. Adderall wears off for me too fast and is a little uneven. But Vyvanse works great for me. They’ll start the dosage off low and slowly increase it or decrease it to find the dosage where you can focus just enough to be a normal adult but not so high that you’re just in the zone all the time and ignore your friends etc.

Step 2 – Behavioral therapy. Our brains don’t work the way normies do, so the same way autistic kids need to be trained to recognize facial expressions like frowns and smiley faces, we need to be taught how to do really basic adult things like pay bills on time, open mail, organize a desk, put away laundry. A few meetings with a behavioral therapist will revolutionize how he looks at his life and does things. Generally, the key is try to do one thing at a time and do everything only one time. Creatine routines. Routines are essential for ADDers to function. Start cooking, cook meal, TURN OFF STOVE, wash dishes as you finish, eat. When you come home, don’t throw your jacket on the couch, then hang it up later. Hang the jacket up now and don’t stress out future you by having to remember to hang the jacket up. Just put the jacket someplace ONCE. He’ll never bat 1000 in this regard, and that’s an important thing for both of you to accept, but he can definitely improve. And having someone patient and supportive like you to help him do that is exactly what he needs to improve.

Here’s a crash course on ADD for the un-intiated. Your brain is a combination of hundreds of different parts, each with specific jobs. Just like your digestive track, one part does one thing (mouth chews) and another something else (stomach digests chewed food). One part of your brain controls your left hand, one part is the vision in the center of your right eye, and one part handles organization. This last part is the part that makes life both awesome and total hell for ADDers. It’s called the prefrontal cortex.

***Edit – I think my message got caught in the spam filter since I posted a link, so I deleted it. Just google image search for prefrontal cortex. That’ll get the job done.

The prefontal cortex is basically the manager of the brain. It takes everything the brain is doing and prioritizes and organizes, sifts and sorts, assigns and collates. It lets you control yourself essentially. The manager of an ADHD brain sucks. It’s lazy and incompetent, but gets way better with meds but is never going to win manager of the year. So what appears to outsiders as trouble focusing is really trouble organizing thoughts, feelings, sensations etc. When you are outside or at work, spend a minute just looking at absolutely everyone around you that’s moving. Listen to to the fans and air conditioners, the printers, the background chit chat, the chairs creaking, the cars outside, the birds flying by windows. Now imagine not being able to tune that out when you want. Now apply that to your thoughts and emotions too. That’s roughly what it’s like inside our heads. So it’s not that we CAN’T focus. We can focus like champions! We just really struggle to control what we focus on. And that’s the key. Realizing that he lost track of what he’s doing and then getting back on track without getting passive aggressive judgments etc (which you’re totally not doing so props on that!). Working with a behavioral therapist and establishing specific routines personalized for your bf that will help him manage all those thoughts and feelings and senses rushing through his brain 24/7 and get him close to being a functional adult while not losing all the awesome things that make him incredible.

ADD is a daily struggle of never being good enough and never getting everything perfectly perfect. The only consistent thing we do is be inconsistent. And that’s frustrating to everyone. It takes a huge emotional toll because we are also innate perfectionists. Imagine spending your entire life with people telling you you’re not living up to your potential. You get a HUGE complex about making any kind of mistake. That’s why he (and we) always get down on ourselves. But it also makes us persistent. So how do you get someone with ADD to correct those mistakes? Accept that he’s never going to get it all right. Be patient and persistent, focus on creating fun routines and simple ways to be consistent. You’re doing absolutely everything right in that regard as far as I can tell. He just needs a little bit more help getting there. Small and non-judgemental/friendly hints, visual cues like maybe tugging on your ear when he starts to ramble on to gently and subtly remind him to let others talk, all of these things will go a long way towards making you both happier individually and together. You can even make it a game. “Oh hell, I rambled again didn’t I? Look at me go. I apologize.” That sort of stuff. Or, “You made it through that whole conversation normally! Dude you rock! Ice cream time!”

You two seem perfect for each other, so don’t second guess that (not yet at least!) Just iron out the wrinkles. And let us know if we can help.