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

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Hi there,

I am a 26 year old female with ADD, depression, and anxiety. I went through this struggle early in my college career and I am going through this struggle again in early adulthood.

I think there are a number of reasons why we struggle with motivation, but this is simply reflection and speculation based upon my own experience.
I think one major issue for me was and is finding a passion for something. It is well known that people with ADD have a strange ability to hyper focus on tasks they are interested in and have very little ability to focus on something that does not peak their interest. Once I found a major which utilized my hyperfocus, I was able to power through school. I was still slower than most and failed at least one class a semester, but if I had been studying business or engineering instead of design I most definitely would have dropped out due to complete boredom. My GE’s were a struggle, I just felt like a was redoing high school and it sucked to get through.
In addition, I have found that each phase of life calls for a different method of organization and structure. Each time I shifted to a new phase in life I was completely lost. I no longer knew how to keep track of things, which just caused a downward spiral into giving up altogether. My boyfriend found ADDitude for me and it has really helped me to organize as an adult with ADD because the suggestions are specific to our common issues of organization and time management.

Moreover, it seems as though our 20’s are our time to figure ourselves out as adults. Of course we continue learning beyond our 20’s, but so far my 20’s have felt like I’ve been swimming in the open sea looking for land, sometimes landing on a small island that I think is home only to realized I’m still in the middle of effing nowhere. Maybe by our 30’s we’re nearing shore.
My mother has had the same struggle with me as you do with your son. She would constantly be telling me what I needed to do but the thing was I knew what I needed to do, I just had a lot of issues I needed to deal with first before I could get there. I know her intentions were good but they only worked to exacerbate my shame, anxiety, and doubt in myself. Recently she has backed off and it has allowed me the space to work through the causes of my depression, leading me to feel far more prepared for the workplace so hopefully I can get a job and keep it for more than a few months.

It may seem as though your son doesn’t care but if he’s anything like me he probably is doing nothing because he cares a little too much. After a lifetime of being reprimanded for things we don’t have much control over, we shy away from trying anything new because failure after failure is exhausting to our confidence.
I could imagine that your son feels as though his worth is entirely wrapped up in his ability to succeed in academics or business and that his inability to do so right now is causing him a lot of hurt. I am sure he is also doing a lot of comparing himself to his classmates from high school on social media and wondering why he cannot also be traveling, learning, and meeting new people. He will get there with a supportive family.

Basically what I am trying to say is that this is very normal, especially for those of us in our early 20’s with ADD. He needs time and space to figure things out. I find reading about ADD helps me to learn how to forgive myself and not take everything so seriously, leading me to take important risks and steps forward in life. I often read books on mindfulness by authors such as Ekhart Tolle or Alan Watts which helps me learn how to clear some of the constant noise in my mind. I also think that as a parent you may feel the burden of helping your son to succeed, but in truth there is only so much you can do, and you have to learn to forgive yourself as well. His success or failure should not be your success or failure, though it will probably always feel that way. Your son is an adult now with the ability to make his own choices. Offer your support, offer your understanding, be willing to help when he asks, but don’t push too hard or it may cause him to retreat or rebel. All we really want is for sometime to understand.

I hope this helps!