Reply To: ADHD College grad refuses to look for work

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I’m not a parent, but I’m in a similar situation like your son where I graduated college 2 years ago, the job search was extremely anxiety inducing to even start, it led to even more mental health problems on top of my already diagnosed and existing mental illnesses, it affected my relationship with my parents, and I’m currently going to behavioral health appointments 3-5 times a week, trying to get to a point where I can work, know how to look for employment, and advocate for myself, but what you said sounds all too familiar to me and not in a really good way. I’m always afraid of coming across the wrong way, especially online when that happens so often, so I want to clarify that I’m not saying you’re a bad parent, I do understand your frustration, and the fact that you’re reaching out in some way for help tells me you do care about your son. Obviously our situations have differences, but I don’t want you to make the mistakes my parents made when they were also frustrated because that will cause more harm to your son and your guys’ relationship, and it sounds like the two of you need each other right now.

You mentioned that it took him 6 years to get his degree because of his ADHD, but was he receiving decent accommodations from his college the entire time? In my case I was diagnosed with ADHD Combined Type this past March, meaning I never received accommodations that I had legal rights to according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and as a result I burned myself out to graduate, and that burnout fatigue hit me like a wrecking ball when I was officially finished. Imagine trying to cut the biggest watermelon you found at the supermarket, but all you had to cut it up with the smallest, dullest butter knife in your kitchen. That’s kind of what college is like without proper accommodations for someone with ADHD, except cutting a watermelon with a butter knife is easier and doesn’t result in student debt. Disability offices at a good amount of colleges are also really bad with accommodating people with disabilities, even though it’s their job. Did your son burn himself out trying to graduate (pulled a lot of all-nighters, stopped doing things like favorite hobbies, basic self care, and hanging out with friends so he could study, etc.)? To my parents, the aftermath of me burning myself out looked like what your son is doing now (sleeping late, watching TV, and lounging). You also mentioned a lot of other severely negative experiences the both of you experienced, so it could also be possible that your son is also emotionally exhausted, which is just as bad as physical exhaustion and can last longer. Dealing with what he went through plus the possibility of burnout on top of that doesn’t leave enough energy to do much else, let alone job hunt. You know way more context about the situation than I do, but you should still sit down with him and calmly ask him about his college experience leading up to graduation and listen to him to see if he did burn himself out or if anything else was negatively affecting him to the point of emotional exhaustion.

What you said about how he’s afraid to fail when it comes to looking for a job, not only have I also felt that exact same way, but it’s an actual thing that can come with having ADHD. It’s called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and if you type that into the search bar for this website, there’s articles explaining what it is as well as a quiz to take if you suspect you have RSD. If you get a certain score or higher (like I did), it’s recommended that you see a mental health professional to confirm it. You’ll see it if you look up the articles, but for me, the only way to really describe my experience with how badly I avoided rejection is that avoiding any kind of rejection was the only way to survive, and I developed mild agoraphobia because of it. That’s how badly rejection, and even just the possibility of rejection, can affect someone with ADHD if they also have RSD. Based on what you said, it’s a safe bet that he has some form of RSD, but if you read through the main articles about it, and it definitely sounds like your son, ask him to take the quiz when you sit down and calmly talk with him.

I understand that you’re stretched thin and have a lot to handle with your parents and siblings; my mom is the same way except with slightly different family situations and the estate she had to handle was in a different country. Are you shouldering this all on your own? Do you have any other relatives or friends that you feel comfortable relying on when you need any type of support? Are you currently seeing a therapist yourself (I just want to say this for anyone who doesn’t know, you don’t have to have a mental illness to see a therapist. People see therapists for things like switching career paths, etc.)? That is way too much for you, a singular person, to handle on your own. It sounds like you’re aware of your limits, and this post is literally asking for help, so please take care of yourself too and keep asking for help when you feel like you’re reaching your limit. On the other hand, please be careful with the way you talk about your son, especially if he can hear you. I don’t know if you ever did this to your son, but whenever I tried to talk to my mom about how my most recent diagnosis was affecting me, she would talk about how she has so many things going on and she can’t deal with more things at that moment. Every time that’s happened, I’ve always felt like I was unimportant to her and that she didn’t care about the very real things I experienced and could now verbalize. Also, remember your son is a human being who needs support, not a project that can be fixed and then it’s done and over with. ADHD is manageable, but not curable. Even if your son does gets a job, it’s very likely that he could have trouble keeping it because of his ADHD getting in the way of his work performance. It’s also possible that he’ll jump career paths a lot of times. It’s not your job to “make a project of him”. If you look at it that way and not for what it is, something he’ll have to live with for life and just learn how to manage, you’re going to become even more stressed out.

You sound like you’ve been trying to help your son, but whenever you tried to help or whenever you brought up something that can help in conversation, does your son see that as you yelling at him? I only ask because you said that “he can sense the steam coming out of your ears”. If he does possibly have RSD, that can make that specific scenario seem a million times worse than it actually is. Whenever you tried to help, did he ask for help first or did you take matters into your own hands? I know you have good intentions, but sometimes if you do take matters into your own hands can do the opposite of what you wanted because something completely different might be what’s really wrong. Again, sitting down with him, being more actively self-aware with how you talk and the language you use, and actively listening to what he has to say, and not making any assumptions can make a world of difference and can do a lot more good compared to “making a project of him”. Two problems that I’ve seen a lot of people with ADHD have, whether it’s with my own eyes or while researching ADHD for my own understanding, are not taking hints and not following through with promises, two things that you said you tried in the past. For me personally, I can function better when people are super specific with me and setting reminders for myself helps with following through on promises, but it took a lot of trial and error to figure that out for myself, and it’ll take your son some trial and error before he finds what works for him and what doesn’t. All you can really do is be there for him, be patient with him, and accommodate for what helps him function better. A lot of the time it’s really simple stuff like being more specific when you talk to him or casually reminding him of something he promised. I will tell you this, that “tough love” approach of throwing your kid out and making them couchsurf until they have it together is a huge part of why many people with mental health issues end up homeless.

Generally speaking, if your kid perceives you to be yelling at them to do a thing, that will make them not want to do said thing, even if you didn’t yell or if it’s something beneficial, like therapy. This isn’t something you can force because your son is over 18, and you can only benefit from therapy if you actively choose to seek it out. However, you can prepare yourself for when he decides for himself that he wants to start therapy, and you can also prepare yourself in case your son experiences a mental health crisis so you know what to do. I don’t know when your son was diagnosed or if he’s received treatment in the past, but other conditions and disorders can co-occur with ADHD, if left untreated for a period of time, and can lead to a mental health crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a PDF on their website for family members that’s all about how to recognize a mental health crisis within a loved one and what to do. That should be within the Resources tab. You can also do some googling or check your county’s government website to see if your county has an Office of Behavioral Health. If you don’t see that right away, check under Human Services for your county. They would have all the local hospitals that offer crisis management and phone numbers you would need in case of emergency. The Office of Behavioral Health/Human Services in your county might also have information about programs for young adults or transition aged youth that can help with the specific issues your son faces. If they don’t have programs for young adults or if your son has aged out of them already, you can find more resources on the website. Just go on the site for your state, search your county, there should be a PDF available containing all the resources within your county and the surrounding area. It might seem like a lot, but only a handful pages will be applicable to you and your son. Again, if you research his possible options in case he chooses to get help, keep the information ready either printed out and in a folder or bookmarked on your computer for when he makes that choice to get help for himself. Keep the emergency information readily available in case you need it.

I originally made an account on this website because I wanted to see if anyone else was in my position and how they handled it, so it’s interesting to come across the parent perspective. Everything I was diagnosed with except my ADHD was diagnosed in college when I had campus resources available to me because my parents are from a country that heavily stigmatizes mental illness. After I graduated, my dad thought he was helping me by pointing out what places were hiring, but he just yelled at me every time he did that to the point where it escalated to straight up verbal abuse no matter how you looked at it. That made the depressive episodes I was experiencing so much worse and way more frequent. I’m pretty sure there were times within the past 2 years where I should’ve been hospitalized, but my parents saw my symptoms as character flaws that I could just stop doing when that wasn’t the case at all. Please remember that some of the things your son does, like breaking promises, isn’t completely on purpose and it’s something he can’t completely control. Also, in the case of a mental health crisis, you can call the crisis numbers even if your son’s over 18. Knowing what to look out for and taking the appropriate action can have a significant impact on your son’s life if that were to ever happen. My mom pointed out last year that I needed to start seeing a therapist, but when I asked her how do I make the appointment with a therapist she literally said “I don’t know” and then just walked away. I had to learn how to find a therapist, manage medication, and find a supplemental program specific to my issues all on my own. It’s extremely scary and I was honestly winging a lot of things alone, so you having those resources ready for your son if and when he chooses to get help will make all of that so much less intimidating for him. Other than that, listening when he talks, asking questions and not assuming things, not raising your voice, and being patient will him will be more helpful to get him to open up, and it might help him realize that he needs therapy. If he does start therapy, and he finds little things that help him function better, accommodate for that. You’re already taking the initiative by asking for help on here, so please don’t give up on your son, no matter how hard it gets. If it does get overwhelming, don’t be afraid to reach out for help for yourself as well.

I wish you and your son the best with this situation. From someone whose parents’ fought against everything I had to do for the sake of my own mental health, your son is lucky to have a dad who cares.