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“My Husband Perfectly Balanced My ADHD Brain. And Then He Died.”

“With the diagnosis came relief as I began to understand and make sense of my life. I was able to get a clearer picture of who I was, and how I might emerge in my sudden widowhood. I found more reasons to love my late husband as I realized he carried for me all of what my ADHD could not. He was, in essence, my Ritalin.”

When my husband of 28 years died suddenly, the question I repeated to myself — and to anyone who listened — was, “How am I going to live without him?”

It was not a romantic or dramatic question, but a practical one. I was truly perplexed. How could I exist without the person who balanced me for nearly half my life? I was terrified.

During a grief counseling session, my therapist asked if had ever been told, or if I ever suspected, that I had ADHD. The answer to both was no – at least not seriously. No one had ever associated me with ADHD outright, probably because of my age and gender. It was not a common diagnosis back in my day.

I was, however, called a daydreamer, lazy, sloppy, and unorganized many a time. I had been identified as having a reading comprehension issue. I had also been admonished most of my life for my lack of focus and concentration, and scolded with “you’re not listening” and “watch what you’re doing.” Even my late husband sometimes thought if I “just paid more attention” I would be able to do A, B, or C — or not do X, Y, and Z.

I believed and internalized what others told me. My self-loathing drowned out the gentle, internal voice that would tell me I was doing my best. Later in life, when I grew embarrassed or frustrated for losing my keys for the umpteenth time, or for completely undoing the organization of my dresser drawers set up days earlier, or for jumping the track on conversations, I used ADHD as a punch line to cover my pain.
[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women]

Then, at the age of 58, nearly six months after my husband’s death, a psychologist specializing in ADHD evaluated me. My therapist’s suspicions were confirmed. I had ADHD.

With the diagnosis came relief as I began to understand and make sense of my life. I was able to connect the dots and get a clearer picture of who I was, and how I might emerge in my sudden widowhood. I found more reasons to love my late husband as I realized he carried for me all of what my ADHD could not. He was, in essence, my Ritalin.

I am not proud to admit this (especially the feminist in me), but my late husband took care of the many things I did not understand, especially finances. I tried to follow him when he spoke about this bill, that IRA, this loan, or that warranty. If they were short conversations, I kept up. If they went too long, I tuned him out. Sometimes, he mistook my lack of attention for apathy.

After Peter died and I was left to handle all of this alone, I ruminated on all the should-haves. I should have concentrated harder. I should have asked more questions. I should have taken notes. I should have stuck with the discussions until I understood. Now, as I learn more about who I am without him, I shake off those regrets with new insight into the limitations I carried all these years.

[Get This Download: What Every Thorough ADHD Diagnosis Includes]

With the ADHD diagnosis came an effort to understand what Peter’s abrupt and permanent departure from my life meant. I had to ask myself many challenging questions: How could I live without his balance? How do I go to the places I allowed Peter to hide me from? What could I accomplish on my own, if anything? Where do I begin to manage those things he managed, the things that overwhelmed me? And would I, could I, ever learn complete self-reliance?

I have been on this journey for a while now. I am conscious of my life with the diagnosis of ADHD, and that I no longer have Peter to help me navigate. I continue to laugh with an “Oh, my ADHD” when I feel awkward or humiliated (although I do find humor in some situations).

I struggle with life’s big picture, including the tiniest of pixels. But I know I am like any other person with ADHD who finds themselves navigating life alone when their person suddenly vanishes.

Almost two years without my person, I am still asking myself honest, difficult questions – and only beginning to find some answers.

Life After Loss: Next Steps


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Updated on July 12, 2021

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