Saturday, March 12, 2011

Role-switching and the ADHD family

I can’t help noticing that Frank S. and I are the only members of the male gender posting on the easy to love but hard to raise blog. That’s cool – and not entirely unexpected.

I’m the writer in our family. My wife Chris has ADHD and learning disabilities. Oddly enough, she’s had the jobs that require the most organizational skills. Banking, for one. Supervisor at the local YMCA for another. When I come into the YMCA to exercise or to pick her up for lunch, it seems as if all 8,000 members are there at once. Chris is flitting around the place, attending to member and staff needs. I stand there, amazed, wanting to flee the chaos to the quiet safety of my car. How does she do it? Her ADHD helps her multi-task, yet it also contributes to flittering. I’m standing still, sometimes because I’m depressed and other times because I’m thinking up clever blog posts like this one.

We complement one another.

We’re also a bit of an anomaly. As we’ve seen on this blog, it’s usually the adult male in the relationship who has ADHD. Most diagnoses of childhood ADHD are in boys. Hyper-boys grow up, meet lovely and competent women, sweep them off their feet and into marriage.

My friend L is married to H. H is a psychologist and L has all the traits of an ADHD boy grown into a hyper-adult. He’s a Brainiac but never quite reached his full potential. Wherever he goes, he leaves a trail of chaos in his wake. When all of us lived in Maryland, L said he was coming over the make me a gourmet birthday dinner. He’s a good cook and it gave all of us a chance to hang out.

Later that evening, Chris and I surveyed the kitchen. Every pot and pan in the kitchen was dirty. Red sauce stains were on the walls on the floor. Empty spice containers littered the counter like empty beer cans after a frat party. The stove was still on and cabinet doors remained flung open.

“The meal was good,” I replied, surveying the damage.

“Never again,” said Chris.

After that, we ate out with L and H.

We also were in an Adult ADHD Support Group. The men and one woman (Chris) was in the support group while the women (and one guy – me) shared our horror stories. He never graduated from college. He forgets to pick up the kids from school. Can’t keep a job. He leaves a terrible mess when he cooks dinner. And so on.

This was 1995. The Maryland suburbs that ring D.C. are made up of some of the best-educated people in the U.S. Liberals, mainly, just like me, an out-of-place Westerner. The women were strong and had careers in business or medicine or government.

But even in the closing decade of the 20th century, three decades into the women’s movement, the men were still considered primary breadwinners. So when they have ADHD, they not only struggle with inattention and hyperactivity, they also are underachievers in an overachieving world. And it’s not just their spouses who notice. One of the first questions asked in D.C. is about your work. My buddy L worked at home as a freelancer. Later, he was also a stay-at-home dad. I saw the strange looks that other men gave him. I guessed their thoughts: you’re not even a lobbyist? Remember that this is a place where you can get into policy wonk discussions at any time and any place.

One fine spring day during a clean-up hike of the Potomac with the Cub Scouts, one of the other dads found out that I worked at the National Endowment for the Arts. He was a conservative think-tank lobbyist and proceeded to tell me all the reasons the arts shouldn’t be government funded. Another adult leader chimed in that the arts were crucial and deserved even more federal funding. We were engaged in a lively debate when one of the Scouts came up and told us to get back to work. We looked at each other sheepishly and then returned to the task of picking up Snickers wrappers from the historic trails along the Potomac.

When I first met Chris 33 years ago, I was drawn like a hummingbird to her beauty and her vivacious nature. She was the lively one; I was the laid-back one. Later, she uncovered her learning disabilities and ADHD. I uncovered deep wells of depression. We discovered them, I should say. Some of it came about after the birth and toddlerhood of our son Kevin revealed his ADHD. It took us decades to unwrap all of these secrets. We didn’t do it alone – and it’s an ongoing process.

Cross-posted to easy to love but hard to raise.

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