Living with adult ADHD - let's talk about Sheila

Let's talk about someone called Sheila today. Sheila is married to a good man who provides for their family, shares duties of bringing up their only child and manages their accounts and utilities efficiently. Her man is thoughtful and highly educated - posts intelligent excerpts on social media and excels in his job. Through him, Sheila is connected to a network of loving extending family she adores.

But Sheila is lonely and has contemplated emotional affairs. She is on medication to help her with stress management, and is thinking of seeing a counselor again.

It is not that Sheila is bored in her marriage, wants excitement, or adulation. On the contrary - she dearly wants her marriage and life to be free of turbulence. A child of disturbed domestic environment herself; she wants a loving home for her child provided by biological parents, something she wasn't privy to. Divorce is not an option for Sheila - she doesn't want her child to be from a split home.

Sheila's husband has progressively worsening adult ADHD - below are the manifestations and consequences of his illness and explanations given to Sheila by professionals.

1. Inability to remember most things. Her husband's brain doesn't register most things in the attention center and therefore, they don't get passed onto the retention center. Her husband forgets not only anniversaries, birthdays and plans, but also to lock the house, lock childproof cabinets, chores and promises. Sheila is OK with this. She has to be for the sake of peace in her household. She knows the person she loves can't help himself and she has figured out ways to live with these. She does almost every chore herself and doesn't expect surprises or gifts on occasions.

But her husband also forgets discussions they have had and decisions they have agreed to. On childcare, vacations, finances, and family. He gets angry often on newly discovering mutually agreed upon decisions and his helplessness is manifested as anger. Often in public places. He blames Sheila in such instances because he remembers a different reality. Sheila tries to walk away, or minimize the embarrassment with jokes as much as she can - mostly unsuccessfully.

2. Poor impulse control. Her husband's reactions happen before his mind has processed and registered thoughts and consequences. They are mostly abrupt and often angry. He blurts out hurtful and rude things in front of company. Most of the times he doesn't mean them - but only Sheila knows so. Often people appreciate his brutal honesty, but they don't befriend him too much. No one can get really close to him, not even Sheila.

But sometimes Sheila feels her eyes tearing up. Like when her husband says things which might be true, but are not complementing to her at all to their dinner guests and she has to excuse herself to the bathroom. At other times, Sheila gets teary eyed for her husband - when she sees the 'I did it again, I don't know what is wrong with me' helplessness in his eyes.

3. Poor anger management. Is this different from poor impulse control? Sheila doesn't know. She just knows almost any question will get an angry answer on most days, and asking for clarification will only worsen things. Like a frustrated child unable to express throwing tantrums, her husband's frustrations with himself will come out as hurtful, generalized phrases. Sheila knows to retreat at times like these and let things cool down.

But he loses patience with their toddler too - more often with each passing day. Sheila has talked to him again and again about not yelling - maybe he can try counselling? Coping mechanisms? Sheila grew up in too loud a house. She doesn't want the same kind of loud for her child.

4. Inability to express and process emotions. Sheila s husband knows when he has crossed a line. But he doesn't know how not to and doesn't want to learn. He is embarrassed, and covers himself with a blanket in a dark room frequently after blurting out hurtful things.

Sheila doesn't try anymore to pursue and find answers. She tries to give him his space and allow his way of conflict resolution and knows that her concerns won't get resolving responses. Ever.

5. No physical desire. Sheila doesn't have a sex life anymore and has learnt to be OK with it
But she does crave emotional companionship and cuddles.

Sheila can't talk to anyone about her marriage. She has tried, but her friends don't understand her issues. To them her husband is a great guy - no bad habits, smart, and shares childcare duties more than anyone they know. An honest and simple guy.

Professionals have explained this phenomena to Sheila with example of ADHD in children.
Parents and teachers having wildly different experiences of the same child. No tantrums thrown, no hurtful behavior in classes. Those who have ADHD are often very smart: even as a child they sense possible consequences and negative responses to their actions. So in certain environments, where they know price to pay will be high they strive hard to and successfully control their symptoms. By the time they are home they are exhausted from their efforts and they know they can let their guards down.

This is why her husband is so different a person at home. To her. Even from the person Sheila had chosen to marry. Along with progressive worsening of his condition, there has also been progressive letting down of guard.

Doctors have said he can get better - with counselling and/or medications. They have tried both. One is too risky for him owing to his family health history and he doesn't believe in the other. He has tried - he truly has for their sake - but has given up every time on counselling.

But their child adores her father. She holds both of their hands every time they step out together - waiting always if one hand hasn't been held yet. She knows either getting a divorce or having constant fights will be devastating for their child.

So here is what Sheila does - with the help of books and counselors and online support groups:

1. Practices mindfulness and cognitive behavior herself - helps her not react to her husband angrily, to make sure voices doesn't get raised.

2. Reads, reads and reads on how to shield children under such situations - she explains to her child every time her daddy yells it is not because he doesn't love her. She explains to her child that yelling can mean different things for different people - and is just a form of talking for daddy - but it's not a good form to emulate. And she prays that her efforts are enough.

3. Prioritizes counselling to help manage her unique marriage dynamics - she has learnt to adjust her expectations for her partner and accept the things that can't be changed.

4. Seeks treatments and takes her medications to keep her anxiety and stress under control.

5. Doesn't think of things in terms of permanence - happily ever after is more like take one day at a time for her.

Who is Sheila? It doesn't matter. What matters is, she, and many like her exist. If you know a Sheila - what she needs is not advice. She knows all about not being in such a marriage - not to fear being alone - divorce is better than this - this might get worse for her kid. She has still chosen to pursue her route. Not everyone has the same options and the same options mean different things for different people. Our reality - is not the only reality. She just wants it known that they exist too. And if you are like Sheila - she wants you to know you are not alone and you are doing the best you can.

This is the first piece in a series I intend to write in my effort of portraying mental health conditions I have had close and/or personal experiences with in order to spread awareness on the challenges and triumphs they cause. Any feedback, or sharing of experience, is very welcome.

For more about the author, please visit www.thoughtsandrights.com