My wife and I are both officially diagnosed with galloping cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. This is how we live together.
Overall, there are upsides and downsides to both having the same disorder. Yeah, you heard me, I called it a disorder because that is what it is. I know we’re supposed to pretend that we’re just ‘differently abled’ but what my wife and I have is not some mild case of distractibility, it is full-blown life-fucking-up-caliber ADHD. We are not the kind of ADHD people who pretend we have superpowers because we definitely do not. There is nothing super about chronically failing to do things we promised to do, either for others or for each other. Nor is it super to lose track of conversations because we’ve got sensory overload at a party. Why is it so hard for people to just admit that they have a disorder that makes it harder to cope with being a human being in society? Why does everyone feel the need to pretend to be perfect all the time?
Wait, what I was talking about? Right, upsides and downsides. Alright, let me do what my therapist told me to do and try to impose some order with a list:
1. My love, my darling, whatever you wanted me to do today I didn’t do it. Again.
We forget things. Do you ever have the feeling like there’s something important you’re supposed to be doing but you aren’t doing it because you forgot what it was? We have that feeling all the time. It’s like an old car with a ‘check engine’ light stuck on all the time, which, eventually, you just ignore because there’s always going to be a problem, but you can’t always figure out what it is. You just keep driving until something catches on fire. We’re both aware that there are probably things we said we would do but forgot to write it down, or forgot to set the alarm, or we just forgot to make any sort of record of our promise to do that thing.
We often joke about how together we make one mostly-functioning human being, since we do try to help each other function. I remind her to do stuff, and she reminds me to do stuff. It works, sometimes, except for the fact that we both forget to remind one another. Or, we get the reminder and start to do the thing but then get side-tracked and forget to return to the task we were doing.
The problem is no matter how many reminders you set for yourself you can always get lost on the way. Example: my wife texts to tell me to turn off the water hose filling the pool in an hour. I tell her I’ll do it, and I set an alarm for an hour. Alarm goes off, and I decide I’ll just finish this cup of coffee before heading out, just a few more sips. Four hours later she asks if I turned the water off. Fuck.
The downside to both of us having this disorder is we both regularly forget to do important things like registering vehicles and paying bills and filing tax returns. There is a cost to all of that. We do what we can to cope, but we still fuck it up. If it weren’t for auto-pay we’d probably be homeless. The upside is we understand that forgetting a thing is not an indication that we don’t respect or love the other person. My wife says she’ll get the oil change in the car, but then she doesn’t. For literally two solid weeks. It does not bother me one iota because I understand it, I am right there with her in forgetting things all the time.
This is not to say that we excuse all this forgetting. It is still important that we do what we say we’ll do. We just fuck it up all the time despite trying our best, so we have to be kind to each other.
2. Travels through hyperspace.
We hyperfocus. This is useful for things like art and writing, but not so useful for things like being attentive to one another’s needs in the moment. This would probably make a normal person feel regularly abandoned, but we both recognize the signs of hyperfocus and do not, therefore, take it personally. We do sometimes have to ask the other person to disengage the warp drive so we can do things like go to that party we said we’d go to. I understand, for example, that interrupting my wife in the middle of a marathon of photo-editing is going to annoy her. Her annoyance is not personal, it’s just the result of terminating her hyperfocus, which feels to the brain much like it feels to stop peeing halfway through.
There’s also the aftermath of hyperfocus where we snap back to our senses realizing we haven’t eaten in nine hours because we were doing that thing and now we’re hungry and, ah, dammit we never even showered and the garbage never made it to the curb and the cats missed breakfast and holy shit that’s a lot of cat turds in the box and, and, and.
3. This month we are chocolatiers.
We love new hobbies. We start them all the time! It is accepted that we will routinely start new hobbies and usually abandon them as quickly as we started them. We’ve agreed as long as we keep it cheap(ish), we can just let our interests wander all over the place. It’s easier and more fun that way. A normal person would probably be annoyed to see so many random packages arriving full of kits for this and that, but we both get it. It’s part of the deal.
Our house is a hobby graveyard. Just in my field of view from the couch there’s a screen-printing kit my wife bought and used three times. There are unread and partially-read books covering every surface of the house. I can see three of our seven or so Raspberry Pis. One is plugged in to a blank monitor as part of an attempt at a touch-screen calendar — ostensibly to help us organize our lives better — but, alas, was never completed. There’s a scroll saw sitting in the corner of the spare room I used for a few weeks when I decided making tiny models of houses would be my new thing. In the kitchen is a special grinder to make cocoa from raw nibs from when we had decided bespoke artisinal chocolates would be our side hustle. It was never used. There’s a rather large package that’s been unoped for over a months, god knows what kind of new hobby is waiting in there. I’m pretty sure my wife bought that one, but maybe it was me and I just forgot. There’s a pool skimmer resting against the wall because the — wait, what the fuck is that doing in the house?
3. Dancing on chaos.
There is no consistency or routine to how we live. There is only chaos of varying degrees. We try to keep it within acceptable bounds. We don’t make the bed, nor do we eat or sleep with much regularity. We have to pick our battles when it comes to imposing order on our lives. There’s no point in trying to keep the coffee table clean, for example, since we’re better off spending that willpower on keeping our bills paid.
We still try to improve. There’s no sense in giving up. It has helped to see our own problems mirrored in the other person. A bad habit that’s invisible to ourselves may be obvious in the other person, which can lead to fruitful self-reflection. For example, when I get frustrated because she forgot to do her chores, I redirect that feeling inward and resolve to be better about doing my chores so she isn’t, say, washing her underwear in the sink while already late for work because I forgot about the laundry for the umpteenth time. There is such a thing as excessive chaos. Again, ADHD is not an excuse.
Oh, right, the pool skimmer is inside the house because there were birds in the chimney that emerged one afternoon. My wife used it to capture them so they could be tossed outside. That was three months ago. The skimmer, all three meters of it, has been resting against the wall in the corner of our living room for three months. We just stopped seeing it after a while. This is how we live.
A normal person would go batshit fucking insane trying to impose order on our lives. We let most things just slide because we have to choose carefully how and when to apply our limited focus and willpower. We have to prioritize and pick our battles. The pool skimmer can live in the house for a while, that’s OK, so long as one of us makes sure to pay the utilities. Sometimes, though, even our combined willpower isn’t enough to keep things going and then it gets rocky.
4. I am too broken to be a good enough person for anything, ever.
We struggle to keep calm sometimes. I’m joking about most of our problems here because we use good humor to smooth over most of our dysfunction, but sometimes it’s just overwhelming. We both at times feel like we’re too broken to do basic human things like keep jobs and fulfill social obligations. The feeling of just barely keeping everything together is tiring and we often can’t take a break from it.
Usually one of us feels OK enough to talk the other one through an attack of feeling too broken, but sometimes the planets align and we’re both in a state of life panic over the prospect of managing our finances and lives and careers with the level of consistency demanded by our community. We feel like we can’t rely on ourselves, and we know that sometimes we can’t rely on one another. We know that try as we might, sometimes we just fuck it all up. Sometimes we lose faith in our combined ability to be functioning-enough adults. Those are dark times, but they pass, and we muddle along well enough to avoid catastrophe.
There is a delicate dance we do to be understanding and supportive while still expecting some level of performance from ourselves and from one another. We don’t have anyone else to rely on for most things, so we have to work with our ADHD in order to keep the lights on. Some people think a diagnosis is an excuse to sit back and be shitty while blaming others for not being accommodating enough, but we don’t have that luxury; we have to constantly work to be better than our impulses. Our relationship relies on that effort. The rewards of that mutual understanding and effort are profound. We can be ourselves and be together, chaos and all, in an evolving state of dynamic equilibrium.
5. Epilogue: Did you ever finish that article about us?
My wife asked me to include the ADHD means by which this article was completed. I wrote the first draft five months ago. She liked the idea and made two beautiful illustrations for it. I then forgot about it and lost both illustrations. She reminded me of it at least half a dozen times since then, but this time I was physically sitting at my laptop so I managed to actually finish it. Or, at least, make it as finished as it’s ever going to be. It’s how we get by.