This post is dedicated to anyone who has the pleasure of living with someone with ADD.
The last thing I want is for you to think I have forgotten about you, the unsung heroes of the ADD world.
I’m not being obsequious when I call you an unsung hero. I’ve had to live with me for nearly four decades, and at least I could daydream my way through most of it. When I die and my life flashes before my eyes, it will be truly fascinating as I never saw most of it the first time around. But you (collectively, the ones who live with us) saw all of it. And lived with it. Somehow. How?
My first post was a call-to-arms, recruiting struggling ADDers to embrace their ADD so that they can live their best possible lives by working with it. As I wrote that, I couldn’t wipe from my imagination the loved ones who might feel slightly disgruntled by my message, especially if it wasn’t received exactly as I had intended it. So if that’s the case, I will elucidate my intention to you now.
So What’s It All About?
Turning ADD into an art form does not mean that you throw yourself into it without consideration of the other people in your life. It doesn’t give you an excuse to stay unchanged, making no apology for your mistakes and no amends to correct them. It is not a license to be reckless, thoughtless or selfish. Those things aren’t inherent for all ADDers, nor are they exclusive to them. Everyone has the ability to be reckless, thoughtless and selfish. And everyone has the ability not to be.
The two most important constructs underlying the Art of ADD “theory” will make it clear to you that it is not permission to act wild with abandon and carelessness. An artist of ADD always strives for two things when they do what they do: Authenticity and Integrity.
Authenticity means that your ADDer shows up in the world as him or herself, being who he or she truly is, openly and honestly, and not hiding or denying their challenges. It also means that they do not hide or deny their strengths and gifts, even from themselves. Being authentic means being okay with who you are and being free to be yourself.
Acting in integrity means that you learn to stop and think: about what you are doing or saying and why you are doing or saying it. It is making sure those things are in line with what you value and believe to be important in life. ADDers seldom have the chance to sit down and think pointedly about any topic, let alone those things that are globally important to them. Yet without thinking about it, it’s pretty hard to act in accordance with your values. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to see why certain behaviours can appear to originate from a lack of integrity. As Russell Barkley tells us, ADD is not so much a disorder of attention as it is a disorder of intention. We do mean well. We just don’t always know how to act in line with these intentions. Part of that learning comes through building accountability into our lives.
That being said, I can’t pretend that your ADDer’s values will be the same as yours. That’s life. Any parent or spouse would pay big money for an elixir that seduces their loved ones into wanting what they want. But ADD doesn’t dictate what you will value in life. Becoming an Artist of ADD does help you figure out what you value and how to get more of it. Most people want to get along better with their loved ones and to feel that they are meaningful contributors to their relationships. If your ADDer doesn’t, I suspect it has little to do with their perspective of ADD, and more to do with things for which they should probably see a therapist.
What I want for ADDers is to see that there is nothing broken or wrong about their character, and that the path to living happier lives is not in trying to do things the way that others do them, but in finding unique ways that work for them. The bigger picture is that when an ADDer finds the way they work best, especially when they find their passion and flow, other challenges of ADD begin to lessen or dissipate. Some things that seem like an ADD symptom may actually be a faulty compensatory behaviour used in desperation to cope with “not being normal”.
What I want for you, the loved one of an ADDer is to know a few things.
Whose Problem Is It?
First, it’s not you. No matter what you might think, ADD can be crazy-making, so please don’t feel like it is your fault or responsibility to fix. Unless you are a neurobiologist working in the field of ADD research, it’s not up to you to figure out.
Second, it is you – kind of. Huh? Well, of course you have a part to play in the dynamics between you and your loved one. Humans who interact with each other, especially on a daily basis, affect each other and are responsible for one half of the relationship. I’m Okay, You’re Okay has a little known sequel called I’m Screwed Up, You’re Screwed Up. Read it. The point is, if there are difficulties in a relationship it is never down to only one person. Knowing this can help you work out what part you play in keeping an unhelpful dynamic going.
Third, Donne was right – no man an island, and no ADDer is the infallible deity he or she would like to be. Your ADDer needs your help, though he or she may resent that fact and is not likely to admit it openly. How you acknowledge this with your loved one all depends on where you are both at – in terms of understanding and accepting ADD, and the state of your relationship. If you can, find a quiet, unstressed time to sit down and talk about the challenges and what you both want to be different, and how you both can help. Sometimes, the only help needed is the open acknowledgement that your relationship needs equal participation in order to get better.
Lastly, you aren’t an island either. Loving an ADDer can be incredibly frustrating and at times downright exasperating. You need help too, a break or even some time out when it gets too much. But loving an ADDer can be wonderful as well (I have one of my own you see, so I know!), and only gets more wonderful when he or she learns to live in flow with ADD, instead of fighting against it.
I hope this makes clear the intentions of this blog. I would love to hear more about your challenges and successes in an ADD relationship, and of course your thoughts on my theories, so please comment!