I met my wife when I was 20, and she was 18. We were kids becoming adults, with nothing in the world but our ignorance and optimism. We worked a combined 20 hours a week, earning $7/hr. But it was just us, so we didn’t care.
I have ADHD, which makes me impulsive and drawn to things that fill me with dopamine. She did that more than anything I had ever known.
At the time, I was homeless. I’d been bouncing from couch to couch for a couple of years. It didn’t take long for me to spend the night with her and her parents and never leave. It wasn’t planned but just seemed natural.
We already spent all of our time together anyway.
Things progressed as things tend to progress when you have a relationship burn so brightly, with no impulse control. I proposed to her a month after we started dating. We planned the wedding for the next year but postponed it two months later when we found out she was pregnant.
Things changed. Priorities changed. Reality hit us like a shovel, and we spent the next seven months figuring out what we were going to do. It only made things worse when I was fired from my $7/hr, 10/hr a week job.
I got lucky
In a rare instance of my ADHD helping me, my lifetime fixation with programming led me to volunteer as a developer for a small online game. I didn’t think of it as a job, primarily because I wasn’t paid, but also because I didn’t have a degree. I had taught myself everything I knew about computers by asking questions and reading books and articles.
But the owner of the game didn’t care. He offered to pay me to write code. I would make $12/hr and could work up to 40 hours a week. No benefits, and I had to file my taxes.
I said yes.
It was an instant change. We had our son, I took care of him while she worked at the call center, and I worked at home. We got an apartment, then a trailer, and all this time, I knew one thing very clearly.
I no longer had ADHD
It was evident that I didn’t. I was working. I was a father. I took care of things, and we were improving our lives. So what if I was working 12 hour days, seven days a week? When I wasn’t getting paid, I was doing my own websites. That wasn’t ADHD. That was an entrepreneurial spirit.
Our relationship was firey. Volatile even. I was a jealous mess, and whenever things would get rocky, I would fall into a deep depression and try to push her away. Things got really bad, and she left me. It was just a weekend, but I was alone.
Nothing I did helped. Nothing that I tried could fill the void that they left. I needed them as badly as if I were an addict.
We reconnected online, in text, where I could slow my brain and read before talking. I explained my side, she explained hers, and we realized our biggest issue was communication.
So, that’s the day I realized she saved me, right?
Not even close
I say all of this to point out this all happened nearly ten years ago. We have been married for eleven years. This was all in our first year of marriage.
So when did I realize that she saved me?
About two weeks ago.
To explain, I take you back to early 2020. The pandemic has just hit, and we are in lockdown. My office goes remote out of necessity, and I’m back to doing what I love — working from home. I spent the first five years of my career working from home in some capacity. This should be easy.
But it isn’t
A project that I take on a week into lockdown takes me six months to complete, and it isn’t up to spec. It should have taken me a week to complete, and I should never have missed the spec. We shuffle blame, but inside I can’t help but blame myself.
The last few years, when stress would hit hard, I would find myself locking up. Unable to work. Unable to do anything. I hadn’t dealt with ADHD in a long time, but I saw the signs. I hadn’t been medicated for it since I was 16, though, and had no idea where to start.
I couldn’t find a doctor and gave up trying because I could “deal with it.” And that was easier than admitting that I needed help, especially to my wife, to who I only mentioned this in passing.
But the pandemic was a different level of stress than I had ever felt. I convinced myself I was okay. That this new stress level was abnormal, and I should find medication temporarily while it was happening. It made sense to me. I could deal with normal, but this wasn’t normal. It was excessive. And it was prolonged.
I spent months barely able to open my laptop, let alone get work done. Between work, pandemic stress, and trying to help my children adapt to remote school–all while dealing with my wife being an essential worker–I could barely function.
Then, in February of 2021, I was finally able to talk to someone about my issues. I got a prescription, and I was on my way. Shortly after that, I got a new job. I knew I’d be fine now.
But I wasn’t.
I messed my schedule up and found myself going a week without meds. I shut down. Nothing worked anymore. The only time I was close to okay was when my wife was around. She calmed me. Helped me past the panic attacks.
We changed meds, increased doses, and then a few weeks ago, it finally happened.
I decided to stop fighting it. I admitted to myself, and then to as many people as would hear me, that I have severe ADHD. It requires medication. It requires attention.
But, why now?
Why, after almost 20 years, do I have to deal with my ADHD? Why has it become so bad so quickly? It stumped me for a few days. I kept coming back to stress, but I’ve been stressed before. We’ve been homeless with two kids. We’ve lost jobs. Lost vehicles. Gone through repossessions and complete uncertainty about our futures. None of that caused anything close to these symptoms.
That’s when it clicked.
She was there through all of it. And now she wasn’t, not really. Not like she had been before.
For the first time since I met my wife, I was forced to face the world that she protected me from. The millions of small decisions that you’re required to make when you have children. The small jobs that you have to remember to complete. Making lunches. Getting everyone to class on time. Keeping up with the chores. The mail. This, that, and the other thing. It all just became too much.
For the first time in 13 years, I realized just how much my wife protects me from myself.
And I couldn’t be happier to call her mine or more ashamed that it took this long to recognize. My only explanation — excuse, really — is that I have been in denial for so long.
But what now?
It’s one thing to not realize for 13 years. It’s quite another to know and not use that information to improve myself. So, where do I go from here? How do I use this newfound knowledge?
First, I let her know that I figured it out. I explained all of this to her, and I thanked her. She’s been a rock, and I couldn’t survive without her for as long as I have.
Second, communication. Communication has been a constant north star for my entire marriage, so this isn’t surprising. But moving forward, I will communicate with her about my feelings and when I cannot find the energy to do the task I need to do.
This has already started and has helped already. But communication is also a two-way street, and since she cannot see into my brain, I know I also need to communicate when I am simply just having a lazy day, but I’m capable of doing more.
For example, this most recent Sunday, I was energetic but could not find a tool that I needed. Instead of searching, I defaulted to hanging out on the couch and playing video games. My wife came in, looked at me, and I could tell she wanted to do something but was concerned I was out of energy already. Noting that, I told her, unprompted, that I’m just having a lazy minute and happy to get up if she needed me to.
We did some errands, a little work outside, and then had a lovely night hanging out by the firepit.
All because we continue to communicate.
Having a disability can strain a relationship, but we can’t simply allow ourselves to play the disabled card every minute of every day. We know when we are unable, but we also know when we are able. For some, their level of ability is constant, but for me, it varies. Because of that, it is my responsibility to communicate my level of ability at any given time.
I suggest that for you as well.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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