I’ve spoken at length about my ADHD and how it impacts my life, but I’ve recently had a bit of a realization (read: I realized something that should have been obvious to me years ago) that threw me through a loop and now has me revisiting my thoughts and approach to my life long companion.
Throughout my life, I’ve primarily focused on two ways that my ADHD affects me. While it’s reductive, when it comes to overcoming my own wiring I’ve always channeled my efforts on two major challenges: my ability to focus on just about anything and my ability to interact with just about anyone. Two weeks ago I listened to a conversation between Brett Terpstra and Mike Rose about how empathy impacts our relationships. The conversation struck a chord and I decided to reach out to Mike. He suggested I read David Finch’s book, “The Journal of Best Practices” a chronicle of his journey to overcome his Aspbergers to save his marriage. I’ve found myself spiraling ever since.
While also reductive, David’s book focuses a lot of energy on his non-existent empathy, the resulting egocentrism that came from it and the ways it was eating at the most important relationships in his life. I deeply recognized this in myself. While my marriage is on better footing than where David’s was at the start of his book, it forced me to face a potential reality that, in hindsight, seems so obvious: my ADHD isn’t only impacting my focus and my social skills. It plays a massive role in my emotional responses, particularly when it comes to my stunted sense of empathy.
After doing the requisite amount of online research that comes with freaking yourself out, I learned two things that terrified me even more: lack of empathy is not related to ADHD. There are, however, some cases in which ADHD itself is tangentially related to Aspbergers. This obviously led me to the first and only question that would occur to an egocentric person: “Holy shit! Do I have some mild form of Aspbergers?!?”
Some level of self-awareness and several hours of online research had me convinced that this was not the case. However I couldn’t shake the idea that my relationship with empathy was somehow directly tied to my ADHD. David’s experience wasn’t just something I related to, it was I immediately knew to be true. Not only does my ADHD impact my focus and social skills, but now I’ve started obsessing on how it is driving my emotional responses.
Now the idea that my ADHD drives many of my emotional responses may sound obvious, but I always assumed that my naturally low empathy was more of a reaction to my early years of social struggle than a symptom of my crossed wiring. But like many obvious things that you missed for some 32 years, once they’re pointed out to you, you tend to obsess. So this obvious revelation/new obsession led me to do two things that I have not done or even considered in over 15 years: see a specialist and keep an open mind to regarding my reluctance to use ADHD medication.
Why the sudden change? In my younger years, I spent quite a bit of time learning to overcome the social aspects of my ADHD. While proper interactions many take for granted (when to talk, when not to, how not to cut people off, how loud to talk, noticing basic social cues) will always be a struggle, I’ve either learned to overcome or mitigate these over the years. When it comes to my lack of focus, I’ve spent the past few years strengthening muscles and building the right foundation to help me get more done. When it comes to how this is affecting my emotional responses, I’m lost. I feel as if I need help identifying exactly what parts of my unusual response to perfectly normal circumstances is caused by my wiring.
For example, when your primary response to a book about a man who would stop at nothing to overcome his Aspergers to be a better father and husband isn’t “how can I be a better husband and father?” but rather, “wow, I wonder how my ADHD is impacting my emotional responses and can’t help but wonder if I have some mild form of Aspergers myself,” you may want to seek help.
Rather than continue to slowly unravel, I decided to speak to someone. It helped me realize two things, one that I already knew by the time I walked into his office. 1) I don’t have Aspergers and 2) my inclination towards impulsivity is almost certainly having an impact on my empathetic responses.
So even though it took a random conversation between Brett and Mike, which led to a conversation with Mike that took me to a book by David to realize something that should have been apparent to me years ago, I’m starting to get a feeling for what I’m dealing with and am keeping an open mind as to the best possible way(s) to deal with it in light of new revelations.
I’m just getting started and will certainly follow up for the two of you who find this ADHD stuff interesting, but in the meantime, the moral of this little tale is to always keep an open mind that you may not have realized something obvious about yourself. And in the case that you do and it throws you for a loop, deal with it rather than letting it fester. Not only will it save your own sanity, but your wife and kids will thank you for it (if you have things like those).
What do you do when you get thrown for a loop?