2018, November

My Own Sh*t Show

Here I am, minutes out of an “episode” with my husband who has ADHD. It could also be referred to as a fight or a heated discussion, but it is so much more than a simple disagreement.

Yesterday was cold snowy day and Thomas, a landscaper, worked from home. For me, it was the usual Monday and I proceeded to do what I do on Mondays. We lightly engaged when crossing paths and all seemed kosher. Later, in the afternoon, after picking the boys up from school, I felt incredibly agitated and Thomas became my target. Being human is funny that way, especially when hormones are involved. They seem to crop up from nowhere and hijack a perfectly peaceful moment.

To prevent further damage, it felt like a good idea to go run a few errands by myself. During the time away, I crafted an apology for my husband … and everyone knows how THAT goes. He didn’t follow the script (ha!) because he needed to leave for an appointment. Based on his behavior, it was obvious he was still being affected by my irresponsible outburst earlier. So, I called him on the phone to find out what was in his space. Boy, did I get an earful!

It was revealed that his experience of me, during the entire day, was that of me avoiding him. For a man with RSD (rejection sensitive dysphoria), this small seed of misinformation grows quickly into a suffocating, out of control, noxious vine weed. He felt hurt and angry toward me for not spending more time with him. I had no idea all that had been simmering in his space.

In his classic ADHD triggered mode, my husband proceeded to yell at me over the phone followed by hanging up. I chose to not engage and left my phone lying on the desk to work on laundry. A half hour later, he showed up back at home after leaving a voice mail and 24 missed calls. He skipped his appointment. This was especially painful because we’ve spent the last 12 days in a space free from ADHD drama. (Yes, I count the days.)

The voicemail message was just over two minutes of heated criticisms and blame. The usual. It amazes me how much the daggers still hurt after having them thrown at me for so many years. We went to bed not speaking because I was incredibly hurt by what he said. Cognitively, I get how the RSD and ADHD work in his brain and body. They hijack him like a speeding car with no brakes. For neurotypical folks, the part of our brain that acts as the brake system functions properly. Not the case for an ADHD brain.

Today’s episode followed the same path as all the others. After 12 hours of bottled up emotions, I spew too intensely that then activates his spewing. It’s a hot mess. I reign myself in while reminding him to do the same. His civility lasts for a couple of minutes until overwhelm causes him to lose control. At the same time, anxiety floods through my system while I attempt to utilize tools to prevent this thing from escalating past a level five. (We’ve rated our heated exchanges from one to ten. Seven is the highest we can go and still be in the same room together. Anything higher calls for an immediate time out.)

At some point, I remember this will go nowhere and I want it to end, so I let him do all the talking. In his communication, I sense the shame and regret, though it’s not directly expressed. I still feel like shit and he says outright there is nothing he can do or say that will make me feel better. So it ends … because he’s right. He goes his way and I go mine. As much as I resist the fact, it will happen again. Begrudgingly, my anger hormones dissipate and allow feelings of affinity to return.

ADHD is the epitome of a double-edged sword. It’s the thing that makes him witty, charming and creative, while at the same time making him an overly sensitive foul-mouthed beast. Because I believe he is in my life to contribute to my growth and healing, clearly there is more work to do. <sigh> Until then, I can calmly report my shit show has come to its end.

2018, November

Our Sensitive Couple

In the early days of our couple, I would have compared my overall sensitivity to that of rubber. This particular material is solid, yet not obvious like stone. Thick skinned might paint a clearer picture.

My husband, on the other hand, was completely the opposite, especially in response to my communications. Growing up a quiet, suppressed child, it was only a matter of time before I broke out of that cage and practiced speaking my mind. I’ll admit the pendulum had swung too far in the opposite direction and when I met Thomas it was still in the process of swinging back down to a sensible level.

For years, I examined our fights and discovered the sequence of events leading up to the tipping of the apple cart. Thomas would do something objectionable, in my opinion, motivating me to immediately communicate my dissatisfaction. Because isn’t communication a healthy practice in relationships? Some may have labeled it nagging, but from where I stood, the intention was to prevent future repeat offenses. Looking back, I can see how it may have landed for him as being parented by his partner.

After doing the work to uncover my femininity from the rubber coating, I was able to witness my negative habitual communication patterns and practice zipping my lips. Unfortunately, Thomas continued to react as if I were delivering a debilitating verbal lashing. How could this be? I had softened in my approach and only spoke what was truly necessary in moments of disagreement. It was as if he was still stuck hearing me based on our past exchanges.

The educated female coach that I am tried to explain this phenomenon to him and it only resulted in him feeling blamed. In my defense, my desire was to eliminate his over-the-top reactions anytime I expressed even a minor moment of dissatisfaction to him. Surely, if he was aware of the intensity, he could practice toning down his expressions. At some point, I started to call them emotional shit shows. Even when I was at my calmest and committed to having a rational discussion, he would go off the deep end. Widened eyes, increased energy, misplaced defensiveness … that all lead to yelling. No amount of research helped me figure this one out and I could not believe my man was bi-polar.

It wasn’t until early this year, after discovering the work of William Dodson, M.D., when I caught the break I was looking for. He introduced rejection sensitive dysphoria to the ADHD community. RSD is “an extreme emotional sensitivity and emotional pain triggered by the perception – not necessarily the reality – that a person has been rejected, teased, or criticized by important people in their life. RSD may also be triggered by a sense of failure, or falling short – failing to meet either their own high standards or others’ expectations.” Bingo! (Here is Dr. Dodson’s article about it in ADDitude Magazine.)

With this new information to explain his behavior, I have space to witness my own level of intense reaction to his activation. What’s that about? The inquiry is still in motion with a few theories about where the healing can happen within me. Oftentimes, with ADHD, the solution to the “problem” is medication. My intention with this particular speed bump is to be such that I can gracefully dance with his RSD when it arises, as well as be adept with the triggers.

Stay tuned as I report on our progress!