This blog is not FDA approved
“The mind-body issue: people are so proud to go to the gym; so ashamed to go to a therapist.“
– Alain De Botton
My husband, Zach, and I were 6 months into our marriage when we started seeing a marriage counselor. We had a new baby at home, and I was deep in the throes of Postpartum Depression, but I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that I felt stuck, trapped; I was married to someone I didn’t know how to talk to, and it was driving me up a wall.
Zach and I dated for 5 months before we got married, and when we said our vows, we already had a baby on the way. There was no adjustment period, no chance to settle leisurely into the bounds of our new commitment. The baby came and we fought, loudly, passionately, violently. The fights we had went on for days, both of us talking in circles, tearing the scabs from the previous week’s wounds, screaming vulgarities at each other in our own languages desperately hoping the other person would understand.
See, not only did I have Postpartum Depression (in the worst way, I might add), but Zach has ADHD. Prior to meeting Zach, I had never been around anyone with ADHD. I’d never been affected by it, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I thought what most people think when they head the acronym: that it’s a child’s disorder. For me, ADHD conjured images of squirming school children or a 20/20 exposé on the dangers of Ritalin. It wasn’t something adults had to deal with; it was something we joked about.
Zach had problems prioritizing tasks. He couldn’t stay focused on things for long periods of time. He was disorganized. He relied on cigarettes to cure his restlessness. He’d forget to do things I’d asked him to do a hundred times, and sometimes when we fought, it was like he was having a separate argument in his head to which only he was privy. He’d spout things off with no context, he’d forget things I told him, and sometimes he’d even deny saying things he’d just said moments before. It was maddening, and I was quick to jump to the worst conclusions.
“You’re lying!” I’d scream. “You’re just saying whatever you have to say to appease me. Look at you! You can’t even keep your bullshit straight!”
To me, Zach’s ADHD was his excuse; it was a Get Out Of Jail Free card he tried to pull out whenever shit got rough, and I was having none of it. I didn’t have time for what I saw as excuses because I had my own problems to worry about. I was suffering, too.
At the height of my depression, I was a paranoid wreck. I started exhibiting signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: needing to check the locks 5 times before bed, not being able to fall asleep unless I got up and made sure the stove was turned off at least 3 times. I’d give myself breast exams daily, sometimes hourly, convinced that I was going to find a tumor and not live to see my daughter’s first birthday. When Zach left for work, I had panic attacks, and when he came home, I hated him for not being able to stop my pain. I was absolutely crazy, for lack of a better word, and our marriage hung constantly in the balance.
I don’t know when it became acceptable in my mind to ask for help. I only know that eventually—finally—I reached a point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I saw a psychiatrist on my own, and we sought out a therapist together, and after a lot of coaxing from both the therapist and Zach, I decided to finally, begrudgingly do some research on ADHD.
That first Google search was like reading 300 pages of research on my own life. Those married to people with ADHD often feel: ignored [check], misunderstood [check], frustration at discussing the same problems over and over again [check], resentment [check], exhaustion [check]. The thing is, I’m sure Zach felt all of these same things in dealing with my depression, and it just didn’t occur to me at the time because I was so incapable of seeing anything outside of myself. Dealing with my own shortcomings, my own disorders, my own mental illness—that was doable. I could get help, I could talk it out, and even when it felt impossible and I felt trapped under the weight of my own thoughts, I still knew what was going on in my own head. But, coming to terms with Zach’s ADHD was hard because I couldn’t talk through it, I couldn’t work through it for him.
We’ve all seen or heard that one Iris Murdoch quote, “Love is the extremely difficult realization that someone other than oneself is real.” When you and the person you love have ADHD, or depression, or Bipolar Disorder, or OCD—when your primary relationships are affected by mental illness—love becomes so much more than that. It becomes the difficult realization that conditions other than your own are real. For Zach and me, loving and living together meant accepting depression—in all of its selfishness, chaos, and misdirected anger—as a part of us. It meant accepting ADHD as a part of us. It meant learning to talk slower, to listen more carefully, to ask for clarification, to discuss our emotions and our misunderstandings in way more depth than either of us ever had before. It meant becoming each other’s greatest advocate and asset, and taking on each other’s mental health like it was our own.
I’m proud to say that Zach and I are no longer in therapy, and just yesterday we celebrated our second wedding anniversary. I don’t know what other crazy misadventures the future has in store for us, and I fully admit that when I promised to love him in sickness and in health, I envisioned a whole hell of a lot less sickness for both of us. But, as I reflect on the past year and a half, I feel an enormous sense of pride in taking stock of what we’ve been through. No one has taught me more about compassion, dedication, loyalty, and understanding than my husband has. No one has fought harder for me or against me. Depression and ADHD are a part of us, but they don’t define us. Rather, they forced us to define ourselves.