Adult ADD and the things that we think are normal


My 30-year-old husband was diagnosed with ADD this week.

Because of my background in special education, there are some things about Andrew that have raised red flags in my mind as to whether he could possibly have an attention issue.  I never wanted to hurt his feelings by addressing any of these, but even when we first began dating, I noticed that Andrew really struggled with studying for school.  Like, really struggled.  We would meet up before a physics test, and he had already lost focus after about five minutes of reviewing the notes.

I also used to get offended when Andrew and I would go on dates in which he hardly looked at me across the table.  I did ask him about this one time, and he said that "there are too many other things going on", particularly in restaurants or places with TVs.  Even now, I can sometimes tell that he is trying to listen to me but literally cannot do it because he is also trying to block out all of the stimuli around him, and that takes too much of his energy.

We took a little trip to southwest Oklahoma last weekend and had several hours in the car with just the two of us (pinch me!), so I suggested that he take one of those online quizzes to determine if he could possibly have ADD.  We both knew that the test wouldn't be diagnostic but might provide us with some new information.  He agreed, and, one by one, I put his answers into my phone.

I could answer some of the questions for him before I even asked them aloud.  How often are you easily distracted by external stimuli? Often. Other responses, though, were surprising.  How often do you have difficulty waiting your turn?  Often.  How often do you leave your seat in situations when remaining seated is expected?  Often.  (That particular answer was shocking; I rarely ever see him do this.)

The end of the test suggested a moderate to severe case of ADD and a swift trip to the doctor's office for confirmation.

Five days later, my husband left said doctor's office with a new diagnosis and prescription for Adderall in hand.

I had Andrew read this post before I published it, because I suppose that many people would be embarrassed about a diagnosis of ADD.  I'm definitely not embarrassed for him; if anything, I'm really proud of my husband.

For his whole life, Andrew has thought that everyone's brain operates the way that his does.  So, he has had to fight harder than most people to be successful in school, to engage in meetings at work, to be present with his family at home, and even to have a basic conversation with someone without mentally checking out.  He has never complained about his inability to focus or made excuses for himself.  These were just issues that he thought were normal, and he has learned to cope amazingly well, in large part due to the way that his parents raised him.

We are also both relieved to have a diagnosis.  Andrew's ADD doesn't define him, but it does help to explain some of his struggles over the past 30 years.

On an episode of This American Life, a girl talks about how her family ate rotisserie chicken every single night for her whole life.  She never knew that people consumed other food for dinner until she went to college and found a wide array of choices in the cafeteria.  She thought that her situation was "normal" because it was all that she had ever known. 

Hearing that podcast and thinking about Andrew's late diagnosis have made me wonder how many other things in my life that I think are "normal" are, in fact, not "normal" at all.  Probably a lot.  And that's probably okay, because our experiences are as much a product of our perception of them as they are of the experiences themselves.