I tend to read a lot, and as I read books about adult ADHD and/or creative work, I’d like to write and share reviews with you.
Recently I finished Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder by Gina Pera.
If you don’t read the whole review, know this: Stopping the Roller Coaster is an absolute must for anyone in a long-term relationship where one or more partners have ADHD. Even without a formal diagnosis, I recommend it to any creative person who has been called irresponsible, lacking common sense, disorganized, or plain old hard to live with.
In my senior Business of Art course, our professor gave the women in the room some frank advice: keep your name when you get married. Artists are difficult to live with, he said. If we built an art career — very much about name recognition — only to have our marriages fail, we didn’t want to sabotage that career by reverting to a previous and unfamiliar name. We didn’t want to start from zero with networking and with search engine optimization because our names were our business.
And having a marriage fall apart was, he warned, going to be more likely for us than for regular folk.
Why? That singular dedication and drive, that chaos, that unwillingness or even inability to prioritize our spouses and our practical responsibilities over our work, which we might get wrapped up in for days or weeks. We may not come to bed until 3:00 a.m. We may not pay the bills on time or remember to pick up the dry cleaning before a formal gala. We may appear not to care about anything or anyone when we are working.
Having a marriage fall apart was, our professor warned, going to be more likely for us artists than for regular folk.
That sounds an awful lot like ADHD, which affects a great deal of intense creative thinkers. In fact, my husband — a computer programmer, which is a cousin to artist — fits this description exactly.
When I read this book, I gave it to him immediately, saying, “this is a book about us.” He now credits Stopping the Roller Coaster with changing his entire perspective on life.
Stopping the Roller Coaster focuses not just on obvious task completion problems associated with ADHD, but the oft-overlooked range of executive functioning deficiencies that create serious relationship schisms and render typical couples’ therapy and communication/conflict resolution strategies ineffective, including:
- Listening — really listening — to your partner and comprehending what they’ve told you
- Seeing a situation from your partner’s perspective
- Comprehending cause and effect, including the impact your behavior has on your partner
- Emotional regulation, biploar behavior, and/or heightened emotional responses to everyday situations
- Handling adult responsibilities and being reliable when your partner needs you
Pera also hits on the surprising manifestations of hyperactivity and in attentiveness in adults:
- Hyperfocus — getting absorbed in a project to the exclusion of anything (or anyone) else
- High-risk behavior, including substance abuse and aggressive driving
- Picking fights, then blaming your partner for becoming upset as a result of the conflict
- Blurting out private or inappropriate information about your partner in social settings
- Insatiability and an inability to feel satisfied with anything (or anyone) in your life
The extensive research and real-life anecdotes open the door for couples to see clearly and begin to make sense of the ADHD partner’s “confusing ups and downs of selfishness and generosity, irritability and sweetness, brilliance and boneheadedness.”
For many readers, Pera’s research will bring together disparate pieces they never knew belonged to the same puzzle. For those with unrecognized/undiagnosed ADHD, it will be a revelation. My husband responded after the first few chapters that he couldn’t believe everything he “didn’t like about [himself]” had a common root and could be changed with proper strategies and medication.
For that sense of hope alone, I recommend this book for any adult who is consistently late, has trouble thinking before speaking, misses deadlines constantly, and struggles to manage long-term intimate relationships. Often these people know they are not reaching their full potential but feel powerless to get their lives under control. Because they are perfectly capable of focusing — hyperfocusing, even — on things that deeply interest them, their partners and colleagues come to the sensible but wholly incorrect conclusion that they just don’t care.
Pera concisely debunks the idea that mental disorders are a “gift”
As I mentioned in my previous post about the notion of crazy or tormented artists, absent-minded computer scientists, and other brilliant and gifted people with little common sense or life skills, it’s not an either/or proposition. Pera concisely debunks the idea that such mental disorders are a “gift” and stresses that our “strengths are independent of [our] ADHD” and, in fact, the “ADHD fog can obscure the best of qualities.” Treating these disorders doesn’t remove our capacity for innovation and brilliance. Quite the contrary: it frees us from our feelings of helplessness and lack of control.
Many readers may find the consistent roller coaster metaphor helps them string together concepts expressed throughout the book. I found it tedious and distracting because I prefer to delve straight into theories and statistics. However, my distaste for the visual metaphor was by far my biggest criticism, and I suspect Stopping the Roller Coaster has saved more than a few marriages. I had no idea how lucky we were until I read all those other couples’ stories!
There is an audio book version available, which I purchased for my husband because he prefers to read books that way. If you are an audio book fan, be warned: he found the narrator a bit too “frowny” during the anecdotes and examples of ADHD partners’ bad behavior, which undermined the spirit of the text. That said, if you feel you or your partner will only read the book in this format, it’s still well worth the investment. Personally, I preferred the Kindle edition so I could make copious notes, bookmarks, and highlights that would be sortable and searchable later.
All in all, Stopping the Roller Coaster combines just enough science for the lay reader with a wealth of real-life stories from people in long-term relationships with an ADHD partner. It can feel disorienting to read so many stories you thought were unique to you, your marriage, or your partner, but the end result is hope: hope that you can be successful in all aspects of life, hope that this is not the price you pay for talent and creativity, hope that you can reduce the baseline of anxiety and frustration in your home, and hope that you can take control of your life in a way you never thought possible.
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