Updated: Oct 31
A few weeks ago, I sat down to interview Mark and Eve Walker (a Franco-British couple). Mark is a life coach, a loving father to young Léo, and has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Eve is Mark’s incredibly supportive wife. I wrote this article to raise awareness about ADHD in adults, and to shine light on the many ways this disorder can affect a couple’s relationship.
What is ADHD?
ADHD in adults is a global name for this disorder which is comprised of 3 different types: “inattentive ADHD” is the type that Mark has – no hyperactivity nor impulsiveness, as often seen in children with ADHD. This disorder begins in childhood (often undetected) – the majority of children never grow out of it. Some of the “symptoms” are the following:
• challenges with paying attention
• attention jumps from one thing to another
• difficulty focusing on a task
• lack of follow-through on projects, especially big ones
• disorganization of paperwork and work space
• feelings of not achieving one’s full potential
• poor self-image, low self-esteem
• difficulty holding down a job, career
When Mark was diagnosed here in Paris in 2009, he decided to create a support group in English for adults with ADHD (approximately 5% of the total population, both women and men, have this disorder). Doctors here in France have only just begun to recognize ADHD (it is classified as a mental disorder, caused by neurological problems – or as Mark calls it, “quirky brain”)! When Mark was diagnosed here in Paris in 2009, he decided to create a support group in English for adults with ADHD (approximately 5% of the total population, both women and men, have this disorder). This group is a safe space for like-minded people to speak about their challenges, and to exchange information (http://www.meetup.com/The-Paris-Adult-ADHD-support-group/).
Let’s go back now to when Mark was a child….and his ADHD went unnoticed. Mark recalls his childhood as being surrounded by a loving supportive family. He did well academically and doesn’t remember feeling strange at that age. This is typical of the “inattentive” type of ADHD. As a matter of fact, most women have this type of ADHD – as a child, they are daydreamers who do well in the highly-structured school setting. At university, Mark was still in a structured academic environment so having ADHD did not cause serious problems in his everyday life. As a young adult, Mark worked in the family business as a pharmacist: a great fit for Mark’s “quirky brain”! Often, adults with ADHD need “quick fixes” in the workplace – tasks with few steps, which can be carried out rapidly. A pharmacist doesn’t have to plan or act on anything – he just REACTS when the client comes in to fill a prescription. Adults with ADHD do not handle projects well with long thought processes, or those which need follow-up. Since Mark was the boss in his place of work, the other employees would often pick up the slack if he forgot an order, or misplaced a prescription. This “support system” around him allowed Mark to function at a suitable level, which is not always the case for people with ADHD, especially if they are not their own boss! At this point in the interview, Mark discussed how other people’s expectations affect his own self esteem. In the workplace and also in our personal lives, people expect adults to be organized, to remember things, to follow through on projects. These are all things which adults with ADHD have great difficulty executing – no matter how hard they try!
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Further along in our interview, Eve, Mark’s French wife, spoke up. When I asked Eve what her first impression was when she met Mark and went to his “bachelor pad” in England, her eyes bulged! She said she had never met anyone so disorganized, going through his day with no apparent structure – she was sure they would never make it as a couple! Eve said she remembers thinking, “It doesn’t make sense! He seemed so smart, yet did such stupid, forgetful things. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t just try harder. He managed to get a university degree, run a business, yet he seemed so disorganized – I was pretty scared”. When Eve and Mark decided to live together in Paris, this was the beginning of a very tough time for Mark – leaving his business behind to start a new one on his own, moving to Paris where he didn’t speak the language….oh, speaking of “moving to Paris”, Eve told a very poignant story about that challenge. Mark was obligated to organize the move to Paris all by himself, and needed to locate certain important documents. However, the important papers were sitting around haphazardly with junk mail, and most of Mark’s papers were not even filed - they were just in huge piles all around his apartment! Eve was “freaked out” by all of this, and found herself becoming very judgmental and thinking of Mark as lazy and unwilling to make an effort to improve his “bad habits”. Until that point in time, Mark’s chronic disorganization had never gotten him into serious “trouble”. Mark later realized, after he was diagnosed with ADHD, that living that kind of life was sapping him of a lot of energy – energy better used in other ways!
When Mark finally arrived in Paris with the moving man and all of his belongings, there was even more tension. Now, Mark and Eve were trying to “merge” their lives and their paperwork together. Eve, as neat and organized as she was, now had to share her work space and living space with someone who seemed to be the complete opposite! Soon after Eve and Mark moved in together, Mark self-diagnosed his ADHD haphazardly while reading a self-help book. At this point in their relationship, Mark knew already that he needed to be with a woman who was highly organized and efficient, and Eve knew that it was going to be really tough but that they could make it work. They were at the beginning of a long and interesting journey, and the diagnosis was only the starting point.
Mark and Eve brought up something important at this point in our interview: in a relationship where one adult has ADHD, the couple must avoid falling into a parent/child rapport. This is challenging, since the adult with ADHD often behaves in ways which are associated with young children: disorganization, forgetfulness, acting irresponsible, etc. The spouse without ADHD should not “baby” the spouse with ADHD, in order to compensate for the other person’s weaknesses.
On to the next stage of their love story!!!...Once Mark decided to share his “revelation” with Eve, he then contacted an ADHD coach. He was ready to “wrap his head around the diagnosis” and to seek treatment. Eve became more understanding of Mark’s behavior, as she saw him putting a lot of effort into adapting to a new country, a new environment, a new life together. Thanks to Dr Buchez, Mark’s doctor (at that time) specialized in adults with ADHD, Eve felt that her challenges of living with an adult with ADHD were acknowledged and understood. Dr. Buchez explained more about ADHD to Eve and the strategies to deal with Mark’s symptoms, which helped Eve to become much more understanding, and to not take it all so personally. She finally became convinced that her husband was really and truly suffering from a disorder beyond his control, and he was not being neglectful and forgetful just to make his wife suffer!
After many more months of therapy, Mark hadn’t achieved the level of improvement that he was hoping for. In general, therapy only improves symptoms by 10%, and daily medication could improve the ADD by up to 70%! The ADHD coach directed Mark to a psychiatrist in Paris (in France, only psychiatrists can prescribe this medication) and he started on the medication. This made a HUGE change in Mark's capacity to focus, to remember, and to function at a high level in everyday tasks! Mark soon felt like he was in control and that he could make great strides and change his life. However, “your life is still your life, and sometimes life gets in the way”. On days when Mark was ill, got little sleep, or was under stress, the medication had little affect. It is extremely important for both children and adults with ADHD to get regular exercise, eat well, sleep well and stick to routines (Note: this interview took place in 2013. Recently, Mark decided to stop all medication and put himself on a KETO diet. Being a self-proclaimed “sugar addict”, Marc realized after research in the nutrition field that “leaky gut” syndrome could lead to brain inflammation which is not beneficial for ADHD. Now Mark’s brain feels less “foggy”: he feels more in control, more productive in his everyday life. Mark said that the medication was a “stepping stone” to implement other lifestyle changes. In addition, Mark also consulted a therapist specialized in “energetic work”, which proved very helpful).
When I asked Eve, in conclusion, to give a few pieces of advice on how she could help her husband better manage his ADHD, she answered the following:
• Don’t be judgmental!!
• People with ADHD beat themselves up enough. Don’t make it worse...
• Educate yourself about ADHD to promote empathy.
• Communicate with each other (applicable to ALL couples)!
• Praise noticeable improvements regarding habits, no matter how small.
• Attribute tasks which are in line with each person’s strengths and challenges.
When I asked Mark for a few final thoughts, he answered the following:
• It CAN turn out ok! If you get diagnosed and treated, you can function at a high level.
• ADHD happens to be the “mental disorder” that is the most treatable!
• Surround yourself, whenever possible, with supportive and loving people.
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