I was so excited to watch the live production of Jesus Christ Superstar that recently aired on television. You see, I have always loved the music from the play. When I was in my teens I used to sing one song in particular over and over again. It did not matter that I had a horrible singing voice because I felt this song in my heart. I belted it out loud and proud. The song is called “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” It is sung by Mary Magdeline as she grapples with her feelings towards Jesus. In the live production it was executed perfectly by stage actress Sara Bareilles.
“I don’t know how to love him/ What to do, how to move him … Should I bring him down? Should I scream and shout? Should I speak of love? Let my feelings out?”
It wasn’t until today that I began to really think about the lyrics in the context of my life. If you love someone with ADHD, then you know exactly how these lyrics apply in the context of your life. You see, there are times when I just don’t understand what my husband or my children need. I don’t know if I should bring them down and reprimand with “you disappointed me.” I don’t know if I should scream and shout to get my point across. I don’t know if they just really need me to tell them that I love them no matter what. And I certainly don’t know when to express my own feelings about how what they’re feeling made me feel (did you follow that?). The truth is, I don’t know how to love them.
In Spaz: The True Story of My Life With ADHD we followed Leigh’s many different relationships, some loving and some not. When we really looked at how to love, we discovered that understanding someone’s why was the key. Why is the first step in loving someone with ADHD (or someone with any other mental health disorder–For the record I hate that these things are dubbed “disorders”). It is human nature to want to understand how someone’s mind works. This understanding is how we determine our best fit for our friends and life partners. This ensures that we have a general idea of how that person will react in certain situations, what will set him or her off, what will make them happy or sad, etc. Understanding how someone’s mind works and how their personality will surface is crucial in any successful relationship.
When you love someone with ADHD, however, you have to take your willingness to learn about him or her one step further. You need to become well-versed in all things ADHD. You need to research and study ADHD. You need to learn about ADHD in order to understand why their ADHD brain works a certain way.
“The why creates understanding. If an ADHDer can find someone willing to understand his why, then he has found a treasure” (Macneil 190).
Believe me though, there are days when I don’t want to be a treasure. There are days when the why isn’t enough. Whether I am trying to break through my child’s hyper focus or I am trying to curb my husband’s impulsivity, sometimes understanding the ADHD does not make things easier. What does make it easier is knowing that we can and will navigate through it. If you are armed with knowledge, you are armed with power–the power of patience, understanding, and perseverance.
If you are on the flip side of this and you are the one with ADHD, please note that your ADHD is not an excuse for bad behavior.
“If you have a tendency to hide behind your ADHD, let me stress that ADHD is not an excuse for anything and it should never be used as one. It may be an explanation for certain behavior, but it cannot excuse any behavior.” (Dr. Hallowell)
You may have found the most understanding treasure of a person in the world, but he or she will have a breaking point. Don’t test them by bringing them to that point and blaming your ADHD. The last thing you want to do is push away someone who is willing to learn your why.
In many ways I may still be like Mary Magdalene, bemoaning what to do and how to move my loved one(s). But I refuse to do this unarmed or alone. I am still learning the many layers of why and you can too. If you have a spouse, parent, sibling, or child with ADHD, you are not in this alone. Let me reiterate,
You are not alone.
Find a support group, read a book (or twenty), find understanding friends, take a class, go to an ADHD workshop, shoot me an email. You are a treasure but you don’t have to do this solo number alone.