Inspiration

This is the book I wish I’d had 10 years ago, when the world was metaphorically knocking me upside the head, teaching me to pay attention to that human organ called the brain. Teaching me, in fact, to view the brain as an organ, vital to our every physical and emotional function yet oh so vulnerable.

At the time, my 84-year-old mother was slipping into an Alzheimer’s-like stroke dementia—recognizing me as her “great friend” but not her seventh and youngest child. It broke my heart. My only comfort was knowing that if her memory had remained intact, it would have broken her heart to see her oldest child and my brother, then age 60, succumbing to brain cancer.

Amidst these family dramas, I started dating someone. Over dinner one evening, this newly minted scientist, fresh from completing his doctoral degree at a neurological institute, sprang this unsettling idea on me: Everything we think, do, or feel happens due to chemical reactions in the brain. I shuddered, alarmed at the idea of reducing the seat of the self to a chemistry experiment.

Oh, but he didn’t stop there: Given all the vulnerabilities of the brain from conception until death—from genetics, viruses, toxins, and even seemingly minor bumps to the head—it’s a wonder that any of us have a working brain, he said.

My boyfriend’s birthday gift to me a few weeks later was Molecules of Emotion, written by pharmacologist Candace Pert. She is the scientist whose team discovered endorphins—brain molecules that affect how pain and pleasure are experienced. That book set me on a remarkable path of discovery.

Little did I know, though, how much more personal this path would become. For this brilliant, handsome, and sometimes even sweet man, the one with whom I could laugh and talk for hours on such a broad range of interesting subjects, would slowly start driving me to distraction. Literally. Perilously. How could someone so brilliant and highly educated miss the freeway exit and tailgate at top speed? How could he “mis-hear” and “mis-remember” so often and so significantly?

Make no mistake: His brain worked brilliantly much of the time. But when it didn’t, when some inexplicable glitch snagged the system, the glaring disparity defied credulity. The fact that he typically failed even to perceive any such glitch, confidently insisting that I had misspoken or forgotten, gave me even more reason to doubt my perceptions.

Could his stressful workload explain it? Then again, it was the dot-com era. Everyone in California was revved up and overcaffeinated, plugging in and tuning out, getting ever more disconnected in their fevered scramble for “connectivity.”

After a few years of futile searches through couples therapy and holistic health routes, a new title at the public library caught my eye: neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen’s Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Amen’s vivid descriptions of adult ADHD stunned me, and when my boyfriend read it, he agreed that ADHD explained a lot about his life. But how could we, a scientist and a well-read journalist, not have known about adult ADHD? Especially that many adults have the “stealth” version (meaning no physical hyperactivity). How many other people didn’t know about this?

Newly armed with ADHD awareness, I scrutinized my stack of relationship books. Authors, including well-known psychologists, describe in lurid detail the damaging effect that certain behaviors have on a relationship. Yet, they never mention that these might be (highly treatable) ADHD-related traits! Worse, most of these books offer scant advice other than coping, detaching, or leaving.

Then I stumbled upon a new online support group for the partners of adults with ADHD. Assiduously comparing notes, we learned that we weren’t alone, that others’ experiences closely mirrored our own. It was glaringly obvious that if we passively left the solutions to the physicians and therapists who failed to acknowledge or understand ADHD or to our “in denial” ADHD partners, we’d keep looping around the roller coaster until we dropped from nervous exhaustion. When we did become educated, however, amazing things happened in our lives, our ADHD partners’ lives, and our lives together.

Soon, I began organizing local lectures and discussion groups for partners, adults, and parents of children with ADHD. To me, the news about adult ADHD was so inspiring, so revolutionary, I simply had to drop everything and help spread the word. And what a rare privilege it’s been, to see lives expand and long-dormant possibilities unfold before me. All that these people had needed were solid facts, validation, and support.

How appalling then to hear so many horror stories about how our mental health system had failed them, some for decades. It was almost as bad as the barrage of bizarre propaganda attacking ADHD medications and even the diagnosis itself, worming its way through the Internet like a virus.

After eight years of working as a researcher, writer, presenter, and volunteer in this field, I have heard from more than 1,000 partners of adults with ADHD and met hundreds of adults with ADHD. In general, these people have been wealthy enough to afford a computer and educated enough to find a group, and still they suffered and struggled. What about those with fewer resources?

The way I see it, ADHD awareness is a social justice issue, a question of each person deserving accurate knowledge and access to care that affords us full access to our talents and abilities, much like the revolutionary concept of eyeglasses did in centuries past.

Through this book, I hope to reach many more thousands, not with more stigma, misjudgments, or criticism but with compassion, answers, and hope.

I sincerely wish that you find this guide helpful, even life-changing, and that it might inspire you to share your knowledge with others.