Monday, August 23, 2010

When weakness is actually a strength

Aug 23, 2010

Learning to cope with a partner's disorder can enrich a relationship
By Corrie Tan

MY BOYFRIEND is more inattentive, impulsive and hyperactive than the run-of-the-mill partner.

Naysayers say these characteristics of his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) will spell the doom of our relationship. But I disagree, because I believe that the presence of a disorder in a person - be it mental or emotional - can actually be a boon.

I'm not going to lie - dating has not been easy. But after a year together, I've learnt to work in an extra 10 minutes before we leave the house because I know something will go missing - keys, phone, credit card, passport, his medication for ADHD - and while looking for it, he will end up doing something else and forget we are late.

He recently called me from Antigua, where he was attending a wedding, and said sheepishly: 'I seem to have lost my sunglasses. See, if you were here, that wouldn't have happened.'

But we have learnt how to manage our differences with patience and compromise: the stuff of strong relationships.

In fact, with more young people diagnosed with a whole spectrum of disorders, including ADHD, it is becoming more likely that we will engage in various ways with those who struggle with them.

Last month, The Straits Times reported that more than 3,000 patients between the ages of six and 19 are currently seeking help for mental disorders at the Institute of Mental Health's children's clinic.

ADHD was the most common condition among them, and studies show that 30 per cent to 50 per cent of those diagnosed with ADHD will likely continue to have symptoms in adulthood.

What will go out of fashion is writing them off with negative feedback such as 'you're irresponsible' or 'you're so lazy'. Or worse, accusing them of not trying. After all, they do try, and do learn coping mechanisms.

My partner makes to-do lists every day so he will not forget anything. When he takes on a long-term project, he needs to be reminded of details he might miss, because finishing a project can be the hardest part for someone with ADHD - like making a sprinter complete a marathon.

What matters most is our support for such people, and a shift in how we see the situation, for what might seem to be weakness at first can be a strength.

My partner, for instance, is spontaneous. When we go running, we have explored parts of Singapore that I never knew existed at all because he said: 'Let's go down this path instead.'

He also sees connections between seemingly disparate ideas, offering me an invaluable perspective. When I once complained of how stressed I was over all the things I 'had' to do, he replied: 'Instead of saying how many things you 'have' to do, how about replacing the word 'have' with 'get'? How many things do you get to do in a week?'

With the change of a single verb, every chore I had became a new possibility.

It's a single verb that, when applied with open minds and hearts, also has the power to change an entire society. We do not have to interact with those who have mental and emotional disorders - we get to. And that's the best part.

[I like this. A true example of a weakness being a strength.]

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