How can I best help / support ADHD boyfriend in financial crisis?
November 16, 2019 6:18 AM   Subscribe

My ADHD boyfriend needs to make more money. How can I be supportive and encouraging during his job search while still giving good advice? The things that motivate me and work for me just don't work for him. Advice from adults with ADHD or artists making a living in creative jobs especially welcome. Details below.

My boyfriend is having to get a "real job" after a few years of his parents supporting him while he was supposedly in-between jobs. I realize this makes him sound like a slacker, but he has been diagnosed with ADHD and in my opinion, he is not really receiving the professional help he needs due to having little money and not having much choice in therapists / doctors. I do believe he has been prescribed Adderall which he takes sometimes but it doesn't seem to be helping (from my perspective). He has about two months until he gets cut off from parent's money.

I want to be supportive and give him good advice but I'm just not sure how. My gut reaction is he just needs to find something that makes money and then he can work on getting something he likes better. I don't make a lot of money myself, but I'm fairly ok with having a job I don't hate that also supports myself and I work on creative projects in my free time.

He doesn't feel this way though. He really wants something that feels meaningful and creative and with his apparent lack of time management and follow-through abilities, he is worried that he will get "stuck" in a mediocre job and never make progress in life. Or that he won't be able to maintain a work schedule and get fired (apparently this has happened a lot). He doesn't seem to be able to stay focused enough to decide on a course of action and make progress with it and anxiety seems to be making it worse.

He is a very talented, creative, and intelligent man. I love him and I want him to be happy but I just don't know the solution here. I'm worried he's going to be in real trouble in two months.

posted by seraph9 to Human Relations (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
We *all* want something that feels meaningful and creative. No one wants to get "stuck" in a mediocre job. Meanwhile, employers have specific needs. I recommend jobs where interruption is part of the job - tech support. The phone rings, you respond, document, the phone rings, you go visit and fix something, document, you check the list of open tickets, work on one, somebody comes to your desk with a problem, etc. I self-diagnosed ADD as an adult, and tech support was interesting, paid well, and suited me. I worked for a non-profit and felt that my work mattered.

Another option is outdoor work - park ranger, landscaping.

-lack of time management and follow-through abilities
-unable to maintain a work schedule
-gets fired
-unable to stay focused
He must resolve his issues, and medication often helps.
My smartphone is unbelievably useful because of the calendar. I set my calendar to remind me at 90 minutes, 60 minutes, 30 minutes, and I am bale to get places on time despite ADD and social anxiety.

He probably plays video games, which train the brain to expect constant stimulation & reward. He should start doing long walks listening to informative podcasts, reading magazines and then working up to books. This trains the brain to think and process longer chunks.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of retail jobs where he can re-build some work history and work habits. Retail is also great for ADD because there are always customers arriving and a variety of tasks.

He has personal work to accomplish. From your question, it's not clear how much work he's willing to put in.
posted by theora55 at 7:04 AM on November 16, 2019 [34 favorites]

Are you in a place with temp agencies? Maybe he could start there.
posted by 8603 at 7:13 AM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

This isn't what you're asking for, but as someone with ADHD I can't not say it. Do not exhaust yourself doing this for him. This is his battle to fight, and the hard truth is that he may fail hard for a while. You are worth too much to fall with him. Sometimes the best lessons in life are the really, really hard ones, and he needs to learn that on his own. He cannot do that if there is always someone there to catch him when he falls. If you try to save him, you risk destroying yourself in the process.

Good luck.
posted by Amy93 at 7:42 AM on November 16, 2019 [76 favorites]

If he won't be compliant with the treatment plan he is setting himself up to fail and you might want to think twice about remaining committed to someone with ADHD who is not taking responsibility for managing it proactively with medication and behavioral strategies. I say this as someone married to someone with ADHD-PI who has not always been complaint with treatment.

It sounds to me like your boyfriend is dealing with a combination of ADHD issues and immaturity/failure to launch. You can't fix that for him. He has to want to fix that.

To me, the best way to support someone with ADHD is to encourage compliance with a treatment plan (in his case take the Adderall as prescribed every day), and to offer a dose of reality. Most people start with grunt work to pay the bills. You earn the right to be picky about work when you are self-sufficient already, not before.

I'll also say just as a warning, sometimes people with ADHD procrastinate on very serious issues and don't act until a crisis is exploding in front of them. It's very possible that your boyfriend will wait out this two month clock and then maybe take some action. Think seriously about where you want to draw the line between support and enabling. Based on what you have shared here I strongly recommend steeling yourself for a "break" if he's not activated himself when their financial support ends, rather than offering to support boyfriend yourself. He will never find the internal motivation to face the reality of adulthood if you rescue him from his consequences. The pain of his present has to be worse than the pain of doing things that feel hard for him to do the things that feel hard.

If he gets work, you might want to help him get there on time. I ordered a set of visual timers on Amazon to help my partner accomplish this. You set it for how much time before they need to leave, not how much time before they need to be at work. But again, if he doesn't want to do the work of self management then no amount of help from you will be enough and you'll burn yourself out and start resenting him.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:51 AM on November 16, 2019 [10 favorites]

How can I be supportive and encouraging during his job search while still giving good advice?

just to start extremely basic, does he want this kind of brainstorming/guidance advice from you? are you both on the same page about what's gonna start to happen in two months if he does/doesn't get a job, what his goals for treatment are, and what he feels about his current treatment? (does he think the adderall helps? what strategies does he have of coping now, and does he want more? for me personally, a partner going on adhd forums and distilling the #lifehacks there into something i can easily read or refer to would be golden if they checked that was something i wanted). will you, individually, be okay emotionally and financially if he fails for a while?

basically, yeah, you can't do this for him, you shouldn't do this for him, you can't make what he values align with what you value, and you should really work with him on what supporting him looks like. it might be an accountability buddy making sure he's making progress on a schedule, it might be stepping way back, it might be trying different things and seeing what helps (throwing things at the wall to see what sticks is also an adhd strategy)
posted by gaybobbie at 8:04 AM on November 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

I should have added, that empathy is also a powerful way to support someone with ADHD, but if they are not taking steps to proactively manage their lives, for me personally I can't be empathetic about that because this stuff is hard and undesirable for everyone. Yes, taking initiative is much harder for someone with ADHD. Overcoming inertia is also much harder for someone with ADHD. I am empathetic and sympathetic about those things, but there is a lot of learned helplessness amongst individuals with poorly managed ADHD and to me the empathy just feeds it until they get their mindset to a different place. I find empathy coupled with accountability and NOT shielding the person from their own consequences to be the best approach if there is a learned helplessness component.
posted by crunchy potato at 8:18 AM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

He really wants something that feels meaningful and creative and with his apparent lack of time management and follow-through abilities

ADHD is different for different people, but in my experience, a good structure and accountability / frequent feedback are more important to my ability to stay engaged than stuff feeling important to me. Creative work is appealing, but it also can be kind of a trap - an element of routine or repetition can, for me, make it much easier to stay focused. A lot of the times I've found myself checking out are when I don't know how to proceed and don't have a good framework for figuring it out.

I've also found that personal interactions make it easier for me to stay focused, so active collaboration or like a customer service type thing are good. I find I've been at my worst when there's an open-ended problem with no real schedule that I'm left to solve on my own, and I'm doing that on a computer with the whole internet on it.

I think the fear of getting trapped in a job is related to the fact that searching for jobs is so hard for him, so if he gets a job, he "has" to stay with it because the alternative is to keep jobhunting while working a job which sort of involves splitting emotional energy and executive function capacity ("spoons" I suppose?) which can be resources that are in limited supply, especially while using them on a job that's a bad fit. No real answers to this one, other than "my heart goes out"
posted by aubilenon at 8:55 AM on November 16, 2019 [8 favorites]

Chiming in as someone with ADHD:

I don't think it's healthy for you to act as your boyfriend's problem-solver, life coach, and/or accountability partner. It's not healthy for the relationship either. You'll be setting up an overfunctioner-underfunctioner dynamic between the both of you if you take on the responsibility of being his "assistant" (in reality, his manager and caretaker) instead of letting him figure out how to be an adult in his own way and his own time. This dynamic leads inevitably to resentment from both ends: the overfunctioner feels taken-for-granted and unheard when all their suggestions aren't implemented, the underfunctioner feels controlled and infantalized by the person who's trying to gussy them up. I can't underline this more: please give up.

Incidentally, I seriously doubt that what your boyfriend thinks he needs in order to succeed are the things he actually needs in order to succeed. The quickest way to make me lose my ADD-related hyperfocus on nonsensical tasks is to attach a paycheck and give me a deadline for it. It's the Tom Sawyer theory on meth, I swear to you.

I've taken 20 years of adulthood to find a way to keep my life humming along with my bills paid, house cleaned, and soul satisfied. It just takes time when you have ADD. A chipper, gung-ho partner-manager hybrid LOOKS like an appealing shortcut but will never work. I urge you to focus on being his partner, providing him with emotional and moral support ("I believe in you! You can do this!"). No advice. No solutions.
posted by MiraK at 9:59 AM on November 16, 2019 [41 favorites]

Be supportive from the sidelines, but he is a grown man, and adhd or not, this is his responsibility. You are his partner, not his mother. Do not do anything for him that he should be doing for himself.

Funny how it's all men dragging their feet on adulthood with competent women as partners.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 10:17 AM on November 16, 2019 [16 favorites]

As someone with ADHD and an ex partner with even worse ADHD, until he's willing to help himself there really isn't anything you can do to help him. It is very hard to form pathways in your brain based on hypotheticals. I tried for years to help my partner and it didn't work until we broke up. I'm able to help him now, because it works like this: he failed at something, had real consequences, and learned. It took several failings for each flaw for him to really understand. After, and only after he realized that he was at fault and that he wanted to change, we could talk about what happened, I was able to help him process the events and how they inter-relate (very hard for him to do alone), and I'd use repetitive language to create a simple if A>then B scenario for each thing can be called back to. So, in the current times, if i see him straying down one of the same paths, I'm not asking him to abstractly think of his behavior and what the result will look like, I can just say "hey you're doing the thing that you did with your gastroenterologist" and he can go "yeah you're right I am" and then he re-adjusts.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:18 AM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

He needs to take his meds regularly for the medication to work. Once his brain gets accustomed to being able to pay attention for longer than 4 seconds, he can develop the habits that will help him find work. Do a job, earn money, support himself. If he needed insulin, would he take it just once in a while?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:23 AM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think his job perfectionism is a feature of ADHD because I have precisely the same problem -- if a job feels less than perfect, I can feel incredibly trapped and suffocated much sooner than a neurotypical probably would. But he would benefit immensely from the structure of any job, I am sure of it. The way this will probably shake out is he'll panic when he realizes he has oh, say, two weeks left before he's out on the street and will take the first job he can get.

Assuming he's anything like the adhders i know, I don't think there's anything you can tell him or do that will motivate him to behave differently (esp if he's not properly medicated) or make him see the light before his brain is ready or shit starts getting really real.

Hopefully he gets it together, but I do wonder whether it's even healthy for you to be seriously dating an adult who is both this impaired, and this unwilling to medicate and/or take other steps to fulfill a basic function of adult life.
posted by shaademaan at 12:11 PM on November 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Something that no one told me as a younger person is that everyone - with very few exceptions - has to start on the bottom rung of their chosen career path and work their way up through demonstrating a reliable work ethic over time. This is true even in creative fields. There are no shortcuts to some ideal “meaningful and creative” position; this comes about by slogging through the grunt work that makes you deserving (and more appreciative) of a more fulfilling role. In the meantime, as I’m sure you know, one must find the creative value and meaning of their work in seemingly small and unexpected places.
I hear you when you say you love this person. Love him then with the understanding that this challenge is going to be a major theme in your relationship for a very long time, probably for his entire working life. You are taking on the role of anchoring the economic stability of the household. It is very easy to slip into an unpleasant mothering dynamic in this situation. Be certain that you are comfortable sustaining this role for the life of the relationship, and be sure you have good health insurance.
posted by key_kat at 2:21 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recognise a lot of your boyfriend's issues in my own life, except my diagnosis is Type 1 bipolar rather than ADHD. My mental health issues meant I never progressed beyond entry level after several jobs, and while working I stuggled to perform well due to poor concentration and executive function. I was either performing poorly and therefore anxious about losing my job, getting sacked or (on several occasions) being unable to admit to screwups I had made and flat out walking out on jobs with no new job to go to, making me ineligible for unemployment benefits and relying on being at home with my parents and doing chores for them. In my case it never got better and I haven't worked in 15 years and I rely on disability now which is continually reassessed (I live in the UK) and is always under threat of being reduced. My only saving grace as I see it as that I never had children or got married and dragged others into the mire with me. If I can buy cheap food and have internet access and several cups of tea a day it's not so bad, at least that what I tell myself. I am only bringing up so much of my own experience as I see all kinds of parallels from what you have written about your boyfriend. I remember reading once a musician or artist saying if when you were young and you cared about people and weren't one of those greedy people who thinks about money all the time, the creative work might dry up and without a regular resume you could end up thinking about money all the time because you were living life hand to mouth and battling from paycheck to paycheck. Hence in my city so many musicians make a living from their day jobs and get other benefits like community and cameraderie from doing music in their spare time. Much as it pains me to say it, because I am a person with mental health issues myself, I think shaademaan is right to be concerned.
posted by AuroraSky at 2:22 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

"...after a few years of his parents supporting him while he was supposedly in-between jobs"

I don't know if this means that he has been living with his parents, or whether they have just been helping out financially. If it is the former, then I implore you: DO NOT ALLOW HIM TO MOVE IN WITH YOU until he has these issues straightened out.
posted by itsflyable at 3:37 PM on November 16, 2019 [18 favorites]

Echoing above, do not let him move in. Not just that you will have a Large Adult Son on your hands, but after x days depending on your jurisdiction, he may be legally a resident and it's going to require a legal eviction to get him out.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 5:43 PM on November 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

Sounds like his ADHD is undertreated, either by the doctor or his own lack of compliance. I’d address this first to make it possible to address the other problems. I doubt that giving advice or strategies would work, the problem usually is not ignorance but execution difficulties.
posted by meijusa at 1:22 AM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

He doesn't feel this way though. He really wants something that feels meaningful and creative and with his apparent lack of time management and follow-through abilities, he is worried that he will get "stuck" in a mediocre job and never make progress in life.

That’s some ADHD-flavored procrastination talking, not your boyfriend. He needs to get the ADHD more under control before he’s able to successfully tackle the job situation.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:17 PM on November 17, 2019

As someone with ADHD + anxiety, one thing I've found truly helpful-yet-not-enabling when I've been procrastinating: someone acting as a "body double." Paperwork of all kinds (including job applications) got done when someone was sitting in the same room with me, working on a project of their own.

Everyone above is so, so right, btw. Please be leery of the role you play in this romantic relationship. Ideally, your boyfriend would make an appointment with his doctor while the coverage is there, and work out his medication regimen. Un-medicated ADHD can be like trying to dig a trench with a spoon while you're constantly distracted by the silverware pattern. Some people are able to find hacks which don't involve prescriptions; your boyfriend doesn't seem to be one of those people, at least right now.

Don't live with him unless his life clearly stabilizes, and even then wait a good while until that stability is routine. (Meaning: he has several anchors -- health, job, living situation, etc. -- so that a glitch in one area won't cause cascade failure.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:22 PM on November 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yeah, you can't make him do anything. This book helped me a lot. It was extremely practical advice (and very scientific). It was a mix of CBT, organizational strategies, mindfulness to let my thoughts flow through and then refocus and helped me feel not like a complete lazy piece of shit.

But I do get things done when I feel not stressed and capable. No one could force me to feel that way, I got it from working on my issues and building a safety/support system. You can certainly be part of that, but you'd have to know he wants and is working on it.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:18 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

His parents have kind of enabled him to avoid getting the skills he needs. ADD and anxiety and family training mean that for most of my life, I have been late for things. Therapy doesn't fix it, practice fixes it. Late? Boss is pissed off. Co-workers had to cover. You're rushed and unsettled. I use an alarm clock or 2 and the alarm on my phone to be on time. I learned to prep the night before - clean clothes, coffee ready to brew, easy breakfast, lunch in the fridge. A job is great practice for the skills he needs.

He has relied on his parents. Is he relying on you? If you encourage him towards self-sufficiency, how will he respond? I think you should find out sooner rather than later. And 1 thing it took me many years to learn - behavior is communication. He uses words to say he wants to work, but his behavior says he is avoiding it with all his might. Self-sufficiency can be scary, but it's worth the effort. He has to learn that for himself. Think about the possibility that you are kindly and lovingly enabling him.
posted by theora55 at 9:00 AM on November 18, 2019

Response by poster: OP here. We talked again and he has come up with a few job ideas that he seems reasonably ok with. I'm still steeling myself for the possibility that he might not actually take action until the last possible moment.

Thanks for the reminder that he should be taking the ADHD more seriously. A couple of years ago when he was first diagnosed he wouldn't even talk about it much less get treatment so I'm hoping he's on a general trajectory towards taking it more seriously and I might suggest that he stick with whatever his doctor told him to do. I feel like a good life coach that specializes in ADHD would help but in his current financial situation he doesn't have a lot of options other than what his minimal insurance covers.

Thanks also for the reminder not to rescue him. I'm underemployed myself at the moment and living with a roommate so financially supporting him or taking him in isn't even an option but it is still a good reminder. We had talked about me being his accountability partner, but based on advice here I'm going to tell him I want to be in a support role and have him get a friend to do that. Honestly, although I feel guilty about it and really do empathize with his feelings, I'm glad his parents are cutting him off because it's forcing him (hopefully) to actually take some action! I think it's still good to prepare myself to not "save" him. I will suggest we do work times together where we can both work on our respective job applications but otherwise will just offer emotional support.
posted by seraph9 at 6:58 PM on November 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Your boyfriend might get something out of this site; as an example: "...if you believe that needing medication proves there’s something wrong with you, then not taking your medication 'proves' there is nothing wrong with you," from the article "Coping With the Stigma of ADHD." I first read about the body-double/"study-partner" hack there. Best wishes.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:03 PM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

.We had talked about me being his accountability partner, but based on advice here I'm going to tell him I want to be in a support role and have him get a friend to do that. Honestly, although I feel guilty about it

You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume your roommate is also a woman. And you're by your own admission underemployed, BUT you've taken on a roommate and you're making it work as an adult. Two women just getting shit done. Did you do this on your own initiative? I bet so. Why can't he? I hope you look at how well you're doing at life and see that there's better out there for you than men that have failed to launch.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:45 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

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