This piece explores my experience navigating the new communicative obstacles emerging after the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis of my partner. Struggling to find research that aided my understanding, I created a glossary of terms meant to clarify what words were currently working/not working in my relationship. Each term entry is coupled with autoethnographic accounts with/about my partner. This essay means to extend the work of Eve Tuck and Christine Ree, demonstrating how creating glossaries can be used as a critical qualitative method to explore negotiations of discourses that occur within marginalized identities.


The summer before our second year of PhD work, my partner was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I cannot say I was completely shocked, but I definitely did not expect it. She spent two long weeks testing over things we supposedly learned in grade school, and each day I found her completely frustrated and upset when I picked her up.

“I don't know why they even allow me in grad school. I can't remember shit I should have learned decades ago,” she said, crossing her arms and sinking into the passenger seat.

“It's not that you don't remember, your brain just processes it differently. It's there… it just takes a little longer than most to find it.” By the look on her face, I could tell this wasn't helping. So, I kept trying. “You're brilliant in class. So, who cares if you can't recall mindless information that we were supposed to memorize ages ago?” The words did not comfort her. Being a graduate student with the goal of being a professor, her whole identity was wrapped up in her intellect, and these testing sessions and the looming diagnosis challenged her academic identity.


when the time came for the test administrators to give us the results, she asked if I would be there with her for support. I sat and held her hand as the doctors told us she had not only ADHD, but also some other type of learning disorder they could not identify through the testing.

“Your verbal skills are off the chart; they are the best I've ever seen. And it's clear that you think critically at a level that far surpasses normal intelligence.”

“Duh,” I thought. “We're in grad school for a reason.” I squeezed her hand in a silent recognition of the positive things. She did not squeeze back. The doctor continued.

“But, your focus is probably the worst I've ever seen. And looking over your math work, it's obvious you have the capacity to do the work, it just seems as if you get distracted when it's too easy. See here, you did all of the complicated problems, but when it came to doing the simple addition and subtraction, you got it wrong.”

Sitting beside me, I felt her soul fall. She took her hand away and shifted her body away from mine. I quickly glanced at her face. It held a mixture of sadness and embarrassment.


Weeks later, a student we shared in common wanted to do a project on ADHD. He also had the disorder, and was personally struggling to come to terms with the stigmas he felt as he fought through the education system. He asked if I would write him something through the perspective of the partner, and I happily obliged. I love when students take up issues in their own lives as a part of their research; it keeps them excited, motivated, focused. What should have only taken thirty minutes turned into a two-and-a-half-hour cathartic exercise, complete with tears and the occasional emotional moan. Hearing these sniffles and moans, my partner came to check on me.

“I thought this was only supposed to be a paragraph? There are at least five pages there!”

“I'm sorry,” I bubbled. “I didn't realize how much this was impacting me.”

“Well, we haven't really talked about it, so it makes sense that you're reacting this way. Push save, send it to him, and then come back to it when you have time.”

Every time I sat down to work on class projects, however, I found myself returning to thoughts of what I was calling the ‘ADHD Narratives.’ I could not focus on anything else. Trying to talk through some of my writing, I brought up the problem to my partner.

“If you can't write about anything else, then just write about it. It fits the criteria for the class, make it your final.”

“Are you okay with that?” The problem with going to graduate school with your partner is that you often have the same classes. We were both in this class, and I knew the professor was going to make us talk about our final and read selections from the paper.

“Yeah. As long as I'm not having to write about it. It's from your perspective anyway. It's not like it's really about me.”1 

I wanted to tell her I was not sure if it was about me either. I knew that giving an account is rarely (if at all) really about the self, but it was not a discussion I was prepared to have at the moment.2 I felt tired, knowing a great amount of emotional work lay ahead of me. On the other hand, it was as if a weight had been lifted. I was not sure exactly what I would be writing, but I knew something had to be written.



Writing was is difficult; I did not do not have the words to express what I really felt feel. Even now, composing this manuscript from the entries, I still wonder whether or not the words I am using truly elucidate the gravity of my stories. Deanna Fassett and Dana Morella position performance as a way to explore an identity rooted in disability discourse; but, where does that leave the partner of someone with a mental disorder?3 I need answers for the problem surrounding my inability to communicate with my partner about her diagnosis. I need to investigate the terms surrounding our relationship.

To do so, I began to group particular stories around a specific term that is representative of the situation. Then, I built a glossary to catalogue these terms and help me “to pause and make sense of something cramped and tightly worded.”4 These stories are only bits of the overall narrative; light brush strokes on the canvas that layer one on top of the other to complete the painting. Some are long, some are short, but all contain continuous thoughts about my relationship with my partner. Identifying the terms “is about righting (and sometimes wronging) wrongs”: building an understanding of why some words are useful in my relationship while others only make things worse.5 Some of these are terms that were a part of my relationship prior to the diagnosis, but now no longer fit exactly like they did. Some of these are new terms that were placed on my relationship by the diagnosis. Another set of terms comes from the exhaustive period of researching ADHD, yearning to find a vocabulary I could latch onto and use to make sense of this new negotiation. Most terms include facets of each origin as I would write about a situation that previously worked in our relationship, has currently changed since the diagnosis, and researched why it no longer functions the same way.

This glossary cannot speak to every partner relationship that involves ADHD or any other mental disorder, but my hope is to garner a better understanding of my partner and myself through its creation. While unable to universalize the stories here, I also hope this piece opens up spaces for connections and further conversations regarding mental disorders.



When she had finished clarifying the diagnosis, the doctor turned to me.

“I'm sure this explains a lot for you, but I'm also sure you still have a lot of questions. We don't have too much on adult ADHD, but this pamphlet might help you with some of your questions.”

She handed me a small green handout with the words Your Child and ADD written across the top. Flipping through, it was obvious some of this information hadn't been updated in about fifteen years. The last page finally offered some potential: Adults and ADD. It reiterated what the doctor had stated (“We don't have too much on adult ADHD”), and posited that the lack of knowledge was probably due to the fact that most adults did not like to carry the stigma of the disorder. If not diagnosed as a child, most probably did not even realize they had it.

“Can you believe this?” I later asked my partner. “What does she expect me to learn from this? That you may or may not act like a child when I try to get your attention from time to time? I already knew that!”

“I guess,” she said.

The pamphlet and the doctor's words continued to haunt me over the next few weeks. I could not help but make the connection between some of my partner's behaviors and the child-like parallels discussed at the diagnosis. For instance, I began to notice how forgetful she was, so I got into the habit of “gently” reminding her of things. I put a bowl next to the door for her keys. I added a vocal checklist before we could leave: “Do you have the keys? Yes, but do you have both sets of keys? Do you have your phone? Are your meds in the bag?” I thought it would help if I tried to keep track of her medication, even setting a timer on her phone to remind her to take it. I felt like instead of a wife, I had a small toddler running around my house.


Frustration at her seemingly lack of maturity has been my constant companion since the diagnosis. Oddly, these behaviors did not affect me prior to then. Now, however, I often get angry with her for things she did not even do. For instance, my debit card has been lost several times throughout the course of our relationship. Typically, we find it a few days later in one of her pockets or in the washing machine after she has used it. Recently, I lost it again, and I immediately assumed she had used it and left it in her pocket. I began tearing through her clothes, becoming more and more frustrated with each empty pocket. When I could not find it, I began slumping around the house, whispering, “I wish I could just keep my stuff in one place for once. She knows she loses things. Why does she have to mess with mine?”

She interrupted my search. “So, are you still writing that paper about me?”

“Yes… why? Do you want me to stop?”

“No! I just want to tell you something to give you a little perspective. And, I don't want it to start a fight.”


“Okay, go for it.”

“I've noticed that since I have been diagnosed, whenever something goes missing, you blame me. Sometimes it's not my fault. You forget things, too. I found your debit card in your pants this morning.”


“I am so sorry.”

Instead of being supportive, I was treating her like a small child when she is a brilliant woman who deserves more respect.


Current debates within the public sphere regard ADHD as a mishandled diagnosis; the behaviors are really just “kids being kids.” It is understandably important for parents and caretakers of children to be skeptical of pharmaceutical companies who want to push the sales of their medications, but there is a fine line between skepticism and misinformation. The impact of disregarding all ADHD behaviors inhibits finding any alternative to living with ADHD, including behavioral adjustments. For adults, the phrase “kids just being kids” continues to be haunting. When “about 60 percent of children who experience ADHD in childhood continue to have symptoms as adults,” the idea that ADHD is a child's disorder implies it is something one will just grow out of eventually.6 

CHILDISH describes many of the qualities my partner has; yet, it is not the word I want to use. CHILDISH rhetorically sets up a power differential that should not exist in an intimate adult relationship; at least, not any relationship that I want to be a part of. When we got together, we decided on the label “partner” not just because it is what many of our queer peers use, but because we wanted to frame our relationship as one in which we were equals. CHILDISH is not working, nor should it continue to be a part of my relationship glossary. What is the alternative?



Historically, females are no strangers to being stereotyped as meek and feeble-minded. Beginning with the “female hysteria” diagnosis, the medical and psychological field has grossly mismanaged female mental health. The same is true with ADHD: women are missing from the scholarship being done in ADHD studies. Patricia Quinn, MD, director of the National Center for Gender Issues and ADHD, claims “Women with the disorder tend to suffer in silence compared with their male counterparts,” primarily due to a focus on male study participants as opposed to female.7 “We've studied the disorder in males—usually elementary school-aged males—and that's how we've defined the disorder,” Quinn continued.8 Boys tend to externalize the disorder, demonstrating more vocal, disruptive behavior than girls. On the other hand, girls tend to provide more internalizing qualities that can often mirror separation anxiety and depression.9 

Repressed management continues into adulthood, where women often find more “socially acceptable” ways to cope with their disorder such as shame and low self-esteem, which can exacerbate other disorders like depression and anxiety.10 Because they are not demonstrating their coping in more disruptive ways, girls are often diagnosed with these other conditions first, and are often ignored in ADHD literature, thus perpetuating the cycle of under-diagnosis.



The few weeks following the diagnosis were quiet: neither one of us spoke because we did not know what to say. My partner had originally been diagnosed as bipolar, a disorder that carries its own stigmas and misunderstandings. We had learned to work around the manic/depressive swings without any medicinal intervention, yet she was still having trouble focusing. Now that we had learned she had ADHD, I felt as if I had to shift the way I approached our relationship completely.

The normal frustration of just being in graduate school seemed to quadruple for both of us, but especially for her. She even told me it felt like people could sense now she was somehow “different” and were judging her for it. Typically, we handle stressful situations with humor; taking turns laughing with each other as a means of defusing the emotional stress. One day, I made the mistake of jokingly telling her I could tell a difference when she was on her medication, because she seemed more “tolerable,” for lack of a better term. She was more focused, more in control, and overall happier when she remembered to take her medication.

“It's like you're a totally different person!” I exclaimed, hoping she would join in my laughter and begin to ease up as she had done previously.

I watched her smile fade, and she began to sink like she did the day the doctors told her she had ADHD. Suddenly, I realized this was not a joke to her. I don't know why it took me so long to understand; perhaps because it wasn't me experiencing the ADHD. I typically consider myself to be a person who is understanding and nonjudgmental, but I was judging people like her and didn't even notice it. This disorder doesn't define her, even if she or I try to put her into the little box of “childish behavior due to a mental disorder.” Every day since the epiphany that I, though I abhor the rhetoric of “child,” have been treating her as less than an adult has been a battle. I will get mad at her for forgetting something, then get mad at myself for getting angry with her, which makes me even angrier at her. The spiral is painful, and often ends in me hating myself.



Despite so much extant and current labor to reclaim the body within academic space, little scholarship addresses how the mind can break down in an academic space. Margaret Price illuminates this dark corner of work by suggesting that there is a “theoretical and material schism between academic discourse and mental disabilities.”11 Simply put, mental disabilities and academic thought are assumed to be mutually exclusive identities that never cross paths. Despite this mentality, academics' minds are still confronted with what some would consider to be “impairments.” Price continues:

Those of us who do function successfully in academe tend to pass much of the time. Sadly, the necessity of passing for survival perpetuates the conventional view of academe as an “ivory tower”—an immaculate location humming with mental agility and energy, only occasionally threatened (from the outside) by the destructive forces of insanity.12 

Given this reverence of the “ivory tower,” coupled with the fact that many women suffering from ADHD “often feel they don't deserve [praise for their success],” it is no surprise phrases such as “imposter syndrome” surface to describe academic life.13 Not all those who suffer from imposter syndrome suffer from ADHD, but this purging of atypical reason affects anyone within the academy. We are often taught to expand our pedagogical strategies to embrace a diversity of learning styles, yet we reject all but a particular type of mind. Relying on the work of Simi Linton, Price constructs a framing of disability studies “best understood in terms of variety and difference rather than deviations from an imagined norm” of the mind.14 Essentially, disability studies acts as a form of theoretical understanding and activism that seeks to appreciate and advocate for a polysemous positioning of the mind.



Fuck medications. I still have moments when I think that maybe she is just fooling me, but I have seen what those medications do to her body. No one would voluntarily put themselves through the lack of sleep, grumpiness, and general over-extension of energy. I have also seen what happens when she does not take them, and I know they help her.



In preparation for learning how to seek accommodations in her classes, my partner had to meet with the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office. While the office assured her she would have all the necessary resources at her disposal, she was unsure how professors would react to her requests. She was constantly asked questions, was frequently expected to know the answers, and was often met with aggravation when she did not know immediately. Many professors were supportive and willing to help in any way they could. There were, however, a few who were not so helpful. One professor even tried to give double the amount of work for a particular assignment, citing the excuse that she had double the amount of time to complete it. I was infuriated. How could they do this to her?!? She sulked around, broken, for quite some time after the initial meeting with the SSD office. “Normal” graduate students are understandably stressed and worried about impressing their professors; she completely melted whenever she thought about setting up meetings to explain why she needed extra time or other accommodations. The emotional labor that goes into just scheduling these meetings was making her miserable, and as her partner, I was also feeling her pain.

During this time, I was the Associate Course Director of the basic course at my university. I was new to the position and had to learn many aspects of the job as I went. The biggest hurdle was adjusting to the way our campus sets up exams through the campus testing center. Additionally, it was my job to create exams for students who qualify for extra time through our SSD office. I received a notification from one of my instructors that a student needed a time extension on the exam. I went through the system, simply elongated the time, and then emailed the instructor back notifying the student it was ready. A couple of days later, I received a second email from the instructor, claiming the student could not access the exam. I went through the process again, this time ensuring I was more cautious of each independent step, then gave the green light once again. Later that day, I received an email from the student, who had carbon copied the instructor as well as the main contact of the SSD office, panicking because she still could not access the exam. The SSD contact emailed all of us immediately, clearly frustrated, warning me these issues should not continue to occur for the sake of the student.

Tears quickly formed in my eyes. I had become the “uncooperative” MONSTER I was ready to confront on behalf of my partner. I contacted IT, who assured me it was not an issue on my part per se, but rather a protocol in naming SSD exams a certain way in order to label them as SSD-time-sanctioned. I never knew, yet, perceptually I was refusing to accommodate to the needs of this student. I realized it was not an issue with the particular professors, but rather a with a lack of training/understanding. Was building a connection with my partner's disorder now changing my role in finding out this knowledge?


When I asked to read selections of my final paper to the class, the MONSTER entry is one I shared. Afterwards, my professor said, “I am curious why you chose the word monster. Perhaps you should change it to something that doesn't make you sound so horrific?”

“But, that's how I feel. That's how I felt when they told us they couldn't help her, and it's how I feel knowing the panic I probably caused for the student. Me not liking the term doesn't change the fact that it fit.”

“How does painting yourself so negatively help? If anything, maybe you are more empathic of those who don't intentionally harm students, but just don't know what to do.”

Her words hit hard. I still would not change MONSTER, nor would I change how I felt about my partner's experience. I believe, however, that something needs to be done in schools, specifically universities, to approach this problem. There is a large hole in the training and facilitation of this knowledge to all who are potentially working with these students.

When I first submitted this essay to Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, I took out the term “monster.” Though I still believed strongly in its use, it hurt to see myself that way. I was afraid publishers would lecture me; that I would be told once again there is no use in seeing myself in that negative light. However, I now realize that though these assumptions may be correct, they do not change the fact that this is a term I willingly used in my narrative. This term needs to be in the glossary.



I (as the non-ADHD partner) can make sense out of my situation intrapersonally by using the emotional cues I am affectively gleaning. Shari Stenberg positions us in a time when emotional intelligence is something to be sought after, yet is rarely explicitly discussed.15 Emotions, such as my frustration, can also be used to as a way to develop new ways of knowing, as we can later reflect on their source. In doing so, we “outlaw emotions” such as anger, discomfort, pleasure, and delight all become invitations for further investigation and new forms of response.”16 Allowing emotion to more explicitly enter into a dialogue with my partner can open up a space through which we can formulate new modes of communicative discourse, leading to a more empathic connection.





Gender affects her diagnosis (and ultimately our relationship) in other ways. Compounding the female experience with ADHD, my partner and I are two queer females in the academy. In The Queer Art of Failure, Judith Jack Halberstam questions the normative associations with failure, specifically looking at how it operates in gender.17 For instance, the “butch” lesbian stands as the “failure of femininity” and “failure in consumer culture writ large because her masculinity becomes a block to heteronormative male desire.”18 What is important to realize, however, is that the problematic nature of the queer body (such as my partner's and mine), like the academic mind, only serves to challenge what is normatively accepted: “All ideal masculinity by its very nature is just out of reach, but it is only in the butch, the masculine woman, that we notice its impossibility.”19 Though ideal masculinity is unachievable, butch lesbians and femme bois receive criticism for portraying its failure in the brightest light. For my butch identifying partner, the “baggage” of identifying as such is not new. Her ADHD, however, reveals a new “impossibility” that reaches further than just her portrayal of gender. Attaining the ideal academic mind is also an impossibility; and this impossibility is highlighted in her academic performance, her “failure” as a normatively performing intelligent mind. She needs accommodations. She needs extra time. Yet, when she still produces wonderful work (she is a graduate student, after all), she is told, “You wrote so much… much more than other students. Maybe you didn't need that assistance after all!” Because no one who produces the quality of work she creates operates outside of a normative standard. Because someone who is intelligent should not need extra time. They are cheating the system, right? No one thinks that maybe she wrote so much to compensate for her hurt identity, her self-loathing, and feelings of inadequacy in regards to the way things are supposed to be in the academy.

For Halberstam, “failure represents an opportunity rather than a dead end”: questions about the ideal are raised when the ideal is seen as an impossibility.20 My partner's presence in graduate school is not “in-spite of” ADHD; but rather, she is here in many ways because of her disorder. She demonstrates how the creative, explorative nature of ADHD pushes her scholarship to new and inventive places. Her brain does not need to function how traditional academic minds operate in order to play the game. This “failure” provides an opportunity to show others like her that they, too, can carve out places for themselves within the ivory tower. Academic institutions (for the most part) tout themselves as being diverse and open-minded in all ways but one: how minds should think. My partner contributes to the narrative that one does not need to be traditionally scholarly in order to push intellectual boundaries.


Being a direct witness to my partner's academic “failure,” I find myself in the difficult position of distinctly questioning the ideals of the academy while still struggling to understand what exactly the dismantling of these standards means for my intelligence. I, like others in our cohort, participate in the search for an academic ideal that potentially puts my partner in my competitive crosshairs. Trying to downplay the competition and maintain a healthy relationship, we like to think of a tennis analogy: When you are playing tennis with someone who is not as good as you, your skills do not improve until your opponent has reached your level. When you play with someone as good as or closely matched, the two of you push each other to play the best game you can. We work together to be the best “players” possible and continually push each other to “play” to the best of our abilities.

Having said that, as the diagnosis has shown us at times, we are not playing the same game. Once, a mutual, well respected mentor told me: “Christina you're good—but you're good at what you're supposed to be good at. [Your partner], well she's good at doing what no one else can do.” I am often jealous of her unique spin on old topics, her ability to see something in an innovative way, and her unparalleled command of verbal presentations at conferences. She has vocalized frustrations regarding her writing, saying she would give up her unique perspective to be able to write how she speaks. The result is at times I am playing our game with a disadvantage, and other times she seemingly possesses the advantage.

Her butch identity and our identity as academic queers constantly intersect with our negotiations and discussions of the diagnosis. For instance, we were talking about how an old (stereotypically queer) softball injury led to her finding debate, and ultimately, the communication discipline. Somehow, our conversation diverted to her ADHD:

“I don't like taking the medicine. It makes me feel like a player who has to take steroids just to compete with everyone else.”

“But they're not steroids. You can't think about it like that. It is more like all the players were born with bats glued to their hands and you weren't. You get to be creative and choose your own bat. As smart as you are, it's clear you've chosen a tennis racquet to ensure you hit it out of the park.” I purposely mixed metaphors to remind her of our tennis analogy. Afterwards, I pondered my role in the new use of the analogy. Am I just another player, mocking her for bringing a racquet to the baseball game? (Jealous of her brilliance, so I lashed out by mocking her disorder?) Or, am I the supportive teammate urging her to choose the apparatus that is right for her?

I realize my failure is not only in participating as a player, but also in my failure to be the supportive teammate. I am failing at the ideal label of “partner.” “Partner,” to me, is one who should be supportive no matter what and able to adjust when his or her partner has a life changing diagnosis. My reaction makes me wonder whether a physical diagnosis (cancer, for example) would still result in me treating her as a child Would I be so angry with her (or myself)? We chose the term “partner” to signify more than just our connection; rather, to signify our relationship as loving equals (the definition of equality here being about the exchange of love, support, and respect). The relationship is not equal, however, if I hold on to an ideal standard. That criteria applies to my partner and me. I, too, suffer from a normative female perception: the caretaker. I do not have to know all of the answers, mend all of the wounds, or hate myself when I fail to “do my job.”



Socially, it seems we only know how to handle ADHD prescriptively; whether in the form of medication for the ADHD partner, or behavior modification for the non-ADHD partner. After reading my ADHD Narratives notes, I realized I was so frustrated at my feelings of helplessness because I did not know how to support her. Knowing she processes information on a more theoretical level as opposed to relational, I began researching ADHD on my own. We needed some way to make sense out of what we were just told and how to proceed. If the doctors (who offered little support in terms of relational advice for us) could not educate me, I was going to do it myself.


I looked to my university's online resources, using “ADHD” and “adult” as my main search terms. The results yielded only two pages of research, and still included a lot of studies done with children. Many of the studies about adults cited heavily from the literature about children, and only slightly extended from that point. A few articles have been written about ADHD and the deaf community, one discussed the biopolitics of ADHD surveillance, and none from that first search talked about the partners of those with ADHD. I tried adding the term “partner” to my list of search terms, which resulted in only one article entitled “Language Characteristics of Children with ADHD.” Frustrated, I closed my computer and decided to try again the next day.


So, where does one who is in graduate school go when one does not know the answers and EBSCO is not as helpful as one would like? I Google'd it. You would be amazed at how many cites were named things like, “ADHD Impacts Relationships: 10 Tips to Help,” or “ADHD and Marriage: Six Steps to Nurturing a True Partnership”; as if creating a list could solve all the obstacles that arise when trying to navigate this disorder. Each list was different, but they also had some similarities.21 Within 0.28 seconds, Google had returned over five million hits; yet, only one of the websites from the first three pages of results offered relationship advice for both the non-ADHD partner and the individual with ADHD. The countless lists seem to imply that it was up to the non-ADHD partner to adjust, although the rhetoric was grounded in partnership and empathy—attributes that require work from both members of the relationship. This contradiction was reinforced through phrases such as: “Instead of trying harder, work differently,” “Converse, don't order. This will encourage your partner to listen,” and “So what do you do? There are six specific steps you must take… ” Although I began the search seeking help for my partner, I now wondered what was really available for me. I wanted to see how these prescriptive steps actually applied to what I was handling at the moment.

In the article for individuals with ADHD and their partners, the author addresses the need to “break free of the parent–child dynamic” that can surface easily.22 The rhetoric in this article speaks directly to both partners, whether they have ADHD (“You may feel like you're constantly being criticized, nagged, and micromanaged… . You don't feel respected as an adult”) or do not have ADHD (“You don't feel like you can rely on your partner… . Sometimes it feels as if your significant other just doesn't care”).23 


My research on ADHD suggests communication will fail, and adapting to those failures is the best way to manage them, but none prepared me for the emotional toll of that failure. In terms of my relationship with my partner, I am still discovering moments when I am angry with myself for not being supportive. “Anger is loaded with information and energy,” and I am trying to learn not only how to communicate strategically with her, but also how to communicate about her to those who hold this Othering mentality.24 Where are the discussions about the inevitable identity changes that can affect communication for the partner with ADHD?

As Halberstam rightfully suggested, the failure of communication (and my research) opens up opportunities for critiques.25 More needs to be written for those with ADHD and their partners, specifically, females with ADHD. This section of the glossary needs to contain more.



Me: “Are you sure you want to read that part again? You cried the last time you read it.”

Her: “Yes.”

I love this woman.



Females do not talk about it. Academics do not talk about it. We do not talk about it. But I want to talk about it. No, I need to talk about it.

On the one hand, livid is mild compared to the affective reaction I had upon hearing about her SSD trouble. On the other hand, I was almost inconsolable when I realized I had unintentionally done the same thing to another SSD student. Anger is a secondary emotion, one that is brought into being by a pre-existing emotion such as shame, pain, or sadness. Audre Lorde tells us, “women responding to racism means women responding to anger; the anger of exclusion of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and co-option.”26 Here, I am not responding to racism, but I am reacting to another oppression that relies on “unquestioned privilege” to perpetuate its silence. I could not have spoken about this previously, as it required “recognizing the needs of the living contexts of other women,” something I achieve through an empathic connection with my partner.27 


The silence surrounding academic mental shaming explains why I get so frustrated with my partner when it is I who fail at communicating. The resentment of bottling my anger towards the academy “lies within [me] like an undetonated device,” only to be hurled right back at my partner when she questions me about our communication.28 This anger, however, can be redirected at the right target. Lorde explains that when

we are working in a context of opposition and threat, the cause of which is certainly not the angers which lie between us, but rather that virulent hatred leveled against… all of us who are seeking to examine the particulars of our lives as we resist our oppressions.29 

Empathizing with one another helps to formulate coalitions and to take effective action(s) toward ending such oppressive forces, leading to a co-creation of action(s).


The silence hinders my writing, and therefore, this glossary. So many words go unspoken, making this glossary a difficult beast to complete. Other terms are unheard as our communication consistently falls short and I fail at hearing her side of the story. She, too, will forsake my perspective at times because she is experiencing her own troubles. Finding the prospects in our failures will help identify the terms that help/hurt our relationship. The narratives change as the vocabulary develops and in turn, so does the glossary. Perhaps the incompleteness of the project is just an aspect of failure that needs to be understood as an art. The imperfect, partial list provides an opportunity to continue talking about ADHD, its role in the academy, its role in my relationship. I know this essay is one I will revisit throughout the rest of my life and argue with myself over the inclusion of some of the terms. I will continue to write entries in the “ADHD Narratives”; and therefore, continue to build upon this glossary. Some terms will come much faster than others (I added several throughout the editing process of this work), while others will simmer and bubble up only when they are ready. I intend to carry on conversations with my partner, love her in my newly understood way, and wait for the vocabulary to develop, patiently.



To respect the ethical concerns that come with delicate research, we later talked about the possibility of future publication of this essay. She stated that she also did not mind being included in a piece that would potentially reach a published format. Given the intimate relationship featured in this work, I took narrative ethics seriously. See Tony E. Adams, “A Review of Narrative Ethics,” Qualitative Inquiry 14, no. 2 (2008): 175–94;and Carolyn Ellis, “Telling Secrets, Revealing Lives: Relational Ethics in Research with Intimate Others,” Qualitative Inquiry 13, no. 1 (2007): 3–29.
Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005).
Deanna L. Fassett and Dana L. Morella, “Remaking (the) Discipline: Marking the Performative Accomplishment of (Dis)Ability,” Text and Performance Quarterly 28, no. 1–2 (2008): 139–56.
Eve Tuck and Christine Ree, “A Glossary of Haunting,” in Handbook of Autoethnography, ed. Stacy Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams, and Carolyn Ellis (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2015), 640.
Jane Collingwood, “ADHD and Gender,” PsychCentral, accessed 19 November 2015, 19 November 2015,
Patricia Quinn, qtd. in Dulce Zamora, “Suffering in Silence: Women with Adult ADHD,”, 18 October 2014, accessed 19 November 2015,
Collingwood, “ADHD and Gender.”
Zamora, “Suffering in Silence.”
Margaret Price, Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011), 8.
Ibid., 7.
Zamora, “Suffering in Silence.”
Price, Mad at School, 5.
Shari Stenberg, “Teaching and (Re)Learning the Rhetoric of Emotion,” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 11, no. 2 (2011): 349–70.
Ibid., 367.
Judith Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011). Kindle Edition.
Ibid., emphasis added.
For a look at my “texts,” please see: Margarita Tartakovsky, “ADHD's Impact on Relationships: 10 Tips to Help,” PsychCentral, 5 August 2011, accessed 19 November 2015,; MelissaOrlov, “Feeling Ignored—The Non-ADHD Spouse Dilemma,” ADHD and Marriage, 11 July 2007, accessed 23 November 2015,; June Sliny, “Six Secrets to a Happy ADHD Relationship,” Attention Deficit Disorder Association, 27 May 2015, accessed 23 November 2015,
Melinda Smith, “Adult ADHD and Relationships: Tips for Developing a Solid Partnership,” Help Guide, August 2015, accessed 19 November 2015,
Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984), 127.
Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure.
Lorde, “The Uses of Anger,” 124.
Ibid., 126.
Ibid., 127.
Ibid., 128.