Worrying about my ADHD son is burning me out

He has dropped out of education and has lost his confidence, and I’m running out of energy

PROBLEM: I have a 19-year-old son who started a post-Leaving Cert course in September 2014. I was pleased for him, as I knew he had an interest and a talent connected with the course. However, I found out a few months ago that he has dropped out. That is not why I am writing, however. He was a popular boy in primary school, and very confident and outgoing. When he went to secondary, things started to go wrong, and he was eventually diagnosed with ADHD. He changed schools a few times and, as a result, he lost contact with his old school friends and did not seem to be able to make new ones.

When he went to college at first he seemed happy that he had met a new group of people, but recently he told me that he does not like them and cannot seem to maintain contact with the people he would like to have as friends. He now seems to have lost a lot of his confidence, even though he has got a part-time job.

My dream of the children leaving home and going on to be successful is dying, and I find that I spend all my time worrying and negotiating with them, as they are both now young adults. It is putting a huge strain on my life in all kinds of ways: financial, emotional and particularly social, as I find I have no energy or motivation for meeting friends or going out. It is consuming and I think I am almost burned out.

ADVICE: At least two people in your family are suffering hugely: you and your son. It seems that you spend all your time trying to make life better for your son while ignoring the need to address your own life, even though it is the one thing you are in charge of. You clearly love him so much that it hurts to see him become isolated and low, but it seems that you are now beginning to mirror his trajectory, and you too are becoming cut-off from your friends.

It seems that burnout is not far away. This happens when our resources no longer meet the demands of life. It seems that you, like many mothers, have exhausted yourself in the search for a meaningful life for your son. It is a common thing for women to keep putting off resting or concentrating on their own lives until everyone else is sorted.

You will need to begin immediately to address your own physical, emotional and mental needs, and then you might be in a position to continue with the ongoing needs of your son. Someone with adult ADHD will need someone to fully understand them and believe in them for a long time to come, and it seems that you are that person in your son’s life. Could you make an assessment of your physical needs first: are you eating well, getting enough exercise and sleep?

It is unlikely that you will be able to tackle the emotional needs in your life until you are in good physical shape; if you have stress-related habits such as comfort eating or smoking, these are worth tackling now.

You need someone in your life with whom you can share your emotional burdens, and you need to have a break from these burdens. It can feel selfish to take a break from parenting, but you will be much more creative and intelligent following a complete break. It sounds as though this needs to happen now.

Your son is doing well in spite of his difficulties: he has a part-time job and is able to maintain a good and caring relationship with his mother and family. However, he needs far more support than this. Although joining social or sports groups is an option, these are unlikely to offer him understanding and connection. Would he be open to joining group therapy? This might sound a bit of a stretch but it would offer him a support group that meets once a week, and it might offer him the skills to really connect with other young people. He might learn that he is not the only one who feels different.

He has suffered through school and is carrying the idea that he is not good enough or perhaps not acceptable to his peers: it will take effort and persistence for him to realise this is not true, and he will need good company to help show him this.

Group Analytic Practice offers groups in Dublin. If you live outside the capital, they may be able to point you in the right direction. If you can demonstrate to your son how to have a life worth living in the midst of worry and difficulty, you will model a pathway and offer him hope.