Podcast Transcript

Guidance for Uncertain Times: Navigating Relationship Challenges

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Podcast date:  April 9, 2020

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe different ways people cope with uncertainty
  2. List ways people can receive therapy and support services remotely
  3. Discuss ways to maintain good relationships when family members spend a lot of time with each other
  4. Describe ways in which couples can have conversations about time together and time alone
  5. List ways to help teenagers acknowledge and overcome the loss of activities and rituals that did not and will not take place.


Susan Buningh:  You are listening to a special podcast of All Things ADHD, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Hi, I'm your host, Susan Buningh. And I'm here today with Dr. Ari Tuckman. Dr. Tuckman can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ari Tuckman:  Sure. I am a psychologist, I'm in the Philly suburbs and I've been specializing in ADHD for 20 years now or something. I've served with CHADD in a number of different ways, including on the national board. I've done a couple of support groups in the local chapters, and I'm now currently the conference co-chair. So, good stuff.

Susan Buningh:  We're certainly in a time of uncertainty right now. And we're dealing right now with the coronavirus outbreak, but let's face it, we've had a lot of uncertain times for a while now and there may be more to come. So, what are some of the issues that your clients are dealing with that are generated by the crisis?

Ari Tuckman:  Yeah. So, first of all, you're right, coronavirus is new and the specifics of the situation we're in are new. But what is definitely not new is times of uncertainty.  And sometimes it's times of uncertainty for an individual or a family, sometimes it's times of uncertainty for all of society as it is now. I think that is important to keep in mind, because this is not just about right now in this moment. These are things that will serve you well beyond. And I think my first thought on this is, different people cope with uncertainty in different ways. Maybe in general we can make some sweeping generalizations, might not apply to everybody. But sometimes folks who tend to be more anxious will tend to dive into the material and absorb themselves into it and check every news feed and every tweet and every whatever, because that helps them feel like the uncertainty is a bit more certain.

That if I can read the right blog or the right article or hear the right segment on whatever news channel, then I will feel more secure. And it sort of makes sense, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it only increases your uncertainty. So, the diving in is one approach. For other people it may go the other way. They may feel like, you know what, I don't want to know more. The more I learn, the more anxious I feel. So, I'm going to tune it out. And you may find that you vacillate between those two. If you have a partner, if you're in a family, to recognize the fact that different people will respond in different ways, no way is better or worse, but we need to manage this together. Especially when we're sort of on house arrest so to speak. And we're all on top of each other, next to each other all the time.

Susan Buningh:  How are you delivering therapy services during this time? Are you using online therapy, telehealth? Do you think it's an effective way to do therapy?

Ari Tuckman:  It is. And I'm doing video sessions, or sometimes we default down to phone sessions. It's not a new thing. I have had folks where I've done it in the past. So, like a college student who lives like this is their hometown, but then they go out of the area to go to school, or other people who for some reason aren't able to get into the office. But it's being used much more now, both by therapists, which certainly makes sense. But frankly, even I hear from clients who say some of their general practitioners or whoever are also doing phone sessions. So, unless it's a situation where your doctor or the nurse or the practitioner or whatever, needs actually to put hands on you or to get a reading or whatever, they'll just do the session, the appointment by phone, because it just reduces the risk to everybody.

Like why go in if you don't have to. And to the credit of various regulatory bodies, from the licensing boards and the insurance companies and everybody, they're tending to, they're loosening up some of their prior restrictions, particularly in the face of the current situation. So that encouraged the use of video sessions. So, if you're a family, if you're at home, if you're struggling more, feel free to check in and see if your healthcare providers will do video sessions. I've had a number of new people that I've seen and who I've never met in person. And just in the last, some days have contacted me about doing it. I think it works well in this time of social distancing. I think it's a very smart move.

Susan Buningh:  So, for those people who are cooped up together at home now for long periods of time, what tips and strategies can you provide to them to maintain good relationships, or deal with the relationships they presently have?

Ari Tuckman:  It's an interesting kind of social experiment that nobody asked to be a part of, that it really is a double-edged sword. Because on the one hand, it's great that we get to spend so much more time with each other, and we don't have to fight traffic and all the rest of it. So, that's a good thing. But the harder part is, there's all this uncertainty and, what are we doing? And how do we make this online schooling work? If you have kids who are now doing that for the first time. Or the financial stress, if you're one of the millions of families who has someone who is suddenly not earning an income because they can't work from home.

My advice is, first of all, to just accept the fact that this is a strange time now, except it doesn't mean love it. It just means acknowledge, yeah, this is what it is. There's a lot here that I can't change. There's a lot here I wish was different. But there are some things that I can do something about. So, let's focus in on those. To have some conversation between romantic partners, if you have kids to then also have a second conversation with the kids. Let's talk about what the new deal is. I was just talking to a friend and colleague yesterday about, he was talking to his kids and he's like, "This is not summer break. This is not, let's all lay around and just do fun stuff. You still have school right now. There are still things that need to be done, right?” So, it's to get everybody a little bit more on the same page, to talk about, where are the places that we can be flexible.

So, do we have to stick to the same bedtimes and wake-ups or not? In my house the answer's no, we don't. We can't sleep till noon, but we're not waking up at 6:00.  There's no school bus we're catching. That's cool. We're all loving that. But then there's some other things that are different and to really set the expectations. And then almost certainly have more conversations because whatever you think is going to happen is probably going to evolve a little bit. Where it's going to change or, especially if you have kids doing online school, I don't think the teachers know yet what they're doing. Because, how could they? And the kids don't know what they're doing because, how could they either? So, we're all figuring this out as we go along. And we're all trying to figure out how long this is even going to be. We don't know the answer to that yet.

Susan Buningh:  Those are some really good tips. But are there any specific behaviors needed to deal with relationships during this time that you can give?

Ari Tuckman:  One of the things I would recommend is to have some conversation with your partner about time together and time alone. Because they're both important. I mean, there's that old saying that distance makes the heart grow fonder. Right? And it does. But that's hard to come by when you're all piled on top of each other. So, you have to have some specific conversations about what kind of alone time do each of us need.

For those of us who tend to get restless, let's talk about what our exercise options are? How do we get out some of that restlessness? And if you're crammed into a tiny apartment in New York City, that's going to be one sort of a situation. If you're living somewhere where you have a yard or you have some ability to get to a park or some outdoor thing, that's another option. If you've got some decent exercise equipment in the basement, for example, that's another option. But to really talk it through. Because I'm always a proponent of exercise regardless of the circumstances, but maybe especially now. And especially if you're one of those restless cooped up people you'll really benefit. So, to have some specific conversations about how do we facilitate that? How do we make it happen? Because you're going to be in a better mood if you exercise, and I'm going to like being around you more if you exercise and vice versa.

Susan Buningh:  Can you give me some examples of that kind of conversation?

Ari Tuckman:  It's a bit of brass tacks. Like, let's really talk about this. What does this schedule look like? And I know that often our folks with ADHD don't like planning a lot, partially because it's kind of boring, partially because it feels like a prison, like, oh, what if I don't want to do that thing at that time? Or it feels like a setup for trouble of like, great, we're going to set a schedule. Here we go again, me not getting the schedule. To talk about this schedule, to really think about, what are the things that really do matter? And where are the things where we can be flexible?

And I think that, and this is totally stereotypical, but often the non ADHD partner tends to be, let's just say, more about schedules. It's easy in these anxious times to respond by really trying to lock everything down. From 8:00 to 8:15, we will do this, from 8:16 to 8:31, we'll do this. And it's not wrong, but the two of you or the three or the six or whatever, need to figure out how do we make this work for everybody? So, to really have some good conversations about it. To really work on being in a good mood and keeping yourself in a good mood. And sometimes that means letting the other person's bad mood roll by without getting tangled up in it and responding in kind.

Susan Buningh:  So, I'd like to jump back to adults in a minute, but first I know that you also work with teenagers. I'm hearing and reading a lot of questions and concerns about teenagers during this time. And you know so much of teen life is social and so on. Is there anything you can tell us specifically about teenagers?

Ari Tuckman:  I mean, this is definitely affecting all of us. But I think especially for our teenagers who get a lot of their social time at school or through their activities of like the play or soccer or whatever. Now, all of a sudden that's all ripped away. And frankly with rather uncertain futures for the remainder of the school year. So, some of this I think is to just, I don't know, like it's sort of mourning the loss, acknowledging the fact that there are a lot of activities and rituals that will not take place. So, the school play that they worked so hard on, it will never happen. Or the prom, graduation or finishing up senior year together. So, to have some conversation to really acknowledge that, yeah, that does suck, and it's totally unfair, and it's terrible, and it's all of those things. And then also at a certain point, we need to move on and not be miserable.

Talk to your teenagers about, “how do you stay connected to your friends?” I know it's not the same. But how do you stay connected to your friends? I mean, they're good at texts. So, they can set up FaceTime chats and stuff like that. And I don't know, I mean, for myself, it's been a long time since I was a teenager, but I've been texting with some friends from high school. I've been texting with some friends from college, we're actually do like the Zoom meet up with a bunch of my college friends on Sunday night. We never ever do that. We just don't. Because everyone's crazy busy and whatever, and now we have the time. So, let's take advantage of the opportunity.

So, same thing with your teenagers. What are some things that now we can do? And I know the stereotype is teenagers are surly and they don't want to hang out with their parents. And that's sometimes true. It's not always true. That's a little bit of an overstatement. So, what are some things that we all can do as a family here that actually are fun?

Susan Buningh:  So, you've written some books for adults with ADHD. Can you talk about a few of the messages that you think are most important for adults with ADHD at this point?

Ari Tuckman:  I think the thing is, especially in this strange time, to recognize the fact that partners, well, romantic partners are always going to be different from each other. Like obviously there's some similarities, there's enough similarities, but there's always going to be differences. Whether one person has ADHD and one person doesn't, whether both have, whether neither has, whether it's a heterosexual couple, a same sex couple, a whatever couple, there's always going to be differences. All this time together can really magnify those differences. But I think it's also a time to try to appreciate some of those differences, and to really make a point of having conversation about, how do we get some time together here as well. One of the things that... So, my newest book, ADHD After Dark, where I look at couples with one ADHD partner and one without, one of the biggest barriers, or the cluster of the biggest barriers to a better sex life had to do with not having enough time or energy for sex.

And this is like, it's a little bit of a hidden blessing maybe. If we cannot be completely frustrated with each other all day, then maybe it means we get into bed a little bit earlier. Which might also, by the way, mean that we got to get the kids into bed a little bit earlier if we got them. Take advantage of this time. And that means working well together during the day, so that when it comes to night time you're actually going to want to spend that extra time together. And maybe something sexual happens or maybe it doesn't, like whatever. The important thing is that you make a point of spending some good time together and to feel more connected again. Because soon enough, this is all going to be done. And we're all going to be back to running a million miles an hour in a hundred different directions. There will indeed come a time where we look back and miss this time together, even if we don't miss the angst thing that was associated with it.

Susan Buningh:  And, of course there are some couples in the present circumstances who are not sheltering in place together for reasons of jobs. Do you have any suggestions for them for getting through this time?

Ari Tuckman:  Yeah. These are folks who already had a stress and now this is adding yet another stress. So, stress, it's an interesting thing when it comes to stress and relationships, because sometimes it pushes us closer together and sometimes it exacerbates existing splits and divisions and weaknesses between us. It kind of pushes us further apart. So, if you're not physically together, to then really make a point of figuring out how to otherwise be together. Whether it means just checking in with a couple of quick texts during the day or phone calls or video chats or whatever.

But, anyway, talk about how to make that a priority and talk about what each of you needs, and when are the good times. So, just as one example, I was talking to a college kid yesterday whose girlfriend is now working from home, and because some of her co-workers unfortunately were laid off, she's even busier than before. So, it was hard before for them to be in contact during the day and now it's even worse, except now she's on the other side of the country. So, to have some direct conversations about expectations, to try to prioritize that time. But, also to know when not to take it personally, if your partner isn't available during certain times.

Susan Buningh:  Do you have any suggestions for adults with ADHD finding themselves working from home maybe for the first time, do you have any advice for them?

Ari Tuckman:  Yeah. And this is a new reality. So, there's your standard working from home challenges, and then we have the, “I've never done this before and now we're Jerry rigging my old job into this new situation.” So, that's a wrinkle. And usually when we talk about working from home, we don't talk about having all of your family all around you also, right? So, that's like a whole another wrinkle as well. And the challenge of it is just the distractibility as well as just of having people there. But it's also depending on what your physical layout is, it may be really hard to get some space apart where you actually have a designated workplace, where you're not on top of each other or you're not overhearing each other. So you can create some, I don't know, auditory distance, is that a word, by maybe put on music, if that's a thing that helps.

Or alternatively, just putting on either white noise, so there's like the staticky stuff that like, for example, at a therapist's office, they might have those outside the doors. Or other stuff like crashing waves or cricket sounds or whatever, either through your speakers or through earphones so it blocks out hearing the other rustling around in the background. But to really think about how do I set up a good work environment, and then have some conversations with your family about it. And here's what I need, this is what works fast, rather than getting frustrated and then snapping, that's never the best way.

And there's other stuff like, I mean, this is a weird thing, but like, what are we doing with the pets? I'm sitting in the office/guestroom here in our house, my wife is in our bedroom, but we have a dog and two cats, and half the time they're scratching at the door to go one way or the other. So, I'm in the middle of the session and there's somebody scratching it. You can ignore it a couple of times, but then it's like, oh, they want to come in. So, that's a new thing. Never had to deal with that at the office. So, these are the conversations to have and then to keep having as it all evolves and you figure out what's going on.

Susan Buningh:  And also, support groups. A lot of people have been attending support groups, whether it's specifically to deal with ADHD. I know Alcoholics Anonymous for the first time in its history is offering its meetings via Zoom or other platforms. And I can imagine for a lot of folks, this is really a challenge. How do you preserve the anonymity of the other people in your meeting when you're in a house with all your family? And yet those kinds of supports are so vital for so many people.

Ari Tuckman:  So, I was supposed to present for the outside affiliate, the Bucks-Mont, Bucks County, Montgomery County, CHADD chapter in April. And let's all be clear that ain't happening, not in person. And even if we wanted to, the hospital that hosts them wouldn't let it anyway. So, we had some conversation amongst some of the local CHADD chapters of switching to Zoom meeting. And I think the thing there is to not get caught up on how it's different or not as good as, because it's easy to compare. And instead to focus on, okay, well, I will get from this what I can. And there may be some aspects of it that you find are actually better than the in-person meetings. And then there are parts that you don't like as much. But I think that in-person contact is really important.

So, on the conference committee, we've had a lot of conversations about this. Because there's so much available online, including like this thing we're doing right now. But so much of what people get out of the conference is that showing up in person, it's seeing people in the hallway, and it's talking to the exhibitors, and it's talking to that person who sits down next to you as you wait for the next session to start. So, that personal contact is really important. And I think whether it's CHADD meetings, whether it's AA meetings, whatever, to make a point of showing up for them, because it's still better than nothing.

Susan Buningh:  Is there anything else that you'd like to talk with our audience about today?

Ari Tuckman:  The big advice that I would give is, these are indeed uncertain times in that we do not know, it is unknowable as of this moment exactly, how this will all progress because it is evolving as it goes. And how it all shakes out depends on how we respond. And our response is evolving. So, therefore the outcome's evolving even more. So, be smart, do the things that you can do. And then for the rest, wait and see. And I know that's easy to say and it's much harder to do. But to focus on what are the opportunities presented by these strange circumstances, rather than fretting and being angry or anxious over the things that are not. And again, I know that's easy to say, but there are some benefits that we're getting from it. So, don't wait until we all return back to normal life and are crazy and busy and whatever, before you go, “Ah, darn it, that was actually kind of cool. I wish I had taken better advantage of it.” Really take advantage of it.

We didn't touch on the question, whether you should keep taking your meds during this time. Assuming it's like a stimulant for ADHD, things like antidepressants, you don't just stop those. But maybe the answer is no. But maybe the answer is actually more so. In these weird, unstructured, slightly chaotic times, you might actually find all the more benefit of taking the medication. Whereas the parent who maybe doesn't see their kid at school all day, who obviously certainly doesn't see your kid at school all day, might be really informative actually for you to see how your kid does on their meds. Or how they're not doing. So, there might be some incidental benefits that come from this. And be a little bit on the lookout for it. Which again, is not to minimize some of the significant suffering that is going on now, but to also balance that out with, what are the potential benefits of this unasked for situation.

Susan Buningh:  Thank you so very much for your time today.

Ari Tuckman:  Well, it is my pleasure. This made my day a little bit better as well. So, I hope it makes the listener's day a little bit better.

Announcer:  Thank you. In this time of crisis, we know everyone in our community is facing tremendous pressures. And CHADD and its National Resource Center on ADHD are here to help. We are committed to continuing to be the resource on which you can rely. For more information, visit our website at chadd.org and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.


This podcast is supported by Cooperative Agreement Number NU38DD000002-01-00 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.