“It’s As If I’m Living in My Head Instead of Living in My Life.”
“My mind is a whirl of worries, ‘what ifs,’ and ‘should haves.’” ADD symptoms in adults are often mistaken for laziness or irresponsibility, but inattentive ADHD is real and really exhausting. It is also isolating and discouraging, largely because inattentive symptoms are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, causing setbacks in treatment, relationships, and self-esteem. Read about the biggest daily challenges faced by adults with ADD.
Forgetfulness, distractibility, and emotionality are all manifestations of inattentive ADHD, or ADD, in adults. People with inattentive ADHD sometimes make careless mistakes because they have difficulty sustaining focus, following detailed instructions, and organizing tasks and activities, but these are not personal defects. ADD symptoms in adults are commonly misunderstood and misdiagnosed by caregivers and medical professionals. This leads to inadequate treatment, academic frustration, social setbacks, and shame that can last a lifetime.
ADDitude recently asked adults with ADD these questions: “What are your biggest challenges and how do your inattentive ADD symptoms affect your daily life? How would you explain your presentation of ADHD as opposed to ADHD with a strong hyperactivity component?” Below are their stories of daily struggles to conjure motivation, to finish tasks, to pay attention in conversations, to overcome time blindness, and more. Share your experience with inattentive ADHD in the Comments section bellow.
Commonly Misinterpreted ADD Symptoms in Adults
“The long periods of time that I sit still might have the appearance of laziness, but I am actually just overwhelmed by the rapid-fire making and changing of plans going on inside my head. I think my intelligence and ability to act under pressure is often underestimated. I actually thrive when it counts and the pressure is on – it gets me out of the endless loop of thoughts.” – Anonymous
“My biggest challenges are staying on task, procrastinating, socializing, and remembering that I’m not lazy. My symptoms make it easy to get behind, get overwhelmed, and then get burned out. My relationships are impacted because I forget things, I become very quiet when I’m drained, and I overreact because I can’t regulate my emotions. I am diagnosed with inattentive type, but like all people with ADHD, I have a hyperactive mind. While I may look like I’m doing nothing, my brain is at work.” – Anonymous
“My biggest challenge is finding my internal drive to move from where I am to whatever my next task is. Sometimes it feels like a Herculean effort. I’ve put off making appointments until I can’t handle the tooth pain anymore or my car is about to break down without repairs. This has limited my career since I’ve avoided multi-stepped projects. It can be physically painful to sit down and work on the minutiae.” – Erica
“My thoughts are constantly jumping from one thing to another, and I can’t stay focused on reading and writing tasks. I’m chronically late, extremely messy, and I’ll frequently forget what I’m doing, walk into a room and say, ‘Why am I here?’ This is mostly a problem while I’m working, but I also have trouble staying mentally present in social situations, most frustratingly in my sex life!” – Anonymous
“My biggest challenge is managing the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes from my mental hyperactivity. My mind is a whirl of worries, ‘what ifs,’ and ‘should haves.’ Others would never guess my inner turmoil based on my calm, albeit slightly distracted, exterior.” – Anonymous
“I am quiet and withdrawn, but there is plenty of hyperactivity in my head. I have social anxiety and I’m easily distracted during conversations, which make me miss important information. This is especially painful with a spouse or child interaction – they feel like I don’t care about what they have to say. My brain feels like a cloudy input mechanism that doesn’t store data coming in with appropriate priority.” – Anonymous
“My biggest struggle is with expressing my thoughts in a way that other people understand. It feels like I am able to say every third thought: my lips move too slowly. I also struggle to pay attention to what others are saying, which is terrible at work. I feel ashamed when I constantly have to ask them to repeat themselves.” – Anonymous
“I’m 36 years old and the biggest challenge for me is my lack of social skills. It’s frustrating because I feel like they are skills I should already know, or should have learned when I was younger, but I just can’t figure out how to function around other people. I always feel like a burden.” – Anonymous
“Completing projects, time blindness, and short-term memory are my biggest problems. My inattentive ADHD affects work and personal life – people don’t understand that I have ADHD because I am not hyperactive. I present as calm, but I am actually anxious and over-compensating.” – Anonymous
“For me, inattentive ADHD presents as excessive absentmindedness at work and in relationships. I get distracted by memories of shame, excitement, and other emotions. It’s as if I am living in my head instead of living in my life.” – Anonymous
“As a girl, I never had problems in school, but in university and self-employed work, I struggled with time management and meeting deadlines. Procrastination and emotional impulsivity are the main symptoms of my inattentive ADHD. Upbringing and social expectations led to suppressing my urges to externalize stress, which led to depressive symptoms. Only through therapy was I able to learn that it is okay to experience feelings deeply and live them in healthy ways.” – Christine
“My brain often feels like it is in a different place than wherever my body is. It is like I have to climb a mountain just to think through an idea that is longer than a sentence.” – Katie
“I have trouble being present. I am also hearing impaired, so people usually think that I did not hear them. I am forgetful and frequently succumb to anxious thoughts. Medication has improved my focus, my ability to be present, and my emotional regulation.” – Glenda
“I struggle to stay focused in conversations and pay attention to things I’m watching or reading. Unlike people with the hyperactive or impulsive presentations of ADHD, I don’t often get the urge to interrupt others. Instead, I tend to go off into my own little world and stop listening, so then I lose track of the conversation and contribute too little rather than too much.” – Anonymous
“Time blindness has made me late to weddings, funerals, and most appointments. I’m a 55-year-old female and was just recently diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. So many people, myself included, thought my tardiness was careless or rude. Now I finally have an explanation. I’ve worked out a method where I write down my arrival time and work backwards to determine how long it will take for each task up to leaving somewhere.” – Anonymous
“I have extreme difficulty paying attention. I obsess about something absolutely irrelevant and ridiculous, like how someone pronounced a word. Or, mid conversation, I completely forget what we are talking about.” – Holly
“My biggest challenge is getting proper help. When I was younger, I was always called lazy or irresponsible, and that still affects me as an adult.” – Megan
“I’ll listen to someone explain something and understand every word they said, and even respond to questions, but as soon as anyone finishes saying something to me, it vanishes from my mind. I could stare at the wall or floor for hours without feeling the passing of time.” – Anonymous
ADD in Adults: Next Steps
- Download: Your Free In-Depth Guide to Inattentive ADHD
- Learn: Why Even Parents Miss the Signs of Inattentive ADHD
- Read: Inattentive ADHD and Me
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Updated on May 25, 2021