Emotions & Shame

9 Ways ADHD Breaks My Heart Every Day

Somedays, I am my own sadness. Other times, my loved ones stab my heart — often without realizing it or intending to. As a defense mechanism, I’ve trained myself to laugh or shrug or make a self-deprecating comment. But I’m here to tell you the emotional pain is real — and constant, if seldom visible.

For an adult with ADHD, a lost phone can cause emotional pain
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The Emotional Consequences of ADHD

When you have ADHD, a forgotten grocery item is never just a gallon of milk or an egg carton. A misplaced phone is never just a momentary inconvenience. Lost keys are never a joke.

These daily transgressions, ones that other people might laugh off, are psychological woodpeckers. They tap away at our minds and spirits every day until we crack right in half — the slow rot of disappointment and shame and loss of hope doing us in.

And just like that, a lost phone turns into a full-blown explosion in front of your toddler. A momentary lapse during a conversation strains your marriage. Lost keys make you late for work, full of road rage, and crippled by heart-pounding anxiety.

All that remains are deflated dreams, broken relationships, and family turmoil.

ADHD person holds a ripped paper heart
ADHD person holds a ripped paper heart
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My Daily Emotional Pain

Career, home, and health problems happen to everyone. But when you have ADHD, the emotional pain and suffering never cease.

I’m a woman with ADHD, a mother of children with ADHD, and an ADHD coach. The experiences I live with and the stories I hear make me cry. I watch one struggle lead to another struggle and another until the mess feels it will bury you alive.

Here are the ways that ADHD breaks my heart over and over again.

The emotional pain of ADHD is like hitting a brick wall
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1. My Brick Walls Fortified by ADHD

Like a bull in a china shop, I’m told every day that I’m bumping into things. Yes, I drop my phone, trip when I’m walking, and spill my drink when I open the car door. But, mostly, my bumping is mental, not physical.

A few minutes after starting a new task, I often hit a brick wall of confusion or distraction or overwhelm or disinterest. No matter how hard I try, I can’t break through or climb over the barrier.

I may be staring at the computer, a book, or a blank piece of paper when I suddenly notice that nothing is happening; it’s as if my brain has stopped working. No data comes in, and no data goes out. I sit and wait for the empty space to fill up with thoughts and productivity, but I must also prepare myself in case it doesn’t.

No one understands the frustration I feel as I go through the day bumping into walls. I cry because I can’t break through and because I know people look at me as an irresponsible procrastinator. They don’t know that my frozen brain is full of anxiety, self-doubt, and fear.

[Self-Test: Inattentive ADHD Symptoms in Adults]

A messy desk of someone with ADHD wondering, "Am I going to get fired for being disorganized?"
messy desktop with mouse, part of keyboard and lamp, stacks of envelops and files, office supplies and small receipts, some pc equipment as well lying around, coffee, remains of food, coffee stains on papers, part of series,
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2. My Cluttered House and Cluttered Brain

For a time, I lived in a state of hopeless disarray. No matter how cluttered my house or my car become, nothing inspired change — not even embarrassment or shame.

I didn’t want to live this way, but I couldn’t figure out how to get out from under my looming piles. Weekly laundry lingered at the bottom of my weekly to-do list, so the shirt I wanted to wear was forever crumpled in a pile at the bottom of a hamper or wrinkled beyond recognition. I couldn’t find anything to wear, so I would buy new clothes that I couldn’t afford.

I remember when I lived like this, and it breaks my heart to think of the pain I caused myself and my loved ones.

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3. My Financial Mess

My heart breaks for all the unpaid bills, late fees, and bad credit reports that mar my financial history. Paying bills on time is a challenge for me. Online payments are helpful, but only if I sign up for auto pay because important bills always land at the bottom of a pile of neglected papers. And only if there’s money left in the bank account, too.

I’m blind to time so I live in the moment, not thinking about the chance that I’ll be living without electricity if I don’t have money to pay the bill. Future effects of immediate actions don’t register in my ADHD brain, so for a time I lived from paycheck to paycheck with overdraft fees from purchases I didn’t need. I lived like this, and I know I could fall back into that trap at any time.

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4. My Avoidance and Denial

I cry because the simple task of making a doctor’s appointment stays on my to-do list for three weeks before the pain becomes unbearable and I make the call. It’s easier to ignore the discomfort and hope the pain will vanish. Maybe the toothache will go away. Maybe I don’t need a check-up yet. I tell myself that I feel fine.

I’m a responsible, functioning adult, so what’s so hard about making an appointment? I know what I have to do, but for some unexplainable reason it’s never the opportune time, or I forget (again), or I get tangled up in tangential anxiety and it just doesn’t happen.

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5. The Meltdowns

At times, I barely recognize my child with ADHD. The uncontrollable anxiety. The slammed doors. The fists through the walls. I stand by helplessly, watching you suffer — waiting and praying that the meltdown will pass quickly.

Small triggers create huge reactions in an ADHD brain. Unfinished projects, a spoken word, the disappointment of things not working out as you hoped — they can all jolt you into a major meltdown. The response rarely matches the incident.

Helpless and frightened, I stand by and try to hold myself together. Exhausted and shattered, you wait for the calm to return, and exhale a sigh a relief when it does.

[Self-Test: Could You Have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?]

A woman looks at her phone in emotional pain
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6. My Inability to Communicate

You know that dream where you’re trying desperately to scream, but nothing comes out? That’s me in many everyday conversations.  The words in my head don't form sentences in my mouth. Like many women with ADHD, I’m a people pleaser, which means I worry that saying what I think will create a rift in the relationship. Maybe I’ll hurt someone I love. Maybe my boss will fire me. Maybe my friends will no longer call. I don’t trust what I want to say and I remain silent in fear, holding in my thoughts and emotions.

A woman lays in bed in emotional pain
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7. My Fear of Failure

The fear of failure is a pseudo-paradox. If you allow emotional paralysis to trigger unproductivity, the failure you fear has already happened. You have allowed fear to create your failure.

Throughout the day, a negative voice tells me over and over again how stupid I am. If I listen too hard, there’s no way I can tap into my strengths. In this way, ADHD can make me believe I’m worthless. But I don’t have to listen; that is my choice alone.

A woman sits on the floor in emotional pain.
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8. My Invisible Pain

ADHD can cause physical discomfort. Hyper-attentive can feel squirmy and anxious — like worms crawling up my back under my shirt. Tags, seams, clothing that is too tight or too loose — all of these daily annoyances can cause agitation.

Shoes hurt. Hair is pulled too tight. Crowds are claustrophobic. I’m constantly adjusting myself in search of comfort, which I never find. Please be patient with me, don’t make fun of me, and give me a little space to get settled. I cry because people judge, criticize, and refuse to understand.

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9. My Injured Sense of Self-Worth

You’re not as bad off as you think you are. Yes, ADHD brings with it difficult traits that are hard to manage, but it also brings a strength of character that I fear my child will never see or appreciate in himself.

Most of all, I cry because I see you — the real you that you cannot see. I wish I had a magic mirror to hold up before you so you could see how extraordinary you truly are.

[How to Banish Negative Thoughts & Feelings]