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
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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.

[Free Download: You Know You Have ADHD When...]

A messy desk of someone with ADHD wondering, "Am I going to get fired for being disorganized?"
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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.

[How to Banish Negative Thoughts & Feelings]

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.

[Free Download: You Know You Have ADHD When...]

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  1. June this is like you totally described my life perfectly!! I would love to know how you overcame these things and how to make your life better and get rid of the mess etc. Please contact me. Thanks. Rachel Dell

    1. I’m in there with you Rachel. All of this is me. I’m desperate to break out and finally have something to show for the wonderful things I know I’m capable of.

    2. Me too Rachel. Yup… Heart is broken. Life is broken. Anxiety is unspeakable. House is a disaster. Bills and late fees leave me hopeless. Can’t find a job. Relationship is practically destroyed. And how ever alone I feel almost always. Understood your article one thousand percent. My heart goes out to you. Love you! Your friend~ Kelly

      1. I have been Dx with anxiety & depression, but I really think I have ADD. I Don’t feel like doing anything, & my depression pill doesn’t help with that. I am overwhelmed with all I need to do, but procrastinate. Help what do I do

  2. I love this so much. I’m thinking I should show it to my husband so he will understand, just a little, what I go through every. single. day. Pretty amazing, the number of coping mechanisms I have used to make it look like I have it together.

  3. This is me. I go through so much of this everyday. I don’t have young children living with me but my poor dog runs when I yell at myself for misplacing my phone, keys, whatever. My friends say they understand but they don’t and never will. I spent a year with a therapist who didn’t think I needed the meds that save me. When I’m out in the world people see a well put together, well functioning woman. To me it’s a facade I’ve become adept at presenting.

  4. This is my life exactly. My family cannot be convinced that I suffer from Adhd. I have full confidence in myself that I will mess up anything I take on and so, I do nothing. I’m 40 and stuck.. can’t move forward from pain and fear. Thanks for writing this. At least I know I’m not crazy.

  5. Thank you for sharing your pain with me, with us. It has really spoken to me and the struggles I face. I am an adult male with inattentive ADD with a wife with hyperactive ADD. We both were diagnosed only about 5 years ago, after decades of strife, discouragement, and disappointment. Our two daughters in college also are managing their lives with ADD, though they are getting a 25 year head-start on us with that. So, collectively, your article spoke to my whole family and our daily reality. It gives me courage to press on and take each day with renewed purpose. Thank you.

  6. This post was so extremely helpful and comforting. I can relate to every singe one of these posts. It makes me feel better knowing that I am not alone in feeling this way. thank you, really.

  7. AMEN! I would have posted sooner, except I forgot my username and password, which required me to reset it, which required me to remember which email address is used. Irony ehhh? Made me laugh. Some days I think, it’s a good thing I lost the keys to my car else I might drive over a cliff. But on a serious note, a few weeks ago I had to attend a training class with other team members jncluding my boss, whom I never met in real life because I work remotely from my home office. Well, great impression made. I was late everyday. Now in my mind I’m sure my boss thinks I’m a pure incompetent fool not worth even half my salary. Now, I beg to differ because the work I do, the real work, which debugging and designing custom solutions for software for hospitals, I do well. I have a knack for it, and I’ve been doing it for a bit of time, but I’ve always had an intuitive feel for figuring out code. But, I feel embarrassed about being late, and sending in my expense reports late, and all that bs. My friend at work told me I should call our EAP person and discuss bc so much of what my boss grades me on are the things I’m not really great at, and the things I am good at, aren’t looked at or measured. This is effecting my leadership scores and bonus money etc. I’d love to hear from anyone who might have similar issues and anyone who has discussed adhd workplace issues with EAP Nursee/Counselor and how it went. Love you all so much bc I know we all love with this sadnesss and we worry about how people juspdge us and it’s very hard to talk about adult adhd since most people think it’s a middle school hoax-disorder. — Nicole.

    1. Most experts recommend that you do NOT disclose ADHD in the workplace. Instead of saying “I have ADHD so I can’t do these things well…” say, “I am great at ____ and _____ and _____, but I struggle with being on time to meetings and _____. [This strategy] would help me a great deal…”

      https://www.additudemag.com/could-disclosing-my-adhd-at-work-protect-me-from-getting-fired/
      https://www.additudemag.com/workplace-legal-protection/

      Penny
      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

  8. I recognize a lot of these consequences in my current stage of life. As I look back at my life I see how these things have held me back for so long. I recently lost the greatest love of my life due to what wasn’t discovered in time as ADD.

    The best way I can describe my life is that it is as if I have walked upon a town destroyed by a tornado. I know everything that needs to be done but I just don’t know where to start.

    I am taking medication, changing my diet and have returned to exercising (love that runners high!) but these only address the chemical imbalances. It’s also unlearning bad habits and building new ones that work best for me. In which lies the struggle- where to start?

    I have been going to a therapist who was the one who suggested I get tested for ADD. Bless that man! For a year the focus was on how unhappy I was in my relationship. Then it was how miserable I was after it ended. I’m still miserable but it’s not just her absence that I’m miserable about. It’s the renewed awareness of my failures, my station in life and the struggle ahead of me that has me frightened to tears. I have no choice but to charge ahead asking for help from friends, loved ones and professionals along the way. I feel like I’m heading in the right direction personally. Professionally I’m figuring things out which may involve changing what I do- terrifying. For now though I’m sticking with what I do and even have a plan. 2017 tripled my income. 2018 will do the same. That’s how bad 2016 was. Actually that’s how bad the last 15 years have been. My motivation isn’t June (ironic that my ex has the same name as the author) it’s me. It’s so that when I fall in love again I’ll be able to be in love, to do love and be loved in return. If it doesn’t happen again then I’ll just love my much better self and be just as satisfied with that.

  9. June,

    As usual, you nailed it. I just went through calling myself stupid, actually, an idiot, because I made an online mistake paying a bill that will probably cost me $60 in “stupid tax.” But it helps when someone else describes it so perfectly. You are a real blessing to this community. Happy Hannukah!

  10. Jesus, woman, get out of my head! Hit the wall of shame with a resounding smash today, and this was just what I needed to read. It’s easy to begin thinking these challenges are exaggerated when you are the only one struggling. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  11. I’m tempted to print out your essay and hand it out to my friends and strangers when I get the “look”. It’s so lonely being me in a neurotypical world. I find myself isolating more and more. Even my very smart and well educated analyst doesn’t get it, not really. For example: I’m not over sensitive because I had a difficult childhood, I’m over sensitive because I have a differently wired brain. All the talk therapy in the world can’t change that. I don’t have trouble remembering doctors appointments and am covered with mysterious bruises because I don’t love myself. I don’t love my struggles with ADD. I don’t love living in shame, constantly losing things, feeling misunderstood because what I meant to say came out wrong, the agony of standing in line, or the pain of having to do something boring, the failed relationships and the need to please everyone so I won’t get hurt. I do appreciate having an artistic mind, the razor like focus I bring to something that interests me, the ability to see solutions others miss and the empathy and generosity of spirit I have for friends and strangers alike. I wish we had a club like Mensa where we could all get together and laugh about our foibles and feel “normal”.

  12. That bit you said about communication is really helping me put words to a huge, daily obstacle of frustration with all my relationships and conversations. I often find myself parting the conversation feeling humiliated and frustrated with my seeming lack of ability/control to represent myself well or in ways that make me feel truly like myself. This can be through the silencing you mentioned or an endless stream of rambling! Inwardly, both conversations part very similarly. Thank you for your eloquent and vulnerable article!

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