Emotions & Shame

Never Caught Up, Never Balanced, Never Believed

They say it’s what you can’t see that usually kills you. So why is it that my hidden, silent struggles with ADHD are so often dismissed? Condemned? Ridiculed? The daily challenges are real, and really depleting when it feels like the whole world is wagging its finger.

Young woman standing in a park, as a way to escape the silent suffering of ADHD
Young woman refreshing at park
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Life In My Head

My ADHD brain is like a never-purged, always-running hard drive. Without any overarching folder system, all input is met with grueling, exhaustive analysis. I fill my days trying to categorize the tsunami of thoughts, ideas, worries, and possibilities that overwhelm me. I overthink every event, every conversation, every decision. And then, inevitably, my overwhelmed brain crashes. And no one has any idea except me — the worsted operator — because ADHD is invisible. Much like my suffering.

Here are the ways I crash my brain on a daily basis, and what I’d like the rest of the world to know about why, how, and where it happens — despite my best intentions and daily worries.

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Never Caught Up, Never Early

I am blind to time. This is not a metaphor; I quite literally don’t compute the passage or estimation of time accurately. I also never learn to resist daily temptations to squeeze in "just one more thing." As a result, I’m always frantically rushing to catch up. I’m late to wake up (hitting snooze four times), late for work, late to finish last-minute projects, late paying bills, late filling out forms, and late making doctors’ appointments. Everything is last minute. Even when I’m on time, there’s a last-minute fumble: Where’s my phone? The papers I need? My sunglasses? And then, when finally I’m locking the door, my smoothie spills on my skirt and I have to go back and change clothes.

What about the person waiting for me on the other end? I feel bad, do it anyway, and then feel worse. It’s the only way I know; I’m not proud of it.

A woman working on homework silently and suffering from a headache
Young woman with laptop computer for homework.
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Never Confident of My Decisions

It’s embarrassing to admit how many hours I waste trying to make decisions. The smallest, simple things drain away all of my time and stress reserves: compiling a to-do list, deciding what to eat or which outfit to wear, choosing a route or a time to leave the house, or weighing what to say in an email or text. Forget about big decisions! Those are the ones that re-appear at 3 a.m. for weeks, even after I’ve made a decision. Still, I ruminate and second guess myself. It’s mental torture. I’m never at peace. Choices are black holes that suck me in and won’t let go. Decisions become an abyss.

[Free Download: 15 Ways to Disarm (and Understand) Explosive ADHD Emotions]

Woman trying to do too much, holding a credit card in her mouth and suffering on the phone
Woman holding credit card in her mouth
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Never Consistently Productive

My internal energy flow is unstable at best, untamed and destructive at worst. I can’t predict when bursts of energy or whole-system shutdowns are going to happen, but I do know it’s usually one or the other. I’m all in or all out — either hyperfocused or staring frozen at my to-do list. When energy bursts come, I align with them, push myself as hard as I can; and then collapse when they pass. Either that or I wipe out big time. I’ve got to learn how to surf the big waves that might pull me under and try to ride the small ones that don’t take me anywhere as well. Some days, the flow is so low that I just can’t muster the strength to paddle. Staying afloat is hard enough.

A woman suffering under the weight of many shopping bags, in a silent mall
young woman female shopper standing with colorful paper bags in hands in shopping mall or department store, focus on hands
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Never Enough

I’m an obsessive email checker. I’m not sure what I expect to find in my inbox, but checking it excites me as if I were a wide-eyed child anticipating Christmas. Finally, I took the email off my phone because I couldn’t restrain myself. With the fiery urge of a gambler at a roulette table, I fight daily to resist food, drinks, purchases, and words. Nothing is ever enough; I always want more cookies, chips, clothes, shoes, and purses. Controlling my impulses is a daily battle — one that I feel I never win. I take on more than I should and end up causing myself, and others, unnecessary stress.

A messy dresser, causing silent suffering to the owner
Scattered clothes and shoes in the drawers of the dresser
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Never Put Away

Cleaning up is not rocket science. So why is it so hard to take off a shirt and hang it up or walk 10 steps to the hamper? I honestly don’t know, but here is what happens: Looking at the clothes in my hand, I tell myself I’ll hang them up later. Somehow “later” never comes because there’s always something more important to worry about. Clothes, papers, mail are quiet; they can wait. It’s not that I don’t have enough clothes; it’s that they’re all piled up on a chair. If laundry gets washed, it doesn’t get put away. Laundry baskets, couches, or chairs become drawers. I hear myself thinking, It takes too much time to put it away properly. That’s why my piles of paper get so high. Ironically, I can find anything I need when the time comes. But the clutter affects my home and my sanity.

ADHD woman has headache which may be caused by her ADHD medication
ADHD woman has headache which may be caused by her ADHD medication
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Never Quiet with Myself

The silent suffering that is perhaps most painful — and hidden — is that caused by the repetitive rambling thoughts as they continuously run through my brain. Like wild horses on a rampage, my thoughts consume me involuntarily and unexpectedly. While I’m creating unrealistic scenarios; I tell myself not to listen. These thoughts are not real. But the pictures I see are vivid and clear in my mind; imagination becomes reality. If you ask me what’s wrong, I’ll tell you I’m fine rather than put words to the visions. I struggle to regain serenity with breathing, yoga, nature walks, positive reframing, and spiritual mantras. That’s an effort requiring concentration, isolation, and strength: three traits that don’t come easily.

[7 Emotions That Knock Us Off Our Feet]

A man silently breaking a pencil, suffering from anger
Man breaking red/orange pencil
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Never Faster Than My Emotions

I’m a mature adult, at least on the outside. But inside I’m too often a five-year-old child screaming, Stop telling me what to do! You’re not the boss of me! When these oppositional defiant responses slip out, I hang my head in shame or try to hide behind a tough exterior. Passive-aggressive is my middle name and I know that’s not healthy, so I beat myself up asking, Why is it so hard to be nice? What is the matter with me? I’m not a bad person but I feel like one. It’s hard to control my sadness, anger, fear, and worries. It all happens so fast, and then I’m left with guilt, shame, and regret for hurting the people I love.

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Never a Psychological Gatekeeper

I have associative brain disorder. That’s not a clinical diagnosis; it’s a name I created to reflect the stream-of-consciousness, no-brakes, no-boundaries way my brain works. Wide open to receive and process any and every thought, my mind feels like dominoes dropping one after the other. One thought leads to another, then another, and click-clack they fall all day. Without any organized compartments for my ideas, my brain gets overloaded and defensively shuts down. At times, this is a heavy burden to bear; when my thoughts are scary and the ideas come so fast, I feel powerless. Nothing gets accomplished.

Mother comforting her crying daughter, who was suffering silently all day
Mother comforts crying daughter on white bed
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Never Lacking Empathy

Caring for and about other people is an admirable trait. I take pride and joy in my empathy and compassion. But thanks to my ADHD, compassion sometimes takes my mind, body, and thoughts hostage. At times, I become engulfed in experiencing my loved ones’ feelings. My worry and anxiety grow stronger until I become so paralyzed I can’t concentrate, communicate, or function. When it comes to helping others, I have to go slowly and take time to carefully examine the situation because my desire to help, give, and do for others overrules my good judgment. I often ask myself: Am I people-pleasing or enabling? Or am I sincerely helping my loved ones move forward?

A man working in a busy, silent nursery, not suffering because he loves his job
Man working in nursery, pushing cart with plants (blurred motion)
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Never Balanced

Everything in moderation, right? In theory maybe. But when I try to balance my workload, relationships, and personal endeavors — equally distributing time for exercise, meals, work, family, and friends — I never get anything but frustrated. When I start cooking, exercising, socializing, or working I can’t stop. I know productivity is achieved through balance, but when I go in, I go in deep. I can’t stop the flow. Nor do I want to. “In the flow” is my favorite place to be. But not knowing how to break that hyperfocus can harm my productivity, relationships, and health.

A woman suffering from insomnia uses her cell phone in bed, dark silent bedroom
A woman using her cell phone in bed, in a dark room
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Never Rested

Completely exhausted at the end of the day, I follow my 30-minute bathroom routine before checking Facebook and Instagram one last time and letting my head hit the pillows. I close my eyes and take a few breaths. And then it happens: every negative thought that flitted through my mind that day comes back to the surface. As I lie there, watching the movie in my mind, it's hard to settle my thoughts and fall asleep. I’m exhausted but I can’t rest and I can’t escape the monster keeping me awake.

A man suffering in silence while his female friend yells at him for being lazy
Male And Female College Students Arguing In Classroom
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Never Believed

ADHD is real, yet skeptics outnumber believers. Everyone is distracted nowadays, people say. I understand that people feel stressed, busy, and overloaded. I feel that way, too, but with a greater intensity and frequency than most people can comprehend. Everyone else, it seems, gets a break from their overwhelm; I don’t. ADHD is forever.

[You Are Not the Villain: ADHD, Emotions & Self-Blame]

20 Related Links

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I can’t even tell you how good it feels to know I’m not just a mess of my own making. Every single thing you explain is me all over. Since my diagnosis I reflect so much on the cost of ADHD to my life and happiness.

    1. I was diagnosed when I was 37, placed on medication for the severity. I moved out of the county to continue my care. It’s been almost 4 years now that I’ve dealt with life unmanageable due to the psychiatric care or my inability to Express it in a manner that can justify a diagnosis that has already been established. They don’t believe me because they don’t. Thank you for sharing the exact process of everything I experience. What treatment plan helped you with manageability. What process was taken for the diagnosis that you identified in your write?

  2. I am interested in reading this article by June Silny but only the first paragraph shows before comments on my ipad in page view with a photo and amother para in portrait view and that only after a long wait ( not normal on my network) Comments make the unshown article seem very intrigueing. In fact photo has disappeared again now that i flip to portrait view.

  3. Patience comes in small doses to me and so did this fabulous descriptive article. Definitely worth the wait for the slide show photo handles. I have not seen nor read descriptors so photo like of what our life is . Thank you for this.

  4. It’s so beautiful to know I’m not alone. I’m not sure why but it comforts me. I think it’s because I say to myself… other ADHDers are surviving today you can too Ntjhu!. This must be monumental for us all, to know now what’s in our heads are in all of our heads, we aren’t different, we are normal ADHDers! That’s Beautiful! ❤️.

  5. This article could not explain me more or ADHD. I think there are ways to not overthink, not get overwhelmed and find balance in our lives and I think once we master this, our lives will be much more
    At peace and happier. A lot of years I didn’t understand myself, a lot of times now when I tell myself it’s my ADHD overthinking again, I immediately stop myself or push away a negative thought. We don’t need to feel bad or guilty about every little thing. We may have overactive minds that people don’t understand but it s okay because our hearts are always in the right place and I think we are some of the most caring kind people and when people finally realize this they will accept the way we are.

  6. I have never commented here before but for this I even reset my password to log in. This writer needs to put this in a book. It explains everything(almost). Brilliant!

    The only thing I’d add for me is when I was at my worst my conversations made no sense. From one tangent to another(a psychiatric nurse thought I was bipolar because of that). Just going through my thoughts out loud. I still do this some but I try to pull myself back to the point. Medication and hard work is helping with this.

    I relate to this article so much. If anyone questions ADHD in adults especially female, I’m gonna send them this. I’ve already sent it to my mother.

    Thank you so much for writing this!

    1. Did you write the new password down? Haha! Your comment about even resetting your password to comment says IT ALL. about how amazing this description is of the constant swirl of guilt and embarrassment and wanting to get it right but always being a mess and a walking disaster, when all you want is to feelllike you have your act together. But not just the surface illusion – to truly be organized and able to remember things so what comes out of our minds reflects our smarts and passions, rather than a poorly interjected comment where you forgot the key point of the story you were trying to tell, but now no one is interested. Oh, boy.

      Thank you so much for putting these feelings into words. This is something that I can share with others who are lucky enough to have their acts together and who think that when we are late it is because we don’t value other people’s time. Not so empathetic. And not at all why we are late. 🙄🤦🏼‍♀️🙏

  7. This is HANDS DOWN, the BEST description I have read in IDK how long! It may even just be, THE BEST!
    So incredibly Accurate & Explained so beautifully!
    I love that I saw this today 💜

    Thank U

  8. Agree with the other comments so much about the accuracy of this description of adult ADHD. I have been struggling so much lately with the overwhelm and the energy vs. crashing, that I had begun to think I had a mood disorder. ADHD makes more sense, and although my doctor hesitates to diagnose it, he did put me on a stimulant a couple years ago. I just need to stay the course, ride the waves, and keep learning to understand myself better. This article really helped, especially the idea of my brain not having a filter and letting everything in, being part of why I always feel so disorganized even though I look organized to other people. Thank you!

  9. Dear June, It’s as if I wrote this article. 48 years old – diagnosed at 40. Still struggle daily and don’t think adhd is a blessing or a gift. It is exhausting and I’m full of self doubt everyday. I would never wish this on anyone – and yet I had my children before I knew about it. So now I’ve passed it to them. And I feel just terrible about it.

  10. I laughed in relief more than once while reading this article, especially when I read, “Laundry baskets, couches, or chairs become drawers”. Yep, nailed it with every point. It’s so reassuring and comforting to know that others understand the continual internal torment that cannot be explained to those unfamiliar with ADHD. Such empathy helps silence the self-shaming that all too often defeats me. Thank you. Another excellent article that I’ll pass on to my sons just as I have my genetic makeup.

  11. My son has ADHD and has described to me many of these things that you highlight. Thank you so much for sharing so we can better understand what he is going through.

  12. Every word that you said is so true. I am 50. And surviving gets harder and harder.. The saddest thing for me is the experience and the realization that you can only manage your symptoms to a small degree of improvement and for certain, usually not long enough, periods of time. With the best medication, best coaches, best possible mindfullness and positoveness and faith, the worst symptoms WILL come back. They always do. Sooner or later there will be a crash, an energy dump, apathy and scornfullness. And just one week of such ‘exasperation’ can ruin all good things that i accumulate, mend, build, or achieve during the entire ‘good and well managed’ life.
    ADHD is forever and always. Temporarily illusions of wellness are just temporary. The realization that i will Always be ‘socially behind’ and inadequate is very sad. Each next downfall can only be softened or numbed, but never prevented or avoided. …Alas

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