Emotions & Shame

“What My Worst Days with ADHD Feel Like”

On good days, my acting skills are worthy of an Oscar. But on bad days, my ADHD pushes me into a dark, quiet personal world that few know exists. Here are 10 circumstances in which I feel overwhelmingly lost, alone, or confused — and no one else has a clue.

A lonely woman shows what ADHD can feel like.
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When My Thoughts Don’t Translate

I may look just like everyone else, but I know I’m different. I feel the most disconnected and dissimilar when I try — and fail — to communicate my  unique perspective. No one understands what I’m talking about; it’s almost as if I’m speaking a foreign language. At these times, I either feel as if I am the only sane and observant person present, or I feel isolated and misunderstood. Or both, especially when I see their eyes rolling as I speak. They don’t say anything, but I know what they’re thinking.

People in conversation in a restaurant may not understand what it feels like to have ADHD.
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When I’m Alone, But Surrounded

I love people. Conversation is like an indulgent dessert — most days. But on bad days, my racing brain drowns out all sound and paralyzes my brain and my tongue. When I sit among friends engaged in conversation on those bad days, my body is there, but my mind is elsewhere. You think I hear what you're saying, but all I hear is mumbling. I try to focus on your words, but my darting mind sabotages me. When my emotions are this strong, I have no words. It’s hard to speak; it’s even harder to listen.

Sometimes ADHD can feel like climbing from the bottom of a tunnel.
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When Worry Takes Over

The imagination is a wonderful trait when used for good. But my ADHD imagination has a habit of running wild, meandering down harmful paths filled with negative thoughts that stick like Velcro. Catastrophic images appear. Every situation is accompanied by a what-if, worst-case scenario; and that’s when the spiraling cycle begins. How could the same imaginative power that allows some people with ADHD to compose symphonies, paint masterpieces, and develop computer programs, be so crippling? I beat myself up over this some more.

On bad days, ADHD can make you feel like just hiding out inside your own apartment with your dog.
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When I Can’t Physically Relax

I dream of sinking into a comfy couch and just relaxing my whole body — feeling totally comfortable and content. It’s such a simple pleasure that I’ve never known. I’m always adjusting my legs, arms, back… one minute I’m fine, but a moment later, the chair is stabbing me in the back or the pillow is too soft. I’m restless. I squirm constantly. I know people are looking at me, but how can I begin to explain the discomfort of having senses in perpetual overdrive? It’s easier to keep my discomfort to myself. But this can make it hard to enjoy being with others. My discomfort takes up space in my mind, and I’m sure I’m not fun to be with when I’m constantly complaining. It’s easier to stay home and hang out in a baggy shirt and drawstring pants.

A man driving in the rain — an example of what it feels like to have ADHD.
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When My Senses Overload

On a recent trip to a vineyard, my friends and I were driving down a very narrow dirt road in a beat-up old rented van that wouldn’t go in reverse. When we became wedged between barbed wire and bushes scraping the side of the car, I panicked. We weren’t in danger, but I began screaming out loud, “Get me out of here! Help!” Everyone else was fine. One person was laughing. Another one was quiet. Not me. I was screaming, despite the fact that I was safe and with friends. They still love me. But boy, did I feel embarrassed. Some days it would be nice to react normally to small setbacks and sensory challenges.

A forest with blurs of stars overhead. ADHD can make the world feel like it is moving too fast.
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When Focus Just Won’t Come

ADHD is frustrating. People don’t understand why I can’t focus when I need to. "Just do it," they say. Really?!? I am. But as I focus, new ideas emerge like shooting stars, bursting through my mind. I can’t ever find a quiet space to focus because my mind is so noisy and busy all the time. Even when its bandwidth is full and I feel overloaded, my brain is capable of receiving more data. This is when my focus wanders, and I feel isolated, alone, and misunderstood.

A woman with ADHD puts her head down in despair.
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When I Feel Like a Fraud

I doubt myself. I may appear tough on the outside, but inside my mind I’m criticizing every action, every word, and every decision I make. Behind the façade, there is a woman who feels misunderstood. I act as if I’ve got it together, and sometimes I do. But there are many times when I feel like a fraud and my mind begins telling me, “Who am I kidding? The truth will come out. People will see how incapable I am.”

Living with ADHD can make even remembering your keys a difficult feat.
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When I’m Fighting My Own Mind

ADHD is a largely invisible condition (except for those times I run around the house frantically searching for my keys, of course). Everyone has an invisible self, but most people seem to behave according to their thoughts. People with ADHD, on the other hand, have so many competing thoughts vying loudly for attention and action in our brains that it becomes hard to move. Our speeding minds freeze our bodies because we don’t know where or how to begin. At the times when bombarding thoughts physically disable me, I have no choice but to stop and reset. Observers might assume I’m being selfish or slow or lazy, but I challenge them to spend 10 minutes inside my head without a time-out, too.

A woman with ADHD pays bills.
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When My Inner Struggle Feels Endless

Oh, if only others knew the battle I fight all day. “I want” is in constant combat with “I should” in my brain. My adult self knows what I should be doing, but the child inside me says, no. I watch other adults performing responsible tasks like paying bills, making appointments, doing laundry, and managing mail. But for me, those “simple” tasks can easily cause me to fall into the black hole of shame and guilt. At those times, paying a bill is not paying a bill; it is coming face-to-face with a lifetime of financial disorganization that can’t be fixed in an afternoon.

The To Do list of a person with ADHD
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When I Forget My Survival Systems

In spite of the intense internal struggle of ADHD, I do mostly maintain a healthy, responsible lifestyle thanks to prioritized self-care. Even though the simple tasks continue to challenge me, my systems help me function and keep me on track. ADHD is never easy. But with self-awareness — knowing my strengths and knowing how to manage my weaknesses — ADHD is easier to live with. The trick is trusting in those systems and that self-awareness when you need them most.