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.

ADHD Emotions
Mood swing concept. Many emotions surround young female with Bipolar disorder. Woman suffers from hormonal with a change in mood. Mental health vector illustration
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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.

women with adhd, alone in a crowd
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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.

Whether anger, worry, or betrayal, our emotions are never mild. We feel intensely. Add to that our ADHD impulsivity, and you might understand the explosions of emotion that shows up in a flash. Some experts call this “flooding.” With passionate urgency, words come flying out of our mouths before we can process what it is we want to say. We say words we soon regret, frequently apologizing and requesting forgiveness. 
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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.

[Get This Free Download: How to Rein In Intense ADHD Emotions]

A woman with ADHD sleeps on a sofa with a book over her face.
A woman with ADHD sleeps on a sofa with a book over her face.
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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.

Many ADDers can't screen out sensory input. Sometimes this is related to only one sensory realm, such as hearing. In fact, the phenomenon is called hyperacusis (amplified hearing), even when the disruption comes from another of the five senses. For example, the slightest sound in the house prevents falling asleep. ADDers have their worlds constantly disrupted by experiences of which the neurotypical is unaware.
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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.

Out of focus picture of the word “FOCUS” illustrating the risk of using your hyperfocus to complete the wrong task
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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.

Imposter syndrome, perfectionist traits
Imposter syndrome.woman standing for her present profile with fear after door . Anxiety and lack of self confidence at work; the person fakes is someone else concept
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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.”

[Your Free Expert Guide: Unraveling the Mysteries of Your ADHD Brain]

Close-up of ADHD person wearing boxing gloves over white background
Close-up of ADHD person wearing boxing gloves over white background
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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.

Illustration concept image of a paper head with scribbling in the middle to indicate confusion
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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
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.

[Read This Next: ADHD-Friendly Tools for Handling Emotional Stress]

10 Comments & Reviews

  1. June, thanks for writing this! Sometimes I feel exactly the same way in regard to worrying thoughts that seem like they spiral into a vast negative space and leave me feeling desperate and anxious. It’s so good to know that’s not a unique feeling!

  2. June, thank you so much!

    I have to admit that this article made me cry. I never realized that when I have my bad days, they were bad ADHD days. I always thought it was my anxiety playing up. It’s not only like this, only a handful of days in a month, but it threw me off. “Why am I so cranky? What’s wrong with me? Nothing truly bad is happening…” I would constantly say to myself, but I could never get to the root of my problem. Your article made me realize that I’m not alone on days like these like I had originally thought I was. Thank you again!

    1. I also cried at this. I’ve never really understood ADHD, and even though I have it, I thought of it as the stereotype of the child who just can’t sit still. I had no idea it could also encompass the adult college student who’s screaming at her computer because she just can’t write her essay today. It’s good to see that all my issues seem to relate back to ADHD, but it’s also a bit sad because I know thay there’s no true cure for it. Still, I’m glad for this article because I can show it to my loved ones to try and explain my situation.

      1. Wow! I scream at my computer too! I get so overwhelmed when I hit the wrong key or page up/down, delete, etc. by accident and the cursor flies everywhere. Or when I sit down to work and the computer starts updating so the motivation I had to get started is gone, replaced by frustration and a decision about what to do next. At one of my jobs, my co-workers thought I was strange for getting annoyed to the point of yelling at what they were able to see as a minor annoyance. They would roll their eyes if they were in my office and otherwise they were joking about of my love/hate relationship with the computer. It was embarrassing but there was no way I could explain it. I just made a joke of it too and blamed it on “all the new technology” even though I am very skilled in that area.

  3. I believe that probably every week someone comments on some article from here saying how grateful he/she is feeling etc and yeah, well, I’ll be one of them btw WOW whaaat it’s amazing how I can relate so much in this article haha srsly every paragraph I read I kept repeating to myself “truuuue” or “damn, yeah” or “SAME”.

    I’m feeling so grateful for this site haha ok ok LISTEN, in my country, Brazil, which 5% of the population kinda knows how to speak English but only 1% is fluent in the language, there is no in-depth information on what ADHD is, how it affects and manifests in your daily life, in your personality and in your life in general, when I say “there is no in-depth information” I REALLY mean it.

    It is something much more than neglect. Besides inconvenient people who say, “It’s all in your head, it’s just you focus and then u can do it.” There is also my own neurologist, for example, not understanding why she needs to prescribe my medications even when I’m on vacation, because what she learned in college about ADHD is not even half of what really is, and if she wanted to learn about it she would have to go to college in another country, that is, even in the colleges to become neurologist etc ADHD is “ignored” and then many times people who don’t have ADD or ADHD are diagnosed with, becoming ridiculous easy and banal a certificate of attention deficit disorder. Besides my parents not taking my ADD seriously, there’s also if u go search about it in the Brazilian Google 80% of the news and articles that appear are “Attention Deficit does not exist and here’s the evidence” not to mention the totally generic symptoms, the Attention Deficit in adults option doesn’t exist, as if it were something unique for the children, that is, it would not matter even if the parents of the person would like to know or not on the subject, because it would give the same. Besides difficulties I had at school because of my ADD, there was also one of the groups of people who bullied me they didn’t know(me either, I thought it was simply my exotic personality) that they were actually doing bullying about my symptoms, u know? ugh, frustrating as hell.

    So, thank you thank you thank you, your article made me feel relieved and YOU ARE AMAZING.

    P.S: hyperfocus mood cuz I just noticed that I been writing this comment for 4 hours wtf

  4. Thanks for writing this article. I can identify with just about all these symptoms. I’ve been diagnosed for about 15 years so I’ve been able to develop some coping strategies. The biggest issue I have is explaining my ideas to others. I am a lawyer in practice for about 20 years. I’m an excellent strategist and legal writer but my problem is not being able to orally communicate my thoughts to other team members in the moment. That’s the main reason I am not a courtroom lawyer either. If I go back to my office and write a memo or email it’s all good. But a lot of times things come up in the moment and people want my input but they have a hard time following what I’m saying. And with 4 thoughts in my head that come out of my filter-free mouth I tend to digress. It is very frustrating for me and others as they wait for me to get to my point. I wish I could find a way to address it so the job I love would be easier. Thanks for listening!

  5. Thank you for writing this. Recently I have begun to feel like my life is turning out wrong, like maybe not wrong, but just not how it should be. I am 28, and I feel like I should feel like an adult now, but I still feel adolescent. I have problems motivating myself to take care of my areas of the house in the way I should, pay attention my partner the way other people do theirs, and choosing responsibility over instant gratification.During social situations everything can be going alright, but I find myself all of a sudden pausing when trying to think of what or how to respond, I just end up saying um, over and over again, and I feel like there are holes in my memory or brain. It ends up taking me multiple minutes to respond or I just walk away frustrated. I find myself only being able to do the bare minimum at work, which I thoroughly love and enjoy, because I end up just staring at the ceiling or doing something like being on this site right now.
    To be honest I don’t know and wont try to self diagnose, but this article has given me someplace to start figuring things out. I’m 10 for 10 in very similar fashion to what you have there, which is going to help me get closer to whats going on with me. Thank you so much again!

  6. This describes my life situation at the moment. I always carry guilt and shame for my past doings. Alcoholic abuse and that carries more guilt. Trying to realize my deepest true self but cannot quiet the mind. The racing thoughts drive me to many places I never really wanted to go. But it’s ironic. The wars that happens in the world doesn’t compare to the internal war inside. I want to forgive. I want to be that better person and make others happy. But the opposite is my current situation. This post brought more awareness in regards that I’m not the only one that struggles with the ADHD. Thanks again for the post and I wish you all the best. Peace

  7. I’ve been reading articles for years on this site and wish I could’ve came across this one earlier. Yesterday was such a hard day. I’m so tired of beating myself up and then other people making false judgements about me. Even though I’m extremely detail oriented and can be extremely organized, it still isn’t enough for me to be consistent in reducing stress caused by ADHD distraction. Something that seems simple ends up exhausting me because one step many times turns into 3 steps. Yesterday I felt so alone and wondered what my problem is, this article was SO SO validating and helpful. It seems that only those who have ADHD understand what it’s like and I have yet to meet anyone who accepts and believes my struggle and having to hide it from employers makes me feel even more like a fraud. I also forget my own survival skills and systems that help me feel good about myself and my day and help me be productive. This article touched on all things I experience often and again, thankful to have found it. I don’t feel as alone which helps my frustration while I’m trying and trying and getting almost nowhere or so it seems at the time. These are the articles that help us not give up or if we do give up for the day, help us realize we aren’t failures and our brains are always working whether or not others and people for example in billing departments working with us can see that. Im realizing I’m going to have to be a lot stronger and learn to not care about judgements made. I like to consider what people say but with ADHD its a whole entirely different way of living, and we live in a society that doesn’t support ADHD, the least our society can do is accept and not degrade, and that includes myself. I’ve been successful but it’s very challenging and I’m not able to sustain it during traumatic times. Sometimes my best isn’t enough and I know that and have to learn to be okay with that.

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