Emotions & Shame

12 Things You Don’t Know About Me and My ADHD

What’s it like having ADHD? I’m a master of illusion. I’ll convince you I’ve got everything under control, but beneath the surface I hide anxiety, self-doubt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy that even treatment can’t erase.

A woman with ADHD put her hand over her face and eyes to hide
A woman with ADHD put her hand over her face and eyes to hide
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My loved ones don’t know me.

Beneath my bubbly, exuberant exterior I hide a lifetime of anxiety, but people see a neatly made bed, a promotion at work, dinner on the table, and children who make it to school (just barely) on time. They see a competent, highly functioning, superwoman with a smile on her face. But behind that smile, I’m holding my breath or gritting my teeth almost all of the time — sure that my house of cards will fall at any moment. Thanks in large part to my ADHD, every task takes longer, feels harder, and wears me down in a way I could never explain. It’s lonely, perplexing, and exhausting. This is what it's like to have ADHD.

An overwhelmed mom sits on the edge of her bed and cries.
An overwhelmed mom sits on the edge of her bed and cries.
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1. I Am My Own Worst Enemy

I teeter daily between self-confidence and self-doubt; never sure which one will win.

Some days, I jump into unknown situations with a confidence and clarity that shock even me. But inside a little voice is always telling me I’m just a child, an impostor of a grown-up. That negative self-talk can nag me for days, taunting me to push myself harder to prove myself. And I usually succeed. But, it’s exhausting and painful to reclaim my confidence again after that monster called self-doubt begins shouting, “Who do you think you are? You’re getting in over your head. Stop pretending to be someone you’re not.”

A woman with ADHD asleep in bed who has trouble waking up in the morning
A woman with ADHD asleep in bed who has trouble waking up in the morning
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2. I am Not Lazy

Research shows that 25 to 50 percent of people with ADHD have clinically reported sleep difficulties — falling asleep, waking up, or both. Something in our brain chemistry makes transitions to and from sleep rough and prolonged. For example, I know a neatly made bed makes me feel refreshed and clean; but after I wake up, fluffing pillows and straightening sheets is just way too much effort. Sometimes I make the bed at 4 p.m. I know this sounds lazy, but it’s not. I’m an energetic person; it’s just that my energy doesn’t start flowing until my morning fog is washed away with a few cups of coffee.

[Free Download: Your Guide to Changing How the World Sees ADHD]

A woman with ADHD checks her cell phone will sitting alone lonely on a park bench
A woman with ADHD checks her cell phone will sitting alone lonely on a park bench
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3. Sometimes, Mental Roadblocks Control Me

Sometimes I want to cry. How is it possible that I am looking at my phone and can’t find the app I used an hour earlier, and yesterday, and the day before? My phone is an extension of my hand, another limb. I see letters and words, but sometimes when I read the words they don’t enter my mind. I read and re-read but the meaning doesn’t penetrate. The more I stare, the less I see.

As an adult, I have the logic and ability to work around my good and bad concentration moments, but my heart still breaks for the child I was that could have accomplished so much more had I known how to break through the roadblocks in my mind.

Woman with ADHD listening to someone on cell phone and getting angry in front of tall building
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4. I Can’t Hear You Sometimes

I am standing right in front of you. I watch your lips move. I hear your words. But my mind is elsewhere, focusing on something brighter, shinier, or louder.

This doesn’t mean I’m disinterested or rude. I’m not. And that’s the hard part. I sometimes literally smack my cheek and say to myself, Come back! Focus! When I do, I am able to slide right back into the conversation as if I had been involved all along. I missed a few words but I fit the remaining words together like puzzle pieces and voila! The picture appears.

A group of friends with ADHD hanging out in a coffee shop
A group of friends with ADHD hanging out in a coffee shop
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5. I Wish I Hadn’t Said That

When my New York sense of humor partners with my ADHD, it’s a terrible combination. I’m not always proud of my word choices and my dramatic flair. But when something feels real, I say it. Soon after, I usually regret it, but I never let on. I pretend I’m okay with whatever I just blurted out. But inside I'm crouching under the table, trying to hide. I want to quickly change the subject or run away from the conversation. Was I rambling? Did I offend someone? Why isn’t anyone laughing?

A woman with ADHD showing compassion for a friend who is depressed by the water on a dock
A woman with ADHD showing compassion for a friend who is depressed by the water on a dock
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6. I’m Too Compassionate

I care deeply about everything and everyone — from the skinny stray cats I feel compelled to feed, to the homeless man sweating on the traffic island holding a cardboard sign. I take on everyone’s emotions (including and especially animals) as if they were my own.

I'm not a people-pleasing, co-dependent, enabler; I am a compassionate, loving person who retains each person’s hurt, suffering, and sadness. I am an emotional sponge. And when I’m consumed by emotion, it’s hard to speak. Please don’t take it personally.

[Quiz: ADHD Myth or ADHD Reality? Check the Facts About ADHD.]

Limit television viewing to cut out white noise when trying to sleep with ADHD
Limit television viewing to cut out white noise when trying to sleep with ADHD
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7. I Can’t Let Things Go

Like referees reviewing a disputed play, I replay every aspect of my day. I return to every word I shouldn't have spoken, every phone call I didn't make, and every person I might have hurt. It's an invisible burden that brings no comfort; only regret. If I can resolve an outstanding problem, I do with an apology or a phone call. But some things are better left unsaid; so long as they don’t turn into hidden resentments, which is another thing I worry about endlessly.

Assorted junk creating clutter in closet of ADHD person
Assorted junk creating clutter in closet of ADHD person
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8. I Want It All — and I Want It Now

I'm a woman of excess. One hundred percent of something is not enough. I always want more. When I eat, I eat too much. But that’s OK because when I exercise, I exercise too much.

I surround myself with too much of everything. There are too many books, too many purses, too much food, too many lipsticks, nail polishes, and shoes. But I love it all and use them all. I’m not hoarding; I prefer to call it warehousing.

A woman blocks out noise and limits interruptions, allowing her to more easily manage her ADHD in the workplace.
A woman blocks out noise and limits interruptions, allowing her to more easily manage her ADHD in the workplace.
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9. With Me, It’s All or Nothing

Don’t break my trance if I’m immersed in a project, a writing assignment, or cooking a meal. But when I am wrapped up in my moment, I am bound and totally absorbed in what I am doing. If I stop, I will lose my way, my momentum, and my speed. I like when I get carried away in hyperfocus. It actually feels good, though I know it’s confusing and even maddening to loved ones who lose access to me for hours or days on end.

An illustration of a child with ADHD trapped in an adult's body
An illustration of a child with ADHD trapped in an adult’s body
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10. There’s a Loud Child Inside Me

ADHD is my five-year-old self who never stopped saying, “I want what I want when I want it.” I try to push her aside, but that little child is noisy and fierce. Everyone prefers doing what they love, but they understand that responsibilities and obligations require them to do things they don’t love most of the time. Not me; my ADHD gets a chokehold on me and doesn’t let me move forward. But when I get to do what I love, nothing can stop me.

A set of dominoes representing the feelings of shame in the ADHD mind
The ADHD mind works a triple shift. It never stops and it has no brakes. This makes me cranky sometimes. My emotions get out of whack, hard to control and intense. I exaggerate and exasperate, and then I realize how poorly I behaved. My thoughts stand like dominoes in formation, setting off a chain reaction, […]
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11. I’m Exhausted By My ADHD

The ADHD mind works a triple shift. It never stops and it has no brakes. This makes me cranky sometimes. My emotions get out of whack, hard to control, and intense. I exaggerate and exasperate, and then I realize how poorly I behaved. My thoughts stand like dominoes in formation, setting off a chain reaction. The movement only pauses while I sleep, if I can sleep with all those thoughts exploding in my head. My only relief comes from self-care. Quiet time is important. It’s the only thing that gives my mind the space it needs to relax and recharge.

A red heart on a white background represents the love of an adult with ADHD
A red heart on a white background represents the love of an adult with ADHD
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12. I Love My ADHD

Even though I have to deal with the rolling eyes of naysayers who think that I’m making up excuses, lies, and stories, I wouldn’t change a thing in my brain. My ADHD allows me to love passionately, and to see color where others see black and white. I live outside the boxes and the lines. I fly without wings because amazing things do happen. Change doesn't scare me. It excites me. I embrace it. I see light in the darkness. I can stay up all night working on a project and deliver it the next morning with an Oscar-worthy performance. Some call it a burden, a disorder, or a deficit; I don’t think so. To me it’s a precious diamond that I need to guard closely and polish often — smoothing out the edges to discover new sparkling dimensions every day.

Give it up? No way! My ADHD is me. It’s in my heart and my soul. I love it that way.

[“Do I Have ADHD?” Your Free Guide]

13 Related Links

  1. So well-written and wonderful to see women speaking out about ADHD! I feel like I can relate 100%, being a Woman and a Mom, and I completely agree that ADHD IS like a diamond! I am starting to really learn (now that I’m 40) all of the ways that ADHD makes me special from anyone else I’ve ever met. It’s like we DO have super-human talents and can accomplish incredible things that others cannot BUT the things that hold us back are also just as huge (but on the opposite end of the spectrum). We need to work on the negatives daily and need a ton of tools just to do the basic, daily life things BUT I agree, I would never, ever give it up for all of the wonderful gifts it brings!

  2. Thank you for sharing this with others. It was as if I was reading about me. I have said for years that I am grateful for my ADHD but sometimes I need a reminder of that gratitude and your article popped up in my inbox just when I needed it. We are perfectly imperfect #sheroes and ADHD is our superpower!

  3. Thanks so much for your article. So well laid out and as if you interviewed me! Perfect timing because I posted for the first time in the discussion group last night about how frustrated I am with myself. I am really struggling to find the right career at an age when people are planning for retirement.

    1. I just read this article and the comments. I can only say exactly what Keepingup said, it’s like you interviewed me. If the part I’m supposed to live is the fact that I’m creative and can hyper focus on what I’m interested in, I would hope that isn’t something I would have to give up if Onjad a normal brain. I’m 67, diagnosed 2 years ago and still learning to live with it or compensate but just like Keepingup, when other people are retiring and looking to cut back, I’m working harder than ever to make a business with my creative skills which I should have done 40 years ago instead of the
      Miserable and unsuccessful numerous jobs I’ve been fired from or quit

  4. One thing ADDitude mag doesn’t know about my ADHD
    And probably don’t care about
    Is that I cannot do those webpage slideshows
    Offer a list headline present a list. It’s not hard

  5. The struggle is real my sister!! Thank you for this article because, I also can relate 100% however… I recently discovered something profound about my ADHD that has changed my life forever…. I have always stood out for some reason and being the hyper happy never sit still seeker of knowledge and adventure 46yr old woman that I am…brings much judgment criticism and misunderstandings causing me to run and hide from all of it… i found myself (very complicated process) when I learned that my ADHD may actually mean..Attention Dialed to a Higher Dimension because I never thought of it as a disorder nor did I believe I was crazy…which I seriously hear all the time because I am literally on fire inside!! UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND LIGHT is who I am and that is clearly not normal in today’s world BUT today I am proud to be me and I wear my unbridled passion and presence like a flag!! I am unique, just like everyone else lol but I wasn’t designed like this without profound purpose and reason…thank you for you. I believe in you and I love you so much because I can walk in your shoes as if they were mine!! Being still, meditating or even shutting my brain off long enough to sleep was impossible until I surrendered and forgave myself and then fell in love with my crazy self because WE ARE ADHD FOR A REASON AND ITS NOT SO BIG PHARMA CAN KEEP, US ON MEDS!!!! ♥️❤️🧡💛💚💙💜✌🏻🙏🏻

  6. I read this as if I had asked you to explain your ADHD and you said all of that at the speed the announcer at the end of a commercial explains all the stipulations of the CC milage program. It was like a stream of conciousness delaration in a moment of hyper-focus. I welled up slightly when you mentioned the animals and the empathy.
    Now that I am medicated I miss the hyper-workout sessions, but I don’t miss the hyperactive cramming 3hrs of stuff to do into the 1hr before everyone arrives and the self-disappointment driven anger it generated.
    Whiteboards have helped a lot to help get my organizational thoughts out before they get mired in the thought jumble.

  7. I have experienced most of this but being diagnosed at age 59, I had bought into what everyone was saying. My parents treated me the same as my 3 siblings but I did not respond so they thought I was being rebellious. I worked several jobs but would quit before they found out I was a fraud. At age 25, I got married and for over 30 years I was told it was something wrong with me and that he just put up with me because he felt sorry for me. It got so bad that I couldn’t even boil eggs. At 37, we had a son & my husband became ill. He gradually lost his ability to walk & to perform basic functions & at age 49, he was in a long term care facility & I had to start over financially with as a single mother with limited executive function & domestic skills. I was diagnosed after my employer insisted I be tested.for dementia because I would come in & forget what to do (I had been on the job for 10years). The clinician told me that my mental function was very much intact. She also gave me an ADHD diagnosis & suggested my memory lapses were due to stress & anxiety. She explained to me that my job was not difficult for me because there was something wrong with me but that I was not being challenged and I needed to discover my true potential because my test scores indicated I am capable of much more than I thought. I attended theInternational ADHD Conference in St Louis last year. Through that and through articles like this, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be “fixed”. I left my job this year and I am in the process of getting to know me. I am learning to accept me & love me & not to try to adapt to the neurotypical model that I spent my life trying to follow. THANK YOU!!!! It is because of people like you who are willing to share their experiences that I am on my way to a life free from the mental & emotional torment that has held me captive.

  8. Normally when I read someone’s version of their ADHD, I can maybe relate to this bit, but not to that bit, so overall it doesn’t really feel like me. This beautifully written article is me exactly. How wonderful to feel that I am not alone and that there is someone else out there who understands not only what I have to put up with each day, but also that there is a big positive side too.

    I would only add that ADHD has given me a strong and quirky sense of humour. Over the years it has got me into a lot of trouble, but I wouldn’t change it for the earth.

  9. I also recognized my own experience many times in this article. However, I have to say I am not grateful for my ADD. Yes I’m a very creative person with many positive qualities, but I do not feel that in order to be this creative, I would have to lack executive functioning skills or be time blind, etc. on a daily basis I struggle with my brain. I tried different meds for 2 years, and while the stimulants helped a lot, they also exacerbated my anxiety which is significant to begin with. So I am just not feeling the gratitude right now. I stayed up til 2:45 am working on my lesson plans and drove while eating breakfast and putting on makeup bc I don’t know how to do it any differently. I just can’t put a positive spin on this thing that’s robbed me of years of self actualization and self esteem. Always feel like I’m not cut out for this world. Perimenopause has made my struggle much worse, so perhaps I’m in a negative space. Thanks for sharing the struggle. Artmama

  10. Right there with you alicemakesart. I also do not love my ADHD. My life, from childhood through adolescence was a disaster. I managed to get my life together enough to get a PhD at the age of 42, but then it went back downhill. I accomplished pretty much nothing while doing research, except that I knew practically every single person in the medical center where I did my research. I couldn’t sit still, so I went roaming about keeping everyone else from doing their work. I was finally diagnosed and treated about 10 years later, which helped somewhat. One thing I am not happy about treatment is that, pre-medicated, I was hysterically funny, I mean stand-up comic funny. I can safely say, I am no longer funny. Or at least as funny as I was. THAT I miss. I am also still pretty scatter-brained, forgetful, and dealing with delayed sleep phase disorder. So, no. I do not love my ADHD. (Although, if I didn’t have an ADHD brain, maybe I wouldn’t have been smart enough to get a PhD. So that part is good.)

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