Emotions & Shame

What Does It Feel Like to Have ADHD?

Everyone is not “a little bit ADHD.” And, no, this isn’t a medical fad. To understand what it really feels like to live with symptoms of attention defict, read this honest talk from ADDitude readers.

Man with ADHD standing on road holding map with mountains behind him
Man standing on rural road holding road map, head obscured by map

We asked ADDitude readers, “What does it feel like to have ADHD?”

Like I need an “off” button for my brain. When I try to explain to others that some of my behavior is due to ADHD, they say I am making an excuse. —Bee, Florida

Everyone thinks I do dumb things on purpose. My friends tell me that everyone has attention deficit. Sometimes I just feel stupid. —Angie, Mexico

Imagine that you crawled on your knees your whole life, but everybody around you walked on two legs. You recognize that you are different, and you know you should be walking like everyone else, but you just can’t keep your balance on two legs the way you can when you crawl. —Ashley, Ohio

Crazy, frustrating, and sometimes the funniest thing ever — once you learn to laugh at yourself! And we all need to. —Amy, Ohio

It is like watching a PowerPoint presentation that never stops. I tell someone something and, in the middle of a sentence, I go blank. It is embarrassing to have to ask the other person what you were talking about. People look at me and often think, “The lights are on, but clearly no one is home.” —Angela, Indiana

[Self-Test: Could You Have Symptoms of Adult ADHD?]

Having ADHD does not “feel like” anything. Unlike a physical problem — a broken bone, say — ADHD is invisible. People offer sympathy when you are in pain. Trying to explain ADHD without seeming to make excuses is tough. Perhaps if someone were to create a “sling” or “splint” for ADHD, the public might have more sympathy for having the condition. —Ann, Tennessee

Every day is a struggle, but you make the best of it. Meds help, but they aren’t a miracle cure. You take things people say literally. —Argelia, Georgia

It is as if you are driving through thick fog, on a dark road, trying to get to where you know you are supposed to be. The problem is, you lost the directions and have no GPS to guide you — and, in the background, the radio is playing loud songs that are changing. —April, Texas

It feels like there is always noise in my head — a constant buzzing that I can’t make sense of. It’s also paralyzing and frustrating. —An ADDitude Reader

[Free Download: You Know You Have ADHD When… (The Funny Side of ADHD)]

Like I am drowning in a maelstrom of “stuff” that needs to get done, but that I never finish. It’s a never-ending feeling of futility. —Linda, Florida

Having ADHD is like having a nonstop conversation with yourself. -Christina, Texas

It’s like being off balance, off kilter, similar to when the computer buffers a video, and it takes forever to load and play without doing all that starting and stopping. —Debbie, Arizona

It’s not easy having an 18-year-old brain in a 61-year-old body! —Diane, Florida

[“To Me, ADHD Feels Like…”]

Updated on September 24, 2020

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  1. To me, I have described my ADD as dyslexia of thought. I don’t have full control over the thoughts I have or when I have them. It’s as if each of my thoughts are part of a jumbled mess of phone chargers. I have the one charger in my hand that I need for my phone, but its tangled with 50 others. I want to separate my charger from the rest, but as I start to delve into it, I lose track of my charger. I’ve untangled a dozen other meaningless chargers, but not only do I know now where my charger went, I totally forgot that that was what I was looking for. This only became apparent to me once I got medicated. My medication seems to untangle all my thoughts and I have the option to choose which thought I want as if they were phone chargers nicely mounted on a display wall.

  2. ADHD – where to start – that’s how I can feel some days, “where do I even start”. For me, I was diagnosed later in life, so all my ‘quirks’ (which I have always called ‘charms’, because I found them not so charming) were actually symptoms. Who knew!? I always thought I was just an existentialist who felt compelled to understand life, people, the world… it’s a lot… I likely had two thousand ideas coursing threw my mind on a daily basis. I just figured I was a ‘thinker’.

    Once diagnosed, I fully embraced ADHD as a blessing (at least now I had a ‘name’ for the charms). When I took the first stimulant med, within 30 minutes, my life changed. I went from a ‘foggy’ existence of endless exhaustion, intermittent confusion, and quit possibly 2k ideas per day to – THE MATRIX. I remember clearly that day, pill taken, 30 minutes later… I am looking at my hands, as I waved them in front of me, marveled by the slow motion of it all. I said to myself out loud “is this how other people live: clear, calm, all slowed down?”. From that moment on, clear was correct! Unfortunately, what I saw was a women’s life that was in shambles and only then had just ‘noticed’. That was a tough few years, getting to know myself as a medicated ADHD women versus the person who was just surviving, and thinking a lot (about everything), to a women who knew she needed to take control back into her life… after waking up from a fog and noticing that chaos was all around her (me).

    This was a long answer, I didn’t say the meds stopped the flowing thoughts… I’m down to a manageable – 500 daily. Cheers

  3. This made me cry I am a male 30 years old and you just explained how I feel everyday even right now , I was told when I was in school I had adhd and I went and got all the test and my main dr told my mom that I didn’t have it I was just being a kid made her think I never had it even tho I struggled through and failed at school I have learned to kind of deal with it and keep a good job but it effect my relationship with my wife she just doesn’t understand what we go through and I wish so mich I could explain to her how
    You explained in so she would maybe just maybe for 5 seconds just understand that I can’t think right ever , like she will say something constructive to me and I will just tear that apart in my head and just over analyze every single thing all the time .

  4. ADHD is something that everyone has heard of, but no one knows anything about. The most common responses I get when people hear that I have ADHD all follow along the lines of “Really? You don’t act like it.” This is a frustrating response, because I very much do show noticeable symptoms of ADHD. Even as I type this, my feet are moving around, and my eyes keep darting away from the screen to look around the room.
    There are many verbal symptoms of ADHD, as well. Because my mind works faster than my mouth, I will often interrupt myself to get out a new thought before it vanishes from my mind. It’s quite a common occurrence for me to stop mid-sentence because I managed to get lost in thought while I was talking, and having to ask the person whom I was speaking to what I was talking about. I will bring up seemingly unrelated things during conversations because my mind formed a connection between them somehow.
    Short-term memory is also affected by ADHD. I could describe with intricate detail a trip to New York City I took when I was three years old, but I will forget about an important assignment or meeting only minutes after being reminded of it. I am well acquainted with the sinking feeling of panic that comes with remembering something when it is too late.
    ADHD also affects sleep. When we are tired, our symptoms increase, which makes it difficult to sleep. There is also the fact that people with ADHD are not good with time or schedules-we tend to misjudge how long things will take, and if we hyperfocus on something, it will not be easy to leave it and sleep. Once we are actually in bed, our minds are still racing.
    The lack of dopamine in the ADHD brain can lead to many complications. We get bored with things very easily, because our brain is desperate to find a new form of stimulation. This results in an inability to complete things, including things that we actually want to do and enjoy. This can also complicate our relationships, because we may be unintentionally using a friend or significant other as a temporary source of dopamine, and we may begin to lose interest after a while.
    ADHD is misunderstood to the point where its very name is inaccurate. We do not have an attention deficiency. Actually, we pay too much attention to things. The problem lies in that we pay attention to everything. It’s not that I’m not listening to you, it’s that I’m listening to you, and to the birds outside, and that siren, and I’m watching the couple across the room, and thinking about a dream I had, and deciding what I’m going to eat for dinner, and there’s this one song that’s been playing in my head on a loop for a week, and-wait. What were you saying?
    We feel at all times that we are in a room surrounded by dozens of TVs that are constantly changing volume and channel, and we cannot stop our mind from trying to focus on every single one at once.

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