ADHD Feels Like…

ADHD Feels LikeThis week, I asked people with ADHD to describe what ADHD feels like for them. I thought it would be helpful for non-ADDers to understand it more. The varied replies give an excellent insight into life with ADHD. If you would like to add your own description of what ADHD feels like to you, that would be awesome! Pop it in the comments section below.

“To me, ADHD feels like my attention span is being controlled by every single garage door opener within 100 miles.”
– Mark Kawate    ADHD


ADHD feels like…I have to constantly “dumb myself down” as a way of accommodating “normies” who don’t share my set of neurobiological advantages. Three-fourths of my day, my time and energy are spent doing this. It’s tedious. Honestly, the amount of time I spend waiting for others—who I might add, supposedly have a “normal” brain—to catch up/get up to speed with my insights or, to “get it,” to simply see solutions to problems as quickly and clearly as I do, is tedious, immensely time consuming and, frankly, frustrating.

Nancy Ratey.    Author of The Disorganized Mind



“ADHD feels like your brain is an unruly child, flitting about when the grown-ups would prefer a child who could sit still, be quiet, and concentrate. ADHD feels like ten thousand things are yammering for attention and all of them are equally important.
ADHD feels exciting and creative when I put things together from wildly different domains, and see the common pattern. I just wish I could go from there to some kind of organized action to benefit from all that creative genius.”
– Bonnie Hutchinson



“Sometimes I don’t like it because I get too excited and do things I’m not supposed to, like hurt myself when I get carried away.”
“Sometimes it’s fun because it keeps me going for activities, and staying active; even though I’m tired.”

With meds, “everything feels boring. I feel sick (nausea, headaches and tired more easily), but I do pay more attention in class.”
Without meds, “it’s harder to pay attention, but I am more responsive in class, like I put up my hand to ask & answer questions.”

“If I had a choice to keep it or not, I would keep it, because it doesn’t really do much bad things. It just makes me excited more sometimes.”
– Luca 11 years old


Before diagnosis:
It’s a heavy veil you can’t shake off; a heavy secret you feel you need to hide. You have to work harder for everything, but you don’t know why, and you certainly don’t want people to know you’re “slow” or “stupid.” So you have to put on an act all the time, even though you know you’re really smart and capable — it’s frustrating and it gets really exhausting. You can’t talk to anyone about it either, and you get really tired of hearing, “Why don’t you listen?” and “You’re not trying hard enough,” when you’ve been trying really hard to begin with.”

After diagnosis, learning more about ADHD, and finding others who share the same struggles:
It’s a quirky, fascinating thing that’s just part of who you are; and is manageable. It’s lighter, and a lot of the heaviness goes away. Yes, you still have to work harder, but now you know why, and you know you’re not slow or stupid. And you can drop the act, because now, you have people who understand you to talk to. It’s something you can share a laugh and a cry over; a secret club with some of the most interesting and creative people as members” 🙂
– Marcia Hoeck      A purposeful


“Having ADHD is like having an on / off mental switch with limited control. Sometimes things click, sometimes they don’t and it’s always hard to see the pattern, so after a while, it can be hard to be confident at anything, because one second you are amazing at something and super focused, and the next time, it just doesn’t click. I think until you get education or training about it, it’s like trying to drive a stick shift mentally with a bad clutch while having absolutely no idea how to change gears, because you’ve only ever driven an automatic.”
– Grant Weherley    Control My


“ADHD feels like Hanoi traffic! We’re here in Vietnam now and rented a motorbike. The traffic looks crazy from the outside (and even sometimes inside it). It looks overwhelming and it’s so different to what everyone is used to who didn’t grow up with it. But if you try to fight against the way the traffic works here, it’s worse than recognizing that it’s different and just going with the flow to make it work for you.

We have loved riding around; even in the process of riding throughout the city.I’ve said to myself: I see how this works, but I don’t understand HOW it works. It definitely goes against what I’ve always been taught “should” be when it comes to traffic. Seeing the traffic and recognizing that for me, it’s a lot like ADHD and how embracing it has made my life better; which was a fun experience.- Nathan Sudds


“I am often conflicted with what it feels like to have ADHD. When my symptoms are well managed, I love having ADHD and see it as my super power. I feel in control of myself and my anxiety significantly decreases. It feels like the mental fog has completely dissipated. As a result, I often feel very proud to have ADHD and at times will feel somewhat offended knowing that it is a disability, mainly because I don’t feel like I have a disability when the right meds are prescribed. My self-esteem is definitely increased. Also, I am able to sustain attention and focus for appropriate amounts of time, make appropriate decisions, prioritize tasks and problem-solve accordingly. When my symptoms are well managed, I can assert myself with confidence and express my thoughts and feelings quite clearly. I sincerely feel like I am the real me, the genuine person that people see.

Without meds, or without the right combination of meds, I feel incredibly anxious, often self-conscious and it’s like I have no control over myself and my symptoms. My brain feels very cluttered; like I have heavy mental fog and chaos. It is incredibly difficult to sustain focus for very long. It’s so annoying to watch a movie with me because I will have to often rewind as my mind often drifts off to other thoughts. I also feel heavily frustrated with myself because no matter how hard I try at achieving a goal, my symptoms interfere, which then makes me feel like a failure. As a result, I retreat and only see myself as having many problems with no solutions. It’s very discouraging.

Additionally, I have quite a bit of difficulty with recognizing when to step on the breaks. For example, when articulating myself, my goal is to communicate assertively. But instead, it comes out sounding more aggressive. This is frustrating because I am not an aggressive person, I am a patient, understanding and empathetic person, but these qualities are hiding behind the ADHD symptoms which people can’t see. In a professional setting, this comes across as me being a very tense person and possibly someone who lacks professional integrity or stability.

To be honest, this is my current situation. Since my doctor has changed my meds, I 100% feel like I’m back to where I started. I don’t feel heard or understood by my doctor as she gives the impression that she knows my reality better than I know it myself. Therefore, everyday feels like a struggle or a battle, and I feel very, very, very TIRED. More than tired; exhausted. I feel incredibly anguished from this combination of emotions and thoughts. Despite all of these difficulties, I acknowledge that there is still hope, because I was once at a state where my symptoms helped me succeed. So hope isn’t gone, it just feels far away.”
– Linda 32 years old

PS Thanks to Nathan for the photo of the Hanoi traffic


  1. Natalie says:

    I was diagnosed two weeks ago aged 35. I’ve thought I have been going through some sort of spiritual awakening for most of my life that there’s a higher power and reason for the struggle. Now I’m faced with coming to terms with the idea that it’s all just the way my brain functions. Life is like a dream or nightmare at times a strange quality to it. I feel very alone not lonely or lost just alone. Life feels purpose-less and meaningless but I don’t feel depressed with it. Trapped at times like a fly in a bottle – all wrapped up in a cotton wool like sensation. I feel weird, odd and different.

  2. Cathy Jones says:

    Diagnosed ADHD 2 months ago aged 49. I am having lightbulb moment after lightbulb moment when reading about ADHD. These lightbulb moments are interlaced with feelings of doubt ‘it must be all in my head’, ‘it can’t be true’, ‘I cheated at assessment’ ‘I didn’t have all the same symptoms that Some other people have. I put these unhelpful thoughts down to years and years, throughout my childhood and adulthood of feeling different and not good enough, lazy and thick. It is hard to shake years of being moulded by my own beliefs and that which others have held about me. I always knew I was different, swam upstream from everyone else and underachieved at school and I certainly have not reached my potential at work. I have felt flakey, emotionally on the edge one minute and then happy the next, self doubt and very low self esteem. One thing I have to learn is what ADHD means for me in terms of my symptoms. My symptoms are unique to me, it would be very easy to compare myself to someone else who has bigger time management issues than me (mine aren’t too pervasive), however, my emotions are all over the place! I start Xenedate tomorrow…wish me luck!

  3. Nandhani says:

    ADHD is like being in a body you have no control over. Their will be times you´re completely normal, and others where your on the ground crying, pulling your hair out. No matter how much you try, you feel hopeless. Like your drowning in water, and everyone is watching you, but instead of helping, they sit their in laugh. It´s hard because it makes you feel stupid. It feels like you have to take pills to be ¨smart¨, or to be qualified as ¨mature¨. You hear everyone say ¨oh look at them so immature can´t even sit down and be quite.¨ It hurts to hear that because you try, and you suffer. I would never wish this on anyone. This pain, stress, and anxiety is mine to carry. No words can ever make anyone understand what this feels like, but trust me, you don´t want to know.

  4. Miranda Cruze says:

    ADHD makes you feel like life is way harder than it should be. Completing a task that requires any level of organization or structure is like climbing a mountain.

  5. Cc says:

    Life feels like the dream, and dreaming feels like life.

    Im an innattentive combined ADHD type with chronic daydreaming symptoms.

    Its prevalent to a point of being my dream characters out loud (unknowingly lol,) that I do not see myself as “me,” but different dream characters most times.

    The surreal life is predictable, controllable and orderly – immensely stimulating and exciting always! Whereas real life is a mess of time, unpredictable events, draining tasks and several varying complications.

    My dream characters are strong, confident, dependable and valuable – which I struggle to be each day.

    Life with ADHD is treated as an excuse rather than a condition, and to others, I’m always a:

    Failure:”You wont make it far in life!”

    Lazy: “Why don’t you finish anything!

    Dumb: “You’re always confused!”

    Careless: “Late again? Do you even care about your job/family/others?!”

    Which is odd because I:
    *live very comfotably
    *work 3 jobs
    *earned two academic and 1 athletic scholarship
    *scored in the top 15% for the ACT in high school
    *graduated college with enough partial credits to go back for two more degrees,
    *speak 3 languages including American Sign Language
    *help put together international charity events (with the UN,)for the well being of ALL humanity.

    And in the midst of depression, tears, worthlessness, overwhelming task, choking deadlines, forgotten chunks of study, chaotic disorganization, and ridicule- my non ADHD peers dropped out of school or life because it was, “too hard.”

    Strange thing is, it was all one scrambly dreamy mess you’re blissfully tangled in.

    Thats life with ADHD.

    • stephaniejavier says:

      “Strange thing is, it was all one scrambly dreamy mess you’re blissfully tangled in.

      Thats life with ADHD.”

      I could not agree more with this statement.

  6. Shawn says:

    After being diagnosed at least 28 yrs ago, I am so looking forward to retiring from work, where I have had to manage my personality, and be free again like when I was a child, to be me! To let the creativity and the ideas flow to my hearts content and to have no one trying to shove this square peg into a round hole. In the last year, due to changes in the work environment, I have now developed the anxiety that I have read about others experiencing. It’s so awful. It would be wonderful if I could help others with ADHD after I retire. I have one daughter and she has been on this journey with me, as she was diagnosed and then I was. She now has 2 out of 3 children with ADHD also. You ought to hear the joyous noise in our households over the holidays! It’s refreshing. 😜

    • DJ says:

      Work changes can be pretty terrifying when you have ADHD. I find I can actually function every well in the right environment, even excel. But lack the capability that a lot of people have to simply be content with the mundane. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s not just boring. It feels almost like suffocation. Other people don’t get this. They think it’s just laziness. My biggest advice to people with ADHD, especially, if they’re younger, is to do everything you can to find what works well for you and pursue it. Don’t try to fit into the norm. There have been some remarkable people who exhibited symptoms of ADHD, who never would have succeeded with the ordinary.

  7. To me, ADD feels like lights are always too bright, every noise is too loud, and people are speaking a different language. I try hard to focus on whatever I’m doing, ex: Work, homework, a book, yet no matter what I can’t seem to make anything stay in my head.

    I have secondary anxiety and depression as a result of my ADD, which is what my therapist told me. One of the faulty ideas people have about us is that we choose to be lazy and that we don’t put forth any effort and that’s not true. I want to live up to my potential and only feel worse about it when I don’t.

    Some days, I feel happy and exuberant and I feel as though I can do anything and that this can’t limit me. Other days I feel the opposite and I feel resentment at the normal people who can do simple tasks like getting out the door without forgetting their essentials. Today is one of the harder days for me.

    I still struggle with bitterness over my diagnosis. At first, it felt like weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Now I feel sadness because of the person I feel I could have been if I had just gotten some help when I was a kid but I didn’t know what was wrong or even how to ask. I’m 24 now.

    • DJ says:

      Oh to be 24! It took me much longer to fully come to terms with it. I’ve wasted far to much energy regretting all the talent I wasted trying to fit into what I thought I was supposed to be. But that’s just more waste. Find the way of doing things that works for you, now, and pursue that with all your energy, while you still have your whole life ahead of you. You think different from other people, but that doesn’t mean they’re better. There are geniuses who have shared in your foibles. But they excelled in their own way.

  8. Lianne says:

    Nathan – thanks for the pic shared of Hanoi Traffic. Yes a perfect descriptor as i was there in August. Crossing the road with all that crazy traffic is scary but fun. You just gotta go with the flow, look confident and weave through it at a steady pace and then you’ll be ok. Bit like ADHD crazy and scary at the same time. Work for me in the morning is the worst as I was doing office work. Having to sit i my desk for longer than 2 mins was near impossible. I had to go to the toilet for the umpteenth time, (even though i didn’t really need to go) make coffee, go back to the kitchen to reheat coffee or make a fresh one. Send a document to print in colour to a different building where the colour printer is. Anything but sit still. The restlessness is the hard part. Even waiting at a bus stop for 10 mins is bad enough without something to do. I walk to the next bus stops or duck to the pub on the corner and throw down a beer. Hey! 10 mins is heaps of time for bus and a beer. Lol. Everyone’s comments have been great to read as they are so relatable. Keep them coming so we don’t feel so alone. Cheers Lianne P.S 45 and just diagnosed.

  9. Jojo says:

    ADHD is very frustrating. for example, if the teacher is talking I would be looking at this person that is trying to text without the teacher noticing. Or I would be looking at someone that just dyed their hair a different color for the 5th time. “How can chemicals change your hair color like that. How long do you even keep in the hair dye in your hair? Is it a burgundy color or a dark violet color? it’s actually kind of pretty. But a lot of people have that color. *looks around the classroom* Yeah like that girl has a dark red and OH look Sidney got highlights!! *looks out the window* it’s raining? since when did it start to rain? wow, that’s a lot of cars in the parking lot. But I think that’s is the only parking lot that teachers are allowed to park in. But wait…..”
    Yeah, that is what goes through my mind in every class, every day, all day. It got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore that I got homeschooled. I concentrate better at home, I can go on my own paste, and definitely fewer distractions. Of course, I get distracted at home but it wasn’t as much at school.
    Even though ADHD is very frustrating I learned that it has a lot of positive effects on me. I am super creative with decorating or writing poems or even my imagination, I love trying new things like hiking or trying different foods, I am eager to help people who are in need of anything, I care for people even if I just met them, and the list goes on.
    I am currently on medication for ADHD, anxiety, and depression. My doctor is trying to find the right ones for my body. The doctor said that the medication for ADHD should help me to concentrate, but it doesn’t. The only thing it helps me with is staying still which was the second main problem I had. My doctor and I have been seeking for the correct medication for a year now. In total, I tried 7 different medications and I was allergic to 4 of them and the rest I needed a higher dose but the side effects (after a month) would not go away.
    I try to find ways to concentrate and the only things that help me is having something in my hand to play with (I use what is called Thinking Puddy), I need to have little noise around me but sometimes I do play piano music and that helps, because I have a lot of hair I put my hair back when I am doing work (it’s the little things that you notice) , I have different places to do my work like I have a desk and a chair but the chair has wheels and it spins so I can move around in it, then I have another area where I have a stable chair and a smaller table , then I recently got a lap desk so I can do my work in bed or on the couch with a little table that has a pillow under it to be comfortable and I love it, I sometimes light a candle that smells like chamomile and lavender, where ever I may be studying has to have no clutter because I would be distracted with the number of things around me, and if I am really having a hard time concentrating then I just take a break and do whatever I enjoy doing like cooking or drawing or even going for a walk. Then afterward I try to go back to doing my work. Hopefully, by reading this you can know that you are not alone and maybe even try some things that I do to help me concentrate.

    p.s. sorry for the long post lol. But I honestly could have kept on going haha!

  10. Suzanne says:

    So many great identifiers in this article!
    Like most ADHDers, I am highly creative. In group brainstorming settings I have a hard time not interrupting others. I feel like a 5 year old who doesn’t have a gage as to when to stop talking. Looking back at these interactions, I am so embarrassed!
    I also tend to overthink what someone’s response to my idea might “really” mean.
    Hyper sensitive to criticism and reading into everything has become a huge problem. I recently and impulsively quit a job, asked for it back the next morning and was denied.
    I am really good at what I do, but I can be my own worst enemy.

    • Lianne says:

      Susanne, you sound just like me! 😁

    • Michelle Nadine Graff says:

      Thanks, Suzanne – your post really resonated with me.

      • Suzanne says:

        Thanks. I am finding these articles and the follow up comments sooooo helpful!

    • DJ says:

      I’ve done that with job offers. Looking back, though, I realize some of those impulses would have led me in a better direction if I’d paid more attention to them. Not just every random thought, but if you take a step back, you might find that there’s a common thread in a lot your impulses that can point you to a life that works very well for you. Instead of trying to fit into something that doesn’t. Not be presumptuous, but for what it’s worth. Einstein was seen as a flake in college, and failed to get a job as a research assistance after. He finally got his job as a patent clerk through family connections. And rather than just be grateful and content, he had the audacity to try and unravel the mysteries of the universe. What he lacked in academic accomplishment, he made up for in curiosity.

  11. Alice says:

    My diagnosis is a label/tool to use when talking to “normies”. It gives them assurance; “oh good. It’s not me!”. Otherwise, I can’t help but be myself. I’m patient, creative, laugh at myself, I’m self-entertaining, I love/pay attention to the people and things that “normies” overlook. Yes I am unorganized so I get a mess that I regret later when I have to clean it up. Yes my driving “shortcuts” turn out to actually be “longcuts”. Yes I’m always 15-20 min late. But my loved ones accommodate and tell me to be there earlier and I’m none the wiser. I have terrific insite. And sometimes I need “normies” to help remind me to see the “bigger picture”as we are working together to get something done. My ADHD is not a disability it gets me (and “normies”) through the mundane, tedious, and the lonely hard-times. If you don’t know me, you don’t know my super-power. After you get to know me, you’ll look forward to my insites. I have a good sense of humor. I’m a person that others like having around. So, enjoy.

    • Suzanne says:

      The driving bit! I too find driving the same route everyday tedious. My husband has asked me, why did you go this way? Isn’t it faster to go….?
      I like taking different routes to see different views. I take different turns to pass interesting places. I have in the past driven miles out of my way because the view is nicer along the way….

      • Christina Novoa says:

        Interesting. I always take the freeways because I can’t stand stop and go traffic. It gives me anxiety. I have to be able to drive fast, nonstop in order to remain calm while driving. I don’t pay much attention to scenery. I need to be able to keep moving and listen to my music the entire time.

      • Kate says:

        Ditto. I do this al the time!
        Kate. 67

  12. Dustin medcalf says:

    Adhd to me is like reading a book. I’ve agreed with myself that those letters make words- I read the words out loud to everyone- teacher asks now what did you get from the paragraph you just read?- nothing.

    Dustin M.

    • Alice says:

      I remember that! And yes, reading is a chore that has to get done over and over again cause I can’t remember what I just read! And when I read alone, I fall asleep. I had to get through educational classes with reading tricks. Like reading only the first and last sentence of every paragraph. I, also, read the homework questions before reading (this makes reading more like a treasure hunt game).

    • Steph B says:

      Yes! Reading difficulty is the most relatable example I can think of. I sometimes force myself to read really fast so I don’t have a chance to daydream about something I read two sentences into something. When I get distracted, I usually will get all the way through a paragraph before I realize I haven’t been paying attention to what I’ve read. It’s so strange to read while not reading.

  13. Dustin says:

    To me adhd is being so smart to the point you let others be right when they are wrong. No point in arguing either. Normal people have a x and y axis. As to adhd we have a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,j,k,l,m,n,o,p,q,r,s,t,u,v,w,x,y,z,0,1,-axis ect ect…my adhd has really taken a toll on my career path because I’m so good at being an climbing arborist most say I need to work harder because I’m not moving fast enough left and right. Today’s people really need to understand what it is and not call it a joke. When we are set free and lead the situation 9/10 I get shocked faces and “how did you do that?!?” ..forgot my point I was trying to make. 🤔

    • Christina Novoa says:

      I identify with this so much. I remember having to dumb myself down quite often in school for this reason. Even now I find myself doing this because I don’t want to make people feel bad about themselves. Now, I’m a high school math teacher and have had to develop a significant amount of patience with my students while they learn new concepts that, to me, are so mind numbly simplistic that it’s almost maddening at times when they don’t “get it”.

  14. lydia says:

    Having adhd for me is having billions of ideas….all REALLY good ones!…or….as time soon tells..maybe not…
    Feels like every time I open my mouth to speak I can’t finish a point because of a noise, an action or a crying child…and then I’ve forgotten what i was saying…and it’s so distressing trying to re-engage. I feel like a bad mum cause I can’t enjoy outings with my kids and struggle to spend time with the most important people in my life.

    • Sisiri says:

      Hey Lydia, I think you are skipping a couple of steps there, what makes you think that your kids would not be bored out of their brains having a regular adult in front of them? I for one grew up in a very unconventional family, as long as you make it your own and are physically yourself; you cannot go wrong.

      Love from Amsterdam

  15. Kyle Missman says:

    Having ADHD is kind of like writing everything down and then finding out it was in invisible ink and you have no way of reading or remembering it. I struggle so hard with remembering simple things and I get stressed very easily. It’s a hassle for me, but it’s great for when I’m doing something I’m passionate about. I feel so envigorareted and so call when I do my passion of acting, that I excel in what I’m trying to do. I just wish it was like that all the time.

  16. Christy Cahill says:

    I haven’t actually been diagnosed or anything. So, I’m not sure what is wrong with me, although I know that anxiety plays a big part. My brain feels like an office with the fan running on high and all of the papers and work flying all over the place, and even after getting a few small items filed away, it feels like more papers take their place until I am mentally buried under brain fog and fatigue.

    • Sisiri says:

      Hi Christy, you sound like physically burnt out, think that’s different. Have you tried to look into a mirror sideways then running away? It is so easy to be tired as soon as you say this you are, whilst if you imagine yourself being a refugee in Syria you would have no choice.

    • Michelle Nadine Graff says:

      Hi Christy, I was treated for anxiety and depression for years before I was treated for ADHD.I finally made sense of it by thinking about ADHD as the mothership that was generating anxiety, depression, fatigue and and many other confusing symptoms. It sounds like you’ve got something preventing you from focussing. I know how exhausting it is to fight your own brain. Keep looking for answers. They’re out there. Good luck.

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