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.

All this reminded me of a quote that I’ve had posted on my laptop as we have been travelling: “Focus on the differences you can make; not the differences you would prefer to, but can’t.” – Steve Chandler

That’s my advice to others about ADHD or just about anything in life ( I think you talked to me about too, Jacqui). Trying to fit yourself into that square peg hole isn’t doing anyone any favors. You gotta recognize who you are, and make the difference you can make in your life and keep that in mind. Maybe ADHD feels like experiencing failure; until you realize you are playing a different game that you can win, IF you play it differently.”
– 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. 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. 🤔

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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