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.

A lonely woman shows what ADHD can feel like.
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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.

People in conversation in a restaurant may not understand what it feels like to have ADHD.
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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.

Sometimes ADHD can feel like climbing from the bottom of a tunnel.
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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.

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

On bad days, ADHD can make you feel like just hiding out inside your own apartment with your dog.
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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.

A man driving in the rain — an example of what it feels like to have ADHD.
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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.

A forest with blurs of stars overhead. ADHD can make the world feel like it is moving too fast.
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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.

A woman with ADHD puts her head down in despair.
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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.”

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

Living with ADHD can make even remembering your keys a difficult feat.
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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.

A woman with ADHD pays bills.
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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
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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.

[Restart Your Brain: ADHD-Friendly Tools for Handling Emotional Stress]

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  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!

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