What Is ADHD Like?

What does ADHD feel like?

I get this question all the time. “What is ADHD like?”

Or phrased differently, “What does it feel like to have ADHD?”

It’s very hard to describe to someone who has never lived this way. The easiest way for me to explain it is to come up with a metaphor.

ADHD is like holding 100 corks underwater at once.

ADHD is like having a leaky faucet as your brain. Drip, drip, drip…the droplets come so fast, you know you should do something about it, but before you can work it out the sink overflows.

I’ve been trying to explain how it feels for years.

In high school I took some honors classes, mostly because I needed to be surrounded by really motivated people in order to get my own butt in gear.

At one point we had to practice public speaking, which was quite stressful for an introvert with ADHD and anxiety, and nobody to understand her.

I was feeling brave so I did a research project on ADHD and presented it to my peers.

I recall very distinctly being asked by a nice guy, who actually became our valedictorian, if I felt like I could control it.

“Control what?” I asked.

“The ADHD. Do you feel like you can control it?”

He wasn’t asking in a snarky way, he genuinely wanted to know if I felt like I could control myself.

I thought for a second and then said, “I can catch myself and pull myself back in – but I cannot maintain it. Within minutes I forget I was trying to concentrate.”

He said, “That sounds hard.”

Me: “It is. I’m frustrated a lot.”

ADHD is being human, but with all of our flaws amplified. 

what is aDHD like?


Read this article from the For The Interested Newsletter.  I wrote 50 43 words/phrases trying to answer the question, “What is ADHD like?”

Before you criticize my grammar – this is a free writing exercise. Not an attempt to write a Pulitzer prizewinner.

  1. diagnosis- ADHD is a diagnosis. A label. In some ways it is a life sentence.

  2. disbelief- There will be many nonbelievers. Many people with ADHD don’t believe it is a real thing. Even as they self-medicate and struggle. Dealing with nonbelievers becomes a part of life, and sometimes your identity. There will be times when it feels safer to deny this part of you.

  3. disorganization- Of the mind. Disorganization of your environment, your relationships. Even our attempts to remedy our organizational issues with be disorganized.

  4. acceptance- We search for acceptance from others. Sometimes we make mistakes, big mistakes, trying to pass as neurotypical. All in the name of getting others to accept us.

  5. self-acceptance- There are moments when you feel self-accepting. And moments when you feel self-loathing. Your moods fluctuate with your level of self-awareness.

  6. fear- Of being found out. Fear of not hiding it well enough. Fear of rejection and criticism. Worst of all is the fear that we might just give up on all of it. Fear of committing to anything. We know what it feels like to let ourselves down.

  7. shame- About all of it. We are ashamed of our perceived deficits and labels. We carry shame into our relationships, and our parenting. ADHD creates a magnified shame. Sometimes we are ashamed without cause.

  8. confusion- What? Who? Where? We miss details and dates. Life is so blurry and fragmented, our senses are overloaded. Confusion reigns in the ADHD brain.

  9. feeling different- Most of us know we are different, even as children. There is restlessness and sensory seeking. Days filled with irritability and wondering why life isn’t more interesting.

  10. fear of failure- We have failed so many times at so many things. We don’t just fear failure, we expect it.

  11. fear of success- If we are successful, people assume we did it in some underhanded way. Or perhaps we have some help from family. How can we explain random success?

  12. mental exhaustion- I am tired just writing this list. We get brain tired just trying to get through the day.

  13. mental unrest- We can’t sleep sometimes. Or we might sleep too much. We might have crazy dreams or night terrors. Our brains never stop.

  14. a life less ordinary- Life will never be the same for us. Things will always be just a little more challenging, a little more complicated.

  15. emotional overload- Big feelings. We experience life through emotion, we make decisions through emotion instead of logic.

  16. indecisiveness- What should I eat? What should I wear? What do I do with that random piece of mail? Making decisions never gets easier.

  17. executive function- I have whole articles on this.

  18. overwhelm- Life is overwhelming. If you cannot picture the endgame, how can you plan the steps for anything? Short answer: you can’t. We often have no clue where or how to start anything.

  19. a tribe- There is a built-in community that you inherit with ADHD.

  20. time blindness- We are late. Or forget all together. Time sometimes ceases to exist.

  21. hope- There are moments of light. When this happens we think (for a moment) that everything is coming together. Sometimes it does. Sometimes we find someone who understands us and it produces a sense of hope.

  22. lack of hope- When the world doesn’t seem to “get us.”

  23. humor- There is much laughter to be found in this life. If you look for it.

  24. sadness- There is often a mourning period when someone is diagnosed late in life. There is also mourning when you are diagnosed at age 11. It never gets easier knowing you are not going to beat it. ADHD is part of who you are. And it is not a gift. Or a curse.

  25. depression- Most of us will deal with depression at some point. Or all the time. Depends on the season of our lives, and of course genetics.

  26. anxiety- so much anxiety. See this article to get started.

  27. feeling pathetic- Like you shouldn’t need the assistance of medication to get through life. Or you shouldn’t need your partner to organize the bills and hold down a job. When you cannot ADULT the way the world expects you to, you feel pathetic.

  28. stuck in life- Unable to move forward. We are unable to remember past mistakes clearly, so we often fail to take action in the now. We are stuck in a deep swampy muck of our own creation.

  29. stuck in our head- Racing thoughts. It’s a real thing.

  30. self-regulating- Sometimes we hyperfocus on controlling something. Since we cannot control our brain and our attention we control other things. We might even try to control other people.

  31. loneliness- It’s a lonely life to be doubted. To doubt yourself.

  32. childhood trauma- We are likely to have many more negative experiences than the average child. Young children with ADHD face a sort of quiet discrimination. We know that not all adults like us.

  33. wanting to be more- More positive. More attentive. More the daughter/son/person our parents want us to be. More the adult we dreamed of being. More brilliant, more together. More in control. We all seek to be more in control

  34. wanting to control it- But knowing we cannot. Nothing cures ADHD. No drug, no therapy. You cannot think your way out of it.

  35. lack of control- We can develop compensatory strategies. But they are just strategies, there is no micromanaging your way out of ADHD.

  36. anger about lack of control – So much anger. So much asking why. Feeling angry at your brain. Once you know it is a brain-based disorder, your anger turns inward.

    And we feel anger that we cannot control ourselves. Yes, we know we screwed up. And we are angry enough for both of us. And we will punish ourselves much more harshly than you ever could.

    That’s why you can be diagnosed young, but then hit a wall as an adult. It’s the anger coming back after you have pushed it down for twenty years.

  37. anger at people without ADHD- Obviously. And jealousy. I am jealous of other moms without ADHD.

  38. insecurity- About everything.

  39. overeating- Trying to fill a void. Overeating to stuff feelings, or to feel grounded. Over half of people treated in in-patient eating disorder programs have clinically diagnosable ADHD.

  40. undereating- Again, trying to control something.

  41. Ritalin-concerta-adderall-vyvanse- No matter the name. The medications are part of your life at some point. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Nobody wants to rely on them, but it’s about quality of life.

  42. Frustration- So much frustration. Every single day. Life is frustration.


ADHD is like having one of those painful, tiny little stones in your shoe.

You are hobbling along, trying to keep up with your friends. But you have to stop and find this little piece of gravel and get it out of your shoe.

Toss it aside and keep moving. What else can you do?

In 30 feet another little stone will be in your other shoe, but you keep moving forward.

Forward motion- You must have some forward motion in order to carry on.

There is power in knowing yourself and your strengths. And there is power in acknowledging your challenges and sitting with it.

Humans are complicated. Our brains and bodies are flawed.

What is ADHD like?

ADHD is being human, but with all of our flaws amplified. 

Wanna talk about being human, and flawed, with ADHD? Join my Interest List for Feel Better Fast.

We start in mid-August. The first 6-8 person group will get a discount + a special surprise from me.




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