What does it feel like to have adhd

Discover Exactly What ADHD Feels Like On A Daily Basis

I searched Quora for questions surrounding ADHD. There were so many answers, from real people, talking about their world and how ADHD has affected it.

Some shared their personal frustrations while others highlighted the creative upsides of a life with ADHD. Some were downright hilarious.

I was most struck by the quality of responses, and how willing people were to share their personal worlds, in order to help shed more light on what it feels like to have ADHD.

I collected some answers that popped out at me, and thought you might like them too. Let’s dive in!

What ADHD feels like

What does ADHD feel like to you?
Tell us your story in the comments below!

So, What Does It Feel Like To Have ADHD?

The Understeering Analogy

what is it like to have adhd brain understeering

This analogy is absolutely fantastic. It explains what mornings feel like with ADHD. It comes from Colin. Here it is:

adhd brain broken

Have you ever driven a car without power-steering? It’s a practical example of what the understeering effect is really like.

You have to work extra hard on something that normally shouldn’t take much effort, just to avoid going off the road.

A bad ADHD day can feel like this. It’s frustrating when you have to work harder than usual to complete a simple task.

Here’s a visual of what understeering looks like:

having adhd feels like your brain is understeering

The Low RAM Effect

The next ADHD analogy was posted anonymously on Quora, but it’s the one I probably identify with most.

what is it like to have adhd

Here’s more from the Quora post:

adhd brain feels like a computer with low ram

Ever used an old Macbook with an outdated operating system and tried opening more than one application at a time? what happens?

The dreaded spinning beach ball.

For me, having ADHD feels like my brain is a spinning beach ball.

The Open Tabs Analogy

Our next insight into how ADHD feels comes from Pat Noue with another ADHD analogy involving computers.

adhd feels like a browser with too many tabs open

Here is more of Pat’s quora post explaining what ADHD feels like:

adhd quora open tabs

The Constant Buzzing

what add feels like

Having ADHD can feel like an itch that needs scratching, only it’s in your mind. Spencer Reed describes more in his Quora answer:

Task Anxiety

Sometimes having ADHD can make you feel anxious about mundane tasks.

when a task isn't stimulating it becomes adhd anxiety

Anne K. Halsall elaborates on how ADHD and anxiety can play off one another in her Quora post:

What is it like to have ADD or ADHD

Paying Attention and Losing Things

ADD/ADHD isn’t so much about a lack of attention as it is about attention regulation.

what its like having adhdadhd and losing things

In his Quora answer, Peter Herring talks about the ability to regulate attention when you have ADHD, and also about losing things:

having add/adhd and losing things

The Steam Roller Effect

Sometimes, when you’re caught in the symptoms of ADHD, and you feel stuck, life still doesn’t stop for us to catch up.

Lisa Perry uses some humor to describe what can happen next.

having add feels likeadd and austin poiwers
The Roller Coaster
adhd feels like a roller coaster

ADHD can come with some ups-and-downs for sure. Curtis Dickinson talks about the roller coaster ride ADHD can feel like…and also what helps smooth it out.

coffee smooths out ADHDadd quora roller coaster answer

Where Are My Keys!?

Valerie Fletcher gives our next account, and it teeters between frustration and hilarity. She uses the example of how misplacing your keys can turn into a downward spiral.

Valerie Fletcher on What It's Like Having ADHD :

“I have time gaps, thought gaps. You know when you lose something, and they tell you to retrace your steps? 98% of the time, I can’t.

It goes something like this, “Okay, I grabbed my keys as I was heading out the door, now I’m at my car and I’m holding my dog’s leash. Holding my keys, by the door… at the car. F***! I JUST HAD THEM!!! Why does this always happen to me? I’m such a mess, God I forgot to get that stain off my pants. AGH, my keys, WHERE ARE MY KEYS?!?!”
ADHD quote about what ADHD feels like
Valerie Fletcher (continued)

This is a big part of the ADD for me. I spend a few precious minutes just thinking about how horrible I am for being in my thirties and not having “fixed” this yet, and how I really need to go back to the psychiatrist to get started on medication again (but it makes my mouth dry at 4:30 every day,) when I could be actually looking for the keys.

Then I empty out my purse on the ground, go through all the pockets, lament the fact that I got a purse with so many pockets, when I realize I was supposed to be at work 10 minutes ago. Thank god my work has somewhat flexible hours. So, this particular dance, or a version of it, happens almost every day.

I have just recently (at like, twenty-eight) figured out that if I AM holding a completely different item, which is often the case, that the thing I need is probably in the spot that the item I am holding used to be. Just last week my husband found my glasses in the medicine cabinet. I am blind without them, so there is no logical reason whatsoever they should be anywhere other than by my bed. My husband often checks the refrigerator for things I ‘was holding just a second ago.’ “

She describes the ADHD brain with an analogy I thought was pretty great (seriously, those with ADHD can come up with the most amazing analogies for the ADHD experience).

Valerie also highlight the fact that although ADHD can be frustrating, it also feels tied to her personality, and perhaps if she was given the choice to, she wouldn’t give it up.

Valerie Fletcher - ADHD Metaphor :

Say you have a filing cabinet, and all the information is inside, but instead of alphabetical order, everything has been arranged every hour by a different person who did what made sense to them at the time. That’s about how I feel my brain works.

Which, really, can be great. What some call random associations, others call creativity. And, yeah, “being in the zone” aka hyper-focusing, is amazing, when it happens. Unless you’re hyper focused on how best to answer a quora query.

The weird thing is, some of the aspects that others would call my “personality” are tied to ADD. They are a part of me that I wouldn’t want to give up.


Fascinated By Nearly Everything

This first excerpt comes from Kyle Pennell, who earned a Quora Top Writer 13′ Award, and who’s profile bio reads, “Fascinated by nearly everything“.

His example reflects the curiosity that often consumes those with ADHD:

tools for adhd free download
Kyle Pennell on What It's Like Having ADHD :

“First and foremost, I approach life with intense energy and curiosity. I’m always planning something, always coordinating something, always doing something. My life has always been filled with projects.

In high school, it was mountain bike trails and extreme sports videos, then it was trips abroad, college student clubs, and dance parties. Now I’m slowly learning code and becoming a better writer. I’m always scheming something and chewing on something (mentally).
I’m extremely curious. The world absolutely fascinates me and I can’t stop trying to learn more about it.Kyle Pennell
I’m extremely curious. The world absolutely fascinates me and I can’t stop trying to learn more about it. The internet enables this to get to extreme levels. Amazon one-click allows me to impulse buy on books that I don’t have time to read (my roommates are tired of all the packages).

I read too much online: I tear through comment sections and forums. Reddit, Hacker News, Quora, NYT reader comments—I gorge my mind on them. So much depth, so much character, it’s all so damn fascinating.
People tell me I have amazing insights and ideas but what do I have to show for them?Kyle Pennell
I’m still in the process of improving my brain. I want it to be strong and flexible, capable of creating great things. It’s taking practice, but I’m learning the art the working in bursts: going hyper focus on things for a short while and taking a break.

Reddit, Hacker News, Stumble, Quora—these are all great but I’ve started to seriously cut down my info intake. There’s always one more
article, there’s always one more comment thread. There’s always something I can tear into and dwell on for hours–but what is it all that intense contemplation really worth?

What about actually making something great? What about getting shit done and creating something? People tell me I have amazing insights and ideas but what do I have to show for them? If I can learn to channel my energy and curiosity into real productivity, I will be a force.”

Kyle goes on to describe how he has to balance out his curiosity, and finishes with an incredibly insightful metaphor for what having ADHD feels like:

Kyle Pennell - ADHD Metaphor :

Here’s a metaphor: having ADHD/ADD is like having an iPhone loaded with apps and enabling notifications for all of them.
If you did this on an iPhone, you’d get overwhelmed with “someone tagged you in X” “So and so checked in at X” “You’ve received a coupon for nearby y” notifications every couple minutes. Only through practice and discipline are you actually able to turn those notifications off and actually get some function out of your tool. In this case it’s my mind.”

The Juggling Act

This third excerpt is from Rachel Binfield. She describes her experience with ADHD using an analogy that I thought was fantastic:

Rachel Binfold's Answer on Quora

Not only are you trying to juggle, but you also don’t have a firm surface under your feet. It takes LOTS more concentration just to keep juggling because you’ve got the mental overhead of staying upright.Rachel Binfold
“Every few years, I go to the local Renaissance festival. There’s a guy there who juggles all kinds of random things – balls, swords, hats, fire, you name it. Then, he gets on a unicycle. Someone throws him each of the objects in turn and he starts juggling again.
I’m sure he’s practiced for years to do this, but when you watch him, he’s shaking back and forth on the unicycle with an intense amount of concentration. In just a few minutes, you can see the sweat start to bead on his brow from the effort. Even as a professional, he does actually drop things occasionally. It’s not too long after that when the show ends and he gets to stop.
Unfortunately, life never lets you stop juggling – there’s work projects, home projects, kids activities, household chores, personal life… Without ADHD (or any mental disorder, for that matter), you’re standing on the stage juggling.

With adult ADHD, you’re on the unicycle. Not only are you trying to juggle, but you also don’t have a firm surface under your feet. It takes LOTS more concentration just to keep juggling because you’ve got the mental overhead of staying upright. PLUS you have way more balls, because your projects are broken up into smaller pieces. Plus the balls are painted with super shiny colors. Your attention flits between the many balls because they’re all coming at you at the same time and you can’t just focus on one of them. If you happen to have a passion for red and deeply focus on those, you’re going to drop something else.”

Rachel finishes by highlighting something those with ADHD know all too well: the fact that most people don’t know the balancing act is taking place. She also chimes in with an analogy about what medication is like for ADHD.

Rachel Binfold's Answer on Quora (continued)

Medication is like putting training wheels on the unicycle. It takes the edge off the juggling act so that you can slow down and focus on each ball a little betterRachel Binfold
“The most unfortunate thing is that the unicycle is invisible. No one gives you credit for the difficulty level of the juggling act. All they see are the number of dropped balls, not the effort it takes to keep them in the air. Because what matters in the adult world is the answer to the equation. You don’t get partial credit for showing your work.

Medication is like putting training wheels on the unicycle. It takes the edge off the juggling act so that you can slow down and focus on each ball a little better.”

Chasing Balloons

Randall Munroe’s creates comics for the web on his website www.xkcd.com. One Quora user simply posted one of Randall’s cartoons as her response. It comes from his website, and it’s labeled, “ADD”.

It captures the ADD/ADHD experience well:

what is it like to have add
Doing Things Differently

Ben Mordecai is an Automation Controls Engineer, and has earned a Top Writers Award on Quora for three years running: 2013, 2014, and 2015.

In his response he talks about how, with his ADHD, he resolved to simply doing things a little different, and lists a few examples.

Ben Mordecai's Brief Snapshot on What It's Like Having ADHD :

– I must have plenty of coffee to function. Before I drank coffee in college, certain professors induced a Pavlovian response of yawning and exhaustion. Post coffee, my comprehension sky-rocketed, and now I am pretty productive at work

– Minor, non-distractions help a lot. A drink to sip and background music consume just enough of the spare mental overhead to prevent myself from trying to think about something else at the same time as I work on something.

– I have to be extremely organized. Calendars, spreadsheets, notes, reminders, and self-written tutorials all help me focus my attention at solving the problem.

– I have to accept that it’s just going to take me longer to do something and be willing to persist through it.
What Does Your ADHD Feel Like?

If you’re reading this and have ADHD yourself, maybe some of these stories hit home. I would love to hear more examples.

What is your experience with ADHD like? Tell us your story in the comments below. I look forward to hearing it, and saying hello.

UPDATE: Feb 12th, 2017

It would be fun to update this list and include your thoughts and experiences (yes, you reading this) about what ADHD feels like.

SO, if you have ADHD, leave a comment below describing what ADHD feels like to you.

After we generate a few, I will add a section to this post, including them. I look forward to reading them.


Comments 69

  1. It’s like having a hundred tvs on all at the same time, on different channels, on medium to low volume. I love my work and my job, and yet I can go multiple days that I get almost nothing done. But the second something urgent comes through, I get the laser focus and bang it out. I’m kind of lucky that I have huge anxiety about letting people down, because that’s pretty much what got me through school and helps with work and social interactions. I grew up wondering what was wrong with me and was I lazy or weak-willed, but luckily I have a really supportive family, and I’ve been able to develop a lot of coping mechanisms.

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  2. It’s like I’m getting a million texts at one but only reply to one. It’s frustrating when people say that they understand what I’m going through when deep down I know they have know clue whats going on in my head.

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  3. It’s like a door in your brain that opens to let information you need in and closes to stop information you don’t out, won’t stay shut and stays open for every piece of information that wants to get in.

  4. I have a Rolodex flipping constantly back and forth trying to grasp infotmation. Wanting always to flick back and forth until I hit the right card and then super focussed, until I need to flip again.

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  5. My medicine is absolutely crucial to my functioning as an adult.
    Think of attention as a sink drain. Most people are able to completely drain the water coming from the faucet just fine, and these are people with normal attention.
    Then there are people who’s drains aren’t the most effective, the water backs up a little bit in the basin, but if the stream is normal the risk of overflowing is very low.
    Then there people with drains that are completely clogged, like myself, where if you don’t plunge it in the morning (the plunger being medication), the water will overflow and you’ll have a mess on your hands. But when you do plunge it, the drain works like it was never broken, but you have to do it every day or risk a disaster.
    I’ll give an example to show what I mean.
    I’m the stocking manager for a grocery store. I’m in charge of stocking product, ordering product, and keeping the storerooms and coolers organized. Yesterday I forgot to take my medication, and the job didn’t get done like it should. It normally takes me 1 hour to get everything put up, but yesterday it took me 3 hours because I literally couldn’t start doing it without stopping, my brain wouldn’t let me. It took everything I had just to get the bare minimum done.
    Today I took my medicine, and it took me less than 30 minutes to get the ordering done.

  6. Years ago a friend asked me what adhd is like, I said it’s like trying to watch 30 TVs at once and trying to focus on all of them. So what’s adhd like with your meds? Less TVs, still trying to focus on all of them…better, but not perfect

  7. It’s like I’m in the cockpit inside a giant robot, like a Transformer, whose only camera I have to steer is hanging from the outside and swinging.
    Sometimes the camera engages in a good position, sometimes it points to something and does not go out, and every now and then it feels like someone is out there moving the camera

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  8. Hi there, I’m 24 years old and recently diagnosed by my therapist, although I still have to get a Primary Care Physician before I can start medication therapy.

    I can tell you that for me, having ADD feels like a game of whack-a-mole. I hit one mole (Example: Remembering to pay bills on time) but there is always another popping up that I can’t seem to hit (Deadlines, remembering instructions, where I place things). It’s so frustrating and when I look back on all the times I’ve been criticised for my so-called bad listening habits, I just feel even worse. My boyfriend often gets upset with me because he thinks that I don’t listen to him. I try to explain to him that however frustrating it is to him, it’s worse to me because I feel like there is a communication barrier between us that I cannot break.

    3 months ago was when I finally came to the conclusion that I may have ADD or a possible learning disorder. This only came after my boss had a sit-down with me where she showed me all the seemingly careless mistakes I had made in such a short amount of time. I desperately tried to understand why and how I made so many mistakes, racking my brain and remembering all the times in my life I had been chastised for doing the same thing. Luckily, she was kind enough to listen and has been on my side through the diagnosis and everything. Had it not been for her caring enough to discuss it with me, I might have made an even bigger mistake and gotten fired. Although I chose to do therapy on my own accord, I credit her for helping me see the problem more clearly.

    It’s been tough to discuss publicly, but I know that my loved ones support me. I am a very self-conscious person and worry too much about what people will think when I bring up ADD. I watch carefully for facial expressions and eye signals, thinking they will write me off as “lazy” or “careless”, but the truth is that if they don’t have ADD themselves, they will never truly understand how debilitating it can be to go through the motions of it every single day. Losing keys (something my friends jab me about, it’s a bit of a running gag with me) or anything important sends me into a tailspin.

    After my diagnosis, I’m choosing to look at the bright side of it. I’m 24, I know that I am a bright and ambitious person, and once I get on track with this I plan on going for my dreams. No longer will ADD restrain me!

    1. I’m 31, and I’m only about two steps ahead of you.

      Get your Primary Physician ASAP. Might be best to get a reference from someone you know who has children with ADHD or has a similar experience. I’ve found that some doctors seem to think it’s just an excuse to get drugs, or think you’re exaggerating the debilitating qualities of your condition. I’ve spilled my guts enough times to know.

      But it’s SO WORTH IT. You deserve to feel better about yourself, and you won’t believe how freeing it is to be in control of your own focus. Well, more in control, anyway.

      Best of luck!

  9. The worst thing about ADHD is that nobody takes the time to really understand it. I don’t think like someone without it. My brain never takes the same road twice. I’m always looking for different ways to solve the task at hand. When a normal person is focusing on a single task, I’m focusing on 6,7,8 things at once, and it never shuts off. Are there times I wish I could, of course! But it’s also what makes me who I am, it’s me like it or not. I cant stand when people say this is a made up disorder, they don’t take the time to really try and learn how it affects my daily life.

  10. I feel like normal people have some sort of filter in between their conscious and subconscious mind, stopping random or irrelevant ideas from interrupting their task at hand, and people with adhd still have a filter, but it’s full of holes, and when i’m trying to do something or think, random thoughts keep leaking through the holes in the filter.

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      Thanks for your comment, Aiden.

      You’re onto something here! Our brain automatically filters out data/stimuli that’s irrelevant or not important for the task at hand, etc.

      But with ADHD, sometimes it seems like it doesn’t do the job right, or the filters got big holes in it.

    2. My grandson has been diagnosed with ADD and I am looking for an answer about how he feels and how I can help him in school. His counselor told him in a meeting that he has a choice of what he focuses on and that doesn’t really sit well with me. Your post has opened my eyes on the difference in people with ADHD and people without. Thank you so much for sharing.

  11. Having ADHD is like having a friend always talking to you inside your head. Sometimes this friend takes you into his/her own head and you don’t realize you’ve even left your own.

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  12. I can’t concentrate. It’s like trying the hardest i can but never succeeding. I am also like the example with the balloons.

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      Thanks for your comment, Evelyn!

      Nothing is more frustrating than when you work extra hard, but it doesn’t make a difference… It can be downright heartbreaking.

      I’ve made a rule for myself and it’s helped me from repeated disappointment (that is when I stick to it!), and it’s this: I can’t try harder until I try it differently.

      And if I can’t think of a different way, then I find a friend who will brainstorm with me.

  13. Have you ever had that moment when you start to search for something only to realize you’ve had it in your hand the whole time. I was talking to a friend on my phone one time and in the middle of the conversation I said “wait a minute where’s my phone?” And my friend said “uhhh did you check your hand?” And I was like… “oh yeah.” But yeah I was reading the comments that people were saying on here and I was at the part where it says people with adhd come up with the best analogies and I was like “oh yeah! I can use my filing cabinet analogy!” And then I scroll down only to find out that somebody already thought of it.(what are the odds of that by the way?) So I’m trying to come up with something else right now but I can’t focus enough to come up with anything.(go figure) But whether it’s selective hearing (which can be a curse or a blessing depending on the situation) or you start to think about something and your mind decides to randomly change the channel on you and your like “hey! I was watching that!” Adhd is definitely a challenging mental affliction to have. I have little to no patience with anything I’m not interested in but I’m easily entertained by some of the most trivial and redundant activities. I have issues with pacing when I’m in deep thought but on the plus side I’m getting exercise. I think up multitudes of topics, ideas, and philosophies but forget them two seconds later. I constantly need to be doing something with my hands or I’ll go absolutely bonkers. And then there’s times when I go into hyper drive and I decide to do something like go for a walk but as I’m walking to the door to go outside I go into a hyperspace out and start to think about something else and all of the sudden I’m like “what was I doing again?…and wheres my damn phone!?” But at the end of the day (that is if your mind let’s your day end) your adhd isn’t going to go away. The best thing to do is embrace it and develop coping strategies that will benefit you in the long run. Medication might help too. By the way this comment took me hours to write because of various distractions (squirrel!) And at one point I completely forgot I was writing a comment in the first place. Lol

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      Wes, thanks for laying out so many experiences in your comment.

      Your example about how hard it is to have patience for anything you’re not interested in– how terribly (and at times torturously) true!

      Also, there was a campaign on kickstarter (check it out here) not too long ago that featured a new kind of fidget toy.

      It had a modest goal $15,000, but then it exploded, and by the the end, it had amassed over $6,000,000 of support! Apparently you’re not the only one who has the constant need to be doing something with your hands. 🙂

  14. I feel like machine sometimes. I feel like once I start something I can’t stop until I’m complete. Some people have trouble sleeping because their mind is always running. My mind and my body is running so much all day that when my head hits the pillow, I’m out in less than 3 min. because I’m exhausted.
    I have trouble in conversations because my mind is going so fast that I interrupt people or change the subject because I have so many things going on in my head that I want to say.
    When I drive, I’m all over the place because I get bored so I look around just to pass the time.
    I have little or no patience because if something I’m doing is boring or someone I’m talking to is boring me, I’m ready to check out and move on to the next thing.
    I feel like a freak sometimes because I’m like a car out of control all over the place.

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  15. Diagnosed in the last 3 months (at 33). I described it to my mom as running a gauntlet: I have a thought that I need to follow to the end for it to be useful, so I start running. As soon as I do, the people on the sides (me) start throwing rocks (thoughts) at me trying to knock me off course. I have to run so fast it’s exhausting, and even then I get thrown off to the side at least half the time. So that but x100000000 because how many thoughts are in a day?

    Mundane or non-interactive tasks are SO agitating. Any time I feel bored (which is any time I’m not at least 95% fully mentally engaged) it feels like a vice is being tightened on my brain and I’m just this wound up spring waiting to pop up. It’s physically uncomfortable.

    I can never learn from mistakes. I can’t set goals. I am late every single day and every single day I promise myself that tomorrow will be different. I commit to a goal 300% and by mid afternoon I can’t remember why I even set it. It’s like I can’t hold on to anything mentally.

    When I’m engaged, it’s so wonderful. My brain is so curious and pattern-seeking, it jumps from one thing to another and sees everything all at once. I have this phenomenonal energy and drive and passion, and it’s like the buzzing has stopped and a veil has been lifted and I’m really MYSELF. Those moments are such a relief.

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      Wow, what an engaging description. And wow, what a big thing to get diagnosis.

      Diagnosis can be a different experience for different people, but what was it like for you? Was it positive or negative? Are you trying medication for treatment?

  16. Diagnosis is complicated. In a way it’s such an enormous relief to be told that all these “failings” I’ve been struggling to overcome for 30 years aren’t my fault after all.

    Along with that there’s disbelief – the feeling that I don’t REALLY have ADHD and am just using it as an excuse (even though I completely identify with everything everyone has said here and sleep just fine on moderate doses of stimulants).

    I’m trying medication and some counseling too. The meds are amazing – I feel like they untie your hands from behind your back so that you can at least participate in the fight – but they aren’t a cure all and I think there are a lot of patterns and coping and defense mechanisms to work through. On that note, letting some of that defense is actually really hard, because it makes me realize what intense denial I was holding onto and how debilitating some of the symptoms actually are.

    I think with that there’s a bit of anger. I’m pissed off that no one noticed sooner, that certain things were so hard when maybe they didn’t have to be.

    So yes, complicated but positive 🙂

  17. It’s kinda like watching 100 televisions at once. I didn’t read all this post because my mind won’t allow it. Things will pop into your mind without a moments notice. I had to get off of Facebook because I would worry about everything that was happening to other ppl. Ppl with ADHD have pretty much a super brain.

  18. Half the time when I think, it’s like an avalanche. I can start on one idea, say for instance, “I need to meet up with people at 3 pm.” Then suddenly I have ideas of oh what else is there to do before, and then it turns into did i forgot anything, and then finally i forgot what i was thinking about in the first place.

  19. At age 66 I’m feeling more and more like the gears in my head are stripped and my brain keeps slipping into neutral. Unless hyperfocused on a task, I honestly don’t know what I am thinking or feeling; I’m simply functioning on auto pilot.
    It’s increasingly more frightening and most days I’m certain I’m loosing it and then there will be a day where I’m confident and in control. It’s a horrible way of life and I refuse to go back on medication as that creates a scenario whereby I never sleep; which is another different neutral state of mind.
    My wife is now seeing a therapist in an attempt to hone her skills in loving and living with a person with ADD. My persona has changed and my wife describes me best with the lyrics in the Pink Floyd song — I’ve become comfortably numb. Seems my emotions are subdued and the days of highs and lows have been replaced by the auto pilot zombie.
    I have an amazing life and loving family and this affliction is becoming more debilitating each day. I saw this in my mother and before her death, doctors were treating her for dementia. I now know what it was and fear I am heading to the same place.

  20. I’m a high achieving student and athlete, between so many obligations and a recently failed relationship I am stressed to the point that trying to focus is physically painful and difficult. I have identified with almost every analogy and explanation on this page, it’s become a source of empathy when I feel like no one else understand the wonderful and terrible intricacies of ADHD.

    However, nobody has really discussed the issues of medication. Medication is the difference between me being a C student or top of my class, but it’s not a miracle pill. The drug comes at the steep cost of my personality. I am normally witty, energetic, social and always smiling. When medicated I focus almost as well as my peers (still below average as stated by other contributors) , but it becomes incredibly difficult to express emotions, engage socially, entertain, or even smile(you can imagine how this makes dating impossible until I take a medication holiday over the summer). Strangely, I am still just as intrinsically happy! I just can’t express it.

    The metaphor I use is this…. imagine standing in a dark room, a light shining down on you (my inner mind). Now you really want to interact with the world: talk, joke, flirt, smile but instead you’re just watching through a one way glass window, desperately wishing someone could see your smile. You can communicate dryly, like tapping out messages in code for those on the other side to hear. But the tapping doesn’t sound energetic like you meant, it’s angry. It’s not calm, it’s serious. It’s not relaxed, it’s sad. Most people misread my tone and emotions when I’m medicated except my closest friends who I cherish because they can decipher “the tapping” with a glance of the eye. As if they can see back through my one way window. They don’t pretend to understand what I’m going through but they earnestly care and try to….

    I kinda went off on a tangent 🙂 suppose that’s typical of me. Anyway, I continue to take the medication because my confidence and pride is tied to my ability to succeed, which in a mundane school environment requires focus. But every day I have to choose: which personality will lead to fulfilment: “chaotic social lovely adhd” or “zombified laser focus efficiency”?

  21. Yes, Medication! It’s a gold key when you can’t focus on an exercise plan, or find the time for it (as a 40 hr./wk. employee, all-the-time mom, & wife) -there’s just no time for me). I was diagnosed 10 yrs. into adulthood. A year after my son was diagnosed, I found myself putting the milk away -in the cupboard, & that’s when the lightbulb turned on. When I began my medication (no feelings of extra happiness or ‘zombie’ mode), it felt like: for 10 years, my wrist was chained to my waste/ankles. I could never stand up straight, I could never reach my hand up to grab my goal (which really hit hard because an adolescent I could do whatever I put my mind to). The medication BROKE MY CHAINS! I could stand tall, and excel at work. I get teary-eyed every time I revisit that amazing moment in my life. That’s my analogy about medication. And that’s why I eventually shared my diagnosis, and have been slowly bringing awareness and shutting stigmatism down, one comment at a time. 🙂 One post at a time.

  22. Hi my name is Michael. I’m a 14 year old in 8th grade and i had ADHD/ADD for my entire life.
    Having ADHD is a very difficult thing to explain on what it feels like. Imagine a billion nukes bouncing around in your body and you have to stay still.
    (which is nearly impossible) You have to focus on one thing and everything thing around is so interesting to look at accept that one thing. it’s like someone put a mint in a coke gallon and your the coke gallon about to explode. And don’t even get me started with the day dreaming.
    I zone out so easily it’s scary. And the worst part is while people are talking in my day dream. I talk out loud without even realizing it making people think i’m crazy. Simple 5 minute tasks can take about 30 minutes. Sometimes I’m carrying one specific thing in my hand and I forget it’s in my hand so I look around my house for 5 minutes until realize it was in my hand the whole time. Recently, I was prescribed medication to help me focus, and i have been noticing the effects!
    i can focus better and I’m not easily distracted. But when I’m on it I dont feel like my normal self.
    normally without it I feel super happy and like talking to people. But when i’m on it i feel really mellowed out and people think i’m high on pot on how mellowed out i am. Also, I’m extremely impulsive.
    Ask anyone, I’m not a bad kid, I dont curse off teachers, get in fights, do drugs,
    I just do really stupid things without thinking on what would happen. for ex in 3rd grade i got stuck in a laundry shoot, in 4th grade i got my head suck in a bench, this year I got my shoe stuck on the school roof, in 5th grade I brought a horse mask to school, and many many more.
    But all this all this relates to my ADHD according to the doctor.
    At this point I’m really scared about my condition.
    I fear that i will have it as a adult and not be able to hold a job and my impulsive thoughts and not be able to support myself.
    Hopefully a miracle happens.. -_-

    1. MIchael,
      There’s nothing for you to worry about. As you get older, you’ll how to control yourself better and realize that your mind is brilliant. Once you realize how brilliant your mind is and embrace it, you’ll come to realize that “inner voice”, was right all along; then wonder what took you so long to see something, that has been in front of your face all along<3

  23. What I feel with ADHD is having one think that I can focus on for multiple day or week periods, but only focus on for 5 minute periods. I know it doesn’t make sense, but if you have ADHD, I think you’ll get it. For a solid week, I will be working on a project for a few minutes at a time, regardless of what I should be focusing on. That’s what other people have talked about with being hyperfocused on something. To steal the computer analogy, it’s like only one app working properly for like a week. The other part is only being able to focus on that project or whatever I’m managing to focus on instead for a few minutes without thinking of something unrelated. Back to the computer analogy, it’s like that single app that works for a week crashes every 5 minutes, and in its place, 10 other tabs or apps open, and the app shortcut gets deleted from your desktop.

  24. The way I best exemplify my symptoms are in the use of AM/FM radios. Between large cities that are near one another, multiple radio transmissions (with similar frequencies) are received by radios and publish the scattered information to the people that are tuned in. Sporadic unwanted messages constantly pour in at varying volumes and languages. The scrambled information makes it extremely difficult to focus on only one portion of the broadcast, much less anything else that the person may be doing at the time such as driving in traffic.

  25. The best way to describe what is happening within the thoughts of my mind is to view the brain as a type of machine. This machine (my brain) has multiple constantly revolving chains and working each chain is its own thought or task/reminder. When I’m thinking I often bounce from one of these constantly moving chains (think of them as bike chains while being rode) and when I get back into that thought it’s already moving. Almost like stepping onto a treadmill that is already turned on a brisk walking pace. Sometimes I can easily grab onto each chain or thoughts and go back and forth between different chain thoughts without missing a beat. I can keep track and know exactly where I was in so many different thoughts and go back into it and resume where I left off. Then there are days where I’m having a hard time and focusing isn’t easy. I almost can visualize myself trying to grasp those thought chains while they are rotating, but each time I reach out to grab on the chain slips out of reach. I try my hardest to get into that thought. Sometimes if it fails I will reach for another thought and come short again. Then it’s like each time I reach out they all keep slipping away. And my mind will finally give up and stay blank. Usually I will have a minute of relief that my mind can finally rest. But then a feeling of disappointment and wondering what is wrong with me follows.

  26. I’ve had it my whole life (I’m 29) and the best analogy I can give anyone who doesn’t have to deal with ADD is this:

    Imagine you’re looking one direction, you are 100% interested in what you’re looking at but your eyes start to go to the right because something different is over there. But then you realize what you’re doing and make them look back at the first thing in the middle. Then after a minute or less your eyes start looking to the left, so you remind yourself to look back at the middle. Then, without realizing it, you have done this a hundred times and never noticed that the thing you were looking at in the middle left 10 minutes ago.

    Imagine that happening every day no matter what you are doing and tell me again why you think I didn’t finish the test in class.

  27. I only just got a diagnosis earlier this year (at 33) and I’m still coming to terms with what that entails. On the one hand, it’s good to have an explanation for the scatteredness of my head, but on the other hand, I’m terrified that I’ll never be able to change. I think I’m finding it particularly stressful because I’m preparing for grad school and I know I have a really hard road ahead of me. I feel like I’m forever letting people down because I just can’t work the way they do, and I have a lot of fear that this way of thinking is going to preclude me from the life I want to live.

    I also deal with depression so I have the competing brain activity of lack of motivation and fatigue, while at the same time what feels like five people having a conversation in my head all trying to get my attention. It’s incredibly frustrating because it doesn’t seem to matter how interesting I find something – if it requires extended focus (like reading an article) I just can’t get through it. I’m an incredibly slow reader because I have to focus so hard just to stop my mind from wandering off down another rabbit hole. And this is for things I’m interested in! Which is great when you are brainstorming, but really shitty when you need to knuckle down and actually read for comprehension. A number of times I’m in a lab meeting and I say the words: “I read about xyz… /some vague description of the paper/… but I can’t remember what paper it was, or who wrote it”. I swear, I spend more time trying to go back and find the thing that interested me and was relevant than actually producing anything useful.

    My hyper-focus moments go towards things that I shouldn’t be doing, like reading an entire comment thread on a facebook post when I only wanted to check an event for location details, or completely re-organising the garage because I thought it looked messy when I went to get extra toilet paper. I imagine for non-ADHD procrastinators they are aware they are avoiding something. They have a voice in their head telling them, “you should go work on your paper now, not repaint the guest room”. But my ADHD procrastination isn’t like that. My voice has completely forgotten I was going to write a paper today and is now emphatically encouraging me to do this new thing.

  28. it’ll be kinda hard explaining what it’s like for me because i suffer of adhd & often have a bad time explaining & staying on one topic. school is the hardest. my teacher constantly calls me out on my eyes focusing on something else besides what she’s saying. its very embarrassing for me & ill catch myself doing it over & over again. the only thing that makes focusing easier is if i have constant movement. also ill spend 10 minutes trying to decide what i want to drink at a restaurant haha. don’t think having adhd will get in the way of whatever you’re trying to achieve. everything is just as possible. adhd or not ((:

  29. Does anyone else have extreme lack of focus while driving? Sometimes I am so in my head I feel like I am looking at things through a foggy window and my brain is elsewhere. I am driving safely but on an auto pilot mode while having conversations about random things bouncing from one topic to the next and I almost have to smack myself back into focus at times. Chewing gum while I drive helps me to stay present and not Wonder off but I am wondering if it is something others have experienced.

  30. I’m curious to hear if other people can relate to this: For me, my ADD is most apparent when communicating with other people. It gets to a point where I literally cannot hear people or make meaningful connections, and it is so incredibly frustrating. I am beginning to wonder if it is solely ADD, or if it is accompanied by some kind of separate anxiety disorder. Oftentimes, the symptoms of anxiety and ADD are the same, so it is difficult to know. But this is how it is for me: You know how when you have your ADD under control–whether it’s due to medication, meditation, exercise, or an occasional moment where your brain inexplicably ISN’T racing a thousand miles an hour–you can hear people much more effortlessly? You’re still thinking fast, but you’re able to comfortably speak with people. And then when it’s back… it’s like I’m picking out individual words from someone’s sentence with tweezers, trying to align them together and make sense of what they’re saying. And it doesn’t matter whether this is a total stranger or a close family member. In fact, it’s worse with people I’m close with, because I feel a heightened responsibility to receive everything they’re saying. And any frustration with this completely exacerbates the whole experience. The second I start to realize my thoughts are racing, a ping-pong effect ensues, sort of like this:
    “What did they just say?”
    – “It’s okay, you don’t have to hear every single thing.”
    “You should say something.”
    – “You don’t HAVE to say anything.”
    “So I have nothing to say?”
    – “Of course not, you can if you want, but don’t feel the pressure to entertain anyone. Just listen.”
    “But I can’t listen.”
    – “Just shut up. Think LESS. Stop trying to figure it out.”
    “Maybe I should start taking medication again.”
    – “You’re getting better though! The meditation and counseling has really been helping.”
    “Okay, what did they just say?”
    – “I missed it. Just relax.”
    “I feel so rude. They probably think I’m not listening to them.”
    – “Well, you’re not.”

    I feel like if I can be comfortable with the fact that I won’t hear much, I am able to operate socially much better, but as soon as my brain STARTS thinking about thinking, or I have another negative emotion like sadness or frustration from the get-go, the whole thing turns into a downward spiral. Does anyone else have this? Thanks!

  31. My son was about 2 years old at the time. I piped up in a crowded room in a panic, “Has anyone seen where Noah went!” EVERYONE in the room started howling with laughter. I was holding him with my one arm the entire time and somehow completely forgot.

    Pretty much sums it up for me.

  32. I’m researching this because I’m in a relationship with a wonderful man, who told me recently that he doesn’t feel like I ever want to have a meaningful conversation. He said I just trail off or change the subject. At first I was defensive and mad, but have since realized that he’s right. No matter how hard I try, I don’t seem to really consume what I’m watching/reading/hearing. And so then I’ve spent that time, but can’t bring away anything meaningful to incorporate into a conversation. I don’t know how long it’s been this way, but I realize that I have the same issue with work. It takes me forever to finish projects because I’m not consuming/processing what I’m reading anymore. It wasn’t always like this…I don’t think.
    I took some of the tests online, and I have so many of the symptoms. I don’t even know what my next step should be?

    1. I’d say your next step is talking to your primary care physician. If their office isn’t equipped to test you, they should be able to point you to somewhere that can. I went directly to a psychiatrist who specializes in adult ADHD, you might look it up and see if there is someone like that in your area! I haven’t tried medication yet (I am bull-headed and want to battle it out on my own), but it might be something you can talk to your doctor about, if you are diagnosed and want to try. I’ve found behavioral therapy extremely helpful (or something like that, I forgot the official name…). A good therapist can help you find a lot more self-awareness and gives you “natural” coping mechanisms that can help you out with anxiety and stuff that the medicine won’t fix. I wish you all the best!!

  33. Your mind is the unbeatable beast, and you’re the tamer.

    No matter how aware of the situation you may be, you can’t control or tame the thoughts that cross your mind, sometimes your own brain is fighting your every will to actually do the stuff that you need to do, other times it feels as if you’ve formed a temporary truce, and become a powerhouse of productivity, but one wrong move could set you back into a full on war.

    I had several other ways to word it that were a lot better than that, but It doesn’t seem I’m capable of putting them to words, because I’m not sure if I can remember them at all.

  34. To describe ADHD for me, imagine that your mind is a house. Outside the house, there are people to chat with, places to go and things to do. Inside the house is your own personal sanctuary with things to personalize, organize, and chill with. “Normal” people can leave the house, talk to neighbors, and shop for groceries at normal intervals, then return home and enjoy a coffee in the evening. I, on the other hand, frequently find myself locked out of my house or locked in for uncomfortable periods of time.

    I’ll connect this to reality then. On the days I am “locked out,” I am a super extroverted, crazy chatterbox, and find it really hard to slow down. Then, if it starts “raining,” (i.e. I realize that I’ve gone too far and embarrassed myself), I can’t just stop and retreat. I desperately desire the safety of my sanctuary, but I am locked out. I’ve just started warning people and saying “hey, I really don’t know if I’m going too far sometimes. If I’m making a monkey of myself, I give you complete permission to stop me. No social shenanigans needed here, just let me know!” Giving people permission to acknowledge that I’m different helps to set everyone at ease and makes it a lot less awkward!

    Other days, it’s like the door is jammed in my mind-house. I can see the neighbors chatting outside, see them going about their day and being productive, but I can’t join them. In real life, on the days I am “locked in,” I am super spacey (or hyper-focused) and overwhelmed with the pressure of everyday activities to the point where I don’t even want to leave my room. I really need to get things done, but I am locked in. On days like these, I can’t ask for help. All I can do is hope that the people around me are merciful enough to give a girl a break.

    This complicates the way I have to approach things like daily chores, friendships, appointments, and personal time, but it has also made me more empathetic to the struggles of people around me, and more merciful when people have an “off day.” Like, I feel you bro, maybe more than you think.

  35. Imagine you’re in your apartment. There’s unopened mail on the table, you have no idea what to make for dinner, a light bulb went out, and you haven’t returned your friend’s text message. Also, the apartment is on fire. You change the light bulb.

  36. i feel with my adhd that im stuck in sinking sand- i will have one , maybe two things that i want to get done such as painting or writing on what im going threw and i just cant seem to do it…im constantly getting thrown off by s stupid crump on the floor or ill see something that i want to get done cuz it bothers me wich distracts me from what i was going to do-Paint! and the i remember other things so i need to write them down just so i dont forget about them….and the fact that no one in my life can understand just why its so hard to say “hell with all that crap and just sit and paint” and yet i cant either….really sucks-they get to get away from me- i dont….if i walk to store-brain is right there, even if im trying to sleep-hours of my brain just goin on and on,,,,alot of time i wish i never would of tried medication for adhd-yes it brought me in the moment and helped me concentrate but just didnt work with my body…..lost effects in 6 weeks-vyvanse, then strattera-anxiety and depression and hives all over face, then adderall xr and ir- totally worst headahces, cant go out in heat longer than 20 min at a time and i got a toddler so good luck with that- and now im on ritalin-after asking for focalin….i have tbi pdst as well as adhd-who knows maybe throw sum depression in their too….just tired of the side effeects from meds and the chaos it caused with my family

  37. Yes Ray! This is so spot on! I feel like there is always a list of things to do and prioritizing things in a way that makes sense to me but to others it seems very backwards. I get physical urges (like little twitches) to go do different things that along with the thoughts, but usually I just think through them all until committing to the decision which isn’t always easy to make.

  38. This article is excellent. I found this when I Googled a search for ADHD metaphors, with which I plan to use to help explain my ADHD brain to my family. … One that I am considering originates from Jurassic Park, when Dennis Nedry goes on his rant about how debugging the tour program while their VIP guests are out in the park is a bad idea because “it will eat a lot of compute cycles,” causing the system to “compile for half an hour.” … Similar to Pat’s open tabs analogy, it feels like the ADHD brain is like a computer that is always busy running a lot of background tasks which eat up a lot of compute cycles. Each brain (whether ADHD or not) has only so much processing power. The problem for the ADHD brain is that it is always diverting a large portion of its processing power to millions of thoughts firing behind the scenes, in the unconscious mind.

  39. Hey! I’m not sure if you have already, but you should talk to your doctor about possibly trying a different medication. Because when I read this, it reminded me of when I took Ritalin-the first medication I tried. I was myself but without my personality basically. I ended up just stopping the medication because I missed laughing and being who I really was. It wasn’t until recently that I began taking Adderall because I was tired of constantly being judged at work by my coworkers. Since I was so sporadic and would literally stop mid sentence and forget what I was JUST talking about, the rumors just flew that I was on drugs (crack, coke, meth), and I have no backbone so I internalized everything and just had a breakdown. It took some adjusting at first with the dose and type but I take instant release 20mg twice a day and it’s amazing. Like all of the medication for ADHD, it doesn’t make all my ADHD tendencies go away, but it helps me focus better and best of all, I can carry a whole conversation with someone…and I used to be bad about just blurting out random things (like thinking out loud) and that’s rare now. Just a thought!

  40. Honey I’m 30 and my ADHD is so severe without medication and moderately controlled with. However, I’ve worked at my job both without and with medication. Don’t let that worry you, you’ll be just fine! Just find something you’re compassionate about and holding down that job won’t be hard. For me, managing my ADHD is hard sometimes, but I’ve been working as a CNA in a nursing home for almost 13 years. I hope this helps you even if it’s just a little!

  41. I got diagnosed when I was 25.

    I went to the psychologist because of depression, but she suddenly asked ‘why haven’t you been tested for ADHD’?
    And I told her that because I never had any issues when I was younger, the option ‘ADHD’ had always been swept off the table. Turns out, my parents raised me and my sisters with so much order and discipline, that I never experienced any real difficulties until I started university. I was just considered to be ‘a bit wild and forgetful’.

    Anyway, when I got the diagnosis, I was so happy.
    Finally, I could explain to my parents and sisters that my brain works in a different way.
    And me being ‘all over the place’ has nothing to do with being lazy, or irresponsible, or not trying hard enough.

    I explained it like this:
    You’re all labradors, and you keep telling me: “Just jump into the water, quickly swim across, and get the ball”.
    But… I’m a dachshund.

  42. ADHD is like a scene in The Andromeda Strain (1971). At a certain point in the film the computer becomes overloaded and displays the error code 601 (because there is too much information coming in too quickly). Getting a ‘601’ moment reduces my functional ability from its normal zombie like state to that of a snail.
    A simpler way of illustrating what ADHD is like is to watch the Monty Python sketch ‘Spam’.

    My hyperfocus is a slave-like devotion to a task or activity that could easily be left to another day such as tidying the garage or reorganizing the storage boxes under my bed. I don’t need to do these things, but once I’ve started virtually nothing will stop me from doing them.
    An example of being in hyperfocus mode was when I was painting a shed panel prior to assembly, and a nearby breeze-block fell onto my foot (I’d nudged it without looking). I knew instantly that I’d broken my big toe, but I was so engrossed in what I was painting that it was another half an hour before I stopped. And by then it was a struggle to get my shoe off due to the pain and swelling.

    BTW, it has taken me over an hour to write this. Just like Debbie (JUNE 6, 2017 AT 1:38 AM) says, I went “wandering off down another rabbit hole”.

  43. @Rachele Thank you. It feels good to know im not alone with experiencing that side-effect. I’ve read about a phenomenon called “rebounding” and also agree that I’m probably om the wrong medicine or dosage. My only issue is it can be so difficult to play with different medications and treatments during a time in my life where maintaining test scores and grades determines my future. The one thing I’ve learned that helps is keeping a log and writing down all my thoughts.

  44. To me, having ADHD is like trying to kick a coked-out puppy, not knowing that it will explode and summon a bunch of clones of itself upon impact.

    Normal people just pet the puppy. But no, not people with ADHD. We get angry and frustrated because WHY IS THE PUPPY BARKING? So we deal with whatever is frustrating us (even if it makes ZERO sense that it would be annoying at all…admittedly) in a way that, while effective for us, may not be best for those around us (or even ourselves). We worry so much about mundane, normal stuff that we just lose it and freak out about everything at once, often by making bad decisions. Those decisions usually backfire on us, and it just always seems to get worse and worse.

    Medication helps us just ignore the puppy for a while. It’s still annoying, but at least we understand that it’s just being a normal puppy. Not a soul-devouring demon.

    I know this didn’t make any sense…but it does to me. And that’s another really annoying aspect of ADHD…

  45. Pingback: Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder – Mind Storming

  46. I don’t really read things like this all that much but hearing other peoples stories really got me thinking about what it feels like for me. It usually feels like an angel and a demon are constantly fighting over my thoughts of whats right and whats wrong to think about. The demon wins most of the time in my decision making.

  47. For me, having ADHD is like everything around you is fighting for your attention. Every movement every passing conversation every leaf on a tree, your mind is trying to pick something to focus on and it can’t decide for the life of you on what it should pick. Your mind has to take note of every single little thing before you can go onto the next task. When it does finally pick something wether it be staring at every fiber on a fuzzy carpet or your homework it does so in a intensity to where the fuzzy carpet looks like its vibrating. Your mind is so focused you practically jumped out of your skin when you feel your dog lick your face for attention. In school and you are taking your mid term its especially hard. You take notice of all the movement around you in the large auditorium each new whisper that echoes around, the slightest movement of the person across the room from you. The best way that helps me when I’m taking a test is to put my headphones in and play a song I have heard a 100 times before so my mind can stop audibly wandering for new stuff while my visual part can focus on the mid term itself. I just need to make sure I don’t look around or ill have the same issue again.

  48. I think of my mind like a fidget spinner at its full speed all the time – where you can’t see the blades when it’s spinning at high speed. You do know that you are not connected, you can easily get agitated with things.. etc etc.. I do not feel racing thoughts, (probably racing thoughts occur in a mania situation) even though the thoughts might be there, you do not see them racing… I can assume if my mind is not a fidget spinner, then probably I am somewhat centered on myself, my body, surroundings, situations, some goal, relaxed in the present moment.

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