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

If you have ADHD, leave a comment at the end of this post describing what ADHD feels like to you.


So, What Does It Feel Like To Have ADHD?

The Understeering Analogy

adhd feels like 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:

The Low RAM Effect

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


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.

Click Here To Get 50 Free Tools & Resources for ADHD

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

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.

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 it feels like to have add/adhd

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

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.

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 15

  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.

  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

  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!

  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.

  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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