When I first got diagnosed in 2020, I wanted to understand everything I could about my newly discovered condition. I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to know as much as I can about a topic that interests me. I already knew what it was like to live with ADHD because, well, I’ve lived my own life, but I didn’t know much about it in general.
The information about ADHD is vast and interesting and I’m still learning! Part of the reason I started the blog was to gather and share that information with the world who desperately needs to understand ADHD better.
But I was also seeking comfort and community. I needed to know that someone else out there understood what I’d been through. It mattered to me that I wasn’t alone.
That’s what led to the ultimate mission of this blog. To make others feel seen and heard. To make people recognize themselves in my writing. I wanted to create a space where anyone with ADHD could read a post and think “Yes! That’s me too!”
So far, a lot of what I’ve done has been more educational. I’ll continue that.
But I wanted to bring a personal touch to the blog as well, which led me to this – a description of what it’s really like to live and struggle every day with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
What Does it Mean to Live with ADHD
Ask me about my ADHD and I could probably talk about it for hours. For one thing, it’s a topic that interests me, and for another, there’s a lot to share. It’s ingrained in so much of my personality and so many of my characteristics that it can be difficult to disentangle what’s ADHD and what’s me.
ADHD is an extremely pervasive condition. It seeps into every part of your being and affects you in the most surprising ways. And no two ADHDers are the exact same. We all experience various aspects of the condition quite differently.
I can’t be fully defined by my ADHD. But there are some parts of my life that I know for certain are connected to it.
I Can’t Contain All My Emotions
I’ve always considered myself a crybaby. I can cry over anything and it’s no walk in the park. I cry at things that make me sad, things that make me angry, things that frustrate me, things that make me happy, things that scare me.
It’s pretty embarrassing to cry when you get reprimanded by your manager for being late to something. It’s also embarrassing to start crying at a restaurant because your fiancé said something that you didn’t like. The number of times I’ve sat in a public restroom trying to compose myself is simply too high!
I also get angry easily, and I have a low frustration tolerance. I lash out at whoever’s in the room when I feel something big that I don’t know how to name. Needless to say, this isn’t much appreciated by the receiving party.
I have a lot of really big emotions and I don’t always know what to do with them. What I’m experiencing is called emotional dysregulation, which is essentially a poor ability to manage emotional responses to external stimuli.
Emotional dysregulation is a common manifestation of ADHD, though it’s not part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V). It should be!
My emotions are big, they happen fast, and I don’t always have the tools to manage them, which brings a lot of shame to my every day life.
I Can’t Remember Things
I genuinely believe I have the worst memory of anyone I know, of any age. Well, maybe not worse than your average ADHDer, but definitely worse than my neurotypical friends and family.
My memory is so bad that I can write something down, refer to it later when I’m about to action it, and still forget.
Recently, my husband asked me to get him a soda at the grocery store. I wrote it on my list. I glanced at it as I walked down the aisles, and made a mental note. As I approached the checkout, I looked again and whispered to myself “don’t forget the soda!”. Then something grabbed my attention and all thoughts of soda went out the door. I didn’t remember until I got home, sans-soda.
This doesn’t seem so bad. So, I forgot the soda! But take that small anecdote and multiply it by 50, because that’s at least the number of times a day something like that happens. It doesn’t take much for me to forget.
I forget peoples’ birthdays, I forget plans and appointments, I forget to renew things, I forget to cancel free trials, I forget why I’ve walked into a room, I forget that I already brewed coffee, I forget if I took my meds, I forget to respond to text messages or return phone calls.
It’s not because I’m inconsiderate. It’s because I have a poor working memory. I don’t retain information, and I have difficulty pulling up relevant information when it’s required or useful.
I forget things, all day, and it’s terribly inconvenient in every area of my life.
I Can’t Do Anything Boring
We all have things in our lives we don’t love doing. Chores like dishes, vacuuming or laundry. Picking up after our pets. Exercising. But with ADHD, my brain shuts down when faced with anything boring.
I don’t want to be difficult, I really don’t, but it is an incredible amount of effort for me to do anything that I don’t find interesting at that moment. This can extend to things I actually enjoy, but if I’m not in the exact right mindset, activation becomes next to impossible.
I can see the task in my head and visualize what completion looks like, but I just can’t get myself to do it.
I never finished writing my wedding thank you notes! I really deeply appreciated that people came to my wedding, and that they brought or sent gifts. I wanted to thank them; I really did.
But I found the task of writing these notes excruciating. It was mental effort I didn’t know how to manage. For several months after the wedding, I would write a handful at a time, then stop for weeks. Eventually I just gave up and never finished the list. I was so ashamed at the time and worried that people would hate me for being rude!
But it wasn’t rudeness. It was ADHD, getting in the way of my ability to handle a task that should have been easy even if not particularly exciting.
The wedding invites are just one example of many times where I was faced with a task I needed or wanted to do but couldn’t manage, and which left me feeling useless.
I Struggle with Complex Tasks
Complexity is absolutely a subjective concept. What’s difficult for me may seem easy to you. Which is why this one is so hard to explain, but I simply can’t do things that my brain deems too hard.
I signed up in college to donate $28 a month to Greenpeace. I wasn’t really interested in the organization, but the guy who was trying to get people to sign up was cute and I wanted to flirt with him a couple minutes.
I filled out a form with my information and he gave me a paper receipt with instructions to cancel. This was a time before tablets and email receipts. But it’s important to know – I had very clear cancellation instructions. I could have done it at any time.
I ended up donating $28 a month to Greenpeace for probably around five years. Not because I wanted to, but because the act of cancelling it was too damn hard.
Every time I thought of it, I couldn’t remember where the receipt was. Every time I actually found the receipt, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to deal with it. I kept staring at that paper thinking “why can’t I just take care of this?”.
I kept telling myself I would do it later, and then I’d forget for a couple months. It was infuriating, but that, my friends, is ADHD. It’s the struggle to do things that are probably so simple but your brain just decides it’s too much to handle and instead veers another direction.
You can probably imagine how this interferes with everyday life. When I come across a new assignment at work or a new chore around the house, my first thought is always that I don’t want to deal with it. Not because I’m lazy or irresponsible. It’s because my mind initially sees this: “IT’S TOO HARD GIVE UP NOW”. I have to actively work to remind myself that I can do it if I take a little time to plan.
Essentially, if a task or activity just seems difficult, I shut down before I can even lay out the steps to completion. I’m constantly in a fight with my brain to get anything done.
I Can’t Seem to Be on Time
Ah, time blindness, my old nemesis. If you aren’t familiar with the term, time blindness refers to one’s inability to measure time as it passes or to measure it in estimation of future time.
It’s something that many people with ADHD experience on a frequent basis. It’s the reason we’re often late to things.
A scenario I encounter is that I’ll know I have an appointment and I’ll recognize what time I have to leave. I’ll be getting ready, and something distracts me. I think to myself “no worries, I can take care of this real quick and have plenty of time”.
Then my time to leave hits and I think that it’s fine, I probably have an extra five minutes, it doesn’t take that long to get to the appointment. But I don’t really recognize how much time is passing, and how wrong I was about that extra five minutes, or how long it will actually take to get to the appointment.
It’s almost like I can’t comprehend how time actually works. My brain doesn’t see that as more time passes on my distraction, it gives me less time to get to the appointment – and I don’t recognize that I can’t make up the time.
When you live with ADHD, time is literally not on your side.
I Have Little Self-Control
This is possibly the part of my ADHD wherein I experience the most shame, because it’s the area that most affects my relationships. Sometimes, I just can’t seem to keep my mouth shut!
This is especially a problem when I’m excited. If I have a new idea or plan or thought, I want to share it with everyone. And share I will do, even if it’s something best kept to myself for a while so I can mull it over or formulate things.
It’s because I have very little impulse control, which is an executive function skill that many ADHDers lack. It causes us to have more trouble regulating ourselves in both behavior and in communication.
It’s like I just can’t contain myself. My thoughts and emotions and ideas are constantly bubbling up and spilling over the edge and I’m just letting it happen. I tend to live my life as a pretty open book because privacy isn’t much of an option when you tell everyone everything.
I mean, it would be nice every once and a while to keep something to myself.
Living with ADHD Isn’t All Bad
What I’ve outlined here are the things I say that I struggle with. But that’s a matter of one perspective. While I experience difficulty, one could argue that some of them could be strengths if you look at it from a different angle.
That’s the thing about ADHD. It’s not a blessing, it’s not a curse. On any given day some manifestations might lean toward blessing and some might lean toward curse, then flip the next day. It’s simply a reality of how I experience the world.
I’m time blind; but it often allows me to lose myself in things I love and not worry about the clock. I lack self-control; but I’m enthusiastic and passionate and it can be contagiously fun. And I’m forgetful, but I can hear the same stories over and over and not get bored.
What’s important for me is to recognize what’s the ADHD, and to know that I can’t really help it sometimes.
And The Future is Always Hopeful
For me, diagnosis was a huge step forward. For the first time in my life, I felt recognized and understood. Someone reached out and told me I wasn’t pathetic or a loser or a jerk. They told me I had a neuropsychological condition that was making my life harder than it needs to be.
Despite taking ADHD medication, I still struggle with a lot of these things. I have big emotions; I’m late; I can’t always do boring things. But one thing I don’t struggle with anymore is shame, because I’m no longer ashamed of who I am. I’m proud to be neurodivergent for all the wonderful qualities it has given me and I’m able to accept the rest.
There’s no cure for ADHD. But there are a lot of options for management. Medication, coaching, cognitive behavioral therapy, skill building and group support are just a few things that many people with ADHD do to increase their quality of life.
I hope this helps you understand ADHD a little better, and that maybe I’ve provided a glimpse into neurodivergent life.
And if you’re still feeling lost, come talk to me on any of my social channels!