You’ve done your reading on ADHD, and you know the signs and symptoms. Hyperactivity. Trouble concentrating. Having a desk that tests the limits of the description “organized chaos.”
But what do the signs and symptoms of ADHD feel like in the first person? Terms like “inattention” and “impulsivity” are clinical. They describe certain kinds of behaviors.
There’s a gap between what ADHD looks like and how it feels. Here’s what external ADHD symptoms are actually like from the inside:
- Hyperactivity feels like being impatient. Wanting things to move faster and not wanting to wait.
- Inability to sustain attention feels like being bored. In particular, you feel like activities you need to concentrate on are just too dull to possibly hold your focus.
- Lack of attention to detail leads to constantly being surprised by things you didn’t notice or forgot about earlier coming back to bite you. Discovering you’ve lost umbrella, finding a glaring typo in the job application you just sent in, realizing you never did anything with that pot of water you put on the stove to boil, etc.
- Being easily distracted feels like having your brain constantly scanning for whatever the most interesting thing around you is while a little voice whispers in your ear “wouldn’t you rather be doing something else right now?”
- Not being able to listen carefully or follow directions is like how you feel when someone is telling an extremely long, convoluted, detailed story and you just want them to get to the point already – except you feel like that all the time.
- Impulsivity is like having the part of your brain that asks “but is that really a good idea?” turned off: if you want to do something, you just do it.
For example, hyperactivity feels like being “impatient” and having trouble sustaining attention feels like being “bored,” but boredom and impatience are actually very closely related to each other.
That’s because in the end, basically all ADHD symptoms come down in some way to feeling understimulated. When you feel understimulated, you feel bored, you feel impatient, you start looking for more interesting things to do and you become less alert.
Since I have ADHD, I tend towards thinking about ADHD in terms of what it feels like from the inside rather than how it looks to a third-party observer, which is why the distinction between inattention and hyperactivity has never made much sense to me. Being unable to sit still and having trouble concentrating might look like different behaviors from the outside, but internally, they feel pretty much the same.
D’you have any other descriptions of what ADHD symptoms feel like from the inside? Add them in the comments! What emotions d’you associate most closely with different ADHD behaviors?
Also, here’s a cool movie
While we’re talking about what ADHD symptoms are like from the inside, check out this animated video that’s been making the rounds recently. It’s about what being a kid with ADHD is like.