What its like to have ADHD

What its like to have ADHD

Im an adult woman with Innattentive Type ADHD. My 12 year old daughter has the same. I was only diagnosed after things were not getting cognitively better, but worse after going through aggressive medical treatment for advanced breast cancer almost 10 years ago when my daughter was 3. Im in remission from the cancer but my undiagnosed ADHD has been exacerbated in a big way! This hasnt been helped by medically induced menopause, and having no oestrogen in my body - Im not adviced to take supplements because of the risk of cancer recurrence. There have been many other stressors along the way and still today that mean I struggle to function effectively in the ways ai once could after years of trial and error trying to manage my undiagnosed AdHd and some of its it near catastrophic consequences in my life. My husband took my difficulties very personally for years before I was diagnosed. And then he just told me I had to fix it. He resisted (as did I initially)for years my daughters diagnoses of ADHD and sadly also misinterpreted her behaviour very negatively for some time (even though he loves her to bits) before he was able to eventually accept the diagnoses. But he still does not seem to be too interested to educate himself further about the understanding the symptoms of ADHD and therefore still often misinterprets them & expects certain solutions that are not applicable. when ever I have tried to suggest this to him he gets angry saying he knows too well what is like to live around aDHD (which of course not what Im asking him to seek further understanding about!) & just keeps telling me its up to me to fix things & sort things out. He gets angry at me often for my behaviour & has become constantly critical and contemptuous. I wish he could spend even a day inside my head. I wrote the following descriptions of what I feel ADHD is like to live with at times but I have not given it to him as Im not sure that he really wants to know. Im feeling a bit down & hopeless about it at the moment of writing this but Im getting support & help & have some good friends around me who do understand.

Some of these descriptions Ive come across and strongly related to, others are my own:
Sometimes its like being lost & bewildered in a huge noisy supermarket with flashing lights all over the place & lots of TVs turned on to different stations, not properly tuned & with volume up full blast. 
Sometimes Its like I have an orchestra in my head that might be made up of some very skilled and talented musicians but who are trying to play a complex piece without a conductor or with a conductor who is dysfunctional. Everybody's playing at once and out of time, tune & its a cacophony! 
Sometimes Its like being in a room with hundreds of people all urgently shouting at once to get my attention. 
Sometimes its like being sucked into a vacuum so strongly that I lose all sense of time, perspective, whats going on around me and any idea of what else I was supposed to be doing. 
Sometimes it feels like being an alien being that cannot understand the language, behaviours, rituals, expectations, priorities of the strange land I suddenly find yourself in.
Sometimes its like having too many things going on in my head at same time, not knowing what to focus on & constantly forgetting things that seemed (or were) very important at the time. Its like having all these cogs or insects whirring around incredibly fast & uncontrollably inside my skull.
Sometimes its like trying to wade through treacle that is slowly sucking me down & the harder I try the stronger it sucks me down until I feel as if I might or I am going to drown.
Sometimes its like being in a constant impenetrable fog. I cant hear, see, feel or make sense of anything around me.
Sometimes it is unbearably overwhelming and exhausting because my brain & all my bodily senses cannot filter anything out. It can be so bad it is impossible not too shut down, switch off or over react to the slightest sound, sight, physical sensation, another unwelcome thought or word etc.
Sometimes it is like having a car with a powerful engine but faulty break & steering wheel and uses to much fuel too quickly.
Sometimes the amount of concentration, energy & time it takes for me to get things done in an efficient and organised way leaves me feeling completely incapable of functioning on any level by the end of the day. 
Some times my heart breaks over and over and over again when people I love consistently misinterpret & react against my symptomatic behaviour as signs of selfishness, dishonesty, manipulation, not caring & lack of love. 
Sometimes it can be so distressing I feel like I want someone to hit me over the head with a mallet to stop it. 
There are things I can do to take responsibility for managing my symptoms and my related behaviour. There are things I (& others in my life) can do towards better understanding and helping me to manage this stuff. But I and others need to also accept that I will never be entirely free of and will always be prone to the symptoms of my ADHD. 

carathrace's picture

Kate, my heart goes out to

Kate, my heart goes out to you.  You have a lot going on, with ADHD and medically indused menopause, a daughter with ADHD and a husband who is reacting to what must overwhelm him, by shutting down.  I am very sorry you are going through this and know it must be hard.  It's good that you have friends you can talk to.  Did you read your description of what ADHD feels like, to them?  It's very well described, I'm sure my husband would be able to relate to most of what you say and I intend to read it to him.

Does your recovery from breast cancer prevent you from being able to take ADHD meds?  Do you have a coach or therapist who's familiar with ADHD and to whom you can talk about your symptoms and your relationship with your husband?  I wish you the very best.

What its Like to have Inattentive ADHD

Thank you for your thoughts cara, it means a lot to get some feedback!

I was thinking about reading this to him but wanted to check it here first.....I didn't know if it was too much, or melodramatic, or too whingy...it is heartfelt...but it also comes from a place of sorrow & despair....and we have had so many losses, griefs & related traumas in our life together in such a short time he has said he feels suffocated by my "grief & anxiety".... when I got sick it was a financial and housing disaster, then I could not have more children, the impact of treatment etc on our (now just about non existent) sex life, then the struggle with coming to terms with my daughters difficulties, then my mum deteriorating very quickly from Parkinsons and having the most horrible time of it and most horrible death, my needing to get back into work for $$$ and getting a job at university that had been overwhelming & anxiety producing, my dad (who has always been a difficult person) starting to develop dementia of some type, and trying to get my daughter ready for highschool - Im anxious about her getting the right support - ADHD is not recognised as a disability by Education system in Australia even though she has been officially diagnosed, sees a psychiatrist & psychologist & her teachers (who have been wonderful) recognise her difficulties! Im forever feeling overwhelmed with trying to manage all this & dont do it well because its too much...  I struggle with depression and anxiety as a result & my fuse can be very short at times......my relationship with my husband constantly falls to the bottom of the pile because I don't have anything left to give him.....he understandably feels like a "passive observer in the drama of MY life". He works hard as an IT engineer doing lots of shift work which makes it a bit confusing...he does a lot of the housework, food shopping (he enjoys this) and cooking and I try to manage all the other stuff including keeping track of our budget, bills, (which since the job has not been very well), managing the daughters school and extracurricular activities. Recently I had an uncontrollable screaming meltdown over the phone at my dad, my husband witnessed it and was very supportive at time (Im now seeing a carer support counsellor) but immediately after that a young student where I work slowly died of Leukemia and I had to support her peers & family in my capacity on the course I teach on (because the course leader was away) which took extra time and was upsetting. Im feeling so constantly consumed, overwhelmed, and exhausted I have nothing left for him.

He left 2 weeks ago because he feels need for a break (he doesn't know if this is permanent or not and we will touch base in a couple of weeks to discuss further) ....I was shocked but not surprised ...and dont blame him in a way...something had to give....I know Im not managing my symptoms well under the circumstances and we had been talking for a while about having to reassess my committments etc but is not that easy to just quit my job and have less income in the family!! I realise Im incapable of functioning well at this level ....I do take meds (Concerta) and would be in a much worse state with out them but Im not able to look after myself in the other areas I need to well enough especially since starting this job a few years ago.....my husband has finally agreed to the idea of having a cleaner come in fortnightly (he gets a small carers allowance from when I had cancer that could cover this cost)..... and he well sees that the job is no good for me and the family (initially he had pressured me into getting back into my career at the same intensity as before my cancer but hes reassessed this a bit now!)...Im good at my work with the students but working in the big institution with alls its complex & frankly rather dysfunctional admin systems does my ADHD head in big time over and over...so OK  he can now see I cant function well at level he expects or hopes but also tends to minimise all that we have been and are going through. I have seen a AdHD coach for a short time but can only afford to do this in short term as dont have insurance etc. In Australia we can get zgP referral for 10 Free (or largely rebated) sessions per year. I know a lot of what zi can and need to do but with having too much on my plate and too much uncertaintly it is hard to keep a workable routine gong st the moment. That is why I MUST simplify my life even if it means we have a bit less income.

Our relationship has become very dysfunctional (the symptom - response - response dynamic is us to a tee and it has created a monster between us!)... and I believe we have unintentionally emotionally wounded each other along the way so much and so often I am not sure if we can come back from it.....Ive been very grown up and level headed about the break and have been able to lead the way (collaboratively) with him about how to structure the break (which he has in fact appreciated as he has felt totally lost as to how to do so), Ive been reading up alot about how to constructively manage a break (including working out some agreements, deadlines etc). when we sit down together I suggested we each bring along 5-10 things that we have written down that we want or need to be different in relationship/from each other etc and to calmly discuss these together etc.

One thing I would like to suggest is that we get appropriate couple therapy - and my research suggests that finding a skilled couple the therapist that can help us address our relationship attachment wounds (emotionally focused therapy) but has some understanding or openness to the impact of my ADHD on all this might be helpful. However, we have tried therapy here and there before and either it eas not very good but we couldnt afford anything else, was before we knew about the Adhd (therefore not entirely appropriate) or couldnt be continued with because of the costs at time.  So unfortunately he now has this idea that therspy doesnt work and that nothing has really changed as a result. Im a trained therapist myself and have undergone my own therapy in past (to help understand and deal with some of the wreckage of my past) so well understand that sometimes it takes time and commitment before things change through therapy & Ive explained this to him but he is sceptical. He blames me for the problems but I can also see his part in things and think he has brought some unresolved grief into the relationship and have noticed that he never seems to show signs of or express his own grief about the things that have happened in our life. He is very shutdown (probably depressed himself) and always says hes "fine" when I sense he may not be and I try to ask but i sense a tension that builds up until he inevitably explodes over the smallest thing and becomes frighteningly angry and berates me about everything and anything. He seems always angry and somewhat contemptuous and has developed this very long suffering attitude towards me & to some extent our daughter (but of course aim the main brunt of it fortunately for her - although I still don't think it is good for her). 

Whether we stay together or not, I still think we need to sort our relationship with each other and with ADHD for our daughters sake as a priority!!!! fortunately we are both on same page about her needs being top priority & usually if I approach it from that perspective he is open to considering things he wouldn't otherwise (especially coming from me!!).

Oh dear this reads as a huge overwhelmed, overwhelming, obsessive dump.....Im terribly sorry all....but possibly some of you sympathise?!? 



hi cara, I misread your

hi cara,

I misread your comment slightly! I hadnt thought of reading my description to my friends but think that is a good idea! because they actually know me they may more easily join the dots which would be helpful for us all! 

And I would be so pleased if you let your husband read my description! Id be curious as to his response & to also know if/how it helps further mutual understanding between you!

I feel a little more supported & calmer already because of your response & interest & by knowing I can use this forum in this way! 

Thanks again so much!! :)


Thank you for your post

It is very interesting to get the ADHD side of the picture.  It really helps clarify how my DH sees things and does what he does.  So often it seems so out of left field that I'm truly flummoxed.  It would be incredibly difficult to fit the ADHD brain into a neuro-typical life plan. It seems to me that you have taken on far too many responsibilities that don't work well with how your mind works.  I think it would be better than dwelling on how to make it so you can do these things, change the responsibilities you are in charge of to ones most consistent with your skill set. If you do decide to try again that is. He can do the finance and admin re daughter's activities while you do the more task oriented things, like lawn mowing, taking out garbage, shuttling daughter around. Do you like your job? Do you derive fulfillment from it? If so, maybe you can keep it if you find a way to delegate or mitigate the bureaucracy. I guess it's about identifying what you do well and see how you can adapt the path to fit.

Also, it is critically important that you take care of yourself. It drives me nuts that DH won't do the simple things to manage his symptoms. Sleep, eat regularly, and exercise. Or any of them. Get your Omega 3s. These are proven successful, free, and healthy ways to reduce not only ADHD symptoms, but stress in general. Schedule it in. Set reminders. Lots of reminders. When things get overwhelming, chunk it up into smaller pieces. More timers. Also you might consider dosage or type of meds. Perhaps something for anxiety or mood stabilizing. DH has benefitted from these. 

Im very sorry you are dealing with all these very serious issues. My best friend also had breast cancer when her daughter was 3 and has undiagnosed, albeit relatively mild, ADHD. And her parents both died, during and after treatment. It's been a terrible and tragic journey that unless you are living it no one can really truly understand. Most neuro-typical people would struggle mightily. I know I would. It sounds like you are remarkably functional and empathetic. I hope that you find the path that works best for you and your family.

thanks Shelley

hi Shelley,

I appreciated your response so much, Thankyou. Truth be told, it has indeed been hard to look after myself these past few years with all the stress of my mum & dad and job etc (& I realise now with perspective, the constant constant tension between my husband and I). I need to get back into Excercise, eating & sleeping better. I do take Omega 3 and Concerta but have now also started taking anti anxiety antidepressants. My ability to think straight has improved and my selfcare has actually started getting easier since my husband left. Additionally, my anxiety & depression has actually subside noticeably after my husband left but this is relative to it having been recently assessed as somewhat edging up into the extreme spectrum & Im sure will possibly fluctuate - so I will err on side of caution and stay on the antidepressants until Ive adjusted to the changes in circumstance and things become a little more certain. I am very sad it has come to this, but I am even more sad to think back and realise that if we had understood what was going on earlier, not had quite so many other stressors compound things  & had got the right kind of help long ago, things may not have had to end like this.