Why is my ADHD Life so Damn Hard?

by Richard L. Ferman, M.D. on

ADHD Stress- Mom, Husband & Kids

ADHD Stress- Mom, Husband & Kids

Having treated thousands of people with ADHD, I find one question that comes up over and over again. That question is “Doc, why is my ADHD life so damn hard?” Now there are variations of this question, such as “I thought the medication would take care of all of this ADHD stuff” or “Shouldn’t I have outgrown all this?” This is when I remind my patients that ADHD is a life long condition.  It requires a lifetime of learning and managing from many different angles in order to be successful.  Just because we get some relief from our medication, we still will always have to battle against those three primary traits of ADHD we have been dealing with all of our lives.

The good news is you’re probably familiar with the “Big 3” ADHD traits.  You have just probably forgotten how they look when you are older.   Remember those of us with ADHD tend to be: 1) Impulsive, 2) Inattentive and/or 3) Hyperactive

If you think you are going to outgrow these traits, or they are going to disappear now that you are taking medication, that just is not the case for most of us with ADHD.  I usually find that most of what is making ADHD life hard falls into three categories:

Being too impulsive:

“The Inability to Hold back, or think before making a decision…”

-We tend to make quick decisions.  Later those quick decisions only come back to “haunt” us.

-We make quick decisions without giving ourselves adequate time to carefully consider the possible effects or results of our actions.

-We sometimes don’t think about the possible alternatives which could serve us better.

Inattentiveness or Zoning out of life:

“Difficulty staying present and focused on what is right in front of us…”

-Inattentiveness can cause us to act on a quick decision without taking adequate time to look at possible negative results of our quick decisions.

-To some people it looks like we “just don’t learn from our mistakes.”

-We tend to operate on the principle:  Ready – Fire – Aim!

If, all your life, you have been told that you underachieve, sometimes it just feels better to shoot the gun now and aim later. This is akin to “acting without thinking”.  So, we miss our designated target and set in motion, a series of results that we did not foresee and do not want. This is where our impulsivity, not paying attention to what is around us or thinking about other positive possibilities or options becomes really clear. Often those of us with ADHD prefer to just spring into action without thinking.  This causes us to miss out on other aspects of the situation. Not taking a minute to think about those other possibilities means we miss out on many less obvious options.  That is the rub about ADHD. We may have wished we could have taken the time to think things through, but without some sort of assistance, like that which medication and proper nutrition provide, that option is simply not a possibility.

Battling our own inner Hyperactivity

“That feeling that we just need to keep moving, or are driven by our own motor that just won’t turn off. “

-As kids, we ADHD hyperactive kids got into heaps of trouble for being so hyper and impulsive. We did not see ourselves as others saw us. We felt excessively criticized and put down for just being who we were. Inside we felt happy and “normal’, and in a rush. The constant criticism took its toll on our self-esteem. We saw others as “too slow”. We felt very unique, loving and happy, but often our teachers and parents did not appreciate us for who we felt we were.

-We tend to grow out of the gross, physical, hyperactivity.   This obvious hyperactivity changes into more fine motor hyperactivity: i.e., jiggling our legs, swinging one leg over the other, tapping or drumming etc.  Adult hyperactivity can evolve and make an appearance in a more subtle way such as blinking, raising eyebrows, shrugging our shoulders, etc.  It’s as if the childlike hyperactivity moves more into a feeling of inner restlessness.

This is what I remind myself and my patients to be reminded of anytime they ask the question “Doc, why is my life so hard?”  These core traits are part of the hardwiring of the ADHD brain.  They require monitoring and management even when you just want to give in and let everything in your already overwhelmed brain just fall apart.  Resist that urge, as it usually just makes things worse. Instead, there are things that we can do to offset these “Big 3” ADHD traits.  Here are just a few suggestions to help get your ADHD life back in control:

  1. Give yourself a break and expect to feel overwhelmed and plan for it. The question is not if you get overwhelmed, but when you get overwhelmed. If you know that it is just a natural part of a brain that is built like a Ferrari, then you can go easy on yourself.  Setbacks and misfires are just a part of what makes us human. Even people without ADHD feel overwhelmed sometimes. Give yourself a “get out of jail free card” every own and again. You might find it is just what the doctor ordered to help you stay on track.
  2. Get enough rest. Sounds simple, but those of us with ADHD know just how difficult this can be.  Your ADHD brain just needs all the energy it can get. A sleepy ADHD brain is a useless ADHD brain.  Try to limit the amount of stimulation you have the 2 hours before you go to bed. This means no heavy talks, no super activating television shows, or thought provoking discussions two (2) hours before bedtime.
  3. Eat enough protein!!  The same chemicals that your ADHD brain craves and gets in medication are made from the building blocks found in the protein you eat.  Without enough protein in your diet, all the medication in the world won’t help.
  4. Drink enough water. Did you know that people who are dehydrated actually look a lot like those of us with ADHD? Dehydration can really cause you to not be able to think clearly.  If you find yourself heating up during the day, or have a dry mouth, reach for the H2O. As much as soda and coffee may taste good, soda leaches precious calcium from your body and coffee actually dehydrates you. So remember to drink two waters for every soda or coffee you drink.
  5. Take your medication and your supplements. Many of us with ADHD think we are better or more free when we are off our medication. That may be how we “feel”, but that’s not usually the time when we make our best decisions and are in fact least effective.  If you are supposed to take medication or you are able to take supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids, do it! Omega -3 fatty acids really do impact the way in which our brains work. Anything that we can do to improve our ADHD brains is usually a good thing.

Next time you find yourself chasing after a life of what feels like out of control ADHD, remember that you can get control of your mind, and you can get control of your ADHD.  Take a minute and remember to keep an open mind. If something feels too extreme and out of balance—move on and look elsewhere. Find that place where your mind and your heart guide you to your best choices.

Take a moment to post a comment and tell me about how hard your ADHD life is and share any tips or strategies you found that have worked for you.

Till then—God bless.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler November 9, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Sometimes these articles are spot on.

My life has been a clustered mess since I was a child. I was diagnosed when I was young, but never took medication for more than a few months. Now at the ripe age of 24, I am struggling to get my life on track. My mind, body and entire life feel like they are spinning in a endless circle. I am immensely talented, and I know that, but I cannot focus on one thing, always getting excited and “gung ho” about something, starting it, then before I know it I’m on another task or goal, only to stop that and start another.

Then there’s the talking. Talking. Talking. Talking. Oh, did I mention I talk? Because I do. It’s caused problems in my social life, even though friends tend to find it amusing at times, they’ve told me they wish I’d just shut up sometimes.

Responsibility? I want it, but can’t handle it. Ask me to do something and I would be glad to, if I could ever remember to do it.

Sleeping is funny too. It takes me hours to fall asleep, only after extensive reading and researching the most randoms things. It’s like while I lay there trying to doze off, my mind feels the need to talk to me and tell me things. It’s sad that there is no one else awake so I can let some of this “mind traffic” out through the tunnel I call my mouth.

Sadly, I didn’t realize this may be the ADHD that I had when I was a child, only now as an adult, until after it ruined some huge relationships and put me through job after job. I am now trying to muster up the money to talk to someone about it, and hope I could afford any medication offered. Insurance is a luxury I could never afford; saving money isn’t my strong point.

Finally realizing this and reading about how medication and treatment can affect my life has brought me several times to tears of joy. Can I actually live responsibly and get rid of these feelings and raging tornadoes of thoughts? Can I stop and focus on important things? I’ve tried SO hard, but it’s never worked.

Maybe finally I’ve found a solution.

Lynette April 18, 2011 at 8:42 am

I lived with this all my life,
But I was diognosed 4 years ago. I sometimes feel lost and that no one understand me. And be being 25 years old its ruining my life. I was taking medication but It got so expensive I wasn’t able to afford it due to me losing my job. I have also been through Job after job after job. And it hurst a lot cause The only man That I love, who knows me doesnt even want to be around me some times. Cause I do silly things. I would call over and over send about 10000 text messages. Its like a constant ticking in me and I apologize for it so much.

Josh April 20, 2011 at 11:33 am

Great article! To Tyler above:
I am nigh exactly the same!

I was never diagnosed with it AT ALL, i have never been on medication etc. And it is only till now, when i look back at my life and realise it is screaming at me, jumping out at me.

I am likewise, not be big-headed (!) intelligent and pursuing a career in architecture. And while i find the work/theory fine, its the staying focuses, i just cannot do it, never. Even now upon starting a set of house plans, every line i draw with the pencil, bam…im off, need to go for a walk, look at an article, look out the window.

I have never been able to stop fidgeting either, i used to always wonder why i was the only one who did it, constantly moving when sitting down, blinking, tapping, sniffing, ITCHING, drives me mad!

SLEEPING- the bane of my life!! why oh why can i not just keep a normal sleeping habit, i have tried everything, cutting out sugars bla bla, nothing works, its always the same, at 12am im simply not tired even if i only got 2 hours sleep the night before, always wanting to stay up, but its more than a ‘want’ as you know!

My passion for certain things is unbelievable and i am pursuing these things, well, yet oh my, if i could simple stay focused i would do them astronomically fast and WELL.

So medication…where and how?

Iv never even been to the doctors about it, never diagnosed by anyone, just me.

One of the kids from primary school at about 7 years old, on our end of year poem (nearly 2 decades ago now!) wrote:

“Josh – Always on the move, as fast as a formula 1 car” Something like that, that’s saying something coming from a kid that young!!!

Natalie Ross June 13, 2012 at 4:00 am

Wow, that sounds exactly like my brother. He always hyperfocuses on something and is not often good at making decisions. Thanks for these tips!

wannabe1987 September 23, 2012 at 12:46 pm

i’m always fidgeting – my hands are always moving. i’m also diagnosed with depression, so when i go to sleep those voices tyler was talking about? they tell me i’m worthless and stuff – the anti-depressants keep them at bay however.

i resonated with what tyler wrote – i don’t remember what he wrote tho :P i’m going through job after job after job – the only job i’ve been able to keep for more than 2-3 months was working in a factory – i’m a Certified nurses assistant and can’t keep a job in my field for anything.

can’t save money either.

Josh – talk to your primary care physician, they should be able to recommend a psychiatrist/psychologist (i can’t for the life of me remember the difference) that can diagnose you and give you scripts for medication.

relationshps fail everytime – idk if its my ADHD or my depression or life or a comob.

WHY DOES IT SUCK?

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