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8 'Quirks' I Realized Were Symptoms of ADHD

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As someone who got diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as an adult, when that diagnosis hit so many things just made sense. Sure, I always had the typical fidgeting, restlessness and lack of focus of someone with ADHD, but I attributed it to that just being me. I was just an antsy person. But this diagnosis also explained deeper things– things I thought made me a bad person.

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However, after being diagnosed, I realized these “quirks” were a part of ADHD. I also realized that the majority of the population didn’t understand that. ADHD is so stigmatized as being unable to focus or sit still, but it’s so much more than that. In fact, that description doesn’t even hit the surface of the struggles that people with ADHD face. So, to those who might have ADHD, I’m sure you can relate to these “quirks.” And for those of you who don’t have ADHD, I hope you’ll learn more about it here.

So, without further ado, are eight of my biggest personal quirks that I didn’t realize were related to ADHD until I was diagnosed and started interacting with online support groups.

1. Forgetting things exist if I don’t physically see them in front of me.

The technical term for this is “object permanence” and it’s extremely prevalent in ADHD cases. If I don’t have something in my eyesight, I completely forget that it exists. And that goes for people too– as bad as it sounds.This means I forget to text my friends, call them or check in on them in any way, shape or form because I truly forget they exist. I need to write down reminders in my phone to check in on people because it’s the only way I can remember to do so. Otherwise, I don’t see that person in front of me, so they’re out of sight, out of mind. It can make me feel like a really terrible person, but it’s also something a lot of people with ADHD experience.

2. Experiencing sensory overload.

If someone is familiar with autism, they’ll recognize the term “sensory overload” immediately because it’s frequently attached to that diagnosis. However, people with ADHD experience this too. This is when any of your senses are just too overwhelmed and you simply cannot cope with it. For me, this is usually regarding sound. If there’s too much noise around me and I get into a space of sensory overload, I can’t focus on anything else except that noise because it’s so overwhelming. Then, as soon as something else is introduced, I lose all sense of coping with the noises. I usually have what might look like a “meltdown” and start crying because my nervous system has way too much input.

3. Hearing two noises at the same time makes me physically angry.

Before being diagnosed with ADHD, I thought I was just a cranky grump because if there were two conversations going on around me I would get a severe headache, withdraw from both of them and sit in isolation because I was so angry I wanted to scream. The same goes for electronic noises. If someone tries to talk to me while the radio is blasting or the TV is playing a movie, I literally can’t understand what they’re saying. My brain doesn’t know what to focus on because there’s too many stimuli around me. It actually makes me really angry when people try to do this. And I know they don’t do it intentionally (and probably don’t even know it bothers me) but if someone is trying to talk, they need to turn the volume or the other auditory input down or else I can’t comprehend what they’re saying. It’s actually extremely annoying because I feel like I’m being overly sensitive and don’t have the right to be angry, but I also now know that it’s just part of my diagnosis.

4. Hyper-fixation is real.

A lot of people hear “ADHD” and assume I can’t focus on anything. Which, can be true. I do have trouble focusing on things most of the time. But people with ADHD often hyper-fixate as well. For me, this usually comes out when I’m writing or doing a creative task. I’ll get so into the creative process that I lose track of the world around me. I don’t hear external stimuli, I lose my sense of time and all I can think about is the task I’m doing. All other responsibilities go to the wayside. Because of this, I usually have to set alarms if I know I have other things to do. For example, if I’m in the middle of writing a chapter of my novel but am also on my lunch break, I will definitely need to set an alarm because I become so engaged in the writing process that I forget to keep track of time. In these moments, I’ll also forget to eat, drink or do anything except the task at hand because I’m so involved in the task at hand. This is unfathomable to some people to lose touch with reality so easily just because you’re so focused on a project, but it’s actually extremely common for people with ADHD. In fact, out of all the people I’ve met with ADHD throughout the years, all of them have talked to me about hyper-fixation over something. If you experience this, setting alarms on your phone will be your new best friend. Trust me.

5. Extreme fatigue. And I do mean extreme.

When I say “extreme fatigue” I don’t mean being tired one day. I mean you’re so tired that you just need the world to turn off for a second so you can recuperate. Fatigue can come from overstimulation, understimulation, a hyperfixation “hangover”, insomnia and more. @adhd-angsty on Twitter describes the symptoms more vividly than one article can explain and does a great job describing the terminology of those words for people who may not know the definition of things like “under stimulation.” In my personal experience with ADHD fatigue, sometimes I just want to sit on the floor in a tight, cramped space in the dark with no stimuli around me and noise cancelling headphones on to re-energize myself. And I know that sounds so silly to neurotypical people, but other people with ADHD usually get what I’m talking about. The world can be too much sometimes. Additionally, I confused this symptom with anxiety for so long, but realizing it’s a part of ADHD made a lot more sense. I didn’t understand why I’d suddenly just lose all of my energy because I didn’t feel anxious. So, hearing that there was a reason made me feel a lot better.

6. Fidgeting until I’m in physical pain (or bleeding).

As a disclaimer, this is more of a sign of hyper-impulsive ADHD, which is what I’m diagnosed with. But when I say fidgeting, I don’t mean moving around in my seat a lot– although I do do that too. Instead, when I say fidgeting I mean subconsciously picking at my nails, skin, or lips until they’re bleeding. And I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone points it out to me or I’m in physical pain because I over-fidgeted. Usually when I’m doing these things, people think I’m anxious about something, but actually it’s just ADHD. I’m not anxious at all and, as mentioned before, don’t realize I’m even fidgeting. It just kind of happens. And then when I’m bleeding or in physical pain I’m embarrassed because how did I not realize I was doing that?

7. Thinking conversations are over and accidentally interrupting someone when they’re speaking.

Before I was diagnosed, my family always thought I was being rude because I wouldn’t realize someone wasn’t done speaking yet and would interrupt them with my thoughts on a topic. However, it turns out I actually just have ADHD. What many people don’t realize is that this diagnosis can make it extremely hard to read social cues. So, while most people can tell when someone is finished talking, I miss those cues if I’m not medicated and will rudely (yet unintentionally) interrupt the conversation. When I was younger this was viewed as “self-centeredness” and other negative connotations, but as soon as I was medicated for ADHD it was like I was a different person. Suddenly, I knew when the other person was finished talking and could hold a conversation like a “normal” person would. My family even commented on how different I’d become. It turns out, I wasn’t being rude. I just had undiagnosed ADHD.

8. Impatience, impatience, impatience… And more impatience.

Now, this is something even meds can’t completely fix. I get impatient over the littlest things. If someone is talking too slow I get angry because I want them to go faster. If there’s a long line at a drive-thru I get angry. And don’t even get me started on traffic and redlights. All of this impatience is part of ADHD. Sometimes, it actually makes me feel really childish because most adults have built a tolerance for waiting. I, however, still have a lot of work to do on that front. It’s extremely difficult for me to cope with waiting patiently– both because I get antsy and I feel like I’m wasting my time. It’s also just another ADHD symptom I need to learn how to cope with.

So, needless to say, ADHD is not just being inattentive and a little restless. It’s so much more. And it’d really help me (and others in the ADHD community) if non-ADHD people got a little more educated on that. Hopefully, this article is a start.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Originally published: January 7, 2021
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