What a Day With ADHD Looks Like When Every Day Looks Different
I often get asked what it feels like to have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or what a typical day looks like for someone who has ADHD. It’s a tough question to answer because the thing is that no two days are the same with ADHD. The only consistent thing about ADHD is its inconsistency. And it’s not just that some days are “good” and some days are “bad,” but rather that there are different characteristics of harder or easier days that make them different.
So instead of speaking about what a typical day with ADHD looks like, I can speak to some of the high-level categories of types of days that I have.
The Hyperfocus Day
This type of day is characterized by an indeterminate period of time in which I am extra-super-focused on one particular thing. If I’m lucky, I’ll be focused on that deliverable at work that I’m falling behind on, or that chore I’ve been putting off for far too long. This is rarer because all the stars have to align in order for me to focus on the thing I really need to be focused on. When this magical type of rare hyperfocus happens, it’s incredible. In university, I’d call this my “Power Hour” and I’d be able to write a stellar paper in one night. It would usually be the night the paper was due because pressure and stress can sometimes induce hyperfocus, AKA the fire under my ass I’d been wishing and hoping for. More often than not, I get hyperfocused on something wildly unnecessary, like researching luxury vacation homes I will never be able to afford, or understanding the history of a random ancient empire. With hyperfocus, you don’t really get to decide what gets your focus, you just have to go along for the ride and before you know it, it’s 3 a.m.
The Hyperfocus Crash
Inevitably, after every hyperfocus day comes a crash day. On these days, I run a deficit of FocusBucks. Essentially, all my focus power was eaten up the previous day in order to hyperfocus, kind of like a cash advance, and today I’m paying the price for it. The stark contrast between hyperfocus days and crash days is extreme and gives me a bit of “ADHD whiplash.” I find myself foggy, a bit disoriented, and dead tired. Sometimes it takes more than one day to recover from a hyperfocus day, and I never really know how long it will take.
The Low Motivation Day
On these days, ADHD gets to hang out with one of its best friends: depression. In fact, it’s hard to say whether my low motivation is driven by ADHD or depression, and I’m often unsure of what the cause is. Having little to no motivation is hard because I often have things that I need to do, and maybe even want to do, but it’s like I physically can’t. You know when you’re in a car and your seatbelt locks so you can’t move forward at all? That’s what it feels like — like there’s this invisible force holding me back, and there’s nothing I can do to change it. I’m tired and bored, but have zero desire to do anything or get going. The worst part is that more often than not, I probably have a fairly large to-do list that I just can’t start on. I find these days happen the most when I have the most to do, and the mounting stress of having to do it all makes me feel like I can’t even start.
The Busy Bee Day
Busy Bee days are by far the most chaotic type of day. It’s when I work on about 17 different things at once, and feel like I’m doing a lot or being super productive and multitasking. In reality, because I’m bouncing around from one thing to the next in rapid succession, I rarely actually complete anything and at the end of the day, I’m left wondering where all the time went. The frustrating part of these days is that I feel really tired, as if I’ve accomplished or done a lot, but then I have nothing to show for it.
Heightened Sensitivity Day
Some days, I feel overly sensitive from an emotional point of view. My rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is at an all-time high, I feel like everyone hates me, and I have no self-esteem or confidence. On these days, I feel isolated, alone, or abandoned and tend to overthink or overcriticize how I act in my relationships.
The only consistent thing about ADHD is its inconsistency.
Sensory Overload Day
TOO LOUD. TOO BRIGHT. TOO MANY PEOPLE. TOO MUCH STIMULATION. Sensory Overload Days are the days where everything just feels like a bit too much and I get overwhelmed. I often find it triggers my anxiety, and makes it hard to do much else because I find environments that are usually OK too stimulating and stressful. It’s difficult to define what level of light is too bright or what level of noise is too loud because it changes depending on the day.
The “Oops, My Bad” Day
Even on a good day I’m forgetful, but on “oops, my bad” days, I find myself constantly apologizing because I’m extra absentminded or forgetful. It’s like there’s fog inside my brain and I feel very out of it. I might be late, forget our plans, or miss something important. What makes me sad about this type of day is that it usually doesn’t just impact me, but can hurt the people around me.
The Steady Eddy Day
These days are the best because on Steady Eddy days, I get to forget I have ADHD. Maybe my medication is working well, or maybe I slept really well, or maybe it’s a combination of things. Either way, on these days I feel calm and can consistently do the things I want to do — whether it’s work, chores, or social activities. I love these days because they feel so natural and I often don’t even notice they’re happening. They are rare, but can really make up for the other days.
Though I’ve categorized these as different days, it doesn’t mean that I can’t experience multiple types of days at once, but I usually find one of them dominates even in the presence of other experiences. And while this is how I experience my ADHD, it may be a bit different for other people.
Because of the unpredictable nature of ADHD, I often feel like I am unpredictable and that can be hard for myself and the people around me. My hope is that those without ADHD are able to understand a bit more about how varied and “all over the place” my experience can be, and can offer some patience as I navigate a multitude of experiences.
Getty Images photo via Klaus Vedfelt