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This Is What A Bad Day With ADHD Looks Like

An exhausted black woman with ADHD lays her head on her desk trying to combat a bad episode.
Getty Images / Peopleimages

You hear a lot anecdotally about ADHD and how it makes you more creative, capable of multitasking, and this bubbly, exciting person who is the life of the party. That’s really cute, and sometimes it is even true. But I’m not here to talk about that part of ADHD.

Most days I get by OK. Living with ADHD isn’t easy, but with the right management tools — like following my treatment plan and working with my doctor, among other things — I have days where I feel positive, upbeat, like I’m making progress.

But not every day is a good one – even though my management tools help to balance things out most of the time, those bad days sneak in, too. On my bad days, I am a ball of anxiety, exhausted by pushing to get everything done, and yet being able to accomplish nothing. I am, in short, miserable. Just like everything else in life, what goes up must come down. As I write this I am in a major downturn with my ADHD, and it is frustrating.

Accomplishing tasks becomes impossible

I am a full-time writer, and like every writer on the planet, my world is ruled by deadlines. Unfortunately, the ADHD brain struggles to manage tasks and favors procrastination. So, when I am having a particularly bad episode with my ADHD, I cannot work.

Have you ever seen a TV show where a person is having an out-of-body experience? It feels like that.

The rational part of me that knows I have to perform in order to be successful stands outside of me, screaming, while I procrastinate, binge-watch TV, and research endless topics on the internet that have absolutely nothing to do with what I am working on. No matter what I do, my brain absolutely will not cooperate with me, and it is maddening.

During times like these, my self-esteem plummets. After all, it is impossible not to feel irresponsible and lazy when you have done everything but what you’re supposed to do. This is where the curse of ADHD comes in for me. You’re a capable but quirky person until your brain hits the brakes, and you struggle until they’ve been fixed.

Irritability drives them all away

When you’re going through a period like this, it sure would be nice to have some friends to depend on, wouldn’t it? Supportive friends and family members are wonderful when you’re having a mental health crisis. The problem is that when I’m this way, I am trapped in my own personal hell. I am so irritable and angry that I’m not a pleasant person to be around. I am super touchy, easily offended, and pretty certain that nobody wants to be around me.

Once when I was in a pretty bad place with my ADHD I invited a friend over to spend time with me, thinking that it would help my mood. But instead of hanging out with them, I spent my entire day fretting over a piece that I had waited until the last minute to write, and then snapping at them every time they interrupted me. This isn’t the way I wanted the day to go. I should have stepped away in order to come back to the piece with a fresh perspective, but at the time I couldn’t help but focus on all the things I’d put off doing enough to enjoy the time with my friend.

Guilt rules my world

It is very difficult to talk to anyone about the particular challenges of ADHD because more often than not, people just don’t get it. That’s the true source of shame with ADHD. How do you explain to someone that despite your desire to complete a task and your understanding of how important that task is, you simply cannot concentrate on the task, no matter what you’ve tried? It sounds completely contradictory, and people usually think you’re just exaggerating.

Eventually you settle into a place where you feel guilty for being who you are, and ashamed that you aren’t doing better. When people feel ashamed, they withdraw, and the loneliness and isolation can lead to a major bout of depression. It is depressing to not be able to do what you know you must. And the fear of not being able to do it is terrible.

On my very worst days, I do nothing at all, and I hate every second of it. I tell myself that I just need to rest, that once I get a decent night’s sleep, or stop pushing myself so hard that I’ll feel better. Usually after a week of this, I realize that it isn’t working, and that’s when I know it is just a bad ADHD episode.

My ADHD never goes away, but it does get worse during times of stress, or when I’m feeling depressed or anxious. It is like all of those conditions combine to make me a miserable, incapable person who looks and acts nothing like the real me. It feels like the real me is trapped somewhere inside, held hostage by my ADHD. No matter how hard I bang on the doors and try to escape, I can’t get out.

This a torment, and it often feels like there is no solution. I spend a lot of time fearing these shutdowns, and when they come I feel like they will never leave. The only thing I can do is hold still and do as little as possible until my brain releases me from captivity again. I hope it happens soon.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.


The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

ADHD-US-NP-00018 JUNE 2018

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