What My ADHD Feels Like

As I sit here on a relaxed Sunday morning, listening to classical music and taking a well-earned break from tuition, my mind is contemplating the last week, running through the details in an attempt to find some level of linear structure in what often feels like chaos.

Yesterday, I explained to a child what my brain feels like when it is happy. I showed her the above painting I’d completed in a wave of creative energy, a summer flurry of joy and spontaneity forever captured on what felt like a frozen moment in existence. My ADHD looks like this painting most of the time. It is free and colourful and the energies flow like ribbons, vivid, alive and constantly creating new ideas. I’m lucky. I was raised in a village where I could run to the point where the wind touches the trees, racing the birds across verdant fields and chasing brooks which hum to the sounds my brain hears as the glorious melodies of Mother Earth. My ADHD felt then, how it feels now – not once have I ever wanted to change the way my brain thinks.

Yesterday, whilst mum and my cousin were busy chatting about cooking, Christmas and COVID (the three Cs of present day family life), I noticed a tiny moth resting on a brick. Brown and speckled like tree bark, his tiny abdomen was raised at the rear, forming a tiny curl. Neither mum nor my cousin had seen the moth and, in that moment, I thanked my brain for giving me a unique gift.

However, as most of you reading this will know, ADHD is difficult to live with and sometimes the negatives of having a neurodiverse brain do outweigh the positives. Often I liken my ADHD to a ball of yarn and find this analogy useful when explaining my unique thinking patterns to children who have just been diagnosed with ADHD. When I am happy, my ball of yarn spins like a galaxy, rainbow-coloured, glowing and sparkling with intensity and magic. Although it is twisted and uneven in shape, it isn’t tangled and the wonderful shapes and colours which the yarn produces make me feel alive and radiant. However, when I am sad, angry or overwhelmed, the string becomes void of colour and knots begin to appear along its length. The outside factors which cause my anxiety then pull at the yarn, making the knots smaller and more difficult to remove. My parents, who have nurtured my galaxy brain and continue to help me, are often the people who come along and tease out the knots, flattening the string and allowing it to rest for a while. Finally, after an act of meditation, the rainbow glow returns and the yarn is able to begin spinning again, ready to create and bring back the happiness which makes my whole body feel alive and free.

My ADHD is not like anyone else’s ADHD and I always tell children their uniqueness and beauty is present and shining regardless of whether they are neurodiverse or not. A few days ago, I was chatting to a group of ADHDers who were busy discussing tidiness and general forgetfulness. Although I am definitely not a paradigm of organisation, my ADHD symptoms in this area are much less severe than for others. Although I was a messy child, my mum provided a structure which helped me develop good timekeeping and tidiness skills. Additionally, I also have anxiety around mess and punctuality, and this definitely wins against the ADHD most of the time! Unfortunately, my inattention comes out strongly in other areas such as listening to others and keeping boredom at bay. Although I am adept at listening in my job, I find it almost impossible to focus on conversations which do not interest me. Moreover, I struggle with boredom and general tasks which involve waiting: queueing definitely is my nemesis! Unusually, I struggle most with hyperactivity and impulsivity and this has followed me through life; I probably would have been diagnosed with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD when I was a child (although, thinking of it, my inability to listen would probably have got me the Combined diagnosis). I truly do think doctors should do more research into coping mechanisms, as I am seeing evidence of these being used by young children who are missing diagnosis due to management strategies and masking behaviours. When I was a small child, my untidiness and general ditziness was replaced by anxiety and a mild eating disorder – I always speculate what would have happened had I been diagnosed with ADHD rather than anxiety?

As we are now aware, ADHD is often accompanied by a high IQ and therefore, it is evident that many ADHDers are going to use that intelligence to develop eleborate coping mechanisms which will, in many instances, cover up the ADHD. For me, it took ten years of denying I had ADHD (my occupational therapist friend first mentioned it when I was 21), before I finally sought an official diagnosis – I thought I was too tidy and punctual to have this neurodiversity. When I found out many other ADHDers are also tidy and punctual, it finally gave me the confidence to speak to a psychiatrist who confirmed I do have Combined ADHD. The soul-searching which follows an official ADHD diagnosis also made me realise that tidiness and timekeeping may not be as natural to me as I originally thought. Although I cannot function in a mess (I get distracted by anything out of place), I also find it almost impossible to live without clutter and have a myriad of ornaments and collections, many of which originate from my early childhood. Additionally, although I am almost never late, I am usually ridiculously early for appointments and events. I am often the first person at a party and usually have to sit in a waiting room for an unhealthy amount of time for fear of being late. When I realised this form of timekeeping is also a symptom of ADHD, I was surprised and also relieved. Being time-blind doesn’t always mean you will be late – for some people time-blindness manifests itself (often with accompanying anxiety) in being ridiculously early for things.

Like most of my articles, this has gone off on multiple tangents and doesn’t even begin to resemble the original structure I formed in my head when I sat down to write. That is one of the things about my brain: spontaneity usually wins over planning. As most of you know, I am not medicated for my ADHD and don’t plan to ever go down this route if I can help it. I fully advocate ADHD medication as an effective treatment option for many, but I don’t feel the need to change anything about the way my brain works. It is a frustrating master, but it is also creative, colourful and vibrant in the way it perceives the world. Paradoxically, it was my brain which wrote this and it frequently wonders about itself, connecting those seemingly unrelated dots in a chaotic expression of perfect divergent thinking. My job allows my brain to be free and I love living with the constant colours and connections which enhance my life and never stop surprising me everyday!

Have a lovely day!

Published by Chestnut ADHD

Hello, I’m Annabel and my mind is like a galaxy. Diagnosed with ADHD during lockdown, since then I have made it my mission to inspire other ADHDers to see the positives of living with a ‘galaxy brain’ and educate people about what it is like living with ADHD. I run my own tutoring and coaching business, helping many children with ADHD and dyslexia, and have always been an avid amateur writer and artist. Recently, I have written a children’s book which highlights the positives of ADHD: ‘Hadie & Adah’ and I will continue to promote my drawings and blog posts – focusing on positivity and creativity – in future. I truly am proud of my galaxy mind!

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