‘High functioning’ adult with ADHD

by | Oct 18, 2021 | Blog

Dear Doctor

I am writing this whilst 35,000 ft up in the sky. Flying away for a few days of escapism and to rest. When I say rest, I don’t mean I’ll rest my mind because that’s literally impossible for me.

I was actually trying to read a book (because that’s what normal people do on a flight right?) It looks like a pretty effective way for killing time anyway. I was reading ADHD 2.0 by Edward Hallowell & John Ratey (this is a must-read by the way!) Sometimes authors who write about ADHD feel like my only real friends and they are books I tend to understand because they understand me. Anyway…..the moment I realised I had read the same page twice, I stopped reading. I decided to just write as writing it as good as talking (sometimes) only when it’s a brain dump like this.

I want you to know how it feels to be a ‘functioning’ adult with ADHD.

If I had approached you and told you I think I have ADHD, the likelihood is I would have been greeted with a dismissive response, eye-rolling and sighs…..’not another one’. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to broach the subject with my GP as it was recognised by a specialist before I recognised it in myself and I managed to skip that part.

So back to my week…..I have been drowning, not drowning in paperwork (well maybe a little bit of this) but drowning in everyday life. I can’t breathe. I can think, but I think 100 miles an hour 24 hours a day even when I sleep. Even my dreams are linked to my daytime thoughts, ideas and fears….I can’t look after myself, because I use every ounce of energy to look after my children and my patients because they are my priority, not me. If I can’t look after other people there’s probably not much point in life for me right now.

I have felt so exhausted, but have endless amounts of energy, my mind will not stop. Sometimes I actually subconsciously tell it to just STOP. Just be quiet for a short time and let me think!!!!! How does that make sense…..I need to stop thinking to actually think. My brain is going so fast I can’t put anything into action, it causes complete paralysis. I can only do the things that may impact others if I don’t….even that’s a struggle.

I took my washing to the laundrette Sunday because I couldn’t seem to find the brainpower to consistently rotate the washing/drying throughout the week…..does that sound like I’ve been on the sofa in a state of catatonic depression? Well your wrong, I find it hard to sit for a second because I always feel I need to move, be doing, despite my inner exhaustion. So please tell me why the heck the washing machine is so complicated, I mean, I walked past it 65 million times this week!

I have lost count of how many times I cried this week. How lonely I have felt to live in my brain. How useless I have felt to not be able to do the simplest of tasks. I can’t breathe sometimes.

You might be thinking…..sounds like anxiety to me. I used to think the same before I realised my ADHD was driving the anxiety. I don’t actually feel anxious that much anymore. Not like I used to anyway. I don’t have the physical feeling of panic, despite the internal torment.

On a good day I can make it stop (well not really me, but the medication makes it stop). When I say stop, I don’t mean my brain stops working, it slows it down to allow it to work to its full potential.

The problem is, this week my progesterone levels are really high (a normal part of a female monthly cycle) What this means for me is that no medication is going to level out my brain chemistry and ease my overactive mind and fluctuating emotions. It does a little but not a lot.

I can survive this week because I know that next week I will have some respite for 3 weeks until I go downhill again. Sadly not every adult with ADHD has this comfort. 100’s of 1000’s remain undiagnosed because it’s been so poorly understood for so many years. So they are the people left feeling like I do on my ‘bad week’ on a daily basis.

What you need to know is this…..next time an adult walks into your busy clinic and tells you they think they may have ADHD because they read this thing and resonated with it- listen. Don’t tell them they are ‘too high functioning’ to warrant an assessment. Don’t tell them ‘people with ADHD can’t hold down a job’ or ‘your too bright to have ADHD’ or ‘it’s just anxiety’ (for starters if you have an anxiety disorder- there is no ‘just’ in that sentence…..anxiety disorders are horrific and need recognition and treatment in their own right.

People with ADHD are extremely intuitive, clever, creative and empathic people. Some will be fortunate enough to tap into their hidden strengths and achieve their goals, dreams and function very well……ON THE SURFACE and with ALOT of hard work.

I am a clinical specialist nurse. I am a mum to two children. I am in a stable relationship. I don’t take drugs. I am not in debt. I have not been in prison. I come across calm, rationale and communicate appropriately.

Does that sound like ADHD to you?……..probably not! But you barely know me, you met me 5 minutes ago, you know nothing about my history and made that assumption. You are not a specialist in ADHD so do not have the expertise to make those assumptions. They can be fatal, as fatal as wrong assumptions made about a person’s physical health.

But I do have ADHD and I am not ashamed to say it. The only person that should be ashamed is you for not listening or taking the time to understand.

ADHD looks different in every single person.

Why is that you ask? It’s really simple…..do you spot diabetes the moment the patient walks through the door? NO. You see a person. ADHD looks the same. It looks like a person. It takes a lot more than a 10-minute consultation to understand a person.

If you could live in my brain for 1 day, you would be pleading to get back out within the first 10 minutes, a day would probably scar you for life. It would feel like being on the fastest fairground ride you can ever imagine, whilst suffering from motion sickness. The difference is, I’ve had a lifetime to get used to it, manage it, cope with it, embrace it as nobody is letting me off until the end. There are actually times when I don’t want to get off as I’ve learnt to embrace it and get the most out of the adrenaline rush it brings!!

That’s what fairgrounds rides are for! But most people pay for a 5-minute thrill and want to get off. There are also times for me when I am so tired of going round and round and getting nowhere. Sometimes I just want it to stop.

It’s not a trend. It’s not a fashion or a cool label. It’s very real. It’s the awareness that’s increased, not the credibility and popularity a diagnosis brings. Any person that has ADHD will not see it as fashionable, believe me. Because trying to live with a different brain in today’s society just isn’t fun or fashionable. I don’t wear my ADHD brain on my feet like trainers or like a posh handbag. I try and hide it and find ways to make it better, like the scars on my arms. Because I want to be accepted not rejected.

But unfortunately, there is no amount of BIO oil that will reduce the internal scars that ADHD has caused me since day one. Just listen.

If you don’t understand ADHD, don’t reject or invalidate a person based on your own prejudices, bias or stigma. Forward the person to a professional that understands and has the knowledge to understand ADHD. That’s not a failure on your part, that’s an appropriate, patient-centred, clinical decision. But what would be a massive failure is missing it.

Lucky for you, my plane genuinely just landed and I’m grateful that writing this blog has just somehow lost almost 2 hours of my life. Sitting on a plane is crippling boring.

Yours sincerely

The ADHD Nurse


If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this blog post and would like to have a confidential conversation with The ADHD Nurse, get in touch today.