With so much information about ADHD (attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder) on the Internet, you may find that you share experiences that are similar to people living with ADHD. Because experiences like forgetting things, having trouble focusing, or feeling restless are common, you may wonder: “Is this really ADHD or something else?”
It took me a long time to get diagnosed with ADHD. There were signs. Big ones, like starting a new hobby every 3 months or zoning out in the middle of conversations. And small ones, like being so distracted by my own clothing that I had to cut out all the tags.
But I did well in school for the most part, and my family didn’t really seem to believe ADHD was real. It was only later in adulthood when I was having a hard time getting work done that I knew I needed help.
What does ADHD feel like?
ADHD presents in three types of symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity. A person living with ADHD may have one, two, or all three of these types of symptoms.
The experiences of living with ADHD vary from person to person. Someone may feel frustrated because they can’t get things right the first time. Or a person may be annoyed because they often lose important items like their keys, wallet, or phone. Someone else may become hyper-focused and fixated on ideas, hobbies, or topics and then quickly lose interest. While ADHD may feel or look different for different people, here is a list of common symptoms of ADHD: 
- Often fails to give close attention or makes careless mistakes
- Often has trouble holding attention on tasks and/or activities
- Avoid or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort
- Excessive fidgeting, tapping, or talking
- Extreme restlessness or difficulty sitting still
- Interrupting others or finding it hard to wait your turn
- Difficulty with self-control
- Often acting without thinking
- Hyperfocus or intense fixation on an interest or activity for an extended period of time
The list above includes some, but not all symptoms of ADHD. Many people may have trouble focusing when they feel bored, anxious, or tired. But people living with ADHD have trouble focusing most of the time — even if they’re feeling ok in other areas of their lives. If you think your experiences are signs of ADHD, take our ADHD test. Though this is not an official diagnosis, it can help affirm your experiences.
Could it be something else?
Many symptoms of ADHD are similar to those of other mental health conditions like addiction, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and personality disorders. Many people living with ADHD also have more than one mental health condition. Some examples of symptoms of other mental health condition symptoms that are similar to ADHD include:
- People with bipolar disorder often make impulsive decisions without thinking about the consequences, especially during a manic episode.
- People with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) may have trouble focusing and concentrating because they may be feeling triggers and having unwanted thoughts
- Depression and anxiety can drain your energy and fill your head with negative thoughts. it takes so much energy just to ignore those negative thoughts that you don’t have much left over for concentration or willpower.
For a long time, I wasn’t sure I was “allowed” to claim ADHD as a diagnosis. A few doctors told me my trouble focusing was just a side effect of anxiety. It took me a long time to realize that it was actually the other way around: my inability to complete tasks was making me anxious. If anything, anxiety is the one thing that actually helped me focus!
I think I have ADHD, what should I do now?
If you may be experiencing signs of ADHD, consider doing one or more of these things.
Learn about how living with ADHD is for you
Look back and think about how your patterns, habits, or thoughts are related to your ADHD. How is it a strength in your life, and how exactly is it a frustration? Are there things you want to do, but ADHD gets in the way? Does ADHD feel like having a superpower? Building awareness will help you learn to cope or manage your experiences.
Reach out to someone you trust
Talk to a trusted friend or loved one about your experiences. While they may not understand what you are going through, they can offer perspective and support to be there for your mental health journey. If you know someone who has ADHD, consider talking to them to learn about their experience getting diagnosed with ADHD. This may help you know what to expect.
Find resources and support online
There are many ADHD resources that you can find online. One example is CHADD or Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. CHADD is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of people living with ADHD through support, education, and understanding.
Take our online ADHD test
Taking our ADHD test is a good step in understanding your experiences. This is not a replacement for a diagnosis. But you can use the results of the mental health test to start a conversation with a mental health professional.
Talk to a mental health professional
Talking to a mental health professional about your experiences may be helpful. They can help you talk through your experiences, and provide a diagnosis, medication, and guidance for treatment.
- Centers for Disease Control. (2021, September) Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2021, September). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd
- Flippin, R. (2022, July 11). Hyperfocus: The ADHD Phenomenon of Intense Fixation. ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/understanding-adhd-hyperfocus/