Why Does Adult ADHD Feel So Shameful?

Recovery is hard without self-compassion.  

It’s been 139 days since I quit my job. You’d think I’d be soooo productive with all of this free time. 

Yes and no. 

While I had every intention to hit the ground running and accomplish a bajillion tasks in just the first few weeks of funemployment, the time off has given me the clarity to see the poor state of my mental health.

In my first blog post announcing my funemployment, I talked about how work stress and burnout led to my resignation. I quit to focus on self-care and write for myself.

Well, I think I’ve been pretty bad about the self-care part, but I’m trying to remedy that. 

Depression and I Go Way Back

It may sound like an exaggeration, but I think I’ve spent the majority of my adolescence and adulthood depressed — which is a depressing thought in and of itself. I’ve spent the last decade trying to manage my depression, so I have much better coping skills when I feel myself spiraling in that direction.

Depression is the devil I know. I know what to expect. I know my patterns and triggers. Some examples include:

  • After an especially-fun weekend
  • After a great performance
  • Insomnia
  • Personal rejection
  • Professional rejection
  • PMS
  • December
  • Too many cloudy days in a row

Depression still catches me off guard sometimes, but eventually I recognize it. I’m also very aware that depression lies so I’m more cognizant of my thought patterns during this time. I shrink. My shoulders drop. Even the type of music I like is different.

I cope. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned how to sit with my sad emotions and let the wave of depression recede (thanks to guided meditations and self-help content). It sounds cheesy but “this too shall pass” really is the best description of how this works. By acknowledging and accepting the uncomfortable feelings, I can often bounce back up much faster. I allow myself to sit with the pain, cry, journal, do whatever I need to do to get it out of my head and body. If I feel disconnected from my emotions, I’ll watch a sad movie just to make myself cry.

Then I let it go (or at least try to.) This part is hard and may require many tries.

I also now have the benefit of having lived through it before; surviving past experiences reminds me I am resilient and capable of overcoming it again.

I know depression. 

What I’m really struggling with at the moment is ADHD… which is making me feel depressed and anxious. Cue the shame spiral.

Why Does Learning How To Cope With ADHD at 36 Feel So Humiliating?

Although I’ve been struggling with ADHD for as long as I can remember, this diagnosis is still very new to me.

I think part of me still is grieving Past Cristy’s suffering. For years my symptoms weren’t taken seriously. I allowed others to invalidate my feelings because I didn’t know any better. But the signs were there. I did my part. I spoke up. And I was simply told that symptoms of anxiety can often look like ADHD. My experience was minimized, and I was dismissed. 

So the conclusion I’ve come to is: I’m having a hard time taking my own symptoms seriously. Unlike my bipolar disorder, I still haven’t accepted the fact that I have ADHD and that it fucking sucks. I fight it rather than accept it, which is exhausting. But how can I not fight it? I have shit to do!

I have a really hard time getting started with certain tasks, and I’m still trying to figure out what I’m trying to avoid. I’m having to dig deep, and I prefer to stay where I can reach the bottom.

I’m 36 and finally learning how to manage the things that people told me weren’t a problem to begin with (my attention and hyperactivity).

Because I can’t keep burning myself out. Enough is enough. I can only change myself so I’m doing the work.

Honestly, I look back at my last job and wonder how I did it. Being in a deadline-driven environment certainly helps. Also, my boss was a great accountabilibuddy. Not wanting to look like an idiot in meetings is great motivation for me, apparently.

The Chemicals (or Lack Thereof) In My Brain

Since starting medication for ADHD last October, I’ve discovered that it’s actually the main source of my anxiety — ADHD causes feelings of failure and inadequacy from being unable to do things that seem to come to easily to others. It’s been referred to as a motivation deficit disorder. Combined with my perfectionism and extremely high standards for myself? No wonder I get decision and task paralysis! My brain is too concerned about doing everything right the first time. I’m easily overwhelmed, at least that’s what it seems like.

I’m a problem solver who loves to create efficient processes… and writing is a messy job. My style is more like sculpting. I write too much, trim it down, and shape it into what it needs to be. That conflicts with efficiency. There’s no way to make it easier. It just needs to get done.

I’m also pretty convinced my brain doesn’t produce much dopamine on its own. The medication that finally helped me manage my depression is “activating,” as my specialist says, and actually increases my dopamine levels. ADHD medications also increase dopamine. This is also probably why I seem to enjoy bouldering and rock climbing — I get to experience all of the best chemicals!

Treating the ADHD with medication has significantly helped, but it can only do so much. I’ve been missing the skillset to manage my symptoms but have been working hard these last few weeks to learn new coping skills. 

What complicates this is there is a nationwide Adderall shortage that’s making other stimulants harder to get. I take the generic Concerta/Ritalin and ran out of my meds last week. My pharmacy was out of my specific dosage so I was supposed to call pharmacies in my area to find who could fill my prescription. I did not. (Did I mention I have ADHD?)

Figuring out ADHD coping strategies is now a priority. And I’m now having to do it without the life-changing help I only so recently was able to get.


(Don’t worry. I’m ok. I’ll explain what and how later.)

Overwhelmed, Frozen, and Trapped Inside My Own Head

The best word to describe what it feels like inside my brain is “trapped.” Like there’s a disconnect between my thoughts and how to turn them into words or action items.

I’m struggling with…

  1. Prioritizing what actually needs to get done,
  2. Putting together a plan to get things done,
  3. Mustering up the motivation to get things done.

The overwhelm is both mental and physical. I stare at my computer and can feel my arms, shoulders, and back get tense with frustration because I feel like the screen/computer is limiting. (I can’t do everything I want to do at once. Ahhhh!)

The screen is never big enough to fit all of my ideas. I can open all of the tabs I want and organize my browser windows by category. I can buy monitors to spread out my work. I can drop all of my projects into Airtable. But in these moments, there’s still something about it that feels… frustrating and maybe even claustrophobic. 

I think part of the problem is that writing on a computer doesn’t feel cathartic. There’s something about handwriting notes that helps me remember and understand things. Science agrees. But the cathartic feeling I’m looking for is in my head. Right? That’s just something my brain needs to determine. That seems trainable. And it’s not like it’s not cathartic.

I suspect the reason why it doesn’t feel the same is because if I’m handwriting something, it’s for myself. If I’m typing it, it’s probably for others to read. The latter often requires vulnerability and allowing others in. That’s scary! (The former requires the appropriate pen — it’s a whole thing. I’ve cried over pens more than once.)

Too Many Ideas Are Too Much

I’m an overthinker, but I also like doing things and I find a lot of things interesting.

I often have a bunch of competing ideas and action items running through my head at the same time. They’re colliding and crashing and not slowing down. (Medication has really helped.) And sometimes my thoughts are way too fast for me to jot down or even dictate. How fast? Literally multiple thoughts in a second. They may be words but since they’re not spoken or read, they’re instantaneous.

My brain constantly plays “word association” improv games. One thought reminds me of something else, which reminds me of something else, and so forth. So when my responses seem random to people, my brain probably did 4-6 rounds of word association to get there in the half-second since you finished your sentence.

I don’t know if anyone else can relate, but my thoughts also feel layered. If you’ve watched The Fifth Element, remember that scene with all of the flying cars in multiple levels of traffic? That’s what I picture inside my head, my thoughts speeding in all directions.

Sometimes it also feels like drowning, but I suspect that’s because the panic is restricting my breathing. 

As a result, I’m often moving between tasks and have trouble focusing on one and working on that until completion. Then I’m left feeling dejected at the end of the day when I look at my to-do list and realize I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do. Then I repeat the cycle the next day.

I have unrealistic expectations about what can actually be accomplished in a day. Logically, I can know that, but that won’t stop my brain from berating me. I try to change the narrative of my internal dialogue, but I have to notice the negative thought pattern first and sometimes that takes time. If I’m too far deep inside my own head as I have been lately, I have to make a conscious effort to pull back, zoom out, and get a big-picture view of the situation. Meditation is a reset button, exercise too. But still that’s not enough.

If you’re feeling like me, I’m sorry you’re going through this. I’m sorry if others have made you feel inadequate or lazy. You’re not. There’s literally a chemical reason why your brain works differently — and there’s probably a biological or evolutionary reason our brains work the way they do. There’s nothing wrong with you. 

There IS something wrong with our modern society and work culture which makes our symptoms even worse. I deleted my rant about that and am saving that for another post. (You’re welcome.)

I’m Learning How to Cope

Since we can’t change society overnight, we must find healthy ways to deal with our brains.

Just like it took me a long time to learn how to live with depression and accept my bipolar disorder diagnosis, I must do the same with ADHD. But it’s easier said than done, and finding free — helpful — information about adult ADHD coping strategies is kind of hard.

In my next post, I plan to share what I’ve learned about adult ADHD so far and the strategies that I’m trying out. I’ll include links to videos, books, and any other resources I’ve found helpful. Have any tips to share? Let me know!

In the meantime, I’m trying to be kinder to myself. I’m still burned out, and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m still not as mentally well as I’d like to be. But I’m on my way back up. Things are looking brighter, and I’m feeling more optimistic.

I’ll end this with a letter I wrote to myself last week when I was having another one of my breakdowns. If a friend of mine came to me upset about how little they’ve accomplished since quitting their job, I would challenge their thoughts and present evidence that suggests otherwise. I usually say something like, “Of course you feel [emotion]! You’re dealing with x, y, and z in addition to your usual a, b, and c. It’s a lot. Give yourself a break.” So here’s the letter I wrote to myself, as my own friend.

Dearest Cristy, 

I’m sorry you’re feeling down and frustrated, like you haven’t accomplished all you set out to do. But you know how you tend to set really high and unrealistic expectations for yourself while simultaneously forgetting you’re really bad at time management and prioritizing? Well, you did it again…

I’m not trying to shame you. Just pointing it out.

Trust me, you’re doing great. You’re building the life you want. This is the path you need to take to get to where you want to go. And while this part is a little rocky, it eases up just ahead. It’s uncomfortable right now, but like you always say, just because something’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I still think you made the right decision to quit when you did. I’m still so proud of you for sticking up for yourself. 👏🏼

OF COURSE you’re still struggling with burnout. It took YEARS to get to this level of exhaustion. It’s going to take a looooong time to feel like a whole person again. You’re running on barely-recharged batteries, like when we kept jumping the Subaru battery for weeks because that seemed more convenient than buying a new battery? You’re the Subaru! Recharge those batteries! Or get some new ones (but I don’t know what that means in this metaphor so you’ll have to figure that out).

Stop comparing your output and productivity to others’, and just focus on getting better.

You’re not publishing a new blog post every week? Haven’t finished your screenplay? You haven’t gone back to do another open mic?

So what?

You’ve still written almost every single day this year! Yes, committing to one project at a time would probably make you feel more accomplished, but look at how creative you’ve been lately. You have so many exciting ideas! It’s all there. The progress may feel slow, but you’re doing it.

Finally, you’re dealing with Ladybird’s mysterious bone lesion. It’s been three months of vet visits and phone calls and tears — in addition to the thousands spent on radiographs, aspirations, lab tests, one biopsy, and a full body CT scan that have not yielded any answers, only more confusion. Do not give up hope! Ladybird is a very lucky pup to have parents who love her very, very much. You could not have anticipated this taking up so much of your time and resources. Shit happens, but you’re handling that shit as best you can, and I think you’re doing great.

Remember all that you’ve accomplished so far. 🔥




  1. Funemployment.. I hear ya Patrick Star 😂

    I’m sorry to hear you deal with depression. I’ve battled it myself for many moons. Cheesy, but you’re not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

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