I Have ADHD. Here’s What A Week In My Life Is Like.

Caroline Maguire was originally diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when she was 12 years old. Now 41, Maguire is a licensed clinical counsellor and founder of New England Coaching Services, a Concord, Massachusetts-based practice that focuses on helping children and families manage ADHD. She’s also author of the forthcoming book Why Will No One Play With Me? A Parent’s Guide to Becoming Your Child’s Social Skills Coach.

You know, I feel like I’m an expert in ADHD and I have all these mechanisms in place to assist me manage the issues. But then there was a week lately when I didn’t have my medicine and I just felt like, well, I’ve accomplished nothing.

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Classic textbook ADHD is seeking stimulation because the brain doesn’t make enough dopamine, and the brain requires dopamine to stay focused and engaged. And so you do activities to generate dopamine, whether those are high-risk behaviours or exercising a ton or flying from thing lot thing to keep stimulated.

So I’m an adrenaline junky, which is normal for persons with ADHD. I suffer with over-commitment, and I tend to create almost my own nightmare with too many deadlines. I also wait till the last minute to get things done, because the fear that I won’t finish builds adrenaline and that allows me to focus.

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ADHD medicine helps. But you also establish these systems or processes that allow you to get things done. I get on a treadmill and I listen to 80s music like the Rocky theme, and I run to flood the brain with dopamine. That gets me revved up, and then I can go write the piece I need to write or whatever. It’s like I have to manufacture focus. There was a research at UPenn recently that revealed ADHD persons wait to be in the optimal mood to do something. And when you’re in that wonderful mood, you can get a lot done. I try to produce that mood.

When I have a poor week, the main problem for me is having a hard time handling the bombardment of life. I have a hard time being even and calm about things. That week I didn’t have my medication, I couldn’t sleep well. I was getting up at quarter of five every day, just because I was anxious about getting things done. My focus was always split. I was always conscious of other things in the background. I could sense emails or texts pouring in, and I was trying to do something else. And I can’t change from texting to getting back to writing. I have to focus on one thing or I feel overwhelmed and I simply shut down. I just stop being productive, and my emotion regulation goes south. (If you deal with anxiety, there are many of natural techniques to soothe your worries.)

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That’s a significant aspect of ADHD people don’t talk about—the emotion management piece where emotions take over because you’re anxious about getting things done. Just overloaded. It could also present as overeating. (This crazy-easy technique can help you avoid overeating.) I’d been on a terrific pace with exercise and diet, and wasn’t able to keep on course that week and remember that my aim was to get healthy. Just the week before I’d been able to pause and say to myself I want to be healthy, therefore don’t order takeaway. But then I couldn’t do that.

I can’t be in someone else’s brain, so I can’t explain what it’s like if you don’t have ADHD. But if you’ve ever had a head cold and you’re fuzzy, or out of it, that’s how some people describe ADHD. I’ll find myself sweeping, writing something, and making soup at the same time. Just being tugged in so many directions. And then the soup will be burned, the vacuuming won’t get done, the essay I was writing won’t get done. So the ability to remember my intention of what I wanted to do was lost. The unfinished projects element of ADHD is a big thing. I’ve learned to be a little maniacal about making lists and making sure I’m finishing things, because it makes me so anxious when things are left undone.

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Anxiety is another aspect of ADHD. The underlying anxiety makes everything not enjoyable. It takes you out of the moment because you’re worrying about something you need to do or finish. It makes it really hard to sit through a meeting or stay focused, not because you’re bored, but your brain is saying I need to get this and this and this done. There’s this cognitive hyperactivity, and your brain is just sort of circling the same topic.

This all may sound like something everyone experiences. But it’s really the degree of the impairment that separates ADHD. We all procrastinate. But some people with ADHD haven’t paid taxes in years. When there’s not enough interest or enthusiasm, people with ADHD can’t manufacture enough intention to get going. But it works the other way, too. If you have high levels of interest, then the brain gets flooded with dopamine and you can get a lot done.

Whenever I’m either over-tired or not clear on how to proceed, that’s when I really struggle. I will worry and feel like I have to go and get certain things done, and so I’ll just keep working, not eating or taking breaks, until I get it done. Sort of the other end of the spectrum from those with ADHD who procrastinate. I get things done, but it’s hard for me to have balance. If I know I have something to get done, I’m very all or nothing.

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So I’m a little different than the stereotypes in that way. But one stereotype that would definitely apply to me would be the hyperactivity and impulsivity, and difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly. The idea of sitting on a beach for a vacation is torture to me. I have to be up doing things and having an agenda. To sit on a beach, I literally become jittery and annoyed and snarky and difficult.

The other thing is I have to keep everything in its place. If I don’t, I will lose stuff. I get sort of annoying or obsessive with my family about putting keys back in the right place, because my history is of losing things. So I say, “please don’t move that,” or “leave that alone,” because I know I could lose it. I’ll just have no memory of what I did with something—almost like blacking out. So that’s just another system I have now so I can keep track of everything. (These simple lifestyle tips can boost your memory.)

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The crucial thing to remember is that ADHD is a more complex disorder than people give it credit for. There’s a phrase associated with autism that you’ve not seen autism until you’ve seen my autism. (Did you know that bad gut bacteria is connected to autism?) We need a phrase like that for ADHD, because you can’t say with a broad brush, here is what ADHD is. It can be many different things, and there are different levels of impairment. (For more information about ADHD and other attention disorders, visit the Attention Deficit Disorder Association,, and

When I was a child I was very hyperactive and very disorganized and sloppy. But eventually, I learned that I could get things done by doing it differently than other people. That’s a lesson I have to relearn all the time. ADHD medications helps, but the skill is not in the pill, we say. It’s really about learning the methods and systems that work for you and that allow you to be productive and to get things done in your own way. I’ve had more than 20 years to get my strategies in place, but I still have those times when I struggle.

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