How to Explain Your ADHD

I was once catching up with an acquaintance I had not seen in a long time, and it came up in conversation that I have ADHD. She had never known that about me and had never really had ADHD explained to her before. She asked, “ So, what is that like fo you? Like, how does that feel?” I hesitated and did not really know what to say. Of course, I know what it is like to have ADHD. I have it; I know what it is like. But, when it comes to explaining it, especially to someone who has no concept of what it is like, it is incredibly difficult. Furthermore, I do not know what normal is. How do I even know I am covering everything? Even though I have been diagnosed with ADHD for over 5 years, I am still finding out new things about ADHD that make me go, “Oh," that is why I do that weird thing!”

However, over the years, I have found a few ways of explaining it to others. Are they perfect ways? No, but they are the best I can do. Hopefully, they help you explain it to others.

Slippery Thoughts

Remember those toys from the 90s that were really hard to hold? I had to do some googling to find out their name. Some places call them Water Wigglies. Others say Water Snakes. A listing I saw on Amazon called them Water Snake Wigglies.

Try to hold on to my thoughts or pay attention is kind of like holding one of those toys. Just when you think you have a good hold of it, it slips right out of your hand, and you have to frantically try to regain control of it.

Helium Balloons

My thoughts sometimes get so numerous that I feel like I am trying to hold a bunch of helium balloons with just two hands. I desperately try to find someplace to tie them down, so they do not fly away. But, there is no place to do so, and my hands can only hold on to so many balloons.

Dr. Hallowell’s Analogy

Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, one of the most respected ADHD experts in the world, says ADHD is like having a race car brain with bicycle breaks. The ADHD brain is powerful. Our thoughts fly at incredible speeds, but we have trouble slowing down and control our thoughts, words, actions, etc.

Lack of Regulation

People with ADHD often struggle to regulate their thoughts, focus, words, actions, and executive functions. A better name for ADHD would be Attention Regulation Hyperactivity Disorder. In short, people with ADHD can focus and pay attention, but we struggle to control where our attention/focus is.

Inattentive Type v. Hyperactive/Impulsive Type

There are three types of ADHD, predominately inattentive, predominately hyperactive/impulsive, and the combined presentation. To someone unfamiliar with ADHD, they usually can somewhat understand the hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD, but the inattentive type of ADHD can be a bit of a mystery. I like to say that the hyperactive/impulsive type looks a lot like what the stereotype of ADHD (yes, it is a lot more complicated than that, but this gets my point across) and the inattentive type is exactly like the hyperactive/impulsive type, but it is confined to the brain.

I Sometimes Let Others Do the Talking

Let’s be real. Everyone experiences ADHD differently, and getting others’ perspectives can be helpful. I have created a playlist of YouTube videos that are useful when explaining ADHD. “When You’re a Dude Living with ADHD” is my favorite. It is scarily accurate to my own experience with ADHD. Check it out:

Today’s Reset ADHD Challenge:

Consider how you might explain ADHD and how it affects you, so you can be prepared for when you need to explain it to someone.