back to top

This Is What It's Like To Have ADHD In Your Twenties

"My ADHD makes me impulsive, so I'm likely to choose short-term enjoyment instead of acting responsibly."

Posted on

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder that can make people behave in inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive ways – and it can have a significant impact on their lives. It is also sometimes known as attention deficit disorder, or ADD.

Professor Philip Asherson, who specialises in clinical and molecular psychiatry at King's College London, told BuzzFeed: “Although some [people] will have had full-blown ADHD with impairment (problems arising from the symptoms), some others may have only a few symptoms, [that are] not necessarily impairing.”

Being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult can be tricky – one criterion is that “several symptoms were present before the age of 12 years”. ADHD symptoms are also frequently mistaken for symptoms of other mental health conditions in adults such as anxiety, depression, personality disorder, and even bipolar disorder.

“There is more knowledge and awareness of ADHD in adults [now], but clinician expertise is still catching up with the current state of knowledge and understanding of this condition,” Asherson said.

We spoke to Gareth, 23, Maeve, 27, and Danielle, 24, about their experiences with ADHD in their twenties. Gareth was diagnosed when he was 22, Maeve at 27, and Danielle at 21.

1. Many people falsely believe that if you have ADHD you're out-of-control hyper ALL THE TIME.

Caroline Kee / BuzzFeed / Via

"People think ADHD means you're bouncing off the wall, which for me isn't the case, I'm just restless. When someone hears the H, for Hyperactive, they picture someone screaming all the time, but I see it more as occasional bursts of excited energy. Those moments feel great to me." – Maeve

3. Staying in the present can be challenging.

Haejin Park

"I always feel the need to move around, and I think ADHD makes you very concerned with the future and flights of imagination rather than being content with what is in the present. It makes me frustrated with myself. I always know I could be and should be doing more, but I don't. It makes me stressed about where my life is going." – Maeve


4. Getting diagnosed with ADHD can feel like a massive relief.

Instagram: @adhdlearninginstitute

"I had gone through an extremely difficult period where I'd struggled academically without ever understanding why. My undiagnosed ADHD had inhibited me from developing the discipline required to live a productive adult life. As well as this, my diagnosis allowed me to better understand certain characteristics and experiences I'd had throughout my life." – Gareth

5. But it can be quite a lengthy process.


"The diagnosis process was quite difficult – there's not a lot of information out there about how to get diagnosed as an adult, and I had to be really determined. I tried to do it through the NHS when I lived in the UK, but their mental health services are so stressed that a potential ADHD sufferer is quite low on the priority list, which is understandable because it's not a mental health emergency. I had to go private in the end." – Maeve

"I met with a psychologist, and went through about four hours of testing that consisted of puzzles, reading passages, word/memory games, and some surveys about my habits and symptoms." – Danielle

6. Many people with ADHD go on medication, but there's not one magic pill you can take.

"I've actually taken a couple of different medications. A lot of people only think of Adderall when they hear of ADHD, but there are actually a bunch of different medications used to treat ADHD. There was a process of trial and error for me to find the right medication that worked the best and had the fewest side effects." – Danielle

7. General life organisation can be difficult, especially when it comes to juggling your work and social life.

Instagram: @pretty_little_lawyer

"I find it difficult to plan my weeks, reading books, and saying no to things. My ADHD makes me impulsive, so I'm likely to choose short-term enjoyment instead of acting responsibly." – Gareth


8. Memorising things can be a bit tricky too.

Cartoon Network

"I tend to be very forgetful because of my ADHD. Someone can tell me to do something, and about 30 seconds later I will have already forgotten to do it. I have to carry an agenda around with me all the time so I don't forget to do anything important. I also have a very difficult time memorising ANYTHING. I played basketball when I was younger, and I had a really difficult time memorising our plays. I always felt terrible because no matter how many times we would run the plays, I would forget where I was supposed to go on the court." – Danielle

9. Which makes university a challenge for some people.

Instagram: @emmastudiess

"This is the area which affected me the most. I struggled massively with applying myself at university, which meant I repeatedly failed exams, handed essays in late (if at all), and had fierce poor attendance. Twas bleak!" – Gareth

10. Feeling easily distracted from doing your work is incredibly frustrating.

"I find it really, really difficult to apply myself to anything that doesn't interest me. It comes across as lazy, and is frustrating for employers. It's frustrating for me too, because the fact is, any job involves tasks you don't like. I go to do them and instantly get distracted, or my mind wanders elsewhere. It's like I can't keep focus on anything for too long.

"In the long term, with any job I've had, I fall out of love with it really quickly, for these reasons, so I'm kind of stuck in a cycle now of going to work somewhere, loving it at first, and then growing to hate it because I feel like I'm failing at it." – Maeve

11. But talking openly to your employers could be a massive relief.

"After I graduated from university, I spent a year working as a medical scribe in an emergency room. It was a really fast-paced job, and sometimes I had a hard time focusing long enough to hear all of the notes the doctors were dictating to me. At first I was really afraid to tell any of the doctors, because I didn't want them to think I couldn't handle the job, but eventually I decided that it would make life easier for both myself and the physicians if they knew. After I told them, they were a lot more patient with me when I asked to have things repeated or needed a few extra seconds to get caught up with my notes." – Danielle


12. In terms of dating, ADHD can make it feel like it's hard to commit to one particular person.

"A serious relationship at this point seems like it would take a lot of my energy and I don't know if I'm ready to give that yet. I think that's true of a lot of people with ADHD – we like to keep our options open." – Maeve

13. A crippling fear of failure can seep in pretty quickly.

"I feel as though people with ADHD exude a 'devil may care' attitude, so when we do fail, it's easy to believe that we have done so intentionally or that we are not bothered by our failure." – Gareth

"I do worry about my work ethic, and if I'll ever be able to achieve the things that I want to achieve. There are so many creative things I know I'd be good at, but I find it very hard to see a project through to the end. I fall away, and I worry that if I keep going that way I'll never get anywhere." – Maeve

14. There's still an awful lot of stigma around ADHD.

Instagram: @ad_her_d

"I've seen a lot of comments from people saying that people with ADHD are just lazy and lack discipline. That one really bothers me. I have always been a very dedicated student, an athlete, and a very ambitious person overall. I know I am definitely not lazy, and no amount of discipline could change my problems with focus or memorisation. ADHD is a real medical condition, and when others blame us for our problems it makes me feel like they are trying to invalidate that diagnosis. It's incredibly frustrating." – Danielle

"There's a lot about ADHD not being a real thing, and that people who say they have it are just lazy. Let me tell you it's very real! I really, really wish I could apply myself sometimes, but my brain doesn't work that way. It literally switches off sometimes when I'm working on something and I won't notice until I've lost an hour without realising. I've also seen the media say it's just an excuse for laziness, which is just gross in my opinion. Trying living in this head for a day and you'll see how much time can just evade you!" – Maeve

15. But ADHD is totally manageable.

"I write a diary to plan my week, consult with my doctor, and I'm upfront with those around me if it's starting to affect my life before a situation snowballs." – Gareth

"I have an agenda that I carry around all of the time where I can jot my to-do list and make notes reminding me of things I want to remember. I am also kind of obsessive about using binders and folders to keep all of my papers for school and work organised (think Leslie Knope-level office organization!). I also set alarms on my phone so I am never late for appointments and classes." – Danielle

Tara McGillicuddy, a productivity coach who runs Living With ADHD, adds: "One misconception is that adults with ADHD can't be successful. With the right type of structure, support, and strategies, adults with ADHD can thrive. When adults with ADHD learn to work with their brains, life can be amazing."

16. In fact, sometimes, it can be fucking great.

Fox Searchlight

"The flipside of inattention symptoms is hyperfocus, which means that if I'm actually interested in something, I throw myself into it completely. I'll read for hours and hours about it, talk about it endlessly, and if it's project-based, I'll put my all into it.

"ADHD makes me interesting and funny. There's a lot about it I like, and to be honest I'm not sure I'd change it. I've obviously had ADHD my whole life, and so much of my personality is tied to it, good and bad. I like myself, so it mustn't be too bad!" – Maeve

For more information about ADHD see the NHS website, or speak to your GP.