Great Escape

What It’s Like to Have an ADHD Brain

And how I found refuge from the nonstop chaos inside my own head

Natalie Slivinski
Elemental
Published in
6 min readAug 1, 2018

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Illustration: Hannah Buckman

I’I’ve always sought comfort in familiar things. I rewatch the same TV shows. I reread the same books. I listen to the same songs for months on end. My routine isn’t about scheduling — it’s about having a shortlist of familiar activities. It feels as if I’m trying to escape my own spinning brain.

No two people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) present the exact same way, but there are commonalities. The vast majority of adults with ADHD, for instance, aren’t hyperactive on the outside, but on the inside.

The moment my head touches a pillow, my brain starts doing somersaults. Intrusive thoughts rear their ugly heads. Remember when you made that girl cry in the sixth grade because you wouldn’t stop poking her? Remember when you said “shit happens” in that job interview? Oh, remember that time you drank too much champagne on a date and ran crying out of The Hunger Games?

Most often, though, it’s half-baked big ideas that turn my mind into a clown car. Ideas for work. Ideas for a new book. Ideas for the nursery for a baby who doesn’t exist yet. The world is full of endless possibilities to contemplate, and my brain has no idea where to put them all. They just tumble around in there like balls in a lottery machine.

In the ADHD brain, the team is short-staffed.

Tuning things out is another formidable task. William Dodson, MD, an adult ADHD specialist in Denver, Colorado, writes in ADDitude that many people with ADHD have amplified senses, making it hard for us to block out stimulation. I hate shirt tags. I don’t like being touched unexpectedly. Loud music in the morning stresses me out. I turn my phone upside down on my nightstand so I can’t see the gently pulsing light as it charges. Ambient noise is my escape from nocturnal household sounds — ticking clocks are torture, and I live in fear of night-owl neighbors with booming baritone voices. Even in winter, I would sleep with an oscillating fan facing the wall until my husband bought me a white-noise machine.

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Natalie Slivinski
Elemental

Freelance writer, disease biologist, and burgeoning eccentric from Seattle, WA. Website: www.natalie-sly.com.