8 Signs Of Adult ADHD

When I was first diagnosed as a child, there wasn’t the ADHD awareness there is today.

Signs woman still has ADHD as an adult pixelshot, Nomadsoul1 | Canva

I was first diagnosed with ADHD at age 11. Twenty years later, that diagnosis would be reaffirmed. Suddenly, everything about my life made sense, including the feeling that I was somehow different from everyone else. When I was first diagnosed as a child, there wasn’t the ADHD awareness there is today.

I don’t recall being told how ADHD would affect my life outside of school; the focus was on how the “problem” (me with ADHD) could be managed — mainly to benefit the teachers and the others tasked with dealing with me daily. I didn’t think about my diagnosis much over the intervening years, possibly because (like most things) I didn’t fully pay attention or put the pieces together until it started affecting my life. It wasn’t until I was re-assessed in 2021, at age 31 that I realized that so many little quirks that I thought were “just me” came from ADHD. If not for my mental health struggles at the time, I probably wouldn’t have sought a diagnosis.


Getting re-diagnosed as an adult was helpful because it gave me something else to research and a framework to identify the adult traits that were, most likely, stealthy indicators that I was still dealing with an ADHD brain.

Here are 8 signs of adult ADHD:

1. I can’t focus (online or in real life)

As a kid, the biggest indicator was my visible lack of focus. It appeared on the ice when I was training for figure skating, in the classroom, and my life. My teachers would complain to my mom. “She doesn’t seem to be paying attention. She doodles or looks out the window, and it seems she’s not even there.” And yet, I still earned excellent grades (except in math, a struggle that continues today) and wrote papers that earned As. I loved writing even back then, and my writing/English comprehension scores were in the 98th percentile. 


My figure skating coaches had similar complaints. My primary coach then told my mom, “She has moments of brilliance, if only she could string them all together.” I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or a burn.

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2. Lack of focus  

As I got older, I figured out how to “mask” my inattentiveness. But I would still struggle to figure out what people were saying, filling in the blanks after zoning out. I would sit in college lectures, scrolling on Twitter under my desk. My college teachers probably thought I was disrespectful, but it was the only way to make it through the class and absorb the material.

I focused better when I was doing something else simultaneously than if I was forcing myself to pay attention to just one thing. ut to everyone else, staring into space or doodling in notebooks (how I got through my math classes, which is why I still can’t grasp algebra) looked like not paying attention. 


This is part of why I don’t have a full-time 9–5 job: I realize that in an office environment, my lack of focus and “spaciness” would be seen as insubordination or incompetence. I need to have my own space to work independently and work with my focus as it ebbs and flows throughout the day. Unfortunately, that’s how my mind works, and I’ve had to learn to work with it.

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3. Obsessing

Like many people, my mental health suffered during the pandemic. While I could find productive outlets and obsessions in 2020 — I got super into roller skating, paddle boarding, and hiking since I couldn’t skate — I started to feel anxious and concerned about my mental health in 2021. Unfortunately, this led to doing research online, where I stumbled across OCD and identified with some of the symptoms. “Oh no, what if I have OCD?” I thought. Thus started my long spiral into worry and hyperfocus over this hypothetical. I looked out for symptoms, using every little thing as proof that, yes, I did have OCD, and it would ruin my life.

I was driving myself crazy. I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what, and the possibilities were endless. After months of this, I was evaluated by a psychologist in the fall of 2021. She ruled out OCD but rediagnosed me with ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder. 


Later, I realized my anxiety probably flared up because I was undergoing major changes in my life. My family and I were moving out of our apartment and into a house, simultaneously moving out of our small business building after it was sold in 2021, and I remembered way back in 2005 — the first move I experienced — that I had a similar “flare-up.” Moving is a big trigger for me, and many others, and I couldn’t connect those dots until I got rediagnosed.

I get obsessed with things, too. If I find a certain brand I like, I have to buy several of the same items because “it might get discontinued”. If I like a certain pen, I have to buy ten of them. Years ago, I was obsessed with collecting a certain perfume brand — I now realize it was a bit excessive. Luckily, I’m usually broke these days, so I don’t have the resources to fund my obsessions. I also found that having too much sugar, carbs, or processed food can cause me to get even more unfocused, obsessive, and anxious, so I often look to my diet when I start noticing my symptoms getting worse.

Understanding these patterns can help, but sometimes, my ADHD brain gets bored and starts looking for a problem. The best thing I can do for my mental and physical health is to stay productive, find ways to cope with stress and catch myself before I get too bored/overwhelmed and tip over into unhelpful obsessive hyperfocus.

4. Overreacting and underreacting

I like things to be orderly, but when my ADHD brain is going 1,000 mph, it’s difficult to slow down and follow through, so I get overwhelmed. When I was a kid, this looked like tantrums and outbursts whenever I felt like too much was happening at once. When plans changed unexpectedly, I was asked to do something that sounded too complicated, or I was around too many people, I became overstimulated. I sometimes feel the same things happening as an adult, but I have to control myself better now. It's challenging to slow down and think.


My triggers are appointments, travel, and pretty much anything with multiple steps. A few days ago I zipped around my house frantically cleaning up because we had someone coming over to help us put up the air conditioner, and there was too much to do. My mom and I needed to move furniture, remove the garbage, and change the litter box … but I’m embarrassed to say I got overwhelmed. I recognize it’s sensory overload, combined with my time blindness, making me think I had even less time to do everything, but it doesn’t make the feelings of overwhelm and anxiety any easier. 

This is my executive dysfunction, too. I used to think it was normal to get overwhelmed when doing basic household chores or trying to answer two emails at once. Turns out, it’s more likely my ADHD.

I also tend to jump to the worst-case scenario immediately and get hurt very easily if I perceive someone disappointed or angry at me. This is rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD), and it is likely a symptom of ADHD. It’s a manifestation of emotional dysregulation, which can often cause grown adults to have emotional outbursts and lead to relationship issues. 

Sometimes, I do the opposite and under-react, especially in social situations. I often get overwhelmed and overstimulated if I have to keep up with a conversation (and forget about it if two or more people are talking around me or at me) and don’t quite know what to say or how to say it. This has caused several relationship issues because it’s read as callousness rather than genuine cluelessness. Later, I’ll get home and think, “I should have said (fill in the blank) and get irritated with myself. It’s tough to slow my racing brain down enough to interpret context and decide what to say, while also listening to the person speaking. I try not to use this knowledge as an excuse for bad behavior but as self-knowledge.


Now, if I feel myself getting overwhelmed with emotion, I try to remind myself to “slow down” and process what I’m feeling. I then label my emotions and devise an action plan to address them instead of stewing in my feelings. And if I am in a conversation, I try to stay in the moment and respond as authentically as I can.

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5. Speed-reading and tab-hopping

I recently read about a woman who had over 7000 tabs open on her computer and felt seen. Although I’ve never opened anywhere close to that (I think my record is 30) because my computer would probably explode, I routinely open at least 10 tabs of posts and articles to read at some point during the day. However, I usually start one article, get bored, skip to another tab for more stimulation, and read a few sentences … the pattern continues until I catch myself. This means that I usually don’t get through an entire article, end up putting them aside to read later, and often don’t read them anyway.

Now, I try only to open one tab at a time, read it, and then move on to the next. This helps me focus better because I’m not putting pressure on myself to “get it over with” so I can move on to the next. With books, I can’t switch tabs but I can skip through paragraphs. I speed read and often find my eyes skipping over various less “interesting” sentences and breezing through a book quite quickly. This was most noticeable when I was a kid and would read ten books a week.


I also do it when reading articles and often have to remind myself to slow down. The answer has been to read less and only give my time and limited attention to content that is generally interesting or will improve my life. I skip it if I don’t feel hooked in the first few paragraphs and/or realize it’s irrelevant.

6. Hyperdrive mode or 'get nothing done' mode — there’s nothing in between

I’ve been a productivity junkie forever, mainly because I’m either super-productive to the point of absurdity or …. do nothing. When I was a kid, it was much the same. I would get a bunch of my homework done at once and feel super-focused; a few days later, I would procrastinate and feel unable to do much of anything. The same pattern repeats itself now. 

I had Olympian friends who said they entered the “pain cave” during their events to disassociate and ignore the pain they were feeling; I have the “focus cave.” When I'm in this hyperfocused state, it's like I’m in a trance. While everyone can access this state, and it’s not an “official” symptom of ADHD, it seems those of us with ADHD slip into this state pretty often with things that interest us. For me, this is reading, writing, and skating. But when I don’t want to do much of anything, I often beat myself up for not being more motivated.

I’ve had to try to seek a “middle way” — after hyperfocusing, I acknowledge I'll be tired. After any prolonged executive function tasks like cleaning, I will also be tired. Giving myself just one priority task to do per day helps. I often find myself doing more anyway once I take the one “big thing” off my plate.


7. Issues with food

I’ve struggled with binge eating all my life. I remember the first instance when I was around 5 or 6. My parents had an advent calendar with doors that could open to reveal the chocolate inside. I figured this out, and once, when my parents were outside, I opened all the doors and then subtly closed them again. I ate all the chocolate in one swoop. My parents found out pretty quickly when they came inside and noticed one of the little doors ajar.

This pattern continued into adulthood. I once ate so much angel food cake at a school function that I got sick. Years later, I would binge on mini candy bars, eating 50 over a few days. I hid the wrappers and eventually was discovered. This binge eating felled me as recently as last year, when, after getting injured, I couldn’t do much except sit on the couch, watch Netflix, and eat.

I gained 30 pounds over several months, and now I’m getting my diet under control again, but it was a valuable lesson. I must constantly pull myself back from the tendency to seek gratification from food. I know binge eating and ADHD are correlated because of impulse control and seeking novelty and gratification.


8. Inability to multi-task or work under pressure

This is perhaps the greatest indicator of my ADHD in my daily life. As I mentioned above, I get overwhelmed and overreact when I am under pressure. This might mean I have an outburst at home, but at work, it often means I shut down. I worked at an ad agency for nearly two months before I was fired and realized I was not cut out for a traditional 9–5.

 At home, writing this post, I can get up and walk around if I lose focus. I can get a cup of tea. I can walk outside to get the mail. And I can write at 4 am or whenever my energy levels and focus align. But at work, when I got up to get a coffee from the office kitchen (about once every two hours) or went to the restroom (probably half that, from all the coffee), my co-workers and boss noticed. They probably thought I was just trying to get out of work, but I was frantically trying to regain my focus through side quests.

I also can’t multi-task when the pressure’s on. I make silly mistakes and forget things. At work, I think one of the things that sealed my fate was forgetting to file an important report on a certain date. I was so stressed and overwhelmed by the other tasks rapidly filling my inbox that I couldn’t keep up. Having people walking, working, or chatting behind me all day in our open office plan didn’t help either. I now know that 9–5 office jobs aren’t for me, and I need to be able to work remotely, on my own time, and my terms. I

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Christie Sausa is a writer, athlete, and performer. She has contributed to various local, regional, and national publications, been featured in global ad campaigns as a figure and speed skater, and appeared as a background actor in various television shows like The Deuce and The Gilded Age.