Accepting My ADHD Diagnosis: The Good, The Bad, And The Truth

While most people’s association with TikTok are videos of dancing teenagers, I have that dumb app to thank for teaching me that I have ADHD.

TikTok has a powerful algorithm that learns what you like and who you are at a rapid pace, catering to your specific tastes. ADHD-related content starting showing up in between cat videos and fashion hauls, before I even knew I had it.

Before then, the thought of having ADHD hadn’t ever crossed my mind. I knew I had some sort of mental health issue, but since the people I knew with ADHD all fell into the typical association of hyperactive men who talk fast and get distracted all the time, bouncing from one thing to the next, I had rejected the notion.

After binging ADHD TikTok after ADHD TikTok, I made an appointment with my doctor to not only discuss my anxiety issues, but to reassess my previous diagnosis and check if it was ADHD.

Spoiler: it was ADHD. And it turns out, the anxiety part was also because of ADHD.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the truth, of accepting my ADHD diagnosis.

The Good

ANSWERS! ADVICE THAT WORKS! MEDICATION THAT WORKS! MY BRAIN IS NO LONGER (as much of) A BIG QUESTION MARK! WHEN I TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE LIKE ME, THEY UNDERSTAND ME WITHOUT EFFORT!

Pardon my yelling, but there’s no end to the level of peace that I’ve felt since getting the right diagnosis. For what feels like forever, I’ve been trying to put together a five thousand piece jigsaw puzzle without any reference as to what it could be. And somebody finally showed me what it’s supposed to look like. Yeah, I still have to put it together, but at least I’m no longer guessing where each piece goes.

The right treatment has gotten me in a mental place that I thought unachievable a year ago. I’d resigned myself to the idea that just coping was the best I could hope for. The people around me were balancing work, socializing, personal development, education, and hobbies, while being happy and goal-oriented. What felt impossible then, is forming into a reality now. For the first time in my life, I have a semblance of control over the raging tornado of energy whirling inside me.

I’ve also come to understand that my brain is different. It’s not a negative, just neutral. Sure, I’m scatterbrained and impulsive and incapable of sticking to a schedule. But I’m also creative and quick and ready to take action when no one else will.

Life looks more manageable now.

The Bad

As with any psychological diagnosis, the slow realization that the parts that you thought made you unique, turn out to be symptoms, is always disappointing.

Accepting my ADHD has also meant accepting comorbidities. In my case, anxiety has been a big one. There are few things I am sure about in life, but one of them is that I don’t think I have ever chilled one single day in my life.

My mom always said I was a “nervous” child. What was referred to as “nerves” turned out to be anxiety. My anxiety expresses itself as racing thoughts and overthinking, working together to make me the fastest, most overwhelmed person in all the land.

Apart from providing peak cringe material, looking through old journals makes it obvious that there was an internal wasps nest raging inside. When writing while emotionally agitated, these journals read like a Virginia Woolf-style stream of consciousness on speed. It’s just one thought after another and another and another and another and another and who needs punctuation or a moment to breathe? Everything always felt like it was too much.

This “nervousness” – which I now recognize as restlessness – also means that I never feel relaxed. Even when I’m supposed to be resting, I’ll be filled with the sudden urge to jump from task to task or start thinking about all the other things I want to do. When I’m watching YouTube I want to be writing and when I’m writing I want to be drawing and when I’m drawing I’m thinking about all the dishes I still need to clean.

Accepting that these quirks were just symptoms all along, means accepting that what I’d considered an integral part of me can be fixed. Which explains why I’ve gone through three identity crises in the last nine months alone.

The Truth

Being diagnosed and getting the right treatment are just the beginning. I’m still working through accepting that I was misdiagnosed, that regardless of treatment I’ll still have ADHD symptoms, that “catching up” for lost time is impossible, and that I now see much of my life through the lense of having ADHD.

Having lost faith in the field of psychology for myself and then having to go back to get it checked, was a challenge. I grappled with conflicting thoughts of mistrusting professionals while knowing I had to be receptive to the advice given in order to improve. The only way to confirm the suspicion that I’d been misdiagnosed was to go back and get tested. If I wanted to get better, I had to return. And I was right. And they gave me the help I needed. But I’m still angry that they got it wrong the first time around, even if I know the anger won’t solve anything.

Receiving the right treatment of therapy and medication has been a godsend. But, it hasn’t fixed everything. Just because I can identify what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how I should stop it, doesn’t mean I’m in control of it. My ADHD is still there, there’s just less of it. I won’t be able to eradicate the symptoms and managing it will be a life-long effort. But, I do feel better and more equipped than before.

Because I feel like I’m finally close to being on a level playing field with others, I feel like I’m catching up to do better and do more. The laundry list of areas I want to improve on is infinite. I want to write more, and draw daily, and read more, and get a promotion, and be more social, and, and, and, and, and… Every day is planned like there are 26 hours in the day. While I’m ecstatic that my urge to create and learn is matched by actually creating and learning, when I fail to meet the ridiculous expectations I’ve set for myself, I spiral.

An added perk to getting diagnosed in the midst of a pandemic, is that you don’t remember how it affected you in social situations, until the world starts opening up.

I’m re-learning that I can become overstimulated and overwhelmed in large crowds. Plus, all my social interactions are now viewed through the lense of my ADHD. Had I always been such a terrible listener? Did I talk this much before? Did I overthink my interactions to this degree afterwards? Trying to find out if it’s my rusty social skills from being isolated for almost two years or if it’s been my ADHD all along, is a fun game I’ve taken up.

Acceptance

I have ADHD.

What I decide to do with that piece of information is up to me, but the fact remains.

I have a tendency to share this tidbit with almost everyone I get even slightly comfortable with. It’s not to get a reaction from them or to throw myself a pity party. Partially, it’s because I’m too impulsive to ever leave any shroud of mystery about me.

But mainly it’s because I value being open about what makes us different, instead of treating it as a taboo. By being open about it, I’ve had others share that they’re in the same boat. Or that they know someone who is, who they want to help but don’t know how. Or that they’re doubting if they have it, so what’s it been like to find out if it is.

Labeling the issue doesn’t solve the problem. What it does, is validate what I’ve been aware of: there is an explanation as to why I march to the beat of my own drum and there are ways to make it easier.

For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate. To an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHD’ers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

I Was Misdiagnosed For Almost A Decade: A Mental Health Journey

Before we begin, a confession: I am an idiot.

When it comes to mental health and wellness, I was a rookie when they first diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. My parents were vocal in their distrust of psychology, seeing it as an excuse to wallow in your trauma instead of solving it.

Regardless of their prejudices, they encouraged me to go to a psychologist to figure out why I was so hell-bent on self-destruction. Their hope was that I was “normal” but had been derailed because of the zesty combination of hormones and a failure in however the other divorced parent had raised me. The reality was more that I was a teenager with undiagnosed ADHD and unresolved ✨ trauma ✨. Not that we knew at the time.

Because of this, I accepted the diagnosis given to me and dropped out of therapy a couple months in, deciding I could sort it out myself. This was the start of a mental health journey that has erred more on the side of free-climbing the Matterhorn during a snowstorm than a casual stroll through the forest.

The misdiagnosis ended up doing more harm than my ADHD symptoms, even exacerbating them. I was putting a cast on my arm, when it was my leg that was broken. In the end, I ended up with a numb arm and my leg still in pain.

I started therapy and medication for ADHD expecting it not to work. It did work. Almost too well. Because now I’m stuck with an endless conga line of “what-if’s” dancing through my brain.

BPD vs ADHD: how did they get these confused?

Before we begin, let’s answer the big one: how did Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) get confused for one another?

BPD is a cluster B personality disorder that is characterized by an inability to regulate intense emotions. This inability can result in high levels of impulsivity, a propensity towards self-destructive behaviors in an effort to cope, and emotional outbursts. ADHD, on the other hand, is a neurological condition that affects attention regulation, hyperactivity, and executive function. When untreated, ADHD can be expressed as impulsivity, a propensity towards self-destructive behaviors in an effort to cope, and emotional outbursts.

ADHD is genetic and has to be present before the age of 12 to be diagnosed, while BPD can be genetic, environmental, or both.

Gender plays an inadvertent role in diagnosis. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with BPD than men, just as men are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than women. Women tend to receive an ADHD diagnosis much later in life, and to be misdiagnosed in the first place. And yes, BPD is a common misdiagnosis in these cases.

These are the facts.

But the facts don’t fully encompass the frustration of living with the wrong diagnosis for so long, and the amount of doubt it brings. Here are the questions I’ve grappled with, and am still grappling with, because of it.

Am I a fraud? Did they get it right this time?

Being told that it looked like my BPD was ADHD in disguise was a turning point. After months, I’d been validated in my suspicions and could breathe a sigh of relief.

Until I thought about it for too long and convinced myself that I’d been faking every symptom the entire 6-month long process of getting diagnosed.

That fear that they’ve gotten it wrong again is a consistent nag in the back of my mind. Writing about ADHD this month has let me organize my thoughts when it comes to my own experiences in the context of a new(ish) diagnosis. This doesn’t mean that there are no doubts. What if I’m sharing all these thoughts and experiences and it’s something else? Am I misleading people? Am I just trying to convince myself that I actually have it?

When I start thinking that, I run through the same list every time:

  • When I talk to other people with ADHD, I finally feel heard and understood for the first time in my life.
  • Following ADHD-specific advice works, which didn’t happen when I’d follow BPD-specific advice.
  • Caffeine doesn’t make me hyper, it calms me down.
  • My medication does not hype me up and makes my brain much more quiet and subdued, to the point I can relax. Which is nice. And not what happens if you take it without having ADHD.

Still, the level of self-skepticism borders on exhausting and I’d wish my Impostor Syndrome didn’t extend to my mental health, too.

Why did I have to be so stubborn and not believe my close family and friends? Was I dumb in just accepting the diagnosis?

They say that the more someone is entrenched in a belief, the more they will dig in their heels once opposing evidence is presented. I am guilty of this.

In my attempt to get better, I’d shared BPD resources with my close friends and family. I was trying to avoid the unhealthy interpersonal relationship dynamics I’d been warned were inevitable. Disregarding the fact that I’d had no issues whatsoever with these friends and family, I felt they needed to be prepared.

Almost every single one of them were kind enough to take the time to read these resources. They were also kind enough to let me know that they did not see me in what they were reading.

I’d equivocated not believing in my borderline as not believing there was any mental illness. Denying my BPD felt like a denial of my mental struggle. And the struggle was undeniable. Had I listened, I would have heard they were aware I needed help, but that I was looking for it in the wrong places.

Lesson now learned: if the people who know you best are telling you that your perception of self is way off-base, it’s probably (definitely) way off-base.

I kept re-traumatizing myself for nothing?

BPD can be brought upon by trauma. Because of this, trauma is explored when treating Borderline Personality Disorder, to recognize and change negative trauma-related behaviors or attitudes. In my misguided attempt at self-improvement, I gave too much weight to traumatic experiences that did not need constant reliving.

Making judgements on my actions through the lense of trauma was overwhelming. I thought I’d never be able to get over that period in my life because it had affected me to the point of changing my personality. It permeated everything. I saw traces of it in the ways I thought or interacted with people.

It was inescapable.

Aaaaand it was a pointless mental prison I’d built for myself. It turns out that the keys to the prison were in my back pocket this whole time. I just didn’t know where to look.

Did I cause unnecessary damage by trying to control parts of me that were never there?

My interaction with the psychologist who diagnosed me with BPD was not an entirely positive one. After concluding that I had borderline, he admitted that his borderline patients were his most difficult to treat. He also mentioned that a lot of literature I would find would be about how other people deal with people with BPD, because we could be considered toxic and manipulative.

Overall, not a great start.

From there, I started treating myself like I was a menace to be around, self-isolating from people who just wanted to be closer to me. I pushed myself away and tried to make myself invulnerable and independent. My usual route of learning through reading was also not proving fruitful. A lot of what I’d found was confirming that being around someone with BPD was considered worse than suffering from it.

Adding to the loneliness? I felt alienated from both the BPDers and from so-called neurotypicals. If I tried to share experiences with either, neither group found them relatable, driving me deeper into isolation.

Everything I tried to do to make myself better only turned out to push me further into believing I was a scourge to society if I didn’t learn how to control my emotions.

Which made me more emotional.

Even though that wasn’t even the problem in the first place.

When my group therapy sessions for ADHD ended, the clinic offered individual sessions for problems not addressed in therapy. I spent more time in those individual sessions talking about how much damage the misdiagnosis did, than on my ADHD-related symptoms.

The misdiagnosis had twisted the way I viewed my ADHD symptoms into something untreatable and unmanageable. It also added to my low self esteem, because everything I tried to solve it did not work. I’m happy to see the level of improvement in less than a year by getting the right help. Although, I’m still bitter.

I just wish they would have been as thorough with my borderline diagnosis as they had been with my ADHD diagnosis. My ADHD diagnosis took me almost half a year to get, involving multiple interviews, including interviews with parents, questionnaires, and even then, it took some convincing after they almost threw the whole diagnosis out because I didn’t struggle in school. My BPD diagnosis was based on a hunch after just one intake session, where I only introduced myself, plus one questionnaire. It took about two weeks. Max.

At least they got it right this time, right?

For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my personal journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate because to an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHD’ers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.