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.

Not Quirky, Just Undiagnosed ADHD: Now-Obvious Signs I Had ADHD

Since hitting puberty, I’ve been compared to Zooey Deschanel’s manic-pixie-dream-girl characters a lot. The blue-eyes, dark brown hair with bangs, and fondness for polka-dots played a large part in it, but even more than that, is that I’ve always been called some semblance of weird, odd, and mainly: quirky.

It’s cliche at this point, but I always knew I was different. My brain didn’t seem to match most other people’s frequency. Being in a family with 3 other, very different siblings meant that these differences were highlighted in a matter-of-fact way, without any value judgement. Quirks like my obsessive reading and spaciness were just part of who I was – never something to be fixed.

It wasn’t until puberty hit, and with it a whole slew of realizations, that the once cute and quirky habits I had, were no longer so cute and quirky. My mental health had taken a nose dive.

In an effort to get better, over eight years ago I went to a psychologist and received a diagnosis for a personality disorder. This diagnosis turned out to be useless and a large source of frustration because it was wrong (more on that in the upcoming weeks).

January this year I received a new diagnosis that finally felt right: it was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, aka ADHD, all along.

If you’ve been diagnosed with any sort of neurodiversity/mental illness, you might have encountered the same issue I’ve grappled with: it turns out, a lot of the things that I thought were just little quirks, were symptoms of untreated ADHD.

Here are the (not-so-)little quirks I now know had more to them.

In a world of my own

I was a spacey child. As a kid, if you weren’t looking me straight in the eye, there was no chance I was paying attention to you. My parents had even nicknamed my own little world, asking me if I was in La La Luna. Another common phrase I heard growing up was “colgada como los jamones”. Directly translated from Spanish it means “hanged like a ham”, but really it’s more like “totally zoned out”.

I loved daydreaming. My mental world took precedence over the physical world, which became an issue when it came to socializing. For years, I never understood why I didn’t connect with classmates. Looking back at old home videos, it’s clear I was mentally checked out, dipping in and out of the conversation wherever it interested me. It’s not that I had issues with understanding social cues in the first place. I understood what was expected, but I would get distracted and miss out on key parts of social situations.

My forgetfulness only made my awkwardness more apparent. Besides the run-of-the-mill signs of forgetting homework or appointments, there were multiple times where I’d go to school with two different shoes on my feet. In my defense, they were the same color.

Nowadays, I’ve gotten better at masking, but if I’m on autopilot, I’ll still space out and forget things. Only this time, the only victim is my partner who has to hear my Velma-like cry of “Where are my glasses? Have you seen my glasses?” at least three times a day.

Devouring books

Up until being diagnosed, my understanding of ADHD was relegated to it being about having a lack of focus. Turns out, ADHD is a deceptive name. Instead of an attention deficit, it’s more akin to an attention deregulation. Including sometimes focusing too much attention on a certain task. A common way this shows up for some in childhood is with an obsession with reading.

Whenever I talk about reading a lot when I was younger, I find it difficult to paint the picture as to how obsessive this hobby was. I’d read at dinner, with my book wedged between my legs and the table. I’d read in the car, to the point of making myself nauseous. I’d even read while walking down the street like Belle in the opening of The Beauty and The Beast.

Something I don’t often bring up, is the level of anger I would have if you distracted me, which everyone around me chalked up to me being grumpy. In reality, I was worried that if I lost focus, I wouldn’t guarantee I could get it back. This was particularly annoying if I was hell-bent on doing the one thing for hours and hours.

Niche interest sprints, not marathons

Hyperfixations are the obsessive interests that come with hyperfocus. While neither are considered official symptoms, they can be good indicators for ADHD. A hyperfixation is an intense focus on something, to the point where you’re blocking out the rest of the world. Important to note: hyperfixations are mostly associated with people with autism, but these tend to last longer – many months or years. ADHD hyperfixations are significantly shorter and more akin to impulsive shifts in interests.

In preparation of writing, I tried to list all the hyperfixations I’ve had. Things I spent hours on, researching until too early in the morning, for, at most, a few weeks on end, that I dropped once something more interesting came along. Because this list ended up being 4 pages, front and back, including only the ones I remembered, I won’t go through them all. But, to get a good idea of the topics I know way too much about, but don’t care about anymore, below is a taste.

Baking muffins, nail art, running, learning Japanese, learning the guitar, become a manga artist, marine biology, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Final Fantasy XII, YouTube beauty guru gossip, making Anime Music Videos, Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls, all of Gordon Ramsey’s reality TV shows, Anthony Bourdain, Audrey Hepburn, Jim Morrison, barre, soft grunge Tumblr, the TV show Skins, historically accurate vintage wardrobes, fashion design, 30 Rock, commentary YouTube, Kingdom Hearts, One Piece (the manga and anime), bad movie reviews, Art Deco furniture, New York visual artists of the 80-2000s, Newgrounds Flash games, Stardew Valley, and Neopets.

To be clear: this is not just a list of interests. It’s a list of things I had made the main focus in my life for a short period of time, before moving on to the next one. I still regularly disorient new friends who start off sharing one of my hyperfixations, but realize a week later I’m disinterested because it’s no longer the flavor of the week.

At least it’s given me a wide range of skills and – useless – knowledge, which can be pretty handy sometimes.

I Have Approximate Knowledge of Many Things | Knowledge Meme on ME.ME
Although mostly I’m more like this.

No patience, just vibes

I hate waiting. I hate following instructions. I hate sticking to strict schedules. I love planning, but hate sticking to the actual plan. The thread through this hatred is simple: I’m impatient and have little to no impulse control.

Until my partner pointed it out, I never thought twice about the fact that the first thing I do when buying new electronics or furniture, is throw out the instruction manual because I know I won’t use it. Even as a kid, if my brother and I had a new LEGO set, while my brother would follow the instructions to build whatever was on the box, I’d be using the blocks to make off-kilter characters.

In school, I winged it during presentations. Classmates would comment on how impressed they were with my lack of note cards when presenting. In reality, I overcompensated with my delivery because I had no patience for the prep-work needed to stick to a script and would get too distracted if I had to read and present at the same time.

Even now, if you see me waiting for public transport, all you’ll see is someone pacing up and down the platform like a caged lion.

Perpetual fidgeter

Just like it seems you can only be underwhelmed or overwhelmed and not whelmed, I’m pretty sure there’s only overstimulation or understimulation.

I wouldn’t consider myself hyper in the traditional connotation of a six-year-old boy high on sugar. But I do score high in hyperactivity if we’re looking at chatting and fidgeting.

Fidgeting tends to be caused by being understimulated. Favorite forms of fidgeting apart from the obvious leg-bouncing? Doodling in class/during meetings, never being able to stay sitting in one position for too long, getting up to get tea six times a day as an excuse to walk around, and fidgeting with my hair to the point where I end up giving myself three different hairstyles in the span of an hour.

On the other hand, I also get overstimulated – mostly due to too much going on around me to focus on one thing. While it doesn’t happen as often as understimulation, it brings about its own quirks. Apart from randomly getting overwhelmed and snippy in packed public spaces, I’ve developed a party-only smoking habit that helps me take a socially-accepted pause when things get a bit too much.

Quirky or just undiagnosed ADHD? I don’t see any reason why it can’t be a bit of both. As long as no one compares me to a manic pixie dream girl ever again, I don’t care. Plus, recently I find out that Zooey Deschanel also has ADHD.

Sometimes life just comes full circle.

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, general life musings, and taking pop culture way too seriously.