Difficulty in Diagnosis: Please Listen! - The ADHD Project Newsletter

Difficulty in Diagnosis: Please Listen! - The ADHD Project Newsletter

By now it shouldn't be, but the truth is that getting a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult can be a daunting task. Yes, reasonable safeguards should be in place, but often the experience we have when seeking help feels like someone built an obstacle course specifically for the things that those of us with ADHD struggle with. I've asked my great friend and fellow ADHDer Kristen Quinlan to write about her experience with getting treatment as a guest on our blog. Read on to hear more about her story!

To start, to write this is a HUGE win for my ADHD and me. Like a lot of folks, I wasn't diagnosed with ADHD until later in life. A struggle that started very early on in life and not a lot of understanding why I wasn't grasping things typically like my peers. It wasn't until I had 2 children of my own that I realized that there is something different with the way my brain works. Getting the ADHD diagnosis at 30 was a rollercoaster of a battle, especially after many years of struggling.

I should mention, I am a 31-year-old female. As most ADHD females, my symptoms were not typical to the ADHD definition.  Was there a giant lack of focus? Absolutely. Was there hyperactivity? Not so much. I was an overweight child who had been dealing with years of trauma and I didn't love most physical activity, so where was the hyperactivity? Fast forward through the school years while being the "pleasure to have in class" but "never returned her homework". I was always letting someone down when it came to education, and it physically pained me to accomplish the smallest school related tasks. I was even subjected to having my teachers sign my agenda every day to make sure I wrote down what I was supposed to do (as that was going to magically fix everything!).

As suspected, that only worked for as long as the hyper focus would allow. Rewind all the way back to first grade or so. Rewind back to all the tears shed over the writing of sentences using spelling words. My brain would never allow for one straight sentence to flow to my head and I would get MAD.  I would also get some big feelings when things were spoon-fed to me to write. It added to the noise of the already deafening sounds going on in my brain when trying to focus or think. How was I supposed to voice this to anyone? I was the "she's so smart!" girl who didn't know that others didn't quite process things and think the same way I did. I didn't know I was different.

Fast forward to my mid-twenties. A crazy breakup, family trauma, and a totaled car (thankfully I wasn't in the car, and the scarring was more mental than physical) later, evidently sent me to choose some more intensive mental health care. I checked myself into a partial program, which if you are unfamiliar, it is a program that you go to almost like a school day,  you do some one on one or group therapy, and some form of medication management. Very long, exhausting, story short - I did not go to the best program for me and was matched with a prescriber for post-program medication management who treated me poorly to say the least. By the end of the relationship with the prescriber, I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was prescribed a mood stabilizer. As time went on, I met with countless mental health "professionals" who didn't bother to ask any questions other than what medications I had previously been prescribed. Most just would up the dosage on the same mood stabilizer that I had been on to combat the anxiety I was facing. Both of my pregnancies were partially high risk due to the "necessity" of the medication that I was prescribed because of this diagnosis. Everyone in my life questioned that diagnosis, except for the folks prescribing the medication. Who really cared about my mental health other than me?

A few prescribers later, I had brought ADHD up to the person I was seeing, and that resulted in trying an nonstimulant ADHD medication. I was so excited to try something new but within the first week of taking it, I had the craziest dizzy spells and was SO tired. I could focus, but couldn’t keep my eyes open. After collapsing to the floor trying to make it to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I made the decision to call my prescriber and let them know what had been happening. After some pleading to avoid the non stimulant route, the prescriber agreed to try Ritalin, which started with testing to make sure I wasn’t addicted to any illicit drugs and a monitor to check my blood pressure. I went to take the labs, which was fine. I had a blood pressure cuff in my Amazon cart, which was fine. What wasn’t fine, was the fact that that prescriber left the practice without notice, so I had been left with no prescriber and no help with the ADHD once more.

Through lots of patience, tears, and help from my primary care doctor's office, I was paired with a new mental health group who finally made me feel seen and heard. My therapist has been an absolute life saver, but the real difference came with my new prescriber. I was asked questions I had never been asked before. When the bipolar disorder came up, my doctor questioned who and why I had ever been given a mood stabilizer when there was clearly something else going on. Since I finally felt like someone cared enough to ask questions and to actually listen to the answers given, I felt ready to start asking about ADHD. After a few appointments with this new doctor, the mood stabilizer was gone, and real treatment for ADHD began. Once the side effects of the mood stabilizer had worn off and the new medication kicked in, the mental relief was so great.

At the end of the day, I am still combating ADHD, and probably will be for a while, but that doesn’t bring me down. My journey is just beginning. It brings me hope that the days will get brighter, and with my team, I know it will. It brings me hope for the future for my family and I. My oldest daughter will be starting school soon, and with my team, no one will be crying over their spelling words or breaking down over simple school related paperwork. Keep pushing and believing in yourself. Always listen to yourself and your body, and trust the journey.

-Kristen Quinlan


Thanks to Kristen for sharing her story, and thank you as always for reading!

-Aaron Frank


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