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“Maybe I’m Not Just Thoroughly Messed Up:” Olympian Molly Seidel On Her Late ADHD Diagnosis

Olympic marathoner and mental health advocate Molly Seidel reflects on the roadblocks that delayed her ADHD diagnosis, and the catharsis of finally understanding her brain.

Half of all women with ADHD receive a misdiagnosis or an incomplete diagnosis before finally identifying and treating their attention deficit disorder. This staggering statistic, revealed in a recent ADDitude survey of 2,760 women, confirms the anecdotal reports we hear often of medical gaslighting, distrust of self, unnecessary suffering, delayed treatment — and the grave consequences of each.

“I was misdiagnosed and received treatment that did not help me,” wrote one survey respondent misdiagnosed with depression and anxiety. “This led to me never getting better and ending up having a mental breakdown before I got my proper ADHD diagnosis 10 years later.”

“I believe if, instead of being diagnosed with bipolar 2 (cyclothymia), anxiety, and depression, I had been appropriately diagnosed with ADHD and given coping skills and treatment for that, my life would be completely different,” wrote another ADDitude reader.

“Antidepressants worked for a while, but my anger and frustration flare-ups were still an issue,” wrote a woman diagnosed with ADHD in her 50s. “Eventually, the antidepressants didn’t work anymore and I hit bottom… By the time I was diagnosed with ADHD, I was on long-term disability and felt I had no control over my life.”

The reasons for incomplete or inaccurate diagnosis range from outdated ADHD and gender stereotypes to low self-esteem and self-trust, seeded by years of criticism for unrecognized and untreated symptoms of ADHD, according to ADDitude‘s Women’s Health Month survey.

“Not being able to verbalize my emotions well continues to be a difficulty, likely due to not being able to trust my own emotions, whether they are valid or an under or over reaction,” wrote an ADDitude reader misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. “In my opinion, this led to being misdiagnosed.”

This prevalent and debilitating roadblock to an ADHD diagnosis was a topic of discussion with Olympic marathon medalist Molly Seidel during her recent conversation with WebMD about barriers to mental health care for women.

“I wish that I had been more vocal about exactly how I was feeling earlier, because we might have gotten to the solution a lot earlier,” said Seidel, a world-class professional runner who was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders before finally receiving an ADHD diagnosis a few years ago. “Especially as women, a lot of us are willing to almost gaslight ourselves by saying, ‘Oh it’s not really that bad.’ And then you look objectively at it, and you’re like, ‘No, this is objectively pretty bad and there has to be a better way to live than this.’”

For Seidel, an ADHD diagnosis was nothing short of life changing.

“My diagnosis came with such a sense of relief from knowing, Oh my God, there is a reason why I feel the way I feel. Maybe I’m not just thoroughly messed up and thoroughly a terrible person. My brain just works a little bit differently,” said Seidel, who earned the bronze medal in the Olympic marathon in Japan. “That diagnosis was the most freeing thing and the thing that has gotten me to the place that I am now.”

“What it took me years to figure out is that, if you are just trying to treat the symptoms and not addressing the underlying causes, it will just tend to jump from diagnosis to diagnosis to diagnosis,” said Seidel, who reported that she’s “in a much better and more stable place than I’ve been in a long time.”

Seidel’s ADHD treatment plan today includes mindful meditation, fine-tuned nutrition, miles upon miles of exercise, and therapy.

“Ultimately, the point of therapy is learning to have a better relationship with your own brain and understanding the mechanisms by which your brain works,”she said. “That has been the biggest thing in becoming more confident and trusting myself.”

ADHD Diagnosis in Women: Next Steps

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