Guest Blogs

“Did You Diagnose Yourself with ADHD? Don’t Stop There!”

The epiphany of realizing you have attention deficit is useless if it doesn’t result in an action plan to treat it.

A psychiatrist explains the possible effects of an ADHD medication treatment plan to a patient.
A psychiatrist explains the possible effects of an ADHD medication treatment plan to a patient.

In all years that I’ve been blogging about ADHD, I have been surprised by how many readers are self-diagnosed. They read an article, maybe written by me, and see the same symptoms in themselves. “Aha!” they think, “I must have ADHD.”

They could very well be right. Maybe they do have ADHD, but perhaps they have pseudo-ADHD, as Dr. Ed Hallowell describes the ADHD-like behaviors caused by other conditions. The only way to be sure is to see a specialist, take some tests, and scrutinize the results. Reading a website is a lot easier, obviously, and cheaper, in the long run, but the problem with self-diagnosis is that sometimes the self-diagnosed stop there in their mental health journey.

Recently, I’ve been dealing with my learning-disabled daughter’s anger challenges. We were visiting the therapist, and she had my daughter and I work on an emotion color wheel. I played along to show my support. First, my daughter identified anger as the primary emotion. Then she identified sadness as the underlying emotion. For each emotion, we had to list one thing that exemplified it. I put “Slow drivers” under anger to keep things light, but when I had to come up with a reason why slow drivers made me feel sad, I realized they make me feel powerless. They are in control of my driving, not me.

As an adult with ADHD who has impulse control challenges and a low tolerance for frustration, this was quite the epiphany! For years I just psychically sent my seething anger at them, but now that I realize slow drivers trigger feelings of impotency in me, I suddenly understood why they made me so angry. I self-diagnosed the problem. We all do as much as we go through life, but now I have to do something about it. An epiphany is useless if it doesn’t result in a new action plan. So today, as I drove, I took more cleansing breaths than usual. I bet my heart will thank me later.

The proper diagnosis can make a phenomenal difference in our lives, but only if it is accompanied by an action plan. Therapy, medication, and coping strategies all help to take the untreated adult with ADHD and turn them into a more functional human being. If we stop at the diagnosis, we have not completed the journey. It’s like picking out a destination for a road trip, but never getting in the car.

[Take This Test: Do I Have ADHD? Symptom Test for Adults]

Even professionals have difficulty finding the proper diagnosis as they help you sleuth out your mental health issues. When I was diagnosed with Chronic Motor Tic Disorder 30 years ago, I had the road map, but never went anywhere. I treated myself since my insurance didn’t give me access to the neurologists I needed. When I attended a conference on tic disorders this month, I discovered that because I have motor and vocal tics, that means I have Tourette’s syndrome. With that self-diagnosis, I suddenly discovered a door that had never opened before. I had the name of a specialist who might take my insurance (something I verified today), a support group, and links to resources. Maybe I’ll discover that I don’t have Tourette’s after all, but I’ll still have access to a more certain diagnosis and better resources than I currently have.

Diagnosis alone is not enough. It is good that you have taken charge of your mental health and sought out answers, but what are you doing to manage your ADHD? What are you doing with your knowledge? Here are some steps to follow once you’ve self-diagnosed yourself with ADHD:

1) Seek a professional’s opinion on your condition. You may not have ADHD, but ADHD-like symptoms that point to a different problem. A specialist may be costly, but they’ll take the doubt out of your diagnosis and point you in the right direction for treatment.

2) If you have a proper diagnosis for ADHD, visit the library. There are tons of books and online resources out there to describe ADHD. What you need are resources that provide coping strategies.

3) Make changes in your life. Just because you have ADHD, doesn’t mean that you have to be victim of it. Take charge!

ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment: Next Steps

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