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“Medical Gaslighting Convinced Me That I Didn’t Have ADHD”

“I spent so long adhering to whatever ‘the doctor ordered’ that I never truly learned to self-advocate.”

Doctor and patient discuss the overlapping symptoms between ADHD and menopause.
Doctor and patient discuss the overlapping symptoms between ADHD and menopause.

I used to trust doctors and their medical opinions. Antibiotics? Sure. Steroids? Okey-Dokey. Desiccated boar placenta? Your wish is my command. Back in the day, my eyeball might have been dangling from its socket, but if a physician told me to go home and ice it, I wouldn’t have questioned their orders. They were the experts. I don’t know if this docility affected my physical health, but it certainly didn’t do my mental health any favors.

I knew early on that my brain functioned differently than the status quo. After years of dilly-dallying, I got off my unmotivated rump to find out why. I made an appointment with a psychiatrist – and then hoped to god that I did not forget to go.

Dr. So and So introduced himself and asked what I was like as a kid. My words meandered all over the place, though I hit what I thought was the important stuff. I could be reading about the underground railroad; half an hour later, I’d realize I had been thinking about a hangnail on my pinky toe instead of Harriet Tubman. I did things like impulsively throwing myself over a second-floor banister, mistakenly believing I could boing-sproing off the couch cushions. When my teacher lectured too long, her voice became muffled, leaving my mind free to travel wherever it wanted to go. I sometimes took huge swigs from my mom’s coffee mug when no one was around. For whatever reason, Folger’s helped me get my homework done.

[Free Download: It’s Not ADHD?! Common Diagnosis Mistakes]

At some point, the doctor interrupted. “How did you do in school, grade-wise?” he asked.

“Great,” I said.

“Well, then you can’t have ADHD.”

I had done my research and strongly suspected that wasn’t the case. Then again, what did I know? I was just a regular Joe, sans medical degree. He escorted me out of his office, and that was that.

My brain became less of a curiosity and more of an impediment when I became a teacher. I was losing student work and, in one fell swoop, lost (and never found) a stack of 65 research papers. I misplaced my keys and locked myself and my smirking students out of the classroom. Often. I wasn’t secretly guzzling my mom’s coffee anymore; I was stockpiling caffeine pills. My not-ADHD was becoming an undeniable issue. And I didn’t like it.

But I continued to trust the doctors. Along the way, a gaggle of mental health professionals insisted on the following highlights:

  • Many people pretend to be “scatterbrained” to get prescribed stimulant medication. (I didn’t have the bandwidth to try and convince the man I wasn’t so nefarious. It was a short appointment.)
  • You can get addicted to stimulant medication and end up with greasy hair and “dirty fingernails!” (I think addiction might be more complicated than that, but you’re the doctor…).
  • Sometimes, all you really need is a good planner! (Have I mentioned that every planner I have ever owned has disappeared into the ether? But, sure, I’ll concede and buy my zillionth, which will then disappear into the ether.)

[Take This Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women]

Finally, after a decade-long, circuitous journey, I got my you-are-not-going-to-believe-this diagnosis: ADHD! Why did it take one-fifth of my life to get a medical explanation for why my brain works the way it does? I want to point the finger at the doctors, to cite their in-expertise or failure to really listen. But that would be too easy.

The fact is, I spent so long adhering to whatever “the doctor ordered” that I never truly learned to self-advocate. When I found my voice and questioned the professionals, things seemed to turn around. Now when I go to the doctor, I arrive armed with a bullet-pointed spreadsheet highlighting my talking points. (Not really. My go-to will always be a bunch of words Sharpie-d from my knuckles down to my wrist.)

My advice is simple: Don’t be a passive receptacle who too readily accepts take-two-aspirin-and-call-me-in-the-morning remedies. Be a skeptic and be ready to spar. After all, you know yourself better than anybody – even the experts.

Medical Gaslighting Over ADHD Symptoms: Next Steps

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