“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.”
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.
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.)
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
- Learn: Why ADHD in Women is Routinely Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Treated Inadequately
- Read: “ADHD Is Too Often Overlooked in Women. This Needs to Change.”
- Read: “The Building Blocks of a Good ADHD Diagnosis”
- Download: Is It ADHD or a Misdiagnosis?
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.