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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.”

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

  1. This was me. I was a successful student, lawyer, husband, and father of two young girls. At a certain point we decided that we needed a nanny or one of us to stay home with the kids. I got that job. Things were rough and I started counseling. At one point my counselor told me that I should get medicated for ADD. I was shocked. But it made sense as he explained it. He said, look, you’ve been insanely busy for decades with school and family and ADD was your friend. You had no options. Now, you have free time on your hands and suffer from too many options which can be paralyzing. I had one of those, “how could I not see this” moments. I asked my GP for a Rx for adderall. He told me that I was not diagnosed as a child therefore I could not possibly have ADD. It took two years and a change of Dr. for me to ask again. Got medicated and it probably saved my marriage. I am guessing very few Drs know how to identify first time diagnoses of ADD in adults.

  2. I turned 40 on 21st. I am living back in my home country Serbia atm, and currently visiting a psychiatrist because I’ve been feeling miserable and “not belonging” my entire life (which was also – no surprise there – full of family issues, trauma from fsmily violence, abuse, non-family rape, and classical story of how I ruined my life and disappointed everyone by not fulfilling my potential🤦🏽‍♀️). I have insanely low tolerance threshold to stress, and my life is brimming with it, so I do the only thing I was taught to do (instead of dealing with emotions in a healthy way, I lash out aggressively) and then I feel like sh*t for doing it.

    At my behest, two clinical psychologists have conducted tests for ADHD, which consisted of personality test, IQ test, and attention test (Wisconsin or something). They unilaterally concluded that I do not, in fact, have ADHD (which was psychiatrist’s stance from the beginning), because I have above average IQ, my attention and especially visual attention test was also above average (duh, because it was interesting!) and I was among the best students in elementary and high school. Typical.

    There’s one (difficult and unnecessary, she said, but she will give it to me just so that I can’t say they weren’t thorough) portion of the attention test left for me to do which is going to happen tomorrow, but I am doubtful it will change anything.

    “People with high IQ have trouble fitting in and finding conversation partners as a rule, almost, it’s no wonder you don’t feel like you belong. It’s not ADHD.”
    “You are so much more complex than one simple diagnosis, why do you insist so much on it?”
    “Studies have shown that children taking ADHD did not have any long-term improvements (duh, because it’s not such a type of medication!)”.
    “You may be willing to risk psychosis by taking those meds (I am not mentally unstable, only emotionally, if mood swings mean being emotionally unstable), but I don’t want to carry that on my conscience.”

    “I feel so defeated” would be an understatement. I asked the psychologist conducting the attention tests how up-to-date with the ADHD-related research she is, and she said she’s completely acquainted with all the latest research…

    I don’t know what to do and feel so helpless, because I have no hope that any other psychiatrist in my country is any different, and it will be years before we are able to leave again. 😔

  3. Wow, no. By using the sensationalistic term “gaslighting,” you completely miss the problem.

    Gaslighting is purposeful deceit–manipulation. Instead, the content of this article beyond the headline shows that the medical community is woefully underinformed about ADHD.

    At no point did the author even imply that she thought the doctors were trying to purposefully lie to her (the one implying about addiction… maybe).

    That said, I love this article. Many of us have had very similar experiences, over and over. It’s nice to know that others are in the same boat, and to be reminded to advocate for ourselves.

  4. I feel so sorry people have to go through this, both for the damage to their self-respect and for the delay in their treatment. It could so easily have happened this way for me, but luckily I had an alert and brave psychiatrist who questioned my depression diagnosis before I did.

    Although I wasn’t officially diagnosed with ADHD until I was 68, I had the good fortune much earlier to be treated appropriately even without a diagnosis. My p-doc (also a medical school professor) was suspicious of the way my depression would disappear in high risk or high stimulation situations like a multi-victim accident or foreign travel, or the way I would depend on datimers, spreadsheets, stickies and timers as I struggled to keep myself on track. She decided to try stimulants, and the effect was dramatic: I found it easier to focus and work during the day, and most tellingly for her, I slept better at night. So for years we used a combination of anti-depressants and stimulants to manage “whatever it was I had.” Stimulants are tightly controlled in Canada anyway, and I had a high-pressure responsible job, but she never expressed any concern about abuse, and even gave me some latitude to take larger or smaller doses depending on what was going on in my life.

    It was very collaborative, and a great experience I wish more people could have with their doctors.

  5. I’m 56. I have all my report cards from Kinder through 12th grade, including teachers’ notes and comments. Those comments began in Kindergarten. I have nearly every symptom of ADHD. Not the inattentive form. The VERY attentive form. Attentive to Everything. At once.

    The MFT suggests that my behavior Was the actual cause of my years of punishment, and now I have to change my behavior. Yes, I DO need to. But blaming me into doing it is not going to happen, to which anyone with ADHD can attest. The psychiatrist is trying hard to “give me” bipolar disorder. I am not bipolar. Being instantly angry at something in the middle of being perfectly happy, and being over it in a few minutes is not bipolar. It’s, “Squirrel!!” I’m happy watching the flowers, the squirrel makes me angry, the squirrel departs and I’m fine.

    What bothers me the most is that both of those professionals formed their opinions within 45 minutes of knowing me. Not in person, but over the phone (thanks, Pandemic. >:( ) And now that they’ve formed their opinions, there’s no going back.


    I can say, I spoke with an ADHD coach for an hour and it was the best conversation I’ve ever had about my ADHD, which she recognized instantly. (I tell the docs, “Look, people in the elevator who’ve known me for 30 seconds can see it.”) Coaches, of course, can give medication, but they can give advice. Which, to me, is better, because if the doctors aren’t going to help anyway, I may as well find something that does!*

    *Coaches are Expensive! I can’t actually afford it, and the one session I had was a free consultation. But honest to dog, I got more out of that hour (was supposed to be 30 minutes, but you know how we can be. haha) than I got from any therapist. :/

  6. Great article and so true! I have an ADHD brain (diagnosed in my mid forties) as do both of my kiddos do too (one diagnosed early twenties and the other early teens). Getting the right help isn’t a “cure” but certainly can make a huge difference in our lives. I think you’ve hit on one of the most important and powerful elements of being diagnosed. The mental health boost from being validated, discovering ways to mitigate symptoms and make the most out of our unique brains is priceless. The validation in and of itself is so healing!

    Just as you’ve stated, we have to take an active roll in that process. I have been very frustrated with medical gaslighting for years. But if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s the importance of taking responsibility for my own situation. For too long we’ve given up our power to those we deem as better, smarter, more educated, etc. And expertise is valuable no doubt. But we are the experts regarding our selves and need to stand strong in that truth.

    Thank you for giving me an extra boost today!

  7. I found out years ago (in my early 20s) that doctors aren’t always right and sometimes you do know more than they do about your health and sometimes you need to fight your corner. (This was through being physically unwell and a series of errors eg I was diagnosed with pneumonia when it is more likely I had a clot on the lung. Eventually I was (possibly mis-) diagnosed with a rare clotting disorder…after I had developed a massive DVT I was lucky to survive.)
    When I went for an ADHD diagnosis at 50 (after my daughter had been diagnosed) the psychiatrist told me I couldn’t possibly have achieved what I have and have ADHD. I wasn’t rude or aggressive but I did put my case quite forcefully and he agreed to see me again but I had to bring more evidence/someone to support me. My family aren’t local and I strongly suspect my partner also has ADHD so I took a 2 page long printed list of the criteria for diagnosis and examples from my life illustrating where having ADHD had caused problems. This was everything from being sacked as teen for inappropriately speaking my mind to my boss in a room full of colleagues to procrastinating so badly I had to write my thesis in 6 weeks rather than the usual 6 months – and then an impulsive decision to change the formatting the day before submission meaning I lost all the formatting and ended up with lots of corrections for eg things not being italics that should have been.
    I think you need to go to your first appointment with a similar list
    (although to be honest I probably only managed to start my list because I was angry at his attitude – and then hyper focus kicked in)

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