Misdiagnosed with Depression Until 39: “Best Week of My Life”

ADHD misdiagnosed as depression

She had sought help from a string of mental-health professionals—for decades—with her ADHD misdiagnosed as depression and anxiety. Again and Again.  For decades.

I’ve met many women and men with this experience. If you love someone diagnosed and treated for “depression” or “anxiety” who does not seem to get better with treatment, you owe it to that person: Investigate the possibility of ADHD.

Most recently, met a woman whose ADHD was misdiagnosed and medically mistreated until age 39. With predictable negative side effects. Fortunately,  her friend is one of my book’s biggest fans—and most energetic ADHD evangelists. You can read her story below.

ADHD Misdiagnosed as Depression

Is it “crazy” that most of the people I meet with late-diagnosis ADHD had been treated for “depression” and “anxiety” all their lives? Yes, it is. 

They are the lucky ones, though. I shudder to think of the millions still misdiagnosed. That goes double for those treated with inappropriate medications that risk making ADHD worse and causing weight gain, among other intolerable side effects.

In the past, I’ve shared poignant first-person essays from individuals diagnosed later in life:

My ADHD Partner Survey asked respondents, “What do you wish you’d known earlier about ADHD?”

ADHD in Women Requires Specific Knowledge

Establishing a correct diagnosis in women, in particular, requires gender-specific knowledge. That’s the conclusion of this 2016 review, A Review of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Women and Girls: Uncovering This Hidden Diagnosis:

Accurate ADHD diagnosis in women and girls requires establishing a symptom history and an understanding of its gender-specific presentation. Coexisting anxiety and depression are prominent in female patients with ADHD; satisfactory academic achievement should not rule out an ADHD diagnosis.

Before even checking the authors, I suspected that one of my favorite ADHD experts, Patricia Quinn, MD, was part of the research team.

Yes! Dr. Quinn authored the paper with Madisha Madoo, MD.  Check out an excerpt from her book (with frequent writing partner and another favorite expert of mine, Kathleen Nadeau, PhD) Understanding Girls with ADHD at this blog post: A Must-Read About Girls with ADHD)

I’ve done this work for 20 years because the toll created by our culture’s collective “ADHD Denialism” can take tragic proportions.

My friend’s friend agreed to provide a short report of her life until ADHD was finally diagnosed and treated. Thank you, Khanji. I am so happy for you.

—Gina Pera

ADHD misdiagnosed as depression

Khanji’s Story

My aunt warned my mother against seeking an official diagnosis of ADHD for me, in 1985. I was 5 years old.  She claims, as the Dean of Special Education at a prestigious university, that the ADHD diagnosis was an “educational death sentence.”

A child with ADHD, she went on, would carry that label from classroom to classroom, year by year, and be stuck in the corner with the rest of the “dumb, bad kids.”  She and my mother feared for my lost potential.

I was evaluated for—and informally diagnosed with—what was then-called ADD at upon entering kindergarten.   Instead of receiving medical treatment, however, I was taught subtle forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy—in ways I didn’t recognize until years later.  In particular, they helped me learn how to be organized and focused, and to expend my energy in healthy ways. 

I was placed in Gifted and Talented classes as a child and Advanced  Placement in High School.  The work was not difficult.  Still, I often skated by with Cs and Ds from forgotten assignments or lost interest.

Age 12: My  First Suicide Attempt

For most of my life since then, I’ve felt like I was wearing a mask—just waiting for it to be ripped away and the world to see me as a fraud.  My initial diagnosis of depression came at 12, following my first suicide attempt.  It was predicated by severe bullying. Talk therapy helped, along with support from my parents. But it didn’t solve the deeper problems.

In college, I experienced resurgences of depression and isolation. Another diagnosis arrived: Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  While it felt good to be able to name the constant background static that was allegedly anxiety, it again wasn’t a solution.  My physician prescribed Prozac, which I took for some time before discontinuing it due to an intolerable side effect.

Three years ago, several sizable life changes hit my husband and me at once. As a result, our marriage became very difficult.  He has the hyperactive type of ADHD—and forgoes treatment.  Our symptoms present in vastly different ways. Coupled with those “Whammies” from life, it put us on very rocky ground. 

ADHD misdiagnosed as depression

ADHD Misdiagnosed As Depression (Again)

We sought marriage counseling.  Our therapist was amazing, helping to resolve many lingering issues from our 12 years of marriage and process our way through current challenges.  She encouraged me to speak to my doctor about my depression.  I began taking Celexa a few months ago.

Again, it wasn’t enough. 

I  felt as though I was failing. Constantly.  Each day it was a struggle to just get out of bed. 

At work, I could perform my duties and meet my deadlines—but barely.  I would open a browser or word processor and stare blankly at the screen, forgetting my task. I would zone out in meetings and in conversations.  Then I would return home at the end of the day, completely mentally and physically exhausted. 

Housework became an insurmountable challenge. A vague feeling of dread consumed my days.

ADHD misdiagnosed

Finally: Diagnosed with—and Treated  For—ADHD

Recently, tremendous support came from a dear friend. She has ADHD herself and advocates for education and treatment. I contacted my doctor last week and began treatment.  I was initially very hesitant. As a child of the 80s, I kept hearing echo in my brain the harsh rhetoric of “All these kids are medicated zombies”.  But I also knew something had to give.  

I came to my doctor ready to advocate for myself, having heard that many doctors are years behind the times when it comes to ADHD.  I found my doctor the exception and we talked at length about opportunities for medication.  My doctor prescribed Vyvanse, a stimulant medication.

I have been taking the Vyvanse for one week.  It has been the best week of my entire life.

I didn’t realize how much of my life was missing until now.  I laughed more on the first day than I had in months.  And it was natural; I wasn’t “high.”  I still feel like me, but a Better Me.

ADHD misdiagnosed as depression

Hopefulness Has Replaced Dread

I feel as though the medication has unlocked doors in my mind to qualities I always possessed but were until now inaccessible. I have energy, motivation, a sense of humor, and a desire to show affection again.  Hopefulness and an eagerness to experience the potential of each day has replaced feelings of dread. 

If I could offer one piece of advice to someone considering diagnosis or treatment for ADHD, it would be this: Don’t wait.  Moreover, if you, like me, have received diagnoses of other issues such as depression and anxiety, learn more about ADHD to see if it is a possibility. Then talk with your doctor or therapist to see if ADHD could be contributing to your symptoms.

—Thank you to Khanji for sharing your story.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with depression or anxiety—but found little relief from treatment is—

here is my advice: Learn about ADHD and know that ADHD is often misdiagnosed as depression and anxiety  

14 thoughts on “Misdiagnosed with Depression Until 39: “Best Week of My Life””

  1. I have read your book is it me, is you, or is it adhd. My husband I know that’s what he has. Everything in the book he has been doing and how has been treating me.

    I want to help him but hoe can you help someone that tells you that’s not what he has. I’m tired of going through the crazy things. We are having problems in this marriage where sometimes I want to give up. It takes a toll on me to where I don’t want him.

    He’s not paying any bills because feels that we are married his name should be on the house. He mismanages his on money and ends up owing the bank for overdraft fees. I stop helping him to get himself together because he wouldn’t step up as a man.

    I try to get him an appointment with the doctor but he couldn’t because he said his job. I love him but I’m starting not to like him. We are sleeping in separate rooms and he has called the police on me for his actions.

    We have been to marriage counseling, and that was terrible, he focuses more on me and the house then about my husband and said my husband was insecure. How can I get him some help. I know it’s a good person in there somewhere, it’s like dealing with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I live in fort mill, sc. Where can I go to get help for this ADHD.

    1. Hi Tracey,

      I’m sorry you find yourself in this situation. It’s one I hear about all too often.

      If you have read my book and actively used some of the techniques for “getting through denial,” I’m not sure what else you can do.

      It’s very important to check out mental health professionals first, because you might hae just one opportunity. But this is sometimes easier said than done. You won’t know until mid-session.

      I understand you are perceiving that your husband is capable of better, if he received proper help. This is sometimes the case. But other times it is not. When ADHD goes undiagnosed for many years, some very poor habits and mindsets can develop — and even with medication, those can be hard to change.

      One thing is for sure: You must ensure your financial survival and not leave yourself vulnerable to his actions.

      I don’t understand what you mean about him not paying any bills but still wants his name as owner of your house.

      But you truly cannot risk letting him continue to destroy your future. You will need that money some day. And it’s not “good” of him to behave as selfishly as you have described.

      At some point, after your best efforts, you have to think of self-preservation. I know that having a “treatable condition” creates a lot of gray area. It makes it more difficult than in the old days, where we could feel no hesitation in leaving a “jerk” or a “user” or whatever. But we still must draw a line.

      take care,

      g

  2. My son was put on trintellex to treat depression and became manic, after the manic episode he ended up in a mental facility and put on more anti-depressant medication
    I have weaned him off everything, it has been two years and he has been fine except for extreme anxiety, he now medicates with marijuana and mainly stays to himself, he is 25 and works part time, he will not go to the doctor due to the bad experiences we have had with medication, I believe he has add, I was told he did in Kindergarten and did not want to put him on medication. We went to the AMEN clinic and they diagnosed him add, but he was on a lot of anti-depressants at the time. I need help, someone to guide me on how to help him move forward or to council me is there a resource or doctor who is knowledgable near me? I live in Langhorne pa, I do not want to subject him to the inept doctors I have previously sent him to

    1. Dear Pat,

      I am sad to read your story. Wish it was the first time I’ve read similar.

      Somehow, we’ve come to view antidepressants as somehow more benign than stimulants. But they are not, especially if the core neurobiological issue isn’t depression but ADHD.

      The marijuana usage is deceptive: It probably does help with knocking back the cognitive anxiety but it can also risk further impairing motivation and working memory.

      I’ve heard some good things about the “Being Well” Center in Pittsburgh — seems to be about an hour from Langhorne.

      http://www.thebeingwellcenter.com

      No matter good a provider’s reputation, however, I’ve learned we MUST be educated and self-advocate. To work as part of the team, not take top-down directions that does include our input.

      Being on antidepressants for a long time when he actually had ADHD might have changed his brain chemistry. Marijuana will not help that.

      I understand his reticence. It is justifiable—and should be acknowledged as such.

      But he should also know that he can have more control this time. He doesn’t have to be a passive lab rat.

      For example, if he were to try a stimulant, he could start at the very lowest dose and increase slowly, at his comfort level. Stimulants take effect fairly quickly and exit the system hours later. So, that should give him some feeling of control, too.

      There are ways to even start with micro-doses, such as with the liquid stimulant Quillivant. Or, with the stimulant Vyvanse, you can open it and pour the medication into a glass of water so you can take a tiny sip–increasing day by day. There is also a patch (Daytrana) that you can take off if you are uncomfortable and it wears off about an hour later.

      The main thing is he should know he is in the driver’s seat now, and you are there to help him navigate things and communicate with the care providers.

      Good luck!

      g

  3. This story really hit home with me. Do you think it’s possible to have depression but ALSO untreated ADHD, which severely exacerbates depression symptoms? I feel like the inability to feel like my life is “together”— due to lack of focus, inability to finish tasks, etc., just makes my depression a million times worse. Kind of a chicken-and-egg scenario, huh.

    1. Hi Nora,

      Not just a “chicken-and-egg scenario” but a VERY common phenomenon.

      Physicians and therapists are very familiar with depression and anxiety, so that seems the go-to diagnosis.

      What many of them do NOT realize is that untreated ADHD can “look like” depression and anxiety.

      The best thing to do is examine your life history, with an eye toward possible ADHD symptoms and challenges. The tricky thing is, ADHD symptoms are not always obvious in childhood. The child might be smart and doesn’t have to study but still makes good grades. The household is organized and a parent stays on top of things. Women with ADHD are more likely to be “people pleasers” and so they want to do well in school.

      But yes, many people with ADHD do also have depression in its own right—by that I mean, neurogenetic. A brain thing. Not an ADHD-fallout thing. Same for anxiety.

      If ADHD seems likely, it’s really best to treat that first and see what’s left.

      good luck!
      g

    2. I am a physician myself (not psychiatrist), who was severly affected by major depression with anxiety and ADHD.
      My theory is that people with ADHD do not (only) have depression because of bad life experiences, but mostly due to their different brain chemistry and brain “wiring”.
      If you are always somewhat deficient in dopamine, you’ll slip faster into depression and/or anxiety. Let’s hope that psychiatrist will one day wake up and do the same professional research and studies as oncologists are doing today so we will finally get better treatments!
      All the best for you!

    3. Hi Martin,

      I find that a very plausible theory. Combined with the emotional dysregulation often central to ADHD—as well as constant rejection, failure to match intentions with outcomes, etc., well, what’s not “depressing” about that?

      The trouble comes with a generic term that describes a feeling (“depression”) is assumed to also be the diagnosis.

      Research shows that a subset of people with ADHD also have neurogenetics related to depression and anxiety.

      But first, treat the ADHD and see what’s left — that’s my perspective.

      tx
      g

  4. Having just gone through this (only I’m 60), I will only add that it felt like a slog to find someone that would listen to me. The whole hypersensitive rejection coupled with too many doctors that aren’t up to date on the research, and it’s just hard getting shot down. I did finally talk to my GP, he prescribed atomoxetine, and now I feel like I’m off the roller coaster. My wife thinks so, too.

    The changes in my life are subtle but when added up, profound. It’s been 6 months and I’m still trying to figure out who I am. What was ADHD? What are old habits? Who am I? One thing I am sure of is I do enjoy people now.

    1. Hi Matt,

      Fantastic! I’m glad you finally found some relief.

      Yes, people can be annoying. Nothing new there. But when untreated ADHD interferes with the ability to listen, to follow the conversation, etc.. it can feel like the people are the problem, not one’s misfiring neurons.

      That’s great that you find atomoxetine useful. At some point, you might want to talk to your doc about adding a stimulant. Most clinicians who know ADHD find that atomoxetine has some benefits but it’s not as effective as the stimulants.

      I wrote about the basic medication protocol prescribers should be following (but few do), in my first book. I recommend those chapters and the rest of the book: https://amzn.to/32xf50G

      Strattera/atomoxetine was still pretty new when my book came out so I didn’t include much on it, but I will be going in-depth on medication, therapy, couple strategies, and much, much more in my online training: https://ADHDSuccessTraining.com

      Thanks for reading and sharing a comment,
      g

    2. Wow! I am 65 and was just told I have ADD after many years of being treated for anxiety and depression. I find it hard to swallow but adderall makes me calm and social. I need to explore this further.

    1. Hi Martin,

      I’ll speak for Khanji (but maybe she will weigh in).

      It doesn’t really matter what her Vyvanse dosage is. Dosing really depends on individual neurochemistry.

      Some people are rapid metabolizers, some slow, and some in between. Moreover, Vyvanse won’t work for all people with ADHD.

      It is in the class of stimulants called the amphetamines. The other class is methylphenidate (e.g. Ritalin, Concerta, etc.).

      Some people will do markedly better with one class or another. It’s best to try at least one in each class.

      Start low. Go slow.

      I detail a reliable protocol in my first book: https://amzn.to/32xf50G

      thanks for reading,
      g

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Stay in Touch!
Ride the ADHD Roller Coaster
Without Getting Whiplash!
Receive Gina Pera's award-winning blog posts and news of webinars and workshops.
P.S. Your time and privacy—Respected.
No e-mail bombardment—Promised.
No Thanks!
close-link