A large number of people with bipolar disorder have coexisting conditions. It could be anxiety, a substance abuse disorder, an eating disorder, or in my case, ADHD.
When I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2002, my parents were shocked. They could understand the depression, the anxiety, but how did I have ADHD?
I was a great student. I was every teacher’s pet. I was not an eight-year-old boy running around pulling people’s pants down at school.
My doctor wouldn’t budge. He knew I had ADHD.
I started taking a non-stimulant medication for about a year.
Then I quit.
I didn’t realize at 17 that maybe I had to adjust the dose for the medicine to work. It’s not like I was really being pushed about it either. I didn’t want to be taking multiple pills per day, so I told my mom I didn’t think I needed it. She didn’t really “see” the ADHD in me, so she agreed.
I’ve always remembered the time I was diagnosed with ADHD, though. It’s always been in the back of my mind, for some reason or another.
I have been suffering with symptoms that I haven’t seemed to be able to control since those high school days. I’ve been in a psychiatric ward three times since I was 18, and bipolar was always the expected culprit. Once bipolar came into my life, it consumed me so much that I didn’t even think about treating my ADHD at all.
At some points, I didn’t even want to identify with ADHD. I felt that it wasn’t worthy of the attention that bipolar has always received.
This past week, my mind changed.
Actually, my mind was blown.
On Monday, when I finally asked my psychiatrist “What symptoms would be eliminated if I was on a therapeutic, non-stimulant level of ADHD medication?”
She gave me a paper that I think has changed my life.
A man by the name of Dr. Daniel G. Amen, M.D. created his own ADHD checklist.
On the checklist are sections detailing lists of behaviors. You are supposed to read the list of behaviors and make note of which apply to you. The sections include past history, relational difficulties, impulsivity, and more. Out of the 77 behaviors, I was able to attest to 52. More than 20 of the items checked indicates a strong tendency toward ADHD.
Does it sound like I might still have ADHD, after all this time?
My psychiatrist told me that you have ADHD your whole life.
I was a bit skeptical about this, but I now see how that could be.
I see it because now I understand that ADHD is so much more multi-dimensional that I thought.
For instance, did you know that those with ADHD have a tendency to:
- Perform worse under pressure
- Have a propensity toward addictions like drugs, food, or alcohol
- Skip around while reading
- Have to be moving in order to think
- Have chronic problems with self-esteem
Symptoms that I have always attributed to bipolar or depression include:
- Self-esteem issues
- Frequent, impulsive job changes
- A low frustration tolerance
- Mood swings
- A frequent feeling of demoralization
- Verbal abuse to others
- A tendency to seek conflict or be argumentative
There are more, but you can understand what I’m getting at here.
I have been bumping up the anti-depressants and mood stabilizers for a long time, ignoring the symptoms of my other disorder.
Now, the possibility of quelling symptoms that I have been suffering from for a long time is very exciting.
Part of me veers automatically toward doubt.
However, I have a feeling that my psyche and I may be on to something.
While I’m disappointed at my treatment team’s attitude toward ADHD, and most importantly, my own attitude toward ADHD, I am grateful I am shedding light on the overlapping symptoms of bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
When I have mood swings or increased negative thoughts, I have to encourage my treatment team and myself to look at both disorders.
It’s better to catch your mental health mistakes late than not at all.
Even though I could kick myself at times, I’m happy I’ve brushed the dust off of this ignored part of my psyche.
Kat Dawkins is a mental health writer and English BA who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008. After years of struggling with the disease without feeling understood, Kat, who spent hours writing poems and other nonfiction about her lifelong battle with mental illness, decided to go public. Kat’s background in nonfiction, poetry, and journalism has combined with her first-hand knowledge in living with bipolar, culminating in an honest, poignant commentary about how bipolar affects women, young people, and those with the illness as a whole. Kat writes her own blog at katgalaxyblog.com and also writes for Her Bipolar Life on PsychCentral.com. When not writing, Kat enjoys reading, going to the beach, astronomy, and playing with her cats.