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Diagnosed ADHD At 13, Now Being Told I Have Bipolar Disorder


I am seeking out your help because none of the psychiatrists I have seen will listen to me about my concerns with their treatment. I am extremely frustrated and feel hopeless. My History: Around 2nd grade I began having problems at school. I was always in trouble for talking or drawing during a lesson. I rarely payed attention in class, and constantly forgot my homework assignments or would just not do them. For years my parents heard the same thing from my teachers: "She is so bright, she just doesn’t apply herself," or "She has so much potential." I was taken to be tested and always tested well above my grade level. I was labeled lazy and unruly, and I did not get along with most of my teachers. It was hard for me to make friends, and I was told by my classmates that I was mean and bossy. Middle school came around, and things escalated. I developed a horrible relationship with my parents that consisted of huge arguments, moodiness, and complete disregard for their rules. I continued to do poorly in school and was the girl all the other girls didn’t like. I lied a lot to my parents and friends, and created my own hell. My mother, concerned with my behavior took me to a psychologist. After many long sessions, my Dr. thought my behavior might be due to ADD and explained that depression and erratic behavior are normal symptoms of the disorder. I was tested by both my psychiatrist and my school- and I was diagnosed with ADD. I was told I had a "learning disability" and that I would be going to a special class each day for kids with disabilities. As a 13 year old, this was very hard for me to take. I rebelled against the treatment, and was in denial about the whole thing. I refused most of the medications because I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. This battle continued on into High School. I hardly went to class and smoked a lot of pot. There were a few teachers that understood me, and didn’t think I was a "trouble maker" (English, Drama, Art, and History- the subjects I enjoyed) the rest greatly disliked me. I graduated by the skin on my teeth. After High School I got deeper into drugs and my impulsive behavior got me into a huge mess. I was sent to rehab (I was 19) and was wishing for a new start in life. I worked the 12 step program and learned a lot about myself and why I was using drugs. After about a year and a 1/2 clean and sober it was hard to accept that a lot of the same problems I had before I got into recovery- were still there. Lying, stealing, impulsive spending, unable to keep friends, lost many jobs, dropped out of many schools, and still the fighting with my parents. Up until about 2 years ago (I’m 27) the downward spiral kept spinning no matter what I did. I reached a really bad place in my life and had no friends and my family was sick and tired of bailing me out. So, I sought out professional help- I was desperate, and just wanted to find peace and happiness. The only option I had for mental health services was the local county program. I was first "assessed" by a MFT therapist, and after talking with her for a 1/2 hour- she decided I had Bipolar Disorder. I read about the disorder, and some symptoms fit me some did not. I began taking medication for bipolar disorder, anxiety, and my sleeping problems. I had a history of panic attacks that were debilitating- choking, increased heart rate, numbness of my hands, and feeling like I was going to die. I tried numerous medications over the course of a year. Most didn’t do anything for my anxiety- most of the anti-depressants made it worse or they didn’t do anything but make me groggy. I had little energy, I was still really irritable, was unable to focus on anything for more than a few seconds, and my depression grew worse as I gained 30 lbs. from all the medication. I had to go on disability and move back home because I was so messed up. After a year of my Dr. not listening to anything I said and her continuing to prescribe me the same type of meds over and over with no progress- I stopped treatment. I convinced myself that I could pull myself together and change my old ways. I found a job and everything seemed to be going well for about a month. Then all my old behaviors started resurfacing. My impulsiveness, irritability, lack of focus, making simple mistakes, forgetting my work hours, not completing things, and the constant anxiety and worry that everyone hated me because of how crazy I acted made it hard to go to work at all. Overwhelmed by everything, I quit. So, I started to do some research on bipolar disorder and started to realize my diagnosis was wrong. I had never had a "manic" episode. I didn’t have feelings of being on top of the world. I was almost always depressed, tired, and I have never had high self esteem. I’ve never been really social, I always had a lot of anxiety and I never felt like I didn’t need sleep (I wanted all I could get). On one site, they made a comparison between ADHD and bipolar disorder. I really didn’t know what ADHD was, I just thought it meant you were easily distracted and hyper. I read all the symptoms and realized that ADHD could be what was going on with me. I took some online tests, and they all came back with the same result- I had ADHD. It also amazed me that drug and alcohol abuse were pretty common with people that had ADHD, and my Dad acted a lot like me at times (its supposed to be hereditary). You also didn’t have to have hyperactivity to be ADHD. Breakthrough!! I made an appointment with a new doctor (hopefully one that listened to me) but it wasn’t for another month, and the nurse recommended I make an appointment with a physician so I could get on some meds ASAP. At the appointment I told the MD that I thought I had been misdiagnosed and that I should be treated for ADHD instead of bipolar disorder. I told her my history and how I had been tested when I was 13. She asked me some questions about what symptoms I was experiencing and wrote me a Rx for adderall xl for the ADHD and wellbutrin sr for my depression. So, for a month- I felt great. My family noticed a big difference and so did I. I was happy and I felt motivated and hopeful. I was in a good mood 90% of the time, and I felt alert, focused and level. I just needed something for my anxiety and to help me sleep. Here is the problem- the BIG problem. So, I go to my psych appointment and meet the new doctor. His demeanor is cold and clinical. He interrogates me about my history like I was a criminal. He asks me what medication I’m on, and I tell him. Before I can even explain to him that I think I was misdiagnosed and that the new medication was working really well, he says "Your chart says you have a history of drug and alcohol abuse and you shouldn’t be taking adderall for bipolar disorder anyways." I try to explain that I had previously been diagnosed with ADHD and I don’t think I even have bipolar disorder. He then tells me, "You seem too smart and articulate to have ADHD, we need to treat your bipolar disorder." At this point I feel totally defeated. For the first time in years, I actually felt like a normal person- and this Dr. could care less. He tells me that he’s going to give me lithium and seroquel for the anxiety and sleeping (I hate how lithium makes me feel, and I gained LOTS of weight taking it before). I ask him nicely if there is any other ADHD medication that he could give me because it’s really helping me and he tells me that the seroquel should take care of any ADHD symptoms I have. Before I can say anything else he says that he needs to weigh me and for me to grab my stuff. At this point I tell him that I gained a lot of weight from all the other meds and my physician told me I needed to loose weight so I wasn’t at risk for diabetes. He says, "well, just eat healthy and exercise more." This whole gaining weight thing really bothers me and I’m very sensitive about it. I try to tell him that I gained 30 lbs. but my emotions get the best of me and I start to cry. He just stares at me, walks me to the lobby and says, "I’ll see you in 6 weeks." and closes the door behind me. I get to my car and tears start gushing out. At this point, I feel powerless and its hard to be optimistic. I’ve already tried all these meds, and they don’t help me. How can I talk to him about a possible misdiagnosis and a different treatment plan? This whole situation has really depressed me, and I don’t have motivation to do anything. I really don’t want to even see this Dr. again. Do you have any advice or insight? Please help me figure this all out!

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Well, thank you for telling your story in a way that is not only complete but clear and vivid. I am sorry you are having such terrible experiences. However, I can verify that your experiences are real because what you report parallels complaints that many other people have reported.

First, every patient is expected, by law, to have an equal role in their treatment plan. You have not had that opportunity and, therefore, you have every right to complain to whatever type of "patient complaint" department of the mental health services department run by the county. Believe me when I tell you that patient complaints are taken very seriously. You have a right to lodge a complaint and to demand that the complaint be redressed in the form of another psychiatrist and the opportunity to be heard and take part in your treatment planning.

Second, it is true that it can be difficult diagnose either of these two disorders because there are large areas of overlap. However, it is a good sign that you felt better when you were taking Adderal. Of course, the thinking of the psychiatrist was influenced by you history of drug abuse. However, used properly, Adderal should not pose a problem for you. Unfortunately, there are those people who are prejudiced when they see any history of drug abuse.

Third, if it is at all possible for you to see a private psychiatrist for medication you should find that you will feel treated much better. Of course, this can be expensive and, therefore, would depend on your parents making the payments.

However, you should need to see the psychiatrist only a few times. After that, you really need to be in psychotherapy for your ADHD if that proves to be the correct diagnosis and I tend to agree with you about that, based on what you have written. Please remember, I am in no position to give a diagnosis and can only say what "seems so," "could be," "might be," and "maybe."

I firmly believe that medication is never the total answer and that psychotherapy is essential. Assuming ADHD, you need training with a clinical psychologist who can help teach you behavioral techniques in how to cope with you impulses, forgetfulness and other symptoms.

Fourth, I have worked with many adults who reported to me almost identical type of childhood and adolescent stories, including stormy relationships with parents as well as drug abuse. Now, however, they live normal and happy lives. They take medication for ADHD but the medicine is never perfect. However, they are getting training in the type of therapy I mentioned. That therapy is called "coaching" but not the popular kind. Rather, it is a type of cognitive behavior therapy for those adults with ADHD. There is no reason why you should not make a healthy adjustment to your life.

By the way, just so there is no misunderstanding: even if you had a bipolar disorder, there is every reason for you to make a healthy adjustment to life. However, I do suspect that it is ADHD and that you need to get the correct medicine and therapy immediately.

Best of Luck

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  • jessica

    i am pretty sure i was just searching disorders and symptoms trying to find answers to my problems, and found your story, i gotta say, i think i've found my twin. at an intense level we are very much alike,
    by the way i think that the doctor that told you that you shouldnt be taking adderall is a nut, he should have seen the fact that you got sober, and that u were looking for help.he should not have judged like that, ppl make mistakes but you learned and ur trying to fix those mistakes, i see that.... but theres alot of things i'd like to talk to you about, i can assure you that we have alot in common, so much that it scares me a little bit lol, because i have never met anyone that has had the same kind of problems.. you should email me, if you want to, im not a creep or anything hah, im an 18 year old girl, just trying to cope with life, i was also diagnosed with ADHD at 13, and have had sleep problems for as long as i can remember ( im writing this at 5:23am, and i didnt just wake up, im just still up)and i think maybe 2 years later started the severe depression,anti depressants worked for me i guess, and then i stopped taking them,things were ok for a little while maybe under a year..then i started getting depressed again, i mean i am always depressed, but then im depressed..and the first anxiety attack i ever had was on Easter 2007... my life has been fucked up ever since, and i dont know what to do anymore, the only thing that keeps me sane are my ADHD pills, if i go off them, i cant handle it, im super depressed, i cant focus , and im so lazy and all i wanna do it sit and think.. its like my mind wears me out from thinking too much. and i get such bad anxiety, i feel like im going to die, and that just , i cant controll it, and like i wanna kill myself sometimes cause it gets too out of hand, thats why i smoke alot.. it calms me a little bit.. i tried going back on antidepressants again, but it made me WORSE, with my anxiety especially.. i feel like im not myself anymore, i used to be a different girl, i dont know who i am anymore, my meds help me out, but im just so blah, im like a robot, with no feelings, except for the bad, negative feelings, and i want me back, i want life back, being on meds for my adhd help with my anxiety, antidepressants dont, but if i could, i would go off of them, because i dont like the person that i am whil e i'm taking them.. my dads girlfriend doesnt even know me well enough, because shes like 20 years younger and has a maturity level of a 12 year old, so sometimes i just dont give her the time of day, but one time, she said"ya know, you remind me of the girl from "Girl interuppted".. i watched it , and she has borderline personality disorder, she reminds me of me in alot of ways , but alot of things dont match up to me when i looked it up.i try and compare and see if things are related to this and that, but i just can never find the answers, i feel so stuck, and i want out..
    but anyways enough of me babling. but i think it would be really neat to talk. my email is

  • Matthew

    I read your story, and I must say its about whats happening to me at the moment, I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was very young like 4-5 ish, my parents said I was a monster of a child a fact I don't take offence to.

    I was put on a medication called ritalin, I found I could concentrate and work hard in class my grades went up and I had my self esteem I was proud of what I could accomplish.

    Though by time I was 15 I was experiencing side effects, I attempted suicide many times and eventually refused to take the drug, I became alot happier, but my grades plumitted and I had trouble doing anything. My self esteem dropped to the point where I thought I was nothing, to me I was a failure I couldn't do anything right and always failed at things I did tried, so I gave up.

    I was kicked out of school and didn't return for about 6 months where I enrolled in another school, my life from then on can only be described by me as hell, I was a reject, no one could really get into my head and predict me so they stayed away from me.

    The only people that did make contact only made contact to insult me or bully me, I became depressed again.

    I met a girl who I love dearly and were still together to this day, though by year 10 I had to drop out becouse the bullying became to much, I was then seperated from all my friends and my girlfriend, her parents seem do not like me becouse of the same reason I was bullied I guess its becouse I am diffrent and I barley get to see her even as I write this I haven't seen her in person for 3 months.

    I couldn't consentrate enough to get a job and all jobs I tried failed. so i'm now stuck. im miserable as it is so if I go back onto ritalin i dunno if it will make it worse or if I will go back to being normal I am to scared to try, i'm 17 now i will be 18 in a 3 months and I want to move out soon but I need a job and that means dealing with my adhd, but how I go about that i do not know.

    Thank you for your story it really helped me, I know I'm not the only one thats dealing with this, and that comforts me. This is such a confusing and scary world and it's really hard to get a foot hold. I wish you luck in your life and hope you find happiness.

    If you have bothered to read all this I apologise for my horrid grammer and spelling I was never good in that feild.


  • angie

    interestingly enough i made a comment in family violence class today about knowing of a handful of people who diagnosed with ADHD as children ironically were MISDIAGNOSED and are/were bipolar. one being my son who went through same sort of maltreatment from community mental heath care doctors with tx of welbutrin. go figure tht one...and then a small dose of ritalin to help him sleep at night from the agitation and anxiety of the antidepressant!! enough said there... being a victim in the states mental health system is something not new. they need money and stats get money. consumers are stats for tht next grant. also are held hostage by drs. convincing patients need this or tht...and try this or tht...oh, and come back for a new shot or pill or any combination of, feeding consumers deception of hope in "normal" or "better"

  • Joe Petryshyn

    I was misdiagnosed with Bi-polar disorder for 5 years. I noticed I developed a gait while walking. I went to google and found that the side effect is Tartive diskonisia. It is an uncurable nerve disease that causes parts of your body and mouth to move uncontrollably! When I told the doctor I did not want to be on Zyprexa any more and did not believe I had bi-polar disorder, he became angry, through to contents of his desk on the floor and out of one file drawer. Then he gave me some wierd medications to wean me off the medication. He then kicked me out. I developed uncontrolable mouth movements which doctors said there is no cure including Google. Not believing in doctors, I went on google for several months and finally found that Vitamin B5 1500mgs a day and Manganese chelate 300 mgs a day eliminated the muscle movements. I divide both into three dosages. The mouth movement stopped after 6 weeks. Of course the new doctor did not believe me. There is a true story about a boy that could not break down long chain fatty acids in his brain. There was not one doctor that knew what to do about it. The father started to do about two years of reserch and found a cure although it was to late for his son. It is called Lorenzo's Oil. Do your own research.

    Later I was given Depakote for agitation by a new doctor who I guesed talked to my previous doctor. I developed problems walking after a month and had to be helped by my wife. I went on Google again, and found out that the medication can cause Tartive Diskonisia. I called the doctor and she said that none of her references indicated this side effect. I stopped taking the medication and the symptoms disappeared. Always check, google, is great.

    I was originally diagnosed about 30 years ago by a UCLA Neurologist that I had ADD or Nacolepsy. With this new doctor, the Adderal was removed in June, and all of a sudden I was taking naps during the day and not sleeping well at night. Because of the tendency towards Tartive diskonesia, I cannot take any amphedamines! My only alternative medication is Nuvigila Narcolepsy medication, at 300 a month! I am presently waiting to take a sleep test and a Narcolepsy test to confirm the Narcolepsy.

    Do not give up. Find a doctor that will help you. See if you can see a specialist at a local hospital recognized by your insurance company.

    My first doctor concluded I had ADD. He gave me 220 mgs of Ritalin. I was flying high the first day at worked and then I calmed down. He gave me a test that he developed called a 1,2,3 test to see how the brain processes information. One writes down the three numbers over and over again for one minute. Neatness does not count. I started at 75 or so and ended up with 128. I ended up with 45 mgs of Adderal after 30 years.

    The doctor had me call him every day and would call back up to 10 pm. He gave me his direct line and gave me his telephone when he went out of town. I never became addicted to the medication since he said one with ADD/ADHD are not affected by the medication.

    Please be free to e-mail me.


  • kathy

    I was on ritilan also as a child, at 14 I started my period and stopped my medication, I suffered deep depression, pmmd now today is recognized, but then then it was all in my head, for the next 40 yrs I suffered, and went to a theripst who was male, and decided I had bi-polar disorder, but after taking the med's they made me suicidal, so I never did take them, at 47 I got a hysterectomy, now it's been 6 yrs later and no depression, but left with add, I went to a psychiatrist and she wanted to put me on seqequal, I took one look at the meds, and knew, not for me, so now I have to find a doctor who will understand that pmmd is not bi-polar, I have add, all I need is the proper treatment, still searching tx


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