Trust Your Instincts: The tale of when I was misdiagnosed with ADHD
I remember sitting in the University’s medical clinic waiting room. Something wasn’t right about me. Once upon a time, I could focus and sit for hours at a time doing the things I needed to do. Now I would rather count leaves rather than focus on my exams.
It wasn’t because the subject was boring (in fact, I was rather good at plodding through things I didn’t like either). Now even the the things I was interested in had not power to hold my attention. The dots on the wall, the color of my professor’s hair or even the tiny specks of pen marks on my notepad all seemed more interesting.
Everything had been spiraling out of control for quite a bit now. Grades dropped. Even managed to fail a paper and as a result my scholarship went poof. I needed to know what was wrong with me.
“I’m going to refer you to a psychologist for evaluation,” said the doctor.
My mind went blank as the words refused to sink in. I struggled to keep my attention on him as the pictures of the food pyramid seemed suddenly more interesting.
“What for?” I remember asking.
“It might be stress. You said you’re taking more than the recommended course load and struggling to keep on top of everything. I can’t really help you much in that department. You’ll also need to go see an academic adviser.”
I couldn’t remember what else he said to me, only that I ended up walking out of his office in a confused daze. He diagnosed me as mentally fatigued and just needed rest rather than help.
The first semester was great. I took on an extra paper and aced 4 out of 5 without an issue. I was that Freshman that found everything the professor said exciting.
When the second semester hit, I figured that I’d just do the same but that was when the real struggle began. It started to lose track of time and the library suddenly became a deathly boring place. It had never happened before. I could listen to lectures but remembering things started to become an issue.
I began to skip class because my mindset suddenly shifted and started to view everything as futile. A part of me knew that something wasn’t right and hated it.
By the time my second year at University rolled around, my GPA plummeted and my moods was rolling through intense highs and lows. It was when I failed three classes in a row I knew that something was definitely not right. The actual content wasn’t hard. It was my sudden inability to focus that became the issue.
“Tell me about your dad,” the psychologist started after I had finished jumping between subjects and my schooling woes.
It must have been something I said that brought her focus towards my parents. Sure, mom would always have to tell him what to do, what to remember, to stay on topic and all sorts — but that’s just dad being dad.
She figured that what I have might be hereditary. Either that, or she misheard me completely.
“You’re not crazy,” she told me. “But you are taking more than the recommended course load.”
I knew that I could handle it. I didn’t have a job. My life consisted of school, the occasional lunch outing with friends and then home. I had no social life. I didn’t drink. I didn’t party. I didn’t go out late at night. It was only an extra hour each day for lectures, study and coursework.
Like the doctor, she wasn’t convinced. Like the doctor, I wasn’t convinced with her diagnosis either.
“I’m going to do a referral to someone who can see you on a more regular basis. This clinic session is only for temporary help but you look like you’re going to need someone long term. You might have ADHD.”
I got a phone call from the University’s shrink about three days later. It was all a daze and we booked in an appointment to see him in about a week.
I made an appointment to see another doctor later that day. He took one look at me and was somewhat confused as to why I was there.
“The psychologist says I’ve got ADHD…” I started.
“You haven’t got ADHD,” he cut me off almost instantly. He looked young, somewhere in his 20s perhaps.
I blinked. He didn’t even let me finish. “Have you been drinking lots of coffee?” he asked.
“And eating lots of instant noodles?”
“Alright. I’m going to listen to your heart, take your blood pressure and get your blood tested. You’re probably deficient in something.”
I remember sitting in the waiting room again, surrounded my coughs, splutters, worried faces and an assortment of others with some sort of visible physical problem.
To everyone else I looked healthy.
“You’re anemic,” the doctor told me. “Your iron counts are below expected. Your blood cells are also physically smaller but not dangerous. They might go back to normal size once we get your iron counts back up. I’m going to prescribe you some iron supplements. Take it with orange juice. You’re not vegetarian are you?”
“Have a meatball sub for lunch and cut back on the coffee. Caffeine inhibits iron absorption.”
I wasn’t ADHD. I was just nutritionally deficient.
I passed all my classes with As and Bs. It wasn’t enough to recover or raise my overall GPA, but at least I knew I wasn’t going crazy anymore.
It took a bit of effort and time but eventually, everything went back to normal. I could sit and focus once again. Every now and then I would pass the psychologist in the cafeteria. We never talked to each other but she would always smile at me.
After six months, my iron levels were back to normal. My blood cells however remained somewhat small but not dangerously small.
“Nothing to worry about,” the doctor told me. “just keep eating proper food and if you’re feeling like how you’re supposed to, then you’re fine.”