Category Archives: Health/Wellness

How I Was Misdiagnosed with Depression for 24 Years

Today, I’m going to address something I rarely talk about online that most certainly (and often unknowingly) impacts the everyday lives of countless women, myself included. To give you an idea of how something like a 24-year misdiagnosis happens, I’ll start with some personal history.

If you don’t care about any of that, skip to the “Why Women Are Left Behind” section.  

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For 24 years of my life, I was misdiagnosed with major depression and bipolar type-II. This started clinically when I was 11 years old, but, as a young child, I remember a darkness coming over me and taking root, like the difficult kudzu you must fight to keep from swallowing a town.

I remember writing in an attempt to make sense of my reality, to carve out a world I could call home, a place where I had permission to feel both adequate and happy.

There were situational events that made me feel wretched, but they weren’t at the heart of the chronic rain cloud that followed me around. However, these experiences gave me an excuse to grab onto other emotions like anger which, temporarily, made me feel in control of my life and my feelings.

I think that we can all agree that these are childish coping mechanisms most of us grow out of eventually. For me, this process has been difficult, and the journey isn’t over yet. It is not enough to merely admit the problem or the cause. Changing our behavior and way of thinking is the hardest part.

In my case, I didn’t understand the problem until I was 24 years old.


There’s Your Sign

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time being punished in the classroom. My teachers were always shouting my name as though an acrid taste had just entered their mouths; their words like newly slung arrows lodged in my chest.

Despite the fact that this happened constantly throughout the day, every day, I found myself blindsided and demoralized each time. I still couldn’t control myself.


Whenever something jumped into my brain, I had to do or say something about it right then and there. And this impulse has been the bane of my existence my entire life.


Somewhere along the way, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of shame all of the time. My personality did a 180, and I went from extrovert to extremely shy, anxious, and wary of all people. Most disturbing of all, I became quiet.

I even learned how to feign listening when, in reality, I was completely checked out. I remember the urge to hit myself in head to pay attention. Why can’t I just focus?! Needless to say, I did not perform well in school and, at home, my parents worked tirelessly with me on homework with very little reward.

I also began to believe at this age that I was inherently inadequate, stupid, lazy, ugly, rude, and that everything about me was just…wrong. Everyone in my life reinforced this whenever I could not easily adjust to new situations or information.

By now, you have probably guessed my real (and painfully obvious) diagnosis. Hint: it’s not depression.


Why Women Are Left Behind

It’s no secret that ADHD can manifest as other disorders, such as depression and OCD, in an effort to control the original problem. However, women are disproportionately affected by this misdiagnoses.

I am no longer surprised when someone I’ve just told my diagnosis to responds with, “I think ADHD is overdiagnosed,” or “I think ADHD is made up.”

If you’re one of these people, keep in mind that the criteria has evolved substantially since the 80s, and we are just now recognizing the gap in previous studies that built this criteria.

For instance, over 99% of studies conducted on ADHD have centered exclusively around boys/men exhibiting hyperactivity, which means the number of undiagnosed and misdiagnosed women is still grossly underrepresented, and the consequences of this are deadly.

Another reason why women are able to “hide” ADHD for so long is that we are not permitted the same behavioral freedoms as boys and men. In other words, we are working twice as hard to fit ourselves into societal roles and norms. Women, especially, are held accountable when they fail at emotional labor, organization, caretaking, housework, let alone balancing these things with a full-time job.


Whether we want to admit it or not, we write these behaviors off in boys, or we get them treated immediately. Girls, on the other hand, are shamed into masking symptoms.


Thus, changing their physical appearance, and performing restrictive behaviors that cause them to distrust their own bodies, language, and autonomy from the time they are born. This results in self-loathing, depression, OCD, anxiety, and more.

This exercise of control over women in public and private spaces is so normalized that it’s invisible. And this sort of medical erasure happens to women all of the time and not just for psychological issues. Women, and women of color in particular, with legitimate medical concerns are often patronized, ignored, and misdiagnosed by doctors.

I am reminded of the fact that both my male cousin and I had the same behavioral issues and learning difficulties in school. I was told to control myself; he was sent to a psychiatrist and given tools to deal with his disorder.


Revelations

In 2016, Quartz published an article addressing just this:


“ADHD materializes dramatically differently in girls. ‘Anxiety and depression turn into low self-esteem and self-loathing, and the risk for self-harm and suicide attempts is four-to-five times that of girls without ADHD,’ 2012 research shows…


“Unlike boys, many of whom show hyperactivity, girls’ symptoms veer more toward inattentiveness and disorganization. Girls tend to develop ADHD later than boys. They frequently mask it in an attempt to conform to society’s expectation that they be on the ball and organized.

And while some ADHD symptoms can become less intense for boys after they pass through puberty, for many girls, it gets worse [1].”

I had just been diagnosed for the first time at 24 years old when I read another life-changing article by Broadly called: “‘I Thought I Was Stupid’: The Hidden Struggle for Women with ADHD” [2], which left me feeling a mix of things, mainly that I wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t depressed. I wasn’t alone. And, for the first time in my life, I felt understood and validated in my experience.

At that time, I had already completed half of my graduate degree in Colorado with a year-and-a-half left to go. Between grad school, a 100-year flood 3 months into living there, my boyfriend at the time moving back to Kansas, and my own cross-country move, life had taken a huge toll.

I’d never felt more alone.

This feeling progressed until I became scared enough to seek professional help. Every 2-3 years my ptsd (from Hurricane Katrina) was triggered like this. Major upheavals, lack of control over my environment and relationships, worrying about my grades—it all brought up too much. Inevitably, my entire life and mental health status imploded shortly thereafter without fail.

This cycle was normal for me from ages 15-24 and even expected.

Imagine my surprise when, after many sessions, my new psychiatrist in CO told me that I wasn’t depressed. I remember my mouth falling open. What do you mean I’m not depressed?!

He became more and more convinced that the root cause of my depression was a direct result of undiagnosed ADHD. As he went through several points with me using examples from my childhood and these bouts of depression, the direct link between my sense of self worth and my ability to complete things/lack of organization suddenly clicked. Holy hell!

Not once in all of my years of therapy had a medical professional suggested this to me.

Most of the advice I’d received up until then required a lot of that pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps blend of self-help. But I couldn’t fix that aspect of my life. That was, well…me.

So here I was at 24 years old finally putting the pieces together. And with that, I felt the beginning of many painful years unravelling.


The “Miracle”

My diagnosis was, in fact, the beginning of untangling a thick web of self-hatred I’d buried myself in for so long.

I’ll never forget the therapist who performed the test saying, “It’s a miracle you’ve made it this far,” in reference to graduate school.


The truth is, it isn’t a miracle. Not in the slightest. There is no such thing for people with ADHD. The only “miracle” here is that I did not give up.


The first year I applied to graduate programs, I didn’t receive a single acceptance letter. Yes, I was an above average writer, and I was passionate about it; but that could not account for years of poor grades, a disorganized portfolio, and an abysmal GRE score.

While my friends were off starting their programs the next year, I was working at a refinery to save money and busting my ass on those applications for the second time. I remember crying a lot at the application and testing fees, during the math portion of the GRE, at the overwhelming feeling that I was doing all of this for nothing, and at the realization that I’m not the only one who has to do this and omg why am I crying?

Even though my portfolio was amazing and my letters of recommendation were from well-established poets the second time around, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t good enough. And until I was finally diagnosed and treated, I had imposter syndrome throughout all of my classes and interactions at school.

It didn’t matter that I was 1 of the 12 chosen out of 400 applicants or that I was 1 of the 5 admitted for poetry. It didn’t matter if someone solicited me for poems or was moved by my work. Or that the students that dropped were first-time applicants who couldn’t handle the workload. I can state these facts all day long and still feel insecure, although less so now.

The truth is that therapy and medication cannot completely erase years of psychological damage, but it can help. And, because of those things, it is easier than ever before to not give up or break down at the slightest obstacle like I would have in the past.

I wish that more women had access to this knowledge because it can improve your quality of life exponentially. I have much more control over my impulses and emotions, or rather, they have stabilized. Tasks are easier to prioritize and don’t overwhelm me as often. I can see the big picture of my projects and my position and am less prone to quit on impulse or self-sabotage.

Basically, my life is 80% more manageable than before, and I have some great doctors to thank for that.

There are still people who tell me my disorder isn’t real or overdiagnosed, and people who let it mar their view of my capability and performance. Then there are people who see it as a window into you.


My Thoughts on Living with Diagnosed ADHD

Personally, I believe ADHD is behind all of my creative and professional success.

If you follow my blog for writing tips and some of what I’ve said sounds a little too familiar, take refuge in knowing that ADHD has been an asset more than anything else in this area of my life.


Whether we are capable of recognizing it or not, those of us with the disorder have a unique set of tools the average person does not have access to.


That puts our perspective and our possibilities at the cutting edge of creative writing. Scores of famous writers, artists, actors, and creatives in various professions, including entrepreneurs and CEOs, have learned to embrace this disorder and use it to their benefit.

Despite many of the negatives that come with ADHD, this endless, unstoppable creativity is something to be thankful for at the end of the day.

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Low-Carb Dieting

For the second time now, I have entered the blackhole that is the ketogenic diet. I don’t think that I have a gluten allergy necessarily, but I can’t deny the fact that every single time a refined carb enters my body the results are less than desirable. Like clockwork, my blood sugar immediately crashes, my stomach hurts, my arms and legs tingle and I can no longer see my feet, thanks to my suddenly bloated belly, while being simultaneously met with an insurmountable fatigue and brain fog that makes work difficult the rest of the day.

These also happen to be some of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance1, granted they could also be signs of countless other medical conditions. The point is, many of us experience symptoms like this throughout our lives and come to see it as normal.

It’s no secret though, that the ingredients which makeup refined carbohydrates – flour and sugar – are extremely unhealthy, especially at the rate the average American consumes them. That is one reason why I’m back on the ketogenic diet.

Another catalyst for my diet change stems from the life-long pleas of physicians, psychiatrists and family members to undergo testing for thyroid problems, anemia, mental illness and various autoimmune diseases.

As a chronically sick kid, I was tested extensively for autoimmune diseases. As an energy-devoid adult with mild depression and anxiety, I drug myself to the doctor’s office to have my blood drawn and tested for hypo and hyperthyroidism. The results are always the same – inconclusive. If I had a nickel for every time a doctor told me to take more vitamin D and B12…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck like I am now.

The truth is, no matter how many vitamins I shove down my throat, my symptoms persist. It wasn’t until I reached an unbearable point of exhaustion, depression and anxiety that I started logging my symptoms, eventually linking them to my diet. It was so obvious, and yet, I’d never really given my food a second thought when looking for the culprit.

Once I saw the link though, I couldn’t help but notice the wave of garbage feelings – physical, mental and emotional – that washed over me and clung the rest of the day like Saran Wrap.

By that point, I’d already been a pescatarian (from 14-19 years old), a twice-failed vegan and a brief raw enthusiast who shaved her own cucumber and zucchini noodles with a mandolin slicer every night. I’d been experimenting with fad diets most of my life, but carb elimination terrified me. Partially because a carb-less existence seemed pretty meaningless.

I think the main thing that freaked me out about low-carb dieting though, is that it goes against everything I’ve been taught on healthy dieting: “Meat is bad/causes cancer. Dairy is bad. Fat is bad.” My father was even put on the cholesterol medication, Lipitor, in his mid thirties after a huge weight loss on the Adkins diet.

The popularity of the paleo diet is what changed my mind in the end. It’s hard to argue with the back to basics logic inspired by our ancestors, to whom today’s obesity epidemic would be nothing short of a Black Mirror episode – but I digress. It just makes sense to me. I figured I should at least try a low-carb diet before writing it off.

The first few weeks of keto were rough the first time around. I felt hungry all of the time no matter what I ate. My body, deprived of carbs for the first time, was in shock. All I wanted was some comfort food like mac and cheese, avocado toast, pizza or at least a decent side-dish.

But after I got over that part of the diet, I was almost never hungry. I ate once or twice and felt satisfied the rest of the day. My food cravings completely evaporated. The biggest benefit though was that my blood sugar stabilized, and while I wasn’t exactly the Energizer bunny, I had more energy throughout the day, felt less moody and my concentration improved significantly. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the improvement either.

I did that for a three or four months before I fell off the wagon. I don’t remember why, but I think part of it related to my lifestyle. I still wanted to go out drinking with my friends. The problem with drinking on a low-carb diet, aside from the fact that you’re not supposed to drink at all, is that you can’t soak up the alcohol at the end of the night with delicous carbs. Every time I drank on the keto diet, I regretted it…a lot. That led to cheating which led to quitting altogether.

Although I’ve seen quite a few people manage to do it, this diet isn’t always sustainable. I’m not even sure if it’s the best possible fit for me or as healthy as it claims to be either, but it definitely makes me feel great. I’m not going to lie though…It’s only been three days, I already miss pizza, pasta, chips, mashed potatoes, fries and pretty much every kind of bread.

Truthfully, I think it would be irresponsible of me to fully endorse a low-carb diet since I’m not a registered dietitian, doctor or nutritionist. I also don’t believe there is any universal diet that works for everyone. You have to do what feels right for you, and you should definitely consult a medical professional before significantly changing your diet.

I will say that there are different levels to food allergies and intolerance. Gluten alleriges, for example, are mostly determined through elimination diets despite available blood tests and biopsies. Beyondceliac.org’s article Blood Tests to Diagnose Celiac Disease Under Scrutiny, says, “The fact that celiac disease has been given a comprehensive evidence review indicates an acknowledgement by Health and Human Services that there is a need for increased celiac disease diagnosis.”

Low-carb diets, like the ketogenic and paleo diet, are essentially elimination diets. I certainly didn’t think carbs could effect so many parts of my life until I stopped eating them. Even when I gave up on the diet the first time, I still made better choices afterward because I knew how much better my day would be on a low-carb breakfast.

Now wish me luck resisting the carb sirens on Day 4, please. I desperately need it.


1. [Disclaimer: I don’t think everyone has celiac or the gluten intolerance level of one. If you’ve ever witnessed someone with celiac post-gluten consumption, you won’t need much convincing of this.]

5 Ways to Break Your Anxiety/Depression Cycle

Getting stuck in a cycle of anxiety/depression is the absolute worst. Food, socializing and everything that normally gives you pleasure, suddenly feels like a chore. But there are a few ways you can break the cycle and start enjoying life again.

 

1. Stop thinking about yourself.

Some people think of others so often that they neglect themselves, and some people have the opposite problem. Once you’re there, it feels nearly impossible to break out of this introspective, anxiety-fueled cycle (see that one time you smoked too much pot in college). Taking small steps to put that thought power toward someone or something else can help you break free from overanalyzing and the negative self-talk.

2. Quit boredom.

As children we’ve had all sorts of fantasies about the future. But did you ever imagine that one day we’d all be walking around with little hand-held devices? Devices with the ability to communicate instantaneously, with internet access, or devices that allow us to play games anywhere at anytime?

There’s really no excuse to be bored, ever. But if you find yourself feeling listless, try to find out why in this world of endless capabilities you can’t find a single thing to occupy your time. Start reading, blogging, running, cooking, or [insert passionate hobby] again. Try something new or learn an unfamiliar skill. You will discover things about yourself you wish you’d known years ago.

3. On that note, just put the phone down altogether.

Anxiety and depression without an outlet is exactly what leads to boredom. And what do we do when we’re bored? Spend hours online looking at other people’s lives. You see some of your friends hanging out without you, and now you feel slighted and sad. You see that random girl from high school just got engaged, and she looks so damn happy. Next, you open your sad Tinder app, stare at the list of underwhelming strangers, and begin typing.

Try texting that group of “traitorous” friends instead. Or catch up with your parents, skype a friend in another city, plan a much-needed vacation or day trip you can look forward to. Find ways to redirect your energy towards something that will reap real rewards.

4. Exercise (I’m sorry!).

Personally, this is my least favorite way to break the cycle, but it is also the most effective. The reason I dislike this one, or at least in the beginning, is because I immediately feel how long I’ve neglected my body.

Me running all of a sudden:  Oh wow, yeah, I can barely run a mile without stopping or having an asthma attack in the middle of the street.

Me 2 hours later:  Oh wow, I feel great. I am an actual goddess. Watch me conquer the world. Endorphhhhhhins.

It hurts at first, which is why you should set realistic, achievable goals. You don’t need to come out of the gate with a 5k. Just take it one day at a time and keep building on the foundation you create. The only one putting pressure on you, isyou.

Eventually, you’ll find your anxiety and depression taking a back seat to the work you put in.  The important thing here is to create a routine and regimen you can stick with. If you have athletic friends, step outside of your comfort zone and ask to work out with them. More than likely they will be excited to see you making positive changes and offer guidance. Plus, the accountabil-a-buddy system goes a long way.

5. Get some sleep.

Sleep deprivation is the number one contributor to my shitty moods, that and a lack of routine. Without stability, your sleep schedule fluctuates along with your mood, which feels like playing the emotional lottery. Some days you wake up feeling great, others, you wish you could crawl under the desk with a human-proof shield. If you’re particularly prone to mood swings, depression and/or anxiety, it is crucial to get this part of your life under control. There are plenty of studies showcasing the effects of sleep deprivation on the mind and body over time, and it’s not pretty.

Exercise acts as a natural sleep aid. Turn off your devices, throw on the white noise or a meditation track, turn the air down, read for a while, and wait to climb in the sack when you really feel like you’re about to fall asleep. Once you fix your sleep cycle, your mood should improve significantly.

Self-Acceptance vs. Happiness

So many of us put pressure on ourselves to be perfect when perfection is something we can never achieve.  If I just do blank, I can love myself. If I lose weight. If I get that promotion. If. If. If.

There is a belief in Taoism that the only way we can find inner peace is by accepting ourselves the way that we are now. And that prospect feels impossible to many of us.

After hitting a rough patch a few years ago, I started going to Temple once a week. Counter to The Secret’s law-of-attraction concept popularized in self-help lit, here, I was taught to accept my thoughts – and therefore, myself – for the very first time, rather than trying to manipulate every feeling into something positive. The results were astounding.

After a few meditation sessions/sermons, I realized that every time I manipulated my thoughts, and inevitably failed, I felt worse for the failure, creating an endless cycle of negativity. I do believe that the ability to convert negative thoughts into optimism is useful to a point. But when you do not accept a situation or your feelings, you are merely patching a dam with a bandaid.

What I’m trying to say is that if you find it difficult to steer your thoughts into the light – it’s okay. No one is perfect, and the sooner you realize you are good the way that you are, the sooner you will find inner peace.

When you accept and view your thoughts, rather than push them away, you begin to realize you have set conditions for self-love and self-acceptance, which is futile because everyone and everything are in a continuous state of fluctuation. In a literal sense, each decade or so, every cell in your body is replaced with a new one. You will never be the same person you were yesterday or the day before that and so on.

Not to be confused with happiness, inner peace is a constant state of self-acceptance that equips you to handle most unforeseeable situations. Inner peace is not dependent on circumstance, while happiness is a fleeting moment of joy that is impossible to maintain. Through the foundation of inner peace, happiness is easier to experience and maintain but never sustainable. After all, how can we experience joy unless we also experience sadness, anger or misfortune?

Don’t beat yourself up over negative thoughts. Accept them and take your power back one day at a time.

Rosemary Garlic Lemon Chicken

One of my favorite fall recipes is a simple, baked, rosemary-garlic-lemon chicken.  The reason I love this recipe is that it only requires a handful of ingredients that are already in my kitchen.  Not to mention, the hearty taste of rosemary is exactly what I’m craving during these chilly months.  This herb gives the chicken a roast-like flavor, but chicken takes half the cooking time of a traditional roast and contains lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.  Whether you’re short on time or just trying to stay healthy, this effortless go-to will help you beat the cold.

Serves 4 

What You’ll Need:

4 chicken breasts, skinless boneless
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 lemons
3-6 rosemary sprigs
3 tbsp olive oil
1 bag of red potatoes, quartered
1 lb. green beans
salt and pepper optional

9×13 baking pan
grater or zester

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Zest or grate 1 lemon and keep the rest. Cut both lemons so that they’re easy to squeeze.
  3. Combine your zest, rosemary, olive oil, garlic, potatoes and hand-squeezed juice from both lemons. (I use 2 because I love the taste and prefer citrus over salt, but you may need to tailor this to your preferences.)
  4. Lightly coat your baking pan with olive oil. Then place chicken, green beans, and quartered potatoes on top. Brush with mixture.
  5. Insert the pan into the oven and leave for 25 to 30 minutes. Before turning off the oven, make sure your potatoes are soft and that the center of the chicken isn’t pink.
  6. Enjoy!