Hey everyone! I did very well in school, but hit a brick-wall in university. (Mis)diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder?

Hey brains,

I stumbled upon Jessica’s channel some time ago. My girlfriend pointed me towards ADHD after she found a list of symptoms in a book she was reading. The description fit me perfectly, which was shocking. So we did research this topic over the last weeks.

Existing diagnosis and therapies

We both, as well as doctors and psychologists/therapists I’ve talked with brushed my symptoms off and I got diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder. Besides failed attempts at CBT (in total 3 therapists) I was prescribed various forms of medication—mainly SNRIs/SSRIs and NDRIs. The only one that worked a bit were the NDRIs. This seems fitting, considering the connection between ADHD and the need for dopamine. However, the effects are small and seem to have decrease over time.

Problems

The issue lies—what I just learned—with executive function disorder. I have no concept of time and serious problems prioritizing. Especially when there is work to be done in university over a long stretch of time, such as a thesis spanning a whole semester. I am very impulsive and some days I jump from task to task, leaving all of them unfinished and most of them are meaningless in that very moment, which I only notice in retrospect. That is the biggest issue, I assume. I don’t notice it. Not in that moment and sometimes just weeks/months later. It’s not that I am justifying the action falsely to myself, I literally don’t even notice that I am drifting off. I am not actively ignoring tasks even if I put up reminders in plain sight I will just not see them. Even if I see reminders popping up I dismiss them when I am thinking of other things. I have a very vivid imagination and I can hyper-focus without a problem for a full day straight, forgetting to eat or take a break if a topic really captures my attention, but this rarely happens in a productive way.

School

The doubt I have right now is that primary and high school were comparably easy for me. Showing up was enough. I barely studied. My exam preparation consisted of me explaining things to others or mostly no preparation at all. I started to struggle with the first paper assignments in high school, where I was on my own. They were usually done last minute, meaning I started at 1 or 2am the night before the deadline. And I feel like I underperformed in my A-levels, where I also had to prepare on my own. I did not realize that I could have done more, because I literally do not know how and even if so, I wouldn’t have noticed.

University

In contrast to school, I struggle at university since day one. The fact that our university is not one with small classes and close contact to professors exacerbates this. You are mostly on your own in lecture halls with hundreds of students even in the exercise classes. I joined study groups initially, but got overwhelmed by how often they met. I failed at committing, made other plans and came up with excuses, which seemed entirely rational for me.

My theory and doubts

I think I got through school with such ease, because school provided a rigid structure with no wiggle-room, despite potentially having adult ADHD or maybe even a predisposition to it through my entire childhood. I was quite dutiful when it came to school presence. I mostly was on time, almost never missed classes and I was able to pay attention where it mattered, despite day-dreaming a lot.

I was always able to focus on school work if I’m in a class or lecture. That does not mean that my mind is not racing and other things are being thought about in parallel. Usually I’m pondering about side-projects and ideas.

I also got tested for ADHD two years ago. It was a computer based test with some “IQ test” style tasks, while distractors (mostly auditive) were imposed. Also my working memory was tested in some other tests (name a list of occupations, sports, fruits) and highlight certain characters in a wall of text. Or do simple calculations or remember and recall sequences of numbers read to me.
The problem I have with this test: Things like this challenge me like a game does and I can get into the zone, because intrinsically I want to do well at them. Also I know that the test is time-wise limited to an hour or so and there are no real distractions in the room.
There is also the aspect of social pressure by being observed. I can perform under stress and pressure to maintain the facade of competence. That is basically my whole life, but it is very exhausting for me.

However, all this makes me question to even have ADHD. :thinking:

Questions

Has anybody else experienced this and got diagnosed? Having zero trouble in school, but then in university and at work when the rigid framework does no longer exist, the stakes and difficulty were raised?

How to cope with it?

Thanks a lot in advance :smiley:

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Prior to being diagnosed with ADHD I had a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. I think that both diagnoses make sense, though there are times when I question if a certain thing I attributed to Bipolar Disorder in the past was more related to ADHD. For me, I know that I need medications for both to help address the symptoms.

I can relate to much of what you said with regards to work, getting things done, and school. I did well in school academically until college, and I wasn’t a behavioral problem. That being said, looking back I struggled most with the inattentive symptoms at school, and I also was more restless and hyperactive when it was outside of school hours. I struggled a lot in college because of procrastination, taking on new projects, inconsistent sleep, not following through, etc. I still did very well at times, but at other times I bottomed out. ADHD is not tied with school performance for most people. A lot of people with ADHD have high intelligence, good grades, no behavioral problems, and do well even in careers. The question is, “How hard is it?” Most of us learn compensating behaviors to help manage our ADHD. So, we often get missed.

I definitely do well with structure. When I have been very regimented and scheduled I have managed my ADHD better. Now, since I can’t necessarily do that, I try to find small routines and habits but also the medication helps me. I find that I still struggle, especially in the evenings when medication wears off, or when I forget to take them.

When I was finally diagnosed with ADHD it made a lot of sense, and I’m still learning about it. I would say that it’s not uncommon to be undiagnosed or even misdiagnosed. I would always advise working closely with a provider who can get to know you and explore the issues and struggles you face. It took me about a year and a half of working with my provider to be diagnosed, and that included neuropsychological testing which “didn’t indicate ADHD.” I’ve learned since that neuropsych testing is not very accurate at diagnosing ADHD, so it’s not a surprise.

Regardless of whether or not you have a diagnosis, this community is a great place to be. Welcome!

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I can see that. I also got diagnosed with bipolar disorder before, as well as having strong narcissistic behavior traits.

This “logic chain” to explain those comorbidities seems quite logical to me:

ADHD → Disappointment due to inhibition of potential and therefore underperforming → Depression → self-reinforcing the inhibition problem even more → repeatedly failing at a certain task → anxiety before even attempting the task

I can also see bipolar traits, because if something (surprisingly) works out fine I get a total high. Usually resulting in me delusionally accepting more and more work, volunteering jobs, situations to help friends and family and therefore overloading my schedule. Just to see me fail all those tasks at a later point and getting sucked down into a deep hole with a severe depressive phase.
Yet, the phase that could be interpreted as “manic” never were reckless.

Coming across as narcissistic also makes sense. Especially with the alleged tamper and being emotional of ADHD.

I also noticed that I accept certain tasks just to improve my public image (how people perceive me).

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Hello @leon and welcome to the HowToADHD forums!

A lot of what you said sounds familiar to me. I also did well in school up through high school, but I can look back and see that there were several signs of my ADHD-PI (Primarily Inattentive), but I almost always found ways to compensate, so I flew under the radar pretty well.

I struggled a great deal in college (five schools, five majors, at least 8 years of school, academic probation once or twice, dropped out to go to work several times).


My career has also suffered, as I’ve often been taken for granted, being undervalued and passed up for promotion, even though I was trusted in low-level supervisor and trainer roles. I only excelled in jobs where my distractibility was an asset and not a limitation (retail sales and tech support).

I recently went through five good years at my best job ever (working in Tech Support - which worked well with my ADHD traits), followed by five difficult years (the first 4 I think were due to one bad decision after another by management, the last 1 because I was so desperate for change that I took a job that I wasn’t ready for & relied too much on my ADHD weaknesses). And now I’m being let go from the organization I’ve worked the last 10 years for, my alma mater (which I still haven’t graduated from).


I’m looking for a good tech support job, and I think I may have my choice between two. Now that I understand my ADHD much better, I have a good idea how to leverage my strengths, and better compensate for my limitations.


My advice is to learn about your ADHD traits, what helps you, what hinders you. Find out whatever treatments and strategies will help you, develop the skills that will help you to compensate for the areas you struggle the most with… Know that you’re not alone, you’ve got a whole Tribe here to encourage you and share what we’ve learned from our own struggles.

There is help for us from others, if we don’t give up looking for it. (Check with your university about counseling, advising, and accomodations for ADHD.)

Do it now, so that you don’t get 25 years down the road and feel like you have to start over again.

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Welcome @leon to the ADHD forum.

I have a degree, Postgraduate qualification, Professional qualification without diagnoses of dyspraxia, ADHD and aspergers traits.

Here is an ADHD, screener, which is a good screener for ADHD.

See, FREE 3 Minute ADHD Test & Self-Assessment. Instant Results. .

There is a big change and transition from school to university, it can be amplified for a neurodiverse person including a person with ADHD.

In school one has a rigid structure including classmates, teachers, rooms, there are set exams and coursework. People who are highly intelligent, may succeed with little effort.

At university, there is far less structure. I think, most likely, if a person does not attend lectures, no one will push you, no one will stop you from failing. One is responsible for their learning. One has to be attentive, responsible, be diligent, memorise, focus on the material to get high marks. It might require working in teams, becoming a team leader to people you do not know, managing multiple projects.

I can relate to you. I found university, hard. I found the Maths degree hard because of proofs and theorems. I found Computer Science hard all the way for my undergraduate degree. Taking the notes in the lectures hard, finding people to study with. I developed low self-esteem. Postgraduate study was more the amount of material.

See page 15.

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Thank you for sharing and providing the links.
According to this screener I’m deep in the red and have a “Strong indication of ADD/ADHD”

Yes, the rigid structure helped a lot. I think also I was more influenceable by authorities (teachers). That also has changed. It is also not beneficial to have learned that you can get away with delaying assignments, taking exams etc., which usually wasn’t an option within the rigid school system, despite the lax rules.

I wouldn’t call myself highly intelligent, but it was a suspicion by one of my therapists. I personally see no benefit in getting this tested and have a number on a piece of a paper. It wouldn’t really change my situation.

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If someone is deemed to be “very intelligent”, and yet is significantly negatively affected by their ADHD traits, then I think this ought to make an ADHD diagnosis even more clear.

I personally think that intelligence is completely separate from ADHD (and other neuro-divergent conditions).

To illustrate
It’s like how your eye color doesn’t have anything to do with your height. Both aspects might be determined by your genes.

  • You can’t change your eye color, but you can wear colored contacts. ADHD can be compensated for by external tools (like how I use my phone to set reminders for myself).
  • Your natural height potential is determined by your DNA, but can be affected by diet, activity level, lifestyle, substance abuse, illness, or other medical condition (such as an issue with the pituitary gland). Intelligence also has natural potential, and can be developed or hindered.

I hope that this analogy makes sense. (Visual aids would help, I’m sure.)

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@leon

Ask your disability services, see their opinion . Ask your university tutor regarding a diagnosis of ADHD.

You will get extra time in exams, support for essays, projects etc.

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This is sadly not so easily done over here. Generally, adult ADHD is often dismissed as being just lazy. It is also not on the list of disabilities that grant a compensation for disadvantages by providing more time.

I totally agree. And I don’t see any link between intelligence and ADHD.

Regarding IQ tests: What is tested in those standardized tests often is just the “intellectual” apprehension, which partially is innate and partially trained.
The tests in itself only have a significance if done at an early age and without any knowledge about their content. The sheer fact that it is possible to increase your score by training the various tasks discredits them a bit in my opinion.

And being somewhat “intelligent” might allow you to get things a tidbit faster, but it doesn’t protect you from doing distracting things.
It’s like having a 200hp car and choosing to drive the hill straight up at the steepest and muddiest side to get to the top vs. having just a 50hp car and slowly climbing up the much longer 5% serpentine roadway.
(The numbers are chosen to exaggerate the point and have no correlation with any score like the “IQ” or alike)

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That’s certainly an interesting analogy!


I like the idea of “multiple intelligences”. Some people are certainly the stereotypical intellectual type, but others are very gifted with other mental abilities: artistic, technical skills, social skills, languages, even proprioception (body awareness)…the list goes on…

(Everybody has their own unique set of abilities, and if you appreciate that, the world can look a lot more rich and wonderful.)

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In the USA, there doesn’t seem to be any standardization of ADHD services. Some places may have a lot of available services, and other places it may be non-existent.

From one state to the next, the list of what healthcare and mental health professionals can diagnose ADHD can be narrow to broad. Some states only allow medical doctors (which includes psychiatrists) to prescribe medication, while others allow certain other licenced professionals (such as nurse practitioners, or psychologists with specific certification).


(getting on my soapbox for a moment)
As common as ADHD is in the general population, I think that there ought to be a better standard of minimum knowledge among medical/mental health professionals, particularly when it comes to diagnosis.

I’ve heard it suggested that better diagnosis and treatment can reduce a lot of costs to the individuals, their families, and society in general (even if it’s just in the expenses related to accidents and injuries, not to mention mental health treatment, drug interventions, etc).

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