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To the Doctor Who Misdiagnosed Me With ADD

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First of all, I know you’ll never read this. I know that for certain because I saw your obituary. But I’m still going to write this as if to you, because I wish I’d had a chance to say these things to you. For years I didn’t think this experience had bothered me as much as it did. But the older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve learned, the angrier it gets me.

In a psych class we were given an assignment to write a letter to someone we held a grudge against. I tried to think of someone. I thought of family members, past friends and even past enemies. But none stuck out. Until I remembered you. Now, I want to clarify. I don’t think you’re a bad man. I really don’t. I believe there’s a possibility you thought I really needed that medication. But I also think you’re smarter than that. Still, I figure that’s what you told yourself, at the very least.

When I first came to you, I was hopeful. I had terrible experiences with psychiatrists and psychologists in the past, but I’d heard about you. I don’t remember from who. Perhaps it was the doctor who recommended us to you, or perhaps it was a patient in your waiting room. But I heard you were smart. I thought you could help me. And at first, it seemed to work. My anxiety and depression were fairly obvious and, for the most part, under control. But there were still little problems I had. My friend had been diagnosed with ADHD prior to this, and while I wasn’t hyperactive, I did have some troubles focusing. So my parents and I suggested that I might have ADD.

You immediately agreed. The way I remember it, you were signing a prescription before the words even left your mouth. You were going to put me on a medication that would help me.

Except it didn’t. All of a sudden I was terrified to leave my room, let alone my house. Honestly, I have very few memories of that time. But I do remember coming back to see you, and you telling me to give it more time. That’s the time period I forget. But I remember the day it became clear the medication wasn’t working. You, like the doctors before you, passed me off to someone else. And I was heartbroken. Not because I wanted to stay with you; I always sensed that you didn’t like me, so I didn’t like you. I was upset because I had it in my mind that you could help. You were my last hope. God knows why I had that idea in my head, but I did. And when you passed me off, I felt  broken beyond repair. I thought something was so wrong with me that I could never be fixed.

Eventually, of course, I got a proper diagnosis. The symptoms that at times resembled ADD could all be attributed to Asperger’s. Now it wasn’t until years later that I discovered my parents had mentioned Asperger’s to you. You dismissed them. Now, I don’t fully blame you for this. I’m sure you had plenty of parents who diagnosed their children on the Internet. I’m sure you heard all sorts of ridiculous things, and there’s the possibility you just started tuning it out. I wouldn’t blame you if you did. But you couldn’t have known how much effort my parents put into researching my problems.

During this whole time, I was never mad at you. You were lumped in with a variety of psychological professionals who did their best. No, I wasn’t mad about you until we got the letter. Until we learned you were getting paid to run clinical trials of that medication. That bothered me. Because how, when I thought about, how couldn’t you have known? Asperger’s wasn’t the most well-known diagnosis at the time, but you were a child psychiatrist. You should’ve known. You should’ve known my symptoms didn’t line up with ADD. But you prescribed me that medication anyway. Then, when it became clear it wasn’t helping, you passed me along like so many other doctors had.

I’ve become less mad at you while writing this. In a way, that experience helped to make me who I was. Still, of all the experiences that shaped me, if I could go back I’d skip that one. But it’s too late now, and all I can do is try to find some good out of it.

If anything, I hope someone else can read this, someone who had a similar experience. Someone else who may need healing but might not realize it. I want you to know you’re not alone, and that it wasn’t your fault.

Doctors don’t know everything, no matter what they may make you think. Doctors are human, and they can make mistakes. Sometimes they may not have your best interests at heart. But this is not a reflection of you. It’s a reflection of them. Don’t ever forget that.

A photo of Sarah wearing a red t-shirt
A photo of Sarah wearing a red t-shirt

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Originally published: January 11, 2016
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