{Guest Post} Gifted Adults & Mental Health Misdiagnoses: One Brave Woman’s Story

RedWhiteandGrew.com: Guest blogger Mrs. Warde shares her experience as a gifted adult misdiagnosed with PTSDOriginal artwork by Mrs. Warde

Editor’s Note: It’s been a great privilege of mine in recent years to become acquainted with some amazing women and men parenting gifted and twice-exceptional (“2E”) kids. As work progresses on my second book I’m learning even more about the hardships many of them have endured due to unfortunate misdiagnoses by the presumably well-intentioned medical community.

This story, by my friend and fellow blogger Mrs. Warde, illustrates how important it is for us to identify and nurture gifted individuals early on so that they may obtain appropriate counseling and support services as they progress through their lives.

I am still processing my anger over the misdiagnosis of Bipolar II that I was given by a psychiatrist.

The misdiagnosis made me afraid of myself: of my mind, my curiosity, my passion, of my intellectual gift. I gave myself a virtual lobotomy. I trained myself not to think about anything science-related. And when it could no longer be contained and burst out of me: I feared it. I feared myself. For years I lived in that state. And now I am free, and yet conditioned to fear.

When I am reminded that it is okay to wonder if NASA has done an experiment to determine if gravity has a measurable effect on the rate of osmosis, I breakdown and cry.

How could the doctor have gotten it so wrong? How could my psychiatrist have missed it so badly?

Here’s how:

  1. I didn’t believe in my own giftedness.
  2. My undiagnosed PTSD was being triggered so frequently, it looked like an almost constant state.
  3. I convinced myself that the doctor was right, so I started looking at everything thought a bipolar lens.
  4. I didn’t trust myself.

Let’s look at each of these one at a time.

I didn’t believe in my own giftedness.

And I did not understand what it really meant, especially regarding the downsides. My psychiatrist who diagnosed me as Bipolar II only had the information I gave him to base his decisions on. I don’t remember if I ever told him I had tested at a higher than average IQ or not. It wasn’t “genius” level, so I never thought that it mattered that much. No one ever took the time to explain to me when I took the testing what it meant for me! Until I started researching for my own gifted child, I had never heard of gifted overexcitabilities, .

I did tell my psychiatrist about coming up with the basic concept behind string theory in 6th grade (before the official theory was ever published) but he’d never heard of string theory and didn’t really grasp what that meant. When he heard that I’d been thinking that Einstein may have been wrong about something (which recently had been brought up publicly by a real genius) he smirked and I think he stopped listening after that. He often brought that up, with a smirk on his face, to use as a gauge to see if I was “swinging” or if the meds were working.

My PTSD was constantly being triggered.

When I finally figured out that I had PTSD, and it was confirmed by a (new) professional, I told my family members who knew about the previous Bipolar II diagnosis. The reaction was the same every time: “well, that makes sense.” If it makes so much sense, why did no one ever think of it before and mention it to me?! I’m a bit angry about that, too.

At the time of my diagnosis of Bipolar II I was newly married (at a young age), but we were not living by ourselves. We lived with family. Only very recently has it been made clear to me how toxic the environment in which we lived was. And because of that stress and being constantly triggered, I was not capable of healthy behavior. And it was in that triggered constantly state that my psychiatrist first met me.

I convinced myself that the doctor was right.

Who was I to disagree, after all? He had the education, knowledge, and experience; who was I to argue with that? How he described Bipolar II seemed to fit my periods of obsession with physics (or some other topic) to the exclusion of everything else, my outbursts of anger, and my occasional but non always depression. So once I was convinced, I looked at all of my behavior through that lens. If I was feeling depressed, must be a down swing. I was feeling happy? Must be an upswing. I began to fear being excited about something, passionate about a project, creative or expressive because I thought that was just me in a hypo-manic state. Which is bad. All the wonderful benefits of being gifted, I feared in myself, because I thought it was me being crazy. I wondered aloud how many electrons make up a calorie, and was told, “you know what that means, right? You’re probably swinging.” Unspoken message: thinking too deeply is dangerous.

If you’re gifted, you understand how near impossible it is to turn that off. Especially when you’re interested in atoms, physics, and subatomic particles that are in everything. Every morning for over a year I couldn’t stir my coffee without thinking about how the action of heating and stirring the water made more space in between the water molecules to better allow the coffee and sugar to dissolve. And picturing it in my mind, even though I didn’t want to. And then trying to stop myself from thinking.

Medication helped a little bit, or so I thought. In hindsight I think training myself not to think, and the practice of shutting myself down when any science topic came up, had a more chilling effect.

I didn’t trust myself.

How could I, when I believed that every deep thought was proof of my going off the deep end yet again? So any thought I might have had that would have questioned my diagnosis, I dismissed.

I became pregnant more than a year after I was diagnosed Bipolar II. I had to go off the meds during the pregnancy and….I didn’t “swing.” I did, to my great surprise, very well. But two months after my son was born, I went back on the medications because I was afraid to be without them. I was convinced I would start “swinging” at any time, and I couldn’t risk that with a newborn in my care.

It wasn’t until the next pregnancy after that, again going off the meds and again not swinging, that I started to realize this diagnosis might not be right. It was around this time that I started researching what being “gifted” really meant. Not for myself, because I didn’t think that it applied to me. But for my sons, who it was becoming clear were a bit “more” than their age mates. As I started reading, I realized, hey, that’s me! I saw a chart and where on the gifted spectrum that it put me and I was shocked. Before this, I thought there was Below Average, Average, and Genius. Boy, was I wrong! And as I read about overexcitabilities, I thought, hey, that sounds like me when I’m “swinging.”

When I had my baby girl, I started getting triggered again. I was abused under the age of 5, and when I looked at my baby girl and wondered how they could have done that too me. I reached out about those thoughts and feelings to a wonderful, supportive group on Facebook and one person mentioned, “Hey, that sounds like PTSD.” I was also dealing with some PPD, so I went to a new psychiatrist and a therapist team (we moved while I was pregnant) and talked to them about my previous diagnosis, why I now disagreed with it, and my history. They said, yes, that’s PTSD and we can help with that. It was not Bipolar 2 after all. What a relief!

I’ve been off the Bipolar II medications for a year and a half now. I’m taking some herbal supplements that I feel are helping me. I am seeing a counselor every other week, and we are beginning EMDR therapy to help with the PTSD. And as for my gifted overexcitabilities; knowing now what they are, and being aware, I have been able to slowing overcome my self made stigma, and embrace my passions once more, in a more appropriate manner.

I’m also doing better about releasing my anger at the people who tested my IQ and then refused to tell me my results because they “didn’t want [me] to use it as an excuse not to try in school.” The people who knew I was gifted, and sent me out with no help or explanation that would have saved me years of frustration and hurt and thousands of dollars spent on the wrong medications.

Knowing that this happens to other people has helped me begin to forgive the psychiatrist who just didn’t know any better, I guess. Perhaps if we could bring more awareness to the public, and especially professionals, there will be fewer stories like mine.

 

About the Author:

Guest blogger Mrs. Warde shares her experience at being misdiagnosed with PTSD

Mrs. Warde is a wife, mother of three, and homeschooler who blogs mostly about homeschooling at Sceleratus Classical Academy. She enjoys various crafts but rarely finishes her projects.

 

 

Explore More:

If the topic of the emotional wellness of gifted individuals–especially children and young people–interests you, then you might want to watch this video (below) by SENG or see James P. Webb’s landmark book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders via my Amazon affiliate link.

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12 comments

  1. I thank goodness that you had the fortitude to push harder and look deeper. Your story is going to bring hope and relief to many. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Wow. Just, wow. What a journey. It’s wonderful to hear how you are coming out the other side. Hugs. And as for the thinking about atoms, physics and mathematics while stirring coffee, I do that all the time too – I can’t not see it. It’s beautiful and wonderful and always makes me a little happier to think about the wonderful ways physics and maths are everywhere.

  3. Brilliant article. I, too, was refused any knowledge of my IQ testing. They told me they didn’t want me to get ‘a swelled head’…and nothing was ever done. All I ever did get was trouble, for ‘not performing to expectations’. *sigh*

  4. This is so enlightening. It makes me so sad – no, mad – when I hear story after story about the shortfalls of our mental health system. Your story is making me reflect on a handful of people I’ve known – ones who have been considered a little fringe, a little different, a little odd…and the few people I have in mind were diagnosed with Bipolar (or in one case, self-diagnosed) though that always sounded so extreme (in these cases)…and lately, as I’m learning more about the gifted community, I have thought of these people and now I wonder if their stories would be similar to yours…and these people have no idea that they might be gifted.

  5. Thank you, thank you for writing this. Untreated developmental trauma often creates a lifelong struggle. It’s wonderful you’ve come home to yourself and are using your giftedness to teach your children. Your story is such an important one to tell.

  6. Thank you very much for sharing your story. I too have battled PTSD due to early & ongoing childhood abuse. I wonder if PTSD can present a bit differently in the gifted. I was misdiagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a teen, then it was thought I might have had bipolar disorder… was tried on every different type of psychoactive medication available. Nothing really helped. Eventually I received a long-range message from the starts over the course of a couple of months (how I would have described it back then – I was very socially isolated; walked in the middle of the night and discussed matters with the stars in the sky) and they told me that the medication was keeping me in stasis, and to come off my meds. I did, but didn’t let the doctors know until months afterwards – so they couldn’t argue and get me straight back on the drugs, as I improved once off them, instead of getting worse.
    Anyway, a lot has happened in my life. I live on a psych ward for over 3 months aged 15, was forced to work in a sheltered factory aged 17 (I quickly noticed the owners drove very nice cars, yet the workers – some who had been at the place for over a decade – received about $5/day pay. This did not at all sit well with me. Neither did being told that an ‘ideal outcome’ would be me one day working in a ‘real factory’. One day I’d had enough and ran away from that place. A week later I sat the entrance test for Mensa and aced it). Just prior to meeting the man who is now my husband, I was being railroaded into living in a residence for those with serious mental illness – and would have been required to go back on the drugs that rendered me vegetative and severely obese.
    All along, despite the diagnoses and the doctors and psychologists… the ‘tangled web’ as I called it… I felt deep down that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t want to waste too many years being unwell. I was purging, letting myself teeter right near the very edge in order to travel through the emotions and experiences that could not be avoided; at a relatively fast pace.
    When my daughter turned the age I remember first being abused, I had a bit of a breakdown. Ended up back under the care of a psychiatrist. Had no luck with medications, but the psychiatrist was brave enough to say ‘no more’ and she looked me in the eye the last time I saw her and said based on what I had been through in my life, she was astounded at how well I was doing. She believed I would be just fine. That vote of confidence meant the world to me and gave me the courage to continue healing myself.
    I too was identified as highly intelligent at primary school – my Mum only told me a couple of years ago that one day my teacher said to her that he wouldn’t be marking my work anymore and he had never seen anything like it before in a child my age. There were no special accommodations made for me at school. I spent a lot of time ‘teaching’ the other kids. A lot of time alone. Being called ‘alien’ – and believing it. I wish I had known back then. Wish I had known that I wasn’t bad for not fitting in.
    Though I joined Mensa in my late teens, I didn’t click about giftedness and what having a high IQ could mean in terms of everyday life and personal experience. It was only after having my daughter and her coming up against a very difficult time at school (and subsequently being tested) that I started to see the bigger picture. The more I researched in order to help my girl, the more I learned about myself. I have wondered over the years why none of the mental health professionals I saw tried to harness my intellect in order to help me help myself. I firmly believe that at least some of us with high intelligence are better off healing ourselves; taking charge of our own process. No matter how grim our situation might seem to those on the outside looking in.
    I knew what I was doing. Despite the scars and the trauma of my recovery, I wouldn’t change it.
    All the very best for your future Mrs Warde. Keep being fabulous!

  7. This is powerful stuff. Thank you so much for sharing! I am so resentful of mental health diagnoses and labels for this very reason. They become these awful self-fulfilling prophesies that seem impossible to escape! I’m grateful that you found people who could help you out of that trap… and I’m even more grateful that you shared this.

    • I just re-read my comment. I’m not “even more grateful” that you shared this. I’m actually MOST grateful that you found people to help you out of the trap. And that you had the inner strength to get through it.

      I typed more quickly than I thought. 🙂

  8. Thank you! This sums up, and unfortunately parrellels my young sons misdiagnosed “gifted” journey. He has endured so much, we as a family have endured so much. Had it not been for SENG and all those like yourself that contribute…our son would continue to be misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and the world would be missing out on all who he really is and what he has to offer it!

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