Bipolar misdiagnosis autism - An Asian woman crying on a couch

Bipolar disease is a common misdiagnosis in neurodivergent women.

When I was 19, I struggled with depression.

I wasn’t constantly depressed, though. Sometimes, I cheered up. The psychiatrist who consulted me at the time interpreted this as a sign of bipolar disorder.

The doctor failed to recognize the real reason behind my symptoms; autism and ADD.

Embracing my new diagnosis

I never had mania. Since my symptoms were less extreme than in bipolar I and II disorders, I got diagnosed with cyclothymia. It’s described as “a relatively mild mood disorder” with short periods of mild depression and hypomania. Cyclothymic disorder is basically a mild form of bipolar disorder.

A part of me liked my new diagnosis. Maybe this was the missing piece that would explain all my problems!

Also, I read that many artists had bipolar disease. It appeared as an illness that was common in sensitive and creative individuals. Of course, I felt like I had found my match!

Bipolar disease became a mini special interest to me. I sought as much information about it as possible.

A sad girl sitting on the ground with autumn leaves

I also had an attitude that mental illness was “cool”. In my opinion, all the intriguing people had some “head issues”.

But the truth is that I had been misdiagnosed. Yet another psychiatrist failed to notice the signs of autism in a young woman.

The zombie effect

Like most mental illnesses, bipolar disease is treated with medication. Even though my “bipolar disease” was mild, I was on three different drugs; SSRIs, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics (even though I wasn’t psychotic).

Autistic people are often sensitive to medication.

The meds made me a zombie. I was always tired and gained weight.

At some point, I had enough. I quit all my psychiatric medications. I started to doubt if I even had bipolar disease. I had never had mania. I only had depression and mood swings.

Of course, my doctor warned me about quitting my medications.

“What if your condition gets worse?” She asked.

In my opinion, being a zombie was bad enough.

Of course, I was reported to “deny my illness” and got kicked out of psychiatric care.

Medications in a pile

I got rid of antipsychotics for good. Unfortunately, the same didn’t happen with SSRIs. I’ve been on and off them since 2004. Now I’m in a withdrawal process.

And unfortunately, my visits to psychiatrists didn’t end either. Every single one of them failed to recognize my autism and ADD.

I even asked to get evaluated for Asperger’s syndrome because I suspected I had it. I was told the traits needed to be intense to get a diagnosis. In other words, I didn’t look autistic enough to be taken seriously.

I eventually turned to private health care to get examined for Asperger’s and ADHD. The result: My Asperger’s traits were obvious. There was no doubt about the diagnosis. I also got diagnosed with ADD.

A high number of neurodivergent women get misdiagnosed

Psychiatrists look at everything through their psychiatric glasses. They see signs of psychiatric diagnoses in every patient they meet.

Since autism and ADD are neuropsychiatric diagnoses, it’s shameful that psychiatrists are so clueless about them. Well, I would be ashamed if I was a psychiatrist and knew that little. I guess they’re not, though.

Autism and bipolar disease have overlapping symptoms, so doctors sometimes misdiagnose autistic people as bipolar. ADHD and bipolar disease also have overlapping symptoms.

Unfortunately, doctors fail to notice signs of autism in women. Yes, autistic women get misdiagnosed more often than men. 80% of autistic women are undiagnosed at the age of 18. Often, they get misdiagnosed with other conditions, such as borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.

If psychiatrists even considered the possibility of autism or ADHD in women, these misdiagnoses could be avoided.

It’s time for psychiatrists to see the signs of neurodiversity in women

Psychiatrists need to be more aware of the possibility of autism or ADHD in women. Many women are misdiagnosed with other disorders, which leads to improper treatment.

A psychiatric misdiagnosis can mean going from bad to worse, especially when you’re autistic.

By recognizing the signs of neurodiversity in women, doctors can ensure they get the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Instead of bipolar misdiagnoses, neurodivergent women deserve appropriate treatment and support.

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