When I finally accepted I was struggling with depression, I wasn’t daunted. In fact, I was empowered to understand and overcome it before history repeated itself and the love of my life abandoned me.

I knew the first step must involve getting an accurate diagnosis. But with the stigma alive and well, it can be tough to open up about this stuff. Mention it to your general doctor and they might just prescribe you an antidepressant, which can take weeks to start working, if they actually do (about 50% of the time, depending on the study).

Whatever you do, don’t try to diagnose yourself. Whether you have depression, anxiety or some other kind of mood disorder, your perspective is likely skewed, and you might over or under identify symptoms. It’s best to let objective mental health professionals do their job. Alas, without access to one of those, and still fairly clueless, I figured Google and Wikipedia should suffice!

I already knew my depression generally boiled down to matters of the broken heart. Break-ups mostly triggered my bad moods, which made it difficult to focus or concentrate. So I looked up my symptoms until I found a match. Intense emotions and mood swings. Check. Fear of being alone and low self-esteem. Check. Harmful impulsive behaviour. Check. Hello Borderline Personality Disorder.

Diagnosing mental illness is not something you should do at home.

If you’re familiar with Borderline (or BPD), you know this is actually very serious. Some within the psychiatric community consider it terminal, and manipulative patients are incredibly difficult to treat. It’s believed to have inspired Fatal Attraction, where Glenn Close’s stalker boils Michael Douglas’ family rabbit to keep his romantic attention. None of this stopped me believing I had some version of it for a summer.

The more I identified with the label, the more I embodied its scarier symptoms, including epic levels of lash-out jealousy, which helped neutralize my relationship and fulfill the subconscious prophecy I would be alone forever.  Over the ensuing months, I felt increasingly unable to focus on anything but my overwhelming despair, which I desperately tried to escape. When the worthless feelings wouldn’t subside, I confided in a supportive doctor friend, who told me I couldn’t have BPD. Those with borderline usually lack awareness, but I had that in spades. She agreed I had something but that I should get a second opinion.

So I made an appointment with my general doctor. After hearing about fifteen minutes of my story, he dismissed my case, suggesting I could take an antidepressant, if I couldn’t pull up my socks. I knew he wasn’t taking me seriously, which, (I’d later learn), is a major trigger for me. I dropped my effervescent coping armour and summoned my inner berserker, which I’d benched since the Dark Days of Dodgeball. I made it very clear major depression runs all over my family, sometimes leading to suicide, so he had damn well take me seriously. I pretty much demanded a referral.

Call it assertiveness, or the scorned fury of my inner asshole, but it got me access to a real psychiatrist very quickly.  This diagnosis involved a 90-minute sit-down conversation. I recounted my family history of mental illness and what I could remember about my upbringing. She also had me describe my emotional symptoms, in detail. This meant talking about feelings, which can be damn hard when you’re generally out of touch with them. I mostly rambled on about how my quest for love distracted me from my work and made me feel like crap.

My psychiatrist didn’t hesitate before asking I’d ever been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

To nobody’s surprise but me, I was diagnosed with ADHD.

I rolled my eyes. People make jokes about me having ADHD all the time. I’ve always had a bottomless well of energy, if you want to call that “hyperactivity.” People might say I’m scatterbrained, and never listening, but that’s not a “deficit of attention”  I’m just thinking ten steps ahead. These traits rarely diminish my over-achieving performance – in fact, you might say they enhance it. Maybe I’ve got a mild case of ADHD, but I must be high functioning.

More importantly: what could ADHD possibly have to do with depression?

She proceeded to school me, astutely regurgitating key details from my back-story. Maybe I find it difficult to concentrate, because I have so many projects on the go, I don’t know what to focus on. I get easily distracted as a result, drawn towards novel, but often risky experiences, many of which I end up regretting. The regret leads to shame over not realizing my full potential, which is fuel for the fire of despair. I become more unfocused, more distracted, more impulsively drawn to fill the void … and the cycle continues. The point is that longstanding symptoms of ADHD helped cause my depression.

Handily cutting through my BS, she had me speechless – which doesn’t happen much in my life. The story wasn’t complete, but it certainly seemed like a compelling origin story for my depression. This was a relief, sort of. Yeah I might now be officially on some kind of spectrum, but it was better than borderline. And with an accurate diagnosis, the road to recovery must be easy, right?

One last thought.  I must emphasize getting an accurate diagnosis isn’t normally an easy process. We’ve learned not to open up about this stuff in fear we’ll be rejected, ostracized or not taken seriously. Even if we do, getting access to mental health professionals can be incredibly difficult and frustrating, exacerbated by systemic levels of Stigma prejudice. Plus when depression often kills your drive, it can be hard to motivate yourself to pick up the phone. But trust me, once you do, it’ll likely change your life.

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