Real Stories

The Alphabet Soup Diagnosis

So I’ve been doing the depression/anxiety/therapy/medication thing for about 14 years now, and

through the process,So I’ve been doing the depression/anxiety/therapy/medication thing for

about 14 years now, and through the process, I’ve learned 2 very important things.

1) Recovery is not finite.

This observation is both incredibly freeing and incredibly frustrating.

Freeing because I’ve finally accepted that caring for my mental health will be a life-long,

evolving process, and that nothing is wrong with me for “backsliding” after finishing a round of

therapy and medication.

Frustrating because as I started speaking with my current therapist, I felt like I was re-treading

the same ground I had covered with my prior therapists.

2) Recovery is not linear.

How many times do I need to go back through and examine my marriage, my job history, and

my lousy breakups?

Judging by my conversations with my current therapist, one more time.

At least.

It’s not the most pleasant process, but when I lose patience with it, or when I get angry with

myself, I remember a scene from one of my all-time favorite movies.

A teenage girl stands outside a maze, asking a dwarf questions and not getting the answers she

needs to begin her quest.

She shouts, “It’s hopeless asking you anything!”

The dwarf responds, “Not if you ask the right questions.”

The girl pauses, asks how to get into the maze, and the dwarf shows her to the entrance.

When I started therapy last year, I was dealing with something known (my previously-diagnosed

depression and anxiety disorders), but I was also asking a new question.

Were some of the difficulties in my life thus far caused by undiagnosed ADHD?

It wasn’t an easy question to ask – I had always been a good student, I was never in trouble for

acting out or not sitting still. There was absolutely no reason at all to think that I could have


And yet, I would lose chunks of time in a day where I would do things and have no memory of it

even though there was evidence I had done them. I could look at a person speaking to me and

hear only gibberish, which I then had to “translate” into English, and I still didn’t understand a

word they said. I would have the attention span of a gnat for things like my work to-do list, or

following a tv show plot, but I could focus on a single project for hours at a time, stopping only

when my stomach hurt from hunger.


I was lucky enough to find a psychologist to test me right at the start of the pandemic, and even

luckier that the therapist I was matched with has experience working with adults with ADHD.

Once I received my official ADHD diagnosis (flavor: inattentive; degree: severe), a lot of things

around my depression and anxiety diagnoses made so much more sense.

It explained why I could be gung ho about a job or a project for months, then be knocked

completely off course by the smallest bump and the road and completely lose interest. It

explained why I was constantly looking 10 steps ahead, and falling 20 steps behind when I

stumbled. It explained why I’ve felt like I’ve been in absolute chaos for nearly as long as I can



We added the ADHD piece to the puzzle and began the work of unlearning all the unhealthy

coping mechanisms I had learned over the years. I needed all the help I could get to get me

through a workday at a job that made me feel like I was dying. We worked on management

techniques for the depression and anxiety and focused on my job search, and how much better

I would feel when I was able to move on and move forward.


What was it they said about the best laid plans of mice and men?


After 2 months at my new job, I felt like I was no better, potentially worse, than I had been. I was

hyper aware of everything around me and I had no confidence in any of the work I did. My

fight-or-flight was completely out of control, triggered by things as small as edits on documents I

had typed. Dealing with the executives of the company (a daily component of my position) was

utterly terrifying.


I assumed this was just my anxiety still firing on all cylinders, but my therapist asked new

questions. She had me do a questionnaire, and when she scored it, she added Complex PTSD

(C-PTSD) to my diagnosis.


It hit just as hard as the ADHD diagnosis.


This is not my first time through therapy – how was any of this missed?


Granted, in my prior times in therapy, the impetus was relationships rather than professional but

looking back, the patterns running through my relationships were the same as the ones running

through my professional life, and they have been there for years.

What did I actually do in therapy? Why didn’t anyone figure out how to ask the right questions?


I still haven’t fully accepted the alphabet soup that we’ve added to my diagnosis. It has

completely rocked my world view and my sense of self. This is by far the hardest work I’ve ever

done, and I’m scared to death of what I’m going to find as I go.


I’ve spent so much of my life hating myself because I felt I made things so much harder than

they needed to be. Because my decisions and reactions always turned out to be the wrong ones

and kept setting me further and further behind.


I haven’t been able to make peace with the fact that my inner monologue has been lying to me

for so many years; that not everything was my fault; and that I didn’t cause or deserve so much

of what I’ve always blamed myself for. I have no idea how, when, or if I’ll be able to make that



I have really bad days where I’m angry at myself or angry at the world that nobody noticed

anything was amiss sooner, that maybe some of the time I felt I was spinning my wheels could

have been saved if someone, anyone, had asked the right question.

But I also have really good days where I hear my horrible inner monologue and actively correct

it, or when I recognize a destructive behavior and change my course.

It is still way too easy for 1 little thing to derail me, and it takes me too long to bounce back from

a derailment.


But it doesn’t take as long as it did at this time last year.


Incremental progress is still progress, and even the tiniest bit of progress is enough to keep me

on this path.

by Danielle Brigante

Femme-presenting genderfluid New Yorker whose pronouns are they/them/theirs. I write nonfiction about daily life issues through the lens of mental illnesses, and fiction about extraordinary beings in ordinary settings. I prefer my coffee Italian, my whiskey Irish, and my music New Wave.


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