Comorbid Bipolar Disorder and ADHD
If there are defined mood cycles or if mood disturbance is the primary symptom, then it is most likely a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Although it gets confusing when deciding if ADHD is also present since the symptoms of bipolar disorder can mask ADHD.
To diagnose comorbid ADHD and bipolar disorder, you must understand the two illnesses.
The two core symptoms most widely known regarding ADHD are inattention and/or hyperactivity. Though they are present in most individuals with ADHD, there is much more to the disorder than those two aspects.
Other symptoms of ADHD some may experience include disorganization and memory issues such as forgetfulness, a lack of motivation or drive, and struggles with executive functions (Executive Functioning Disorder is known to also correlate with ADHD).
In adults, sometimes people with ADHD – especially women – may suppress their disorganization by developing compulsive behaviors such as ritualized cleaning and organizing. They may require guests to give prior knowledge before visiting so that they can cover up their disorganization.
In other words, as children, we are observed and treated if ADHD is caught, but adults that slip under the radar often adapt or develop coping mechanisms to aid with symptoms or insulate themselves from being “exposed” as having something amiss in their lives.
If you imagine the scale referenced earlier, watch as that marker slides haphazardly from one end to the other over and over again your entire life. This is attention dysregulation and ADHD.
In many, it rarely balances and it moves from one extreme to the other. This is similar to the bipolar disorder mood swing which curves up and down between poles.
Inattention in itself isn’t the complete image when it comes to ADHD because sometimes hyperfocus, which is the other end of the sliding scale, is also a dominating occurrence those with ADHD experience, even though it is not officially documented as criteria for diagnosis.
When someone struggles with inattention, they can’t seem to zoom out or zoom in at all; when they hyperfocus, they zoom in far too close. This could be a topic of interest that turns into a pile of research hours later; it could be a collection of memorabilia or a task, like writing.
With inattention, it must be present in a person’s life in all areas, not just academic. That is one of the issues with misdiagnosis - it can’t just be in part, but the whole sum of your life that is affected by the disorder.
More Than Just Distracted
Three major areas of life ADHD can penetrate would be academics as well as professional and relational.
- Missing portions of conversations or not listening instructions
- Zoning out while watching a film
- Losing track of items because you did not make a note of or pay close attention to where it was placed
Forgetfulness with ADHD isn’t easily explained because sometimes it seems everyone thinks they are forgetful. With ADHD, those memory issues can be profound and affect day to day, moment to moment.
Usually, it isn’t just here or there. For instance, you may forget what you’re about to say or what you were thinking about on a chronic basis, or misplace items like your keys repeatedly.
The thinking towards hyperactivity is so narrow at times that it can be missed altogether in childhood. Not all children with ADHD try to scale walls or misbehave in class.
Some may swing their legs around or shift in their seats, or ask to get up frequently. Even in adulthood, hyperactivity can manifest in so many different ways that it gets confusing.
Hyperactivity may display as straightforward high energy or may peek through the shrouded shade of hidden diagnoses via physical activity and even escalate into behaviors such as overexercise. It can appear as “bad behavior” or moodiness and restlessness, which is, in reality, a symptom and not the real problem.
Whatever the case, ADHD is far more complicated than most people understand or grasp. Some go years without receiving an ADHD diagnosis at all, and this can be complicated by the presence of comorbid bipolar disorder.