ADHD or bipolar disorder?
ADHD and bipolar disorder are usually diagnosed together. Although “joint presentation” is bad, it simply means that there are two or more conditions. So, if you have both disorders, how do you know which one is affecting you at a given time when both disorders are characterized by similar symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and disengagement?
Behavioral state versus mood
ADHD is more behavioral in nature, while bipolar disorder has more to do with your mood state. One way to tell is that ADHD tends to last throughout the day while bipolar symptoms come and go. Therefore, you might try to determine whether your symptoms persist throughout the day or if they start to play out at a certain time of the day.
Both disorders can also occur environmentally. However, ADHD triggers tend to be more frequent and less intense, such as the person in the meeting who keeps interrupting you, so you hold back because you simply can’t bear to listen to his or her talk any longer. Since bipolar disorder has more to do with your mood, symptoms are usually triggered by larger events, like having an already stressful morning with a flat tire. So, you are already in a mood when going to the meeting which sets you up for detachment and a lack of focus, no matter who is talking or on what topic.
Sometimes both disorders may be present at the same time. For example, you might be packing for a business trip that you are not looking forward to attending. Small, distracting stimuli, like stopping to watch something on TV, may keep you from packing up. Meanwhile, the stress of thinking about your business trip may put you in a mood that slows your progress toward preparing for the trip. This has to do with bipolar disorder. It may seem easy to understand on paper, but it can be very difficult to differentiate between BPII and ADHD when you’re in the middle of a situation where you’re feeling irritable, impatient, or unable to focus, like the example of packing for a business trip.
Find a reputable psychiatrist
Because the symptoms are so similar, and can sometimes be difficult to identify on your own, it is essential to find a reputable psychiatrist who is skilled and experienced in diagnosing and treating both disorders. For starters, you might get away with a misdiagnosis. And treating them together is another complication. Medication that helps control ADHD may worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder, and vice versa. Getting the right medications for both disorders is essential, so that they can control the symptoms of both disorders and work well together.
You can also read books and articles about both disorders, just make sure they are from trusted sources. There are two books that I have found very helpful Driven to distraction By Holwell, MD and Raty, MD for ADHD and Bipolar disorder: a guide for the newly diagnosed by Caponigro, MA; Lee, Massachusetts; Johnson, Ph.D. and Kring, Ph.D. These books have helped me better understand and recognize my symptoms as well as use different coping mechanisms. Be patient with yourself too, time and experience will help too.