When my symptoms peak and stress levels rise, I unleash the toddler within.
by Jane D.
The three-year-old in me occasionally surfaces, mostly when the stress level builds. I blame it partly on the Hong Kong heat. The dog day summers are back, along with high humidity and tightly-packed crowds.
The good news and the bad? In less than a week I will board an airplane and return to the other side of the world. I have been dreaming of a real pizza, real bagels, and shopping at Target for months now. Truthfully, in recent months I've often felt like I've been living on Mars. America feels so far away. I feel like a saltwater fish that has been forced into fresh water and is now being thrown back into salt water. Just as things started to feel stable and a bit, um, boring, I've mixed things up again.
The ADHD-like symptoms have been kept at bay mostly because I have been purposefully keeping myself busy: I have papers to grade, columns to write, people to meet over happy hour drinks and dinners. I've been swimming, but reluctantly. It should be easier to get up now that summer has arrived and there is light, but instead I drag myself out of bed and whine all the way to the deck. I swim sluggishly as if through wet concrete. I've warded off depression for a long time by keeping myself busy; still, every so often the depression surfaces again. I get sad over my current state of uncertainty. I have another year on the contract. I dislike the constant reminder that I am under a contract and that stability seems so far out of reach — really, nowhere in sight.
The very process of planning this summer is a reminder of how much in flux my life is, and how tentative everything seems. I've cancelled the cell phone I've been using here and have tried to reactivate the phone on the other continent. I've been trying to retype all my contacts here as a backup and merge them with my friends and contacts in the U.S. My mind spins with names, dates, and numbers.
Yesterday I got home after a particularly sluggish swim and found men working on the broken air conditioner. My belongings had been moved, the floor was a mess and stank of superglue, and here were these strange men working on the air conditioner when I had planned on packing and tidying the room when I got home. I was steaming from the humidity, dripping with sweat, and had been dreaming of ice cubes for awhile. I now felt like I had lost control, and my space had been invaded. I collected the piles of papers and folders in a huff and moved them to another room and started trying to madly sort them out.
"Stop that for now and let's eat," the aunt said. The workers dripped sweat and continued to superglue and hammer away, and I felt my mind morphing from an orderly menu into "tossed salad" mode. I wanted to cry. "I want to finish cleaning up, I don't want to eat. You eat," I snapped.
The grandmother turned to me looking somewhat stunned and speechless. The aunt reacted faster, "What is wrong with you? Why are you throwing such a tantrum?"
"I said you can go ahead and eat. I just want to finish cleaning up." I could not wait for the air conditioner installers to finish. I wanted to get everything done because I had a million things to do. Right now, I can't wait, I thought, my heart racing.
The aunt and grandmother retreated to the dining area and started to eat, I wanted to cry. I counted to ten and then went to the bathroom and stuck my face under the cool water of the faucet. Maybe I was just overheated, literally. My face was the color of V-8. After what seemed like forever, the temperature lowered from boiling point into a slower boil and then a simmer.
The aunt gave me a sideways glance, as if she couldn't believe what she'd just seen. It had been a while since I'd unleashed a tantrum in front of her. "Nothing gets done at once; there is an order to doing things. Now we're having lunch and we need to wait for the workers to finish with the air conditioner before cleaning things up. Why are you so rushed, why do you have to do everything at once?" she asked. She was right: Why was I in such a rush? Why was I flying off the handle? Was it the ADHD that had gotten the best of me yet again? Was it an ADHD flareup?
I fumed mostly because I was angry at myself and ate the remaining lunch in silence. A few hours later over coffee the aunt said that I needed to learn to control myself. "If you act like that no one will want to be around you. They will be scared away," she said. Was she referring to my lack of dates and suitors?
"What if you can't control yourself?" I asked.
"If you want to you can," she said.
Instead of disagreeing, I nodded. "Yes, I'll try harder, I can do it," I said, not believing a word I said.