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“Five Years After My ADHD Diagnosis, Has Life Improved?”

As I prepare to move back to the States on the fifth anniversary of my ADHD diagnosis, I’m taking stock of my professional life, my ADHD acceptance, and what my next career move should be.

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of my attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis, I shut off the Facebook faucet to try to put an end to the comparison game. So far, it hasn’t worked as the itch to stay connected to both friends and nemeses remains. A few days after shutting the faucet off, I started to feel a bit invisible — not that I was very popular anyway in terms of pokes or comments. The invisibility stings — once again, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t — and runs parallel to how invisible I’ve felt since arriving halfway around the world, since moving from New York to Asia, half a year ago. So, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t resist the itch to turn the faucet back on, in part because I’ve felt doubly invisible while on this overseas adventure of mine.

Why? Because this thing called ADHD seems to be nonexistent in this part of the world. From living here and spending time with my family, I’ve found that in Asia, telling loved ones that you’re seeing a shrink is a bit like pulling down your pants during a family dinner — something only a character like Borat would do.

At times, I’ve purposefully tried to fool myself into thinking, Hey, maybe the disorder has simply melted away. Maybe it is a creation of some bored doctors in the Western world. But there have been enough signs to remind me that I’m still living with the ADHD symptoms I’ve had all my life. I continue to struggle to get one thing done at a time. I collapse into time killing on the Internet when left to my own devices. Even here, I’ve frustrated enough bosses so that almost every assignment feels like an S&M session — except that there’s no pleasure in this for either party. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t contemplate my next interesting career move. For instance, did I mention that I’ve been thinking about being a radio talk show host?

My ADHD forgetfulness and creative organizing solutions have confused and frustrated my loved ones here, too. My quirky habit of piling all documents and important items within reach rather than putting them away has raised a few eyebrows. My aunt tried to alter my filing system by buying bins and placing items into drawers. I protested, “But you don’t understand. I do things differently. I’ll forget if I don’t see something.”

“No one puts everything outside in piles,” she snapped. “That’s ridiculous. If you don’t remember something, it must not be that important to you.” I had tried to tell her that some peoples’ brains worked differently, but the more I said this in Chinese, the more ridiculous this sounded, even to me. I wished that there was a translation of ADHD, but I was too tired to search for a medical dictionary. Besides, given all the resistance I’ve faced trying to explain the condition to my family in Asia, I’m not sure that the disorder would exist in any medical dictionary I could find here.

A few months ago, I was still holding onto hope that I’d find an oasis, a sliver of a support network out here and some sign of people like me. I’ve Googled just about every variation of keywords imaginable, and the top results are related to the under-12 population. (Locally, parents of children with ADHD are usually members of the privileged expatriate community.) I’ve secretly looked into shrinks but didn’t pursue it further when a few expat friends of mine told me that overall, Asia is not a very shrink-friendly place. As they explained it, the Chinese don’t traditionally confide in others about their mental health issues.

To make myself feel better, I’ve hit the pool. For perspective, I’ve also immersed myself in books written by people who are less fortunate, including a limbless man and a severely burned woman who almost died on September 11. I’ve also been fast-forwarding to the summer by planning all of the fun things that I’ll do once I return to my homeland. When I feel misunderstood by colleagues or my family, I think, That’s OK if you don’t understand me. I’m leaving soon anyway. Maybe it’s a cop-out, but I see no light at the end of the tunnel here.

The grandmother’s offer of support — a strange alternative treatment of sorts — was eerily similar to what the Father suggested on several occasions — that I’d simply be cured of my attention problems if I drank less soda. “Your yin and yang is unbalanced because of your poor diet,” my grandmother recently said. “I wonder if all Americans eat like you, drinking cold drinks out of a can while eating hot things. If I did that, it would make me crazy too. You should eat more vegetables and drink less sugary things.” When my father made a similar pronouncement, I said that it was sad he would not acknowledge that ADHD was as real as a heart condition or someone partially paralyzed. This time, I just laughed. “OK, whatever,” I said to my grandmother as I rebelled with another swig of Diet Coke and a sip of red wine.

It really is OK, I thought. I have a plane ticket in hand and will soon be home. Happy fifth anniversary to me.

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