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“My Tragic Aria: Can I Re-Write This ADHD Opera?”

‘When the soaring high notes of my life come crashing down into gut-wrenching, ADHD-fueled sorrow, I know that I alone can change the tune. Or can I?

My life with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) is a heart-wrenching opera of soaring high notes followed by agonizing lows. Like any good opera, it hurts so much you can’t stop listening.

My song was light and joyful last week when I published a new piece of writing and gained acceptance to a coveted certificate program. Then, just like that, the verse turned despondent when I stepped out of my time and comfort zones to attend an ADHD support group meeting via Skype. A friend of mine runs the group from her home in Maryland. “Come join, please join, doesn’t matter that you’re in Hong Kong,” she said. She’s such a sweetie.

I armed myself with caffeine to join the meeting at 6am via Skype, through which I watched everyone make introductions before an eager question-and-answer session. I listened intently, well aware that I was an observer on the sidelines. Still, I was comforted in knowing that other people face this daily battle, too.

I’m not alone, but Hong Kong sure has a way of making me feel isolated to the extreme. The session triggered in me homesickness and a culture shock relapse. “I want to go home,” I thought. “I don’t belong here.”

Here, my colleagues, family and friends are all native Chinese and Cantonese. I am neither. But I have made strides lately. I’ve found a place to swim (my natural ADHD therapy) with a new team of mostly Chinese swimmers with whom I share a philosophy: swim hard, play hard. The group has been cool enough to court me back into the pool again.

So why am I stirring up the misery pot again? Why is this support group session making me wallow? Why am I playing the comparison game that inevitably sends me into a spiral?

I’ve returned to the pseudo shrink again, the counselor who spent a recent morning listening to my litany of frustrations. This is what I shared.

My least favorite uncle arrived here to visit the grandmother a few days ago. After a marathon day at work I came home, retreated to my room (the safe haven), and was prodded to join a family dinner to welcome the dreaded uncle. The three-year-old nephew, ever so talkative, arrived with his grandparents (my other aunt and uncle). Then something clicked in my head and I could no longer fathom coming out to be cordial or social. I wanted to hole up and stew in my sadness and anger.

When I finally surfaced and came to the dinner table, I made an excuse and said I had to take a phone call for work. I am such a bad liar. I ate what was left of the dishes.

A scrapbook of glossy photos of the 28-year-old cousin and her fiancée on their Europe trip was making the rounds. A wave of anger and envy washed over me again. Why couldn’t I be happy for them, and why did I not want to be included in this conversation anymore?

I was like a cat under the bed, digging in my claws and refusing to emerge emotionally. From the corner of my left eye I watched as my aunt’s husband flipped through the photo book. “Where is your future son-in-law from, is he Jewish or Russian?” he asked. I focused on the bowl of rice now gone cold, and fought back the tears.

Emotion had gotten the best of me, and I was the sucker singing my own tragic story once again.

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