Me & ADHD: Getting Diagnosed While Livin ...

Me & ADHD: Getting Diagnosed While Living Abroad

May 11, 2021

Hey, guys! Rosie here.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I’d share a piece of my ADHD diagnosis story.

I was diagnosed fairly recently, only in January of 2020, so I still have a lot to learn about ADHD and how it fits into my life. But since my diagnosis, more and more of my struggles in childhood and beyond are starting to make sense—so it’s my hope that if you’re spotting some of the signs and want to get tested, or if you’ve been diagnosed and aren’t sure what that means for you, that my story offers you a little bit of comfort in knowing you’re not alone!

So, if you’re new here, it helps to know that I’ve been living in Taiwan since August of 2018. I moved here right after college to start my teaching career and my official Life As An Adult™️. It was a whirlwind, but after a few months I started to settle into a routine.

The problem is that routines have never been my favorite thing. I’ve always struggled to stick to deadlines, I lose track of time easily, and estimating the amount of time an activity will take is next to impossible if I haven’t experienced it before (sound familiar?). “Not the best qualities in a teacher,” you might say, and you would be right.

I forgot to take attendance almost every day. (I only had six students, but still. You’re supposed to take attendance.) I planned half-hour lessons that ended up taking two hours. I came home exhausted every night, and woke up exhausted every morning.

Now, anyone who knows a teacher will tell you: The first couple of years are rough. And I knew that going in. But here’s the thing. I had the easiest teaching job on the planet. Six students, all literal angels, and all the autonomy in the world to teach how I wanted to teach. And I still couldn’t keep up.

I had mountains of ungraded spelling tests on my desk. Sticky note reminders could’ve replaced the wallpaper, but instead wound up stuck to my students’ shoes. Meetings almost missed, emails never sent, and poor little Maggie reminding me every day to change the date on the board.

(See why I call myself Scatterbrain?)

The list of things I needed to do was overflowing in every area of my life, and for awhile I was either searching for shortcuts (could the kids grade their own spelling tests?) or just settling in as the failure I knew I was.

And then one evening, during my daily half-asleep-Twitter-scrolling ritual, I stumbled upon some comics by an artist calling herself ADHD Alien. They were all about her experiences with having ADHD, and I was struck by how many of them seemed to resonate with me on an almost molecular level.

I got lost in my scrolling (as one does) and with each comic I became more and more convinced that I might possibly have ADHD, too. I had never considered it before—I’d always done well in school, after all, and that’s the number one indicator, right? (Wrong.)

So I started digging into my own research, and the more I learned about ADHD, the angrier I got that no one had ever bothered to show me what it can look like in someone other than an 8-year-old boy who can’t sit still. I mean, here I am, a certified teacher, someone who’s supposed to be able to identify signs of these things in my students—and I couldn’t even identify them in myself!

(I could rant about that forever, but let’s move on.)

I decided to try to get tested, to see whether my suspicions were true. But I was in a foreign country, my Mandarin hadn’t improved much, and Taiwan isn’t necessarily the type of place where you want to ask your employer to help you find a mental health professional.

So using Google Maps and my limited Mandarin skills, I started popping into mental health clinics at random and asking them for help.

One of the many nice things about Taiwan is that, with their national health insurance, you can go to as many doctors as you want in a single day and barely pay a cent. And that day I had to go see a lot of doctors.

Only one of them was willing to give me a diagnostic test, but she only had one in Chinese (bummer). The rest either openly scoffed at me or else gently explained that, no ma’am, you can’t have ADHD because you’re over the age of 12. (Yes, I heard that more than once.)

I gave up for awhile, resigning myself to a state of constant wondering and thinking that maybe I’d get tested if I ever moved back to the States.

But targeted ads are a force to be reckoned with, and in January of 2020 I stumbled upon a website claiming to offer diagnostic tests from real, licensed psychiatrists in the U.S. I looked into them a bit more and found them to be as legitimate as I could hope, so I decided to go for it.

The process works like this: You pay $250 to take the online test, then enter your state of residence (I used Colorado, since I was still registered at my parents’ house) and they send your results to a licensed psychiatrist in your area. The psychiatrist takes some time to look it over and evaluate your answers, and then makes a recommendation to you on whether to seek another opinion or not.

The test was supposed to take 30-40 minutes to complete. It took me 2 hours. That was a pretty big clue in itself.

And sure enough, when the results came back, the psychiatrist assigned to my case “strongly recommended” that I book an appointment to see a professional in-person, because all signs pointed toward what ADHD Alien had taught me all along: You got it, baby!

Luckily, in the few weeks that I was visiting the States, I was able to meet with a real-life psychiatrist in California. He asked me some questions, looked over my online test results, and gave me a shorter version of his own—all of which confirmed my diagnosis. At one point he looked at me and said, “Are you sure you’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD before?” So, yeah, I got it bad, folks.

He gave me a month’s worth of Ritalin to start out, because we didn’t know if I’d be able to get a prescription in Taiwan. And it’s a good thing he did, because that was even harder to figure out when I returned.

Despite having two professional diagnoses in-hand, I was turned away by four different doctors when I got back to Taiwan. “That’s not real.” “This is for kids.” “We don’t have that here.”

Finally I found a mental health clinic that agreed to see me, and the psychiatrist there wrote me the prescription I needed. She later gave me a recommendation to see a different doctor closer to my apartment, so now I can go in every month to get my prescription. (It’s a clinic for kids, so I have to sit on a tiny chair in the waiting room with the other children and a very nice collection of picture books. But they’ll see me, so whatever.)

Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned so much more about myself and how my brain operates—and it’s made a world of difference in how I interact with myself and my life. I’m no longer trying to fit my weird ways of thinking into the molds other people have created for themselves; instead I’m hard at work building my own molds (and sometimes forgetting about them or messing them up and having to start all over).

I’m trying out medication, which works great for me (sometimes). I’m trying out new schedules and routines that reflect the natural ebb and flow of my energy throughout the day. I’m working toward a more creative career that’s independent of the kind of structure that I know doesn’t work for me and my brain. I’m aligning myself more with people who have similar stories, and learning from what they’ve already been able to accomplish. And instead of beating myself up for not being able to do things the way the rest of the world can, I’m learning to celebrate all of the ways I can exist in the world in my own way.

Neurodiversity rules. What’s your story?

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