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Unveiling My ADHD: A Journey of Self-Acceptance and Empowerment



There's always been a feeling of "otherness" that's followed me around. A chronic daydreamer with a brain buzzing with insatiable curiosity, I'd flit between topics at lightning speed, easily becoming bored unless fully engrossed. The inner world was a whirlwind, mirrored by my chaotic environment. Time management, organisation, prioritising tasks – these were constant battles. Emotional regulation was a struggle, and hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli made late afternoons a minefield. Motherhood, both a blessing and a curse, amplified these challenges.


Frustrated with the constant feeling of "falling short," I finally embarked on a self-healing path in 2014. Mindfulness, KonMari, peaceful parenting techniques – all aimed at optimising my life and managing my emotional dysregulation. But it was like treating a symptom, not the root cause. My inner critic, a relentless voice that started berating me the moment I woke up, remained a constant enemy.


Then, during a conversation with a friend, a seed was planted. "ADHD in adult women?" I scoffed, convinced I wasn't the "bouncing off the walls" stereotype. My curiosity was piqued as I seek to devour information and finally sought a formal diagnosis at NUH this February.


The verdict: severe ADHD, ranking in the 98th percentile (in another fellow ADHDer’s words, it’s like getting ADHD with honours 🤪).


Wow.


ADHD presents in three ways: inattentive, hyperactive, or a combination of both.


Mine falls under the inattentive subtype. My "hyperactivity" is entirely internal, a constant mental overdrive that makes it difficult to focus on a single task. We, the inattentive girls, are often the daydreamers who seem to pay attention, escaping detection. Highly sensitive to stimuli, we struggle with executive function, impacting organisation, time management (aka time blindness), and emotional regulation. Oh, and not forgetting excessive rumination over the past.


Though surprised by the severity of my ADHD, a sense of relief washed over me. I wasn't broken; I was simply wired differently. The pieces finally clicked.


The Diagnosis: A Missing Puzzle Piece

The past two months have been a whirlwind of emotions – shock, grief, and ultimately, self-compassion. Suddenly, the little Caihui who felt like a failure for not fitting in made sense.


Imagine a fish trying to climb a tree – that's what the neurotypical world felt like to me.


This diagnosis wasn't a death sentence; it was a turning point. My decade-long journey of self-improvement unknowingly aligned with managing my ADHD. Embrace the growth mindset, nurture curiosity – these are superpowers, not flaws.


And this diagnosis finally unlocked self-compassion for me – which I found incredibly hard to show for myself.


Understanding My Yawning: A Sign, Not Disinterest

Now, let's talk about the yawns. You see, thanks to functional near-infrared (fNIRS) brain imaging during my diagnosis at NUH, I discovered something fascinating.


When I yawn during conversations or activities not engaging for me, it's not because I'm tired or disinterested in the person/activity. It's a sign my brain is literally disengaging from a topic that doesn't hold my interest.


Here's the science bit: research suggests that neurotypical brains have around 69.5% haemoglobin oxygenation during focused attention. In my case, fNIRS scans revealed a dip to -29.8% haemoglobin oxygenation when I try to focus on activities that I am not keen on.


Flashback: I still remember yawning till my jaw felt like they were dislocating during the boring fNIRS testing. And I was reminded of many past instances of extreme boredom, zoning out and even sleeping during subjects that are dry and hard for me to understand at school.


What does this mean?


It means my brain is essentially diverting blood flow away from areas processing the activity, prioritising other things. It's not a conscious choice; it's my ADHD wiring in action.


Understanding this has been a revelation for both me and my loved ones. Now, instead of taking my yawns or me being distracted personally, they understand it's a signal. Perhaps the conversation/activity has strayed from something I find stimulating, or maybe it's simply time to switch topics.


This has also allowed me to learn that I really thrive when it is something that I am interested in. When I was in university doing Japanese Studies (which was my choice) and even doing art now, I was having the best time of my life – my curiosity was piqued and I could go into bouts of hyperfocus and states of flow without realising the passing of time. It is then important how I can adopt learning strategies that benefit my brain, rather than beating myself for not being able to focus.


Understanding how my brain works was a revelation. Suddenly, years of self-doubt surrounding my inability to focus made sense. It wasn't a personal failing; it was simply my ADHD wiring in action. This realisation marked a turning point, leading me to reframe my past struggles, again with a much needed dose of self-compassion.

 

Decades of Believing I Was Broken

Years of self-doubt had taken a toll on my mental well-being. But my passion for mental wellness wasn't in vain. Art became my refuge, a space for self-expression and a source of calm. My artworks, which some might call "sight meditations" with soothing colours, offer a way to lose myself and find myself again. The colours are also a much needed boost of dopamine - something which the ADHD brains often lack.


This passion ignited a spark – a workshop using art for mental wellness, suitable for anyone, regardless of artistic ability. Inspired by a 100-day project of creating connected bookmarks, “Art & Life Connections” provides a gentle, intuitive process that's both cathartic and therapeutic. The mind chatter quiets (except for the occasional perfectionist streak!)


Building a Community Through Creativity

I truly believe “Art & Life Connections” will inspire more people to explore art as a tool for mental wellness. Our fingers, used for exploration since infancy, offer a wonderfully sensory experience (which is also good for the brain!). But humans are social creatures; we thrive in community. This workshop aims to foster a space for connection, support, and uplifting one another.





What is Neurotypical, Anyway?

This brings us to the question: what exactly is neurotypical?


Just like there's no "ideal" body type as long as it's healthy, shouldn't the same apply to brain architecture?


Imagine a world where neurodiversity is celebrated, not pathologized.


A world where education caters to different learning styles, and workplaces embrace a variety of thinking patterns. Wouldn't that be a richer, more innovative society?


Embracing the Spectrum

This is why I'm sharing my story.  ADHD is not something in your face - just like how my hyperactivity is not visible to anyone since it is all internal. I hope to create more awareness through my platform. I am still learning more about ADHD every day. By fostering understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity, we can create a world where everyone can thrive, yawn or no yawn.


Let's move beyond labels and embrace the beautiful spectrum of human experience.


Join the conversation!


Are you or anyone you know is neurodivergent? What do you think can encourage our society to be more open to embracing neurodiversity?


Share your thoughts in the comments below, I would love to read them!


PS: In case you didn’t know, I have a fundraising campaign for Limitless, a non-profit organisation that is committed to help our youths overcome mental health challenge.

Support my “Donate-Your-Age” campaign here!

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