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Joanne Ooi


Joanne Ooi 


Coming to terms with my ADHD and everything that any lifelong/invisible condition entails has been the single best education I have had in my 10 years of being a doctor.

I got diagnosed at age of 30 after reading The Atlantic article on ADHD in women and realising the author's story could have been lifted from my own life. 

And so, a million pennies dropped at once. The lifelong difficulty concentrating, coordinating and prioritising; the never-ending generation of clutter, physical and mental; the outsized sense of defeat at supposedly simple everyday tasks; the time blindness - all feeding into this walking ball of shame that had somehow bluffed her way through a much-coveted degree into a highly respected, high-skills, high-stakes profession (and spiralling closet depression).

Could it be that I wasn't just feckless, fatally flawed and a total fraud? And could it be that there was an answer to the interminable, internal, hitherto hypothetical question, "why AM I like this?". The good news: yes, there was an answer. This condition had a name, a proven neurobiological basis, and was an actual thing that could now be treated. What a time to be alive! 

The more ambiguous news: my sojourn to this side of the patient-provider equation was not, as I had naively envisioned, going to end with a magic bullet that would make me 'normal' overnight. This was just the start of a dizzying merry-go-round of pills and appointments, the physical and metaphorical sensation of being thrown ever more off-balance compounded by minimisation and lack of understanding, both from myself and others. 

Getting a diagnosis was supposed to help me get better; instead, I went and failed at that, too. If I couldn't be fixed, what business did I have trying to fix other people, and what was the point in carrying on? 

And so, I burnt out. Big time. And yet the wilderness of this experience has led me to the greatest opportunity: a forced hard reset a chance to recalibrate, to clarify my values and to live by them. Above all I learnt first-hand the power of showing up - for oneself and for others - and to recognise the bravery it takes to vocalise vulnerability. For a cry for help is just that: a cry for help. When the proverbial tree falls in a forest it does make a sound, but then that sound is gone. If we fail to listen - by talking over them because we have all the answers, or dismissing their pain with exhortations to "think positive", or avoiding them because we "don't know what to say" - that person may never ask for help again. Stripped of voice and agency, they will fall, alone. It is so easy to do better - all we have to do is to truly see each other, and reach in so we can all stand tall, together. 

As I take tiny, tentative steps back out into the world, I can only think: whatever happens next, this education was worth it. 


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