Neurodivergence in a busy city

Today I want to share one of my struggles with Bangkok in an effort to paint you an entire picture of my life here in this beautiful city. I also share it in hopes that if someone with neurodiversity wanted to do a PMSA programme, they would know that it IS possible with the right support systems in place! (Also, as a Psychology major, I find neurodiversity interesting) 

How does somebody who hates change adapt to living in a new city where the population is 2x the size of her entire country? Better than you’d think, actually. 

I joke about it, but in all seriousness, one of my current favourite artists once released a deluxe edition of her album that I listen to fairly regularly; but in doing so, she changed the order of all of the songs and added new ones. I don’t listen to that version because my brain hates the unpredictability of the new song order. On the rare occasion someone is driving me home, I get really upset if they take a different route than the one I usually do. The point here is that I HATE change with a vengeance, but Bangkok has helped me find an inner strength that has given me the tools to handle change.

Here in Bangkok, I don’t have a car to escape to, and I am in unfamiliar territory. I sleep in a different bed from the one that I am used to, and most weekends, I stay in a hostel or Airbnb in a different city as I travel Thailand on the weekends. These are all things that I knew would happen, but I had zero indication as to how I would handle this. 

As someone living with ADHD, living in Bangkok can be overwhelming at times. Today while talking to my neurodivergent co-worker in the local mall food court, I made mention that I was overwhelmed holding a conversation with them. I explained that while we were talking, there was somebody to our left loudly ordering food, there was a live performer behind us singing a popular English song, I could see someone to our right struggling to eat his noodles with chopsticks, and behind my co-worker, I could hear somebody scraping their plate with a knife as well as a blender going off. All of the above I was noticing all at once, and it was making it extremely difficult to hold a conversation with them. When I asked, “how do you cope with it?” they explained that neurodivergent people eventually just learn to block it out/ adapt in Bangkok. 

Some days have been better than others, but the constant barrage of noise, bright lights, and crowds can make it difficult to focus on even the simplest of tasks. Most times, when I step out of my apartment, I feel like I’m bombarded with too much information, and my brain struggles to filter out the distractions. When I’m walking down my street, I am literally Dug (the dog from UP!) thinking about something, but my brain goes “SQUIRREL!!” as I see one dart along the power lines above me.

The unpredictability of city life can also be a challenge for me. It’s hard to stick to a routine or schedule when there are so many unexpected events happening all around me. I might have planned to go to the local Big C supermarket, but then I see a street performer or a new store, and my mind is off in a different direction. On the weekends, I get so overwhelmed with the options of things to do in Bangkok that I find it hard to leave my apartment unless someone else suggests something. But I’m so incredibly lucky that I’ve made friends who recognise my neurodiversity and invite me out to do things with them! 

A personal hurdle I have encountered is food. The food here is very different to New Zealand (incredibly delicious! but still different), and when it is written in Thai without pictures, I am not able to figure out what stores have. Most menus include images, which has been so helpful! But often, menus are maximalist with lots of writing and bright colours, which overwhelms me, and at a certain point, I get frustrated with my inability to focus and give up. I have found that there have been a couple of days where I have walked around in search of food, but after getting overwhelmed, I have just given up and gone to the local 7/11 and purchased a cheese sandwich for 30 baht (1.40 NZD!). I have slowly figured out the Thai staple foods, though, and have taught myself what to look out for when I’m overwhelmed. My two FAVOURITE comfort dishes I will be learning once I get back home are Pad See Ew and Khao Soi (a northern dish recommended to me by my co-worker who grew up in Chiang Mai).

With the right support and coping mechanisms, it’s possible to not only survive but also thrive in a busy city with ADHD. I have been incredibly lucky to be placed with an internship where all the staff are neurodiverse, so they understand my struggle. Plus, it definitely makes for an interesting office environment!! One of the closest friends I have made in Bangkok is my co-worker who actually studied at the University of Auckland many years ago (can you believe we even have mutual friends??). They have gone out with me a few times now, both within and outside of work hours- showing me their favourite hidden gems in Bangkok! Being neurodiverse and having experience with New Zealand, they have a unique understanding and have helped me learn and become familiar with things that I otherwise would have been overwhelmed by. I definitely could not have made it through this trip without their help and the help of others who understand that sometimes I just get overwhelmed and need a little help.

Even though I am constantly overstimulated in Bangkok, and even though it has been a struggle sometimes, I do not have a single regret about really putting myself out there and coming on this internship. Neurodivergence anywhere is difficult, but I’ve found that I have overcome so much and have honestly thrived in Thailand! 

So with all that said… what do I say about neurodivergence in a busy city?

Yes, it is difficult. I had three meltdowns in my first weekend. BUT. I adapted, I grew, and I found strength in places I didn’t even know existed within me. It has helped me build relationships with my Thai co-workers as they have helped me navigate stressful situations, which for them are their everyday lived experiences. My experience in Thailand has been different to a neurotypical person, but I wouldn’t have it any other way <3

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