2021 felt like both the longest and shortest year ever. Year 2 of the pandemic. It all just felt like a blur:
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
This year, I decided to bring back my Year in Review format inspired by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.
James explains how he thinks about his Annual Reviews:
But it’s not just about looking back. A good Annual Review is also about looking toward the future and thinking about how the life I’m living now is building toward a bigger mission. Basically, my Annual Review forces me to look at my actions over the past 12 months and ask, “Are my choices helping me live the life I want to live?”
Here are the questions he asks himself every year:
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What did I learn?
The most recent time I did this was in 2019 and it was a worthwhile exercise.
So, let’s jump into it.
1. What went well this year?
🧠 I was diagnosed with ADHD
Most people wouldn’t categorize ADHD as what’s going well. But my ADHD diagnosis has been life changing.
I entered 2021 with a focus on Personal Growth. I’ve been struggling with my mental health and wanted to figure out how to deal with my adult dyslexia. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong with me.
Recently I saw an ADHD + dopamine post that made me feel SO SEEN — “This low level boredom is very hard to explain.”
Last year, when I wrote about my struggle with mental health, I shared: “I felt like I lost my passion for life. I felt numb to things going on around me, with my head in the fog and no clear day in sight.” If you asked my therapist, she would have told you I was depressed. In fact, many women with ADHD are often misdiagnosed with depression.
I was starting to feel scared that I would never feel satisfied in life. Over the years, I’ve relied on many unsustainable and unhealthy habits to feel satiated. Consuming everything in sight for a hit of dopamine ✨. I felt worried that I would have to keep “one-upping” any experience to continue to feel excited about life.
Now I know I have a neurological difference in my brain where I’m producing lower levels of dopamine. Because of this diagnosis, I’ve been able to logically explain why I’ve been feeling the way I feel. I’ve built a deeper understanding of how my brain works and my brain chemistry. Now that I know the source of the problem, I can take actionable steps to make things better.
I spent the last year revisiting past events with a new lens. There are stories in my life that never made sense. Now I understand how much I struggled with learning as a neurodiverse kid. I’m definitely not “lazy” or a “procrastinator”. I’ve been processing the trauma and rewriting stories about myself.
ADHD + dyslexia is the missing piece of a puzzle that I didn’t even realize I was trying to solve. It’s given me newfound clarity and hope for the future. Even though you may read some pretty unfiltered and honest thoughts here in this post, I’m feeling great. I’m sharing in case this helps anyone reading this.
If you’re looking for another Asian American ADHD story, this one by Dr. Lawrence Choy was really helpful for me.
👩🏻💻 I invested in my passion for content creation
Even though content wasn’t on my list of 2021 goals, I realized that I’ve made SO much progress in this area of my life.
- Launched my “freebie” Shelly’s Ultimate Guide to Cleanses. This is a free 63-page resource where I go over my two favorite food cleanses: the Clean Cleanse and Whole30.
- FINALLY gave in and migrated my blog from Blogger to WordPress. I figured if I wanted to be a serious blogger, it’s time I upgraded to a platform that most blogs use.
- Paid someone $62.38 on Fiverr to do the migration for me. This is a HUGE money mindset change for me. I usually have such a hard time paying someone to do something that I can do myself. But time is money people – and if I am serious about content creation, I need to work smarter not harder. Outsourcing one-time tasks is very smart and I’m glad I did it.
- Invested in Christina Galbato‘s Influence to Empire mastermind. I started the year thinking a lot about how I should start blogging again. Christina’s webinar funnel worked on me! I saw her Facebook ad for her blogger workshop in January, and by February I knew I needed to join her mastermind. I knew 2021 would feel a lot like 2020, so it was important to inject some new energy into my life. Because of her program, I got the support I needed to refresh my content creation skills. It was motivating to be in a community of female entrepreneurs during year 2 of this isolating pandemic.
- Learned how to use more creator tools: Adobe Premiere, Lightroom. I also got exposure to a lot of new online web tools — Slack (lol, Google doesn’t use Slack ok?), Canva, Loom, Asana, Airtable, Notion and Hemingway App.
- Started posting on Instagram again, although I still have a love hate relationship with Instagram.
- Started posting on TikTok — 😱 — realized I love making video content.
- Started posting on YouTube — really coming full circle here #shorts.
- Landed my first brand sponsorship with Lo & Sons, a brand I’ve supported for years ❤️.
💯 I received my first “Superb” rating after 10 years at Google
I hit my 10 year Googleversary in May 2021 then got my first “Superb” rating in Q4. 💁🏻♀️
Superb is the highest rating you can get in a performance review at Google. It’s very rare so it’s only given when you’re doing REALLY well at work.
I felt so emotional hearing this rating from my manager because I was feeling SUPER burnt out. We were all short staffed, going through a pandemic and working hard to make a huge shopping launch happen. Mentally, I know that this rating is well deserved, and it came to me at the perfect time.
Emotionally? Well, that’s a different story.
Even though I was working my ass working on this project, I felt like I was dropping balls left and right. There was a never ending pile of work. I felt like I wasn’t doing ENOUGH.
I talked to my cognitive behavioral therapist about my performance anxiety. It turns out our performance review process primed my mind to constantly think about what I’m doing wrong.
For the last 10 years, I’ve asked peers for written feedback twice a year. As mandatory feedback, they have to share one thing that I’m doing well, and one thing that I can improve on. Through the years, I’m left anticipating what I’m doing wrong. I’m wondering… what MIGHT a teammate write as my “needs improvement”.
I start making up these stories about areas where I’m not good enough. This fixation on negative feedback is unhealthy. I’m already doing a Superb 💯 job, WTF else do you want from me? We can’t be perfect human beings.
The stupid thing is I know perf reviews are bullshit. As best practice, you ask different people each cycle. After 2-3 cycles, I run out of people who I actually care to get feedback from. People also don’t have time to spend on giving REALLY good feedback. So, I know most people spend less than 5 minutes to come up with what they want me to do better.
As much as I understood how this is all bullshit, I can’t help but feel so emotional about it. So yea… that’s the story behind my Superb rating. 🙃
🏝 I spent more time with friends & family
Since J works at the hospital, we felt pretty paranoid most of 2020 that we could give it to our family & friends. So it was nice when we got vaccinated and I got to spend time with more family and friends.
I really enjoyed spending more time with my parents, I even got my mom to record some of her favorite recipes with me:
@shellyinreallife an easy weeknight dinner: enoki tofu omelette #fypシ #foodtiktok #vegetarianrecipe #healthyathome #summer #easyrecipe #tofurecipe
We also went on a travelling spree – went to Palm Springs, Hawaii, Tulum, Spain and NYC 3x. I loved reconnecting with our friends during travel because we get to spend extra time together. It was much needed.
🏡 We’re ALMOST done with our home renovations
“Your house seems to always be under renovations.” – Yes. It really does feel that way. Even as I’m writing this now, our home is 99.9% done after a whole year.
I texted our contractor yesterday and he said he tested positive for omicron so… 🙈 I’m putting this as “what went well” this year, because I’m looking at all this from a lens of glass half full.
In the grand scheme of things, I feel lucky that our general contractor even took on our job. There was a massive shortage of contractors during the year, and our job was relatively small (Less than 6 figures is considered small). As a result, it was difficult for him to get sub contractors to come to this job since the job is peanuts compared to the other huge jobs they’re doing.
To cut down on the budget, I took on a few projects on my own (with my dad’s help), and what we couldn’t do, we got the contractor to work on. Ultimately, we finished the floors for the whole house, my office is set up, we’ve set up new doors in our backyard, AND finished a surprise bathroom renovation when we found out that there was mold in the walls.
I’m excited for the day when I don’t have to keep tabs on when they’re coming to work on the house. <– this has been VERY taxing on my executive function skills
🙌🏻 I built better habits by going through my monthly challenges
I had a list of monthly challenges that I wanted to tackle and I actually did most of them:
“I think challenges are good for my dyslexic brain. It’s a good way to keep me focused on ONE thing to do every single day for a month. It helps keep it fresh and motivates me to make incremental progress. The daily action will hopefully help build some better habits to come!”
As it turns out, my issues with getting bored with routine is an ADHD problem, not dyslexia 😝.
Either way, I wanted to trick my brain into adopting better habits. Picking one thing to focus on each month, and saying that it was a “challenge” worked pretty well. Found out that I usually lose interest by around day 21. But let’s put it this way, 3 weeks of doing a good thing isn’t bad!
Ones I completed ✅
- 2L Water Daily
- No Alc Month
- Vegetarian Month
- 10K Steps a Day
- Burpee, squat, swing – kettlebell ladder
Insight: The ones that required very little planning got done. All of these are food or workout related. If I do this again in the future, monthly challenges are really good for stopping bad habits, but starting new ones I’ve never done before is harder.
Ones I’ve adopted into my daily routine 👍🏻
- Daily Workout
- Daily Yoga
- Daily Meditation
- Read for 30 minutes a day
Insight: So I actually didn’t really complete this monthly challenge the way it was intended. I realized in October I did none of these challenges, so I just did all of them at once. 😅 Nothing like the end of the year to pressure you into completing new year goals.
Ones I skipped 🙈
- Decluttering ladder (Get rid of 1 thing per day, build up to 30 things a day)
- Clean 15 mins a day
- Organize Photos for 10 mins a day
Insight: Common advice is to do a little a day to make things as easy as possible. Doing a decluttering latter SEEMED good in theory. But as I continued learning about ADHD, I realized that doing a little a day is not for me. I now understand that to battle my issues with clutter, I need to take the following steps in cleaning sprints:
- Physically draw out a plan (so I know exactly where I want to put things when I feel motivated)
- Make decisions ahead of time on how I’ll handle certain items, put things (less time using brain for when I clean)
- Wait until things get so messy that I can’t handle it anymore
- Use my annoyed feeling to hyperfocus to clean as much as possible for as long as I can
- If I don’t finish, go back to step 3… 😅
2. What didn’t go so well this year?
🤬 Anti-Asian Hate Crimes
There was a long period in 2021 when there was daily incidents of Anti-Asian hate crimes across the US. It started around February, during Lunar New Year. All the violence felt so senseless and I was scared for myself, my family and friends and my fellow Asians.
I’m too emotionally drained to expand on this topic much more. But this took a toll on my mental health. I questioned society at large and it made me very upset how very few people gave a shit it was happening.
The only positive thing that came out of this is it is a reminder for me to continue to double down on embracing my Asian culture.
😬 Work/life balance and burn out
Did I already mention I was burnt out? Well, somehow I felt even MORE burnt out than I felt in 2019.
We know that it’s very difficult to stay engaged and motivated during the pandemic. “Our brains are not built for this much uncertainty.”
I’ve come to realize that I need human interaction and connection to stay engaged on a project. I work well when we have in-person sprints where we come together to build a project plan. The time that you spend with teammates outside of a meeting is when the REAL work gets done.
Two years without this type of interaction is hard. Things got a bit better in November/December when I started to see coworkers in real life again. We’re starting to develop post-pandemic norms again, but we got more done in those few days than we did in months.
🤷🏻♀️ Missed the mark on my fitness & weight goal
Whenever I’m stressed at work, the FIRST thing to go is my nutrition and fitness hygiene. When I’m tired after work, I’m craving comfort food. And when you’re tired, who has time to workout or cook?
One of my main goals in 2021 was to hit my fitness & weight goal. I remember feeling so down last December. The pandemic left me feeling like a potato and questioning how I was going to get out of my rut. So I started the year with Noom, a weight loss program that targeted me with a million ads so I gave in. What’s the worse that could happen right? I knew I needed something outside of my own motivation to get me started.
I even started a new IG account to keep track, “Fitshow Shelly”, my fit persona. 😂
By February, I already lost 10 lbs, I was feeling pretty good. But February also made me question everything I thought I knew. Somewhere between the anti-asian hate crimes, being diagnosed with ADHD, I decided to screw it all.
I was on a journey to find myself again and my diet was not a priority anymore. This is how I ended up being the heaviest I’ve ever been, more than when I started last December. But, I’m happy to say that this time around, I feel emotionally full. I’ve dug into all the trauma that got me here in the first place. Which brings me to my next point…
🧑🏻⚕️ I tried to get diagnosed for Adult Dyslexia & ADHD
I’ll start by saying that I’m very lucky to have the support of Google’s mental health programs. Trying to get diagnosed was relatively easy and painless, and none of this was a financial decision.
I empathize with anyone who’s going through a similar journey and don’t have this level of support. I wanted to share my experience in case it’s helpful information. I’ve tried looking for this information online and it’s hard to come by.
Back in 2019, when I first figured out I was dyslexic, I told some friends about it. Most people told me that I should see a psychiatrist about it, but I was not ready to do that at the time.
See: Why going to a psychiatrist isn’t one of the first steps to processing this
But this year, as I shared more about my struggles with Dyslexia, someone asked me if I got an official diagnosis. I was ready to revisit this thought. To me, it felt like a formality that didn’t matter. But, going through this process helped reconfirm what I thought I knew. Now I can confidently say, yes, I did consult an expert on this. In fact, I talked to FOUR different experts this year:
- A learning disability psychologist
- A psychiatrist who prescribes ADHD meds
- A close friend who’s a psychiatrist
- A cognitive behavior therapist
Getting diagnosed for Adult Dyslexia
I started the process by e-mailing Lyra, the mental health provider for Google. I told them I wanted to get diagnosed for dyslexia. They shared a list of psychologists that had “learning disabilities” as their specialty.
This psychologist confirmed that he could not diagnose adult dyslexia. There’s no test that will help confirm it for an adult who can now read and process language. If I wanted to get diagnosed, I can go into a clinic and attach my brain to a machine. This machine could map how I responded to different cognitive activities. That seemed pretty excessive to me, so that was the end of my “official” attempt to get diagnosed for dyslexia.
Even though he couldn’t diagnose me for dyslexia, he said he can do an ADHD diagnosis on me since I mentioned ADHD. I recently learned that there’s a high association between ADHD and learning disabilities. So, he used the DSM 4 ADHD screener on me and officially diagnosed me with combined type ADHD.
As we continued our sessions, I learned that my psychologist didn’t know much about ADHD. I spent 4 sessions total with this psychologist. He helped me understand my childhood memories and related it to learning disabilities. But he did not have tactics for how to help my dyslexia/ADHD.
Even though I knew I wasn’t making much progress with him, I felt hesitant to end the sessions. I built a good rapport with him, and he was still helpful. Finding a good therapist is like being in a relationship, you have to cut it short if you don’t think it’s working.
I recall one decisive moment that made me realize it was time to move on. During our last therapy session, he pulled up an ADHD website to reference on things I could try. As he read the contents of the website to me, I laughed to myself because I already read the website months ago. I asked him if he read any of the books he was recommending to me.
He told me no… 🤔 So that was the end of that.
Getting a prescription for ADHD Meds
During one of my vulnerable times during this year, I decided that if I had adderall, I could get more work done. After all, college students who don’t have ADHD also use adderall to be more productive. Why can’t I?
My learning disability psychologist (someone who doesn’t prescribe meds) could not prescribe meds. So I found a way to get access to an online psychiatrist (someone who prescribes meds) through our internal Google network. Side note: my dyslexic brain never remembers the difference between the two.
I was able to schedule a same day appointment. WOOHOO. This seemed too good to be true. Many friends have told me it’s easy to get access to ADHD meds since many docs prescribe it like candy, but this seemed TOO easy?
I spent 30 minutes explaining to this psychiatrist why I thought I had ADHD. She said, okay, here’s a prescription to Strattera, a daily nonstimulant ADHD medication. I asked her if I can take an as needed stimulant medication like Adderall or Ritalin. Turns out, she’s based in NYC, and out of state psychiatrists can’t prescribe stimulants.
So much for that. But as I mentioned, I was feeling particular vulnerable that day so…
Getting advice from a close friend who’s a psychiatrist
The moment I received a daily medication prescription, I felt hesitant. I questioned how much I needed ADHD meds. Do I really want to rely on medication for the rest of my life?
There are many stories of people taking meds for ADHD, and it becomes life changing for them. But, a daily med is a huge commitment.
In a desperate attempt to get a non-biased 3rd party opinion, I called J’s close friend. In our 10+ years of friendship, we never talked on the phone before. So when I reached out, I’m positive he knew I was desperate.
Like a good psychiatrist, he listened to me for over 30 minutes and he asked me a simple question.
👨🏻⚕️ He asked:
Shelly, do you have issues getting motivation and focused on other aspects of your life? No? You’re able to do things? Then your problem with is likely situational.
Mic drop. 🎤
After he dropped some knowledge, I asked:
So, how many friends have hit you up for free therapy like this? (I needed to know I wasn’t the only one lol)
He said, you know… honestly, only my friends with ADHD. 😂
😭 I cried in therapy for 3 weeks straight
If you’re THIS far down the post, then I’m guessing that reading this post has been therapeutic for you. Thanks for being here.
It’s time for shit to get real. I never want anyone looking at my life and only see the highlight reel. Between all the accomplishments and “what went well”, I was STRUGGLING mentally. I can’t think of a time when I’ve cried so much in the middle of a work day, just feeling all the feelings.
I decided at the time that I should try my best to try EVERYTHING ELSE before I started to take ADHD meds.
I read that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was helpful, so I wanted to see how it could help me.
This time around, I interviewed my therapist before I continued sessions with her. I asked her if she had experience working with patients with ADHD and what she knew about it. She was very knowledgable about ADHD so I felt more confident working with her.
During our first three weeks together, I was a mess and cried every single session. It’s not like I enter these therapy sessions thinking, “Oh, I’m going to have a good cry today.” But as my therapist asked me questions, and I opened up about my feelings, the tears came like a waterfall. What did I cry about? All the things I talked about above: ADHD, performance reviews at Google and Anti-Asian hate crimes and fear for my family’s safety.
I still remember our first therapy session where I didn’t cry. It felt like an accomplishment! Looking back at this time, I would say that I was really at an emotional rock bottom. But things had to get ugly before it got better.
3. What did I learn?
💫 The magic of cycle-syncing
If it was not clear by now, my ADHD diagnosis has been transformative. But, something else that really resonated with me this year was learning about cycle syncing.
During my ADHD research, I read that ADHD is impacted by hormonal fluctuations. When surveying the ADHD women community, many women share that their ADHD symptoms worsen leading up to their periods.
In a world where we’re constantly fighting for gender equality, I never wanted to blame my behavior on “PMS”, something that is so innately feminine. Yet, as I started tracking my period to map to times when I felt the least focused and unable to do anything at all, it had a strong correlation.
Before I made this connection mapping my ADHD to my cycle, I wrote this IG post about me on a good day vs me on a bad day.
View this post on Instagram
📸 J will never be a Instagram husband
After all these serious & heavy topics, here’s a fun one.
I’ve learned that J will never be an IG husband. 😅 J was a really good sport this year and we really gave it our best shot on our first 2 trips this year. I quickly realized that trying to get J to take nice pics for me for the sake of #content is going to ruin our marriage.
✈️ I don’t like being a travel blogger
After I gave up on my dream of J being an IG husband, I continued on my creative journey. As it turns out, just as J will never be a IG husband, I don’t like being a travel blogger. 😱
On the surface it makes sense. I love travelling. I love wearing cute clothes. But spending my time travelling making content is not an activity that fulfills me.
I’m happy that I spent two trips really seeing what it would be like. First on a girls trip to Tulum, I spent every single day with my bestie taking fun aesthetic shots. Then, I spent one morning with some girls from the mastermind doing a photoshoot around NYC.
It’s super fun to get dressed up and take cute pics, but I enjoy being the photographer rather than being the subject. So don’t be surprised if I continue to trickle in shots from 2021 for the rest of this decade. Otherwise, it’s quick mirror selfies or food pics from here on out 👍🏻
🤖 We’re giving platforms a lot of ownership over our work
Earlier in the year, FB went down for almost an entire day, and everyone freaked out.
As a consumer, FB owns my main communication tools: IG, FB messenger, and WhatsApp.
As a content creator, many in the community worried about losing a day’s worth of income from a loss of leads.
It made me realize that I spent the majority of my year making content on Instagram. While I made some videos on TT and YT, a lot of my written content was on IG. I wasn’t even posting them to this blog because “who reads blogs anymore?!”
Well, I had a come to Jesus moment with IG this year. In October, Instagram completely locked me out of my account. It was a system bug. But, just like that, I completely loss access to all the relationships I built and the content I created.
This bug lasted for 1.5 months, and it made me reevaluate my opinion on content platforms. Luckily, I have friends who work at FB/IG, so someone filed a bug for me to get my issue fixed. This time out seared a lasting impression on how I should create and distribute my content in the years to come.
🏃🏻♀️ Life is not a marathon, it’s a series of sprints
We’ve all heard the saying before: “Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” I don’t know about you but thinking about life as a marathon feels EXHAUSTING to me. I feel like I’m only at mile 3 and I’m ready to just pull over to take a nap. 😴
So, when I heard this reframe in Power of Full Engagement: “Life is not a marathon, it’s a series of sprints”, I had an A-HA moment.
The book went in depth about balancing energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal. That’s how top athletes maintain their peak performance — they train for a designated amount of time (a sprint) to prep for their season of peak performance. After their sprint period, they get a long period of rest.
Our society today is so caught up with hustle culture and productivity. I don’t love how the internet has created this vicious cycle of consumption.
It’s not lost on me that I work at Google and YouTube — two key enablers for this cycle of consumption.
I think if I have to put words to why I’ve been so resistant to taking medication for ADHD, it’s for this very reason. I don’t want to take medication to be more productive. Maybe ADHD is my superpower. It helps me detect what truly matters and intuitively feel what doesn’t. Taking a pill to bypass that intuition does not make sense to me. Especially if it’s to be MORE productive at work? (See: I got a superb rating at work this cycle.)
Just FYI, ADHD is not a disorder of attention deficiency. If you’ve read down to the post here, you’ll notice I don’t have an inability to maintain my attention on something I care about.
ADHD just makes it VERY hard for me to care about what I don’t care about. I have lower levels of dopamine, so my motivation is low for things I don’t find interesting. It enables me to intuitively know what is boring for me and reminds me when it’s time to take a break.
On to 2022!
Wow, 2021 has been a transformative year. Through this tough time, I’ve taken inventory of my last 35 years and now I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for who I am. I uncovered a lot of buried trauma and feelings. I guess that’s why they say the darkest hour comes just before dawn.
If you read this and resonated with my stories, please do make a comment, send me a private DM. Don’t be a stranger, I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for being here and following along. ❤️