My grandmother laid in her bed, curled up beneath a crocheted blanket, with plastic tubes connected a machine that loudly pumped oxygen. She had become so small I could wrap my hand around her thigh. I called to her a few times quietly, but her eyes were glazed to the TV like they had since I since I entered the room a few moments ago.
She was “the incredible shrinking woman”. Every time I had seen her in the last five years, it seemed as though she had shrunk a few centimetres. Since she had only peaked to 4’9 in her adulthood, her shrinking-ness seemed even more exaggerated. I outgrew her when I was just twelve years old, and towered over by the time I was fourteen.
My Grandma wasn’t sick, but she was sick with age. Her 92nd birthday had just passed not too long ago. She used to go to my house every Sunday evening as a sort of tradition; we’d turn on the TV to a golf game and pour her a glass of wine. She would eat a full plate of dinner, plus a little dollop of desert and end the night with a cup of tea. A few years back that tradition waned as her appetite decreased. Each time, her servings became smaller, her bites a little more conservative. And just over a year ago she had stopped coming altogether.
“Grandma,” I said again, coming closer to her bed.
Finally, she looked up and for a moment I thought she didn’t recognize me. And then a smile spread across her face. I saw a spark of something before she had gotten so small, like she had never started disappearing.
“Well,” she answered. “Look who we have here.”
The Incredible Shrinking Woman
Dorothy Link was born in 1925, just a bit younger than the Queen, just a bit younger than Betty White, and literally older than sliced bread. She orbited the sun 93 times, lived through the second world war, seen the moon landing on television, and to her demise, witnessed the creation of the cell phone.
I was born in 1996, and grew up on Sherry Lane, a few houses down from my Grandmother’s home. The same home my father and his siblings were raised in.
Sometimes I wondered if she would have ever expected to have had a granddaughter like myself. Throughout a good portion of my childhood, I switched between dressing Barbies, to looking at bugs through magnifying glasses in my basketball shorts. I put my elbows on the table, and talked back to my mother. And then, I hit my adolescence and got all of these opinions.
My Grandma didn’t grow up with much. She lived with her parents until she married my grandfather in her mid twenties. She was a mother and a wife, and then our family matriarch; sitting at the head of the table at each family gathering.
Topics of conversation never strayed too far from what was comfortable, but my Grandmother often asked my opinion about what was happening in the world and just the world itself.
We would often disagree but I think we both understood that it was because we had gained two different perspectives on the world – we were, after all, a product of our times.
While I was accepting of most things, she wasn’t accepting of all things; while she had seen so much, I had seen so little.
We were two women from two completely generations. But, almost every week before I moved away I’d go to her house with my Dad on Wednesday nights and share a pot of tea. As I got older she listened to me and my slightly radical opinions, toned down enough as to not give her a heart attack. And in exchange, I became less indifferent to her old, and sometimes repetitive, stories and started listening.
She told me…
She told me about her parents, who at times had barely enough money to feed their family as the result of the war, but did anything they could to give them the best life.
She told me about her father who used to drive down the county road to an apple orchard and load the back of his truck with baskets of its red fruit, and sold it to the families in their neighbourhood.
She told me how the kids at her school would call her a skeleton because sometimes she didn’t have enough to eat.
She told me she would be scolded after playing with the only black boy that attended her school, and never understand why until she got older.
She told me she met my grandfather at a her best friends house, and they danced in the living room until her curfew.
She told me one morning she got frustrated at my teenaged father, and while trying give him a little kick, he caught her foot and fell right on her bottom.
Most things my grandmother told me were stories I heard before. Sometimes she say them out the exact same way she always had, word by word as if it were a script. Sometimes she’d add little details that I hadn’t heard yet, layers upon the layers I would get a little picture that was her life.
“Bill always stayed up so late,” she said out of the blue, speaking of her late husband as she so often did – a grandfather who passed before I was born: “I’d always be asleep by the time he came to bed.”
Her speech faltered and paused, sometimes out of a daze and sometimes out of breath.
“Bill loved music,” my grandmother gushed. “I realized later, he stayed up listening to it… writing about it.”
I had spent the entire afternoon in her small room at the old age home, which had been more time I than in the last two years since I moved away to University.
Like with everything else – telling her to breath a little deeper, eat a little more, have one more sip of that drink – I pressed my grandmother for more; I hadn’t heard this story before.
The stories she told about herself, her husband and her kids now grown, felt like I was unlocking secrets about where I came from. Learning more about them felt like I was also learning more about myself.
I learned that something like the love of music could’ve been passed down from a man I never had the pleasure of meeting.
“Oh, he was such a good man,” my grandmother added. “A good husband.”
I smiled softly. I heard her say that many times.
Life and Death
In the time that I spent in her room, I thought about so many things. But I mostly thought about death.
And there she was still living. Clinging onto life in a body that was breaking down.
I cursed my pretentious adolescent self who thought she knew enough about life to have any idea about what happened after. Now, I felt like I know absolutely nothing.
I wondered if it was some sort of betrayal to have thought of her absence was she was still here. I tormented myself enough sadness for the weeks after I saw her that when she was actually gone I thought I wouldn’t have any left.
But that wasn’t the case. The news hit me a month later when I had reached some sort of plateau; enough time had occurred in between my last visit that my Grandmother was a worry I placed in the back of my mind.
I was at work and talking to a customer. I excused myself, let my heart unravel in bathroom.
Ironically, while experiencing her death, I thought about life. I thought of all the life she had lived in her 92 years and the small fraction of that I got spend with her.
She might’ve not done anything extraordinary, like win a Nobel Peace Prize or climb Mount Everest, but she impacted the lives of her loved ones in profound and subtle ways.
One thing about the “incredible shrinking woman” is that she was no small woman. Her personality, her snarky, hilarious comments and one liners filled the room. As did her laughter. But the biggest thing about her was her gratitude. Towards the life she was given, and the family that surrounded her.
Loss is an unfamiliar feeling to me, so while I figure that out, I’ll continue to save her seat at family dinners. And perhaps I’ll pour an extra inch of wine in my glass… in her name, of course.
Mainstream feminists seem to think that the be-all and end-all issue to fight is the wage gap. However, studies show that, for the most part, the wage gap exists but not for the reason that people typically think. It has less to do with women getting smaller paychecks than men in similar positions, and more to do with how many women are not going towards those high paying careers.
Again, this doesn’t mean that the wage gap is a myth. In fact, the recent annual data shows that women working full time in Canada still earned 74.2 cents for every dollar that a full-time male employee made. And in some cases, highly educated women aren’t getting paid as much as men who have the same, or even less, credentials.
The main flaws in those numbers, is that researchers don’t consider different employment choices between men and women, or the number of hours they work. Almost none of them take into account the pressures women have on childbearing, and how pregnancy and motherhood can detract from a woman’s employment status.
In summary, within the Western world, the wage gap isn’t actually just as result of rampant discrimination. This belief leads to governments attempting to aid the situation with affirmative action. Thus, many men plead in defiance that they work just as hard, and women’s wages are still stagnant. This means that the issue is much more complicated than that.
I wanted to know why.
Why are so many capable women avoiding those high paying jobs? There are countless reasons, and multiple online threads attempting to convince me that women simply don’t want to do those jobs, that they aren’t that good at bargaining for a better wage. While some I deemed completely laughable, others seemed quite fitting. The actual fault can be traced to the psychological effects of living in a legacy of women being excluded from professional spaces in the modern world. And the one that hit close to home for me, was the concept of Imposter Syndrome.
So, what’s Imposter Syndrome?
Individuals who have Imposter Syndrome, “experience intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and that they’re likely to be exposed as a fraud,” as written in a report created by the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
Mind you, this isn’t a gendered phenomenon. High achieving millennials and graduate students are plagued with this mindset no matter what gender they identify as. But it is inarguably and disproportionally afflicted by women – including myself.
My Experience with Imposter Syndrome
I found myself looking at the accounts written by female professionals, and connecting words that perfectly explained what I have been experiencing ever since I was a young adult. Like ever since I set foot on my university campus I have felt out of place amongst the academics and keeners who did everything on time and seemingly without flaw. Or when people offer me compliments, and tell me that I seem to have everything put together, I can’t agree with them. I immediately think of my messy room back home, the dirty dishes on my desk, and the piles of readings I have yet to finish.
In classrooms, where male students offer their opinions freely and confidently, I take time to repeat my answer over and over in my head until perfection, to the point where I still kind of stutter on my words, or the class has moved on to completely different discussion point.
I think about how social media has allowed me to curate a very edited version of myself; from the articles I share on Facebook, to the highly selective photos I’ve posted on my Instagram. Sometimes I am extremely thankful that I was born in an era where people can take a picture of themselves with the right lighting, angle, and dress so that those candids of double chins, belly bumps, or big foreheads don’t have to presented to the world. But then sometimes I scroll through my feed and feel like I’m lying to everyone. If one of those candids came to light, it isn’t that it’s an ugly representation of myself, but it’s actually the true version of myself.
There are even times where my friends send me links to entry-level summer jobs they think are a perfect fit, but I feel deep down there is a better candidate for those positions. So I don’t apply. I take away any chance of myself gaining more than minimum wage.
That, combined with my knack of belittling every achievement I have had, makes it seem like I simply have some poor self-esteem, except it feels like more than that.
It feels like I’ve built a small empire – of confidence, beauty, and success – on shaky infrastructure; a castle made of sand.
Why does it matter?
Imposter Syndrome is a complicated concept and it definitely cannot independently explain why women don’t allow themselves to go towards high paying careers. However, it should be examined much more than it is, when female law students, professors and CEOS “find innumerable means of negating any external evidence that contradicts their belief that they are, in reality, unintelligent.”
I do call on it when people condescendingly claim that the wage gap is a myth, or when people try to reason through that specific issue by explaining that women are just less ambitious. Both of those reasons are just examples of people attempting to continue the narrative that women are inferior.
I know I’m not. I know women aren’t, but I think we all have that voice in the back of our heads that makes us question our worth.
Back to the Wage Gap
While millionaire actresses and celebrities stand with signs in their hands about the wage gap, uneducated as to why it actually exists, it makes their fight seem unworthy, and often exasperating. Not only to they stand with misguided signs, but are probably standing next to images of pink vulvas with the thought that all women are connected by same genitalia, and not mention, are all probably white. These acts are excluding many people and specifically disregarding how the wage gap disproportionally affects women of colour.
It’s extremely difficult to live in a time where everyone feels like everyone else is living better. It’s also extremely difficult living in the legacy where women have been excluded from the work force and academic spaces. Hopefully, the end of that legacy is closer than we think.
It is important to note that issues such as these cannot only be explained with numbers. It the lived experience that should be taken to account as well.
And in the meantime, we should create a mantra when those dirty, little thoughts sneak into heads, repeating over and over, “I can, I can, I can.”
Just over a year ago, I read an article that changed my life.
Maria Yagoda, an author from The Atlantic, wrote about the generation of young women who have been living undiagnosed with ADHD. She explained that the disorder had been stereotyped, associated with the hyperactive young boys who disrupted elementary school classes. And the “women with the disorder tend to be less hyperactive and impulsive, more disorganized, scattered, forgetful, and introverted”, and they had been left wondering what was wrong with them.
Immediately, I was enamoured. My eyes were peeled to the screen, and I kept reading. It felt as though someone had been explaining exactly what I had been dealing ever since I could remember, and especially since I started University. And now, skipping to just over a year later, I’ve officially been diagnosed with ADHD.
The road to a diagnosis
Trust me, the process in being diagnosed was not easy. I spent the next few months letting the information sink in and wondered if I actually wanted to be tested. Why would when I had already managed to live an exceptional life without one?
But then I realized I wasn’t… not technically.
In Elementary school I blended in with the other kids who didn’t focus, drawing when I wasn’t supposed to, but never disrupting the class. My lack of responsibilities in my youth let me live carefree.
At home, my mother and I fell into arguments about daily tasks that she would remind me in numerous ways at the beginning of each day. Simple chores like unloading the dishwasher or putting my clothes away, would slip my mind by the time I got home from school. She thought I was entitled, and that I didn’t appreciate the life she had given me. It was hard to explain that small domestic tasks were something that did not come to me naturally, that forgetting was not something I intended to do.
High school was a solid four years of disengagement. At school, I would need more than both hands to count the times I was told by teachers that I would truly succeed, that I would excel, if I just focused. I sat at the back of class, doodling in the margins of my notebook or staring out a window twirling my hair, only looking up when my name was called or times when there was a discussion that sparked my interest. I left everything to the last minute but somehow managed to pull off straight A’s.
In University, I brought the same work ethic, but not the A’s.
I quickly realized I couldn’t write ten page papers worth thirty percent of my mark in one night – especially when I hadn’t done any of the mandatory, and tedious, readings.
The extremely structured schedule I cursed in high school was something I dreamed of having once again. Nothing was grounding me, and in the time that seemed free to use at my will was disposed of by wasting it.
My habit of hair twirling used to be cute, it was something I’d do when I was lost in thought and on the brink of sleep. Now, it transformed into something that I did compulsively, and obsessively. Something that people would stare at when we were conversing, or even told to stop doing at dinner tables, but a few short moments later my hands would crawl up and start twisting and pulling at that one unfortunate strand of hair.
The most frequent occurrence was when my mind drifted in the midst of conversations with professionals and friends. Staring them dead in the eye, nodding, irrelevant thoughts came to to the surface and suddenly the other person sounded like Charlie Brown’s parents. Then, they’d stop and I’d smile and nod as though I heard everything they were saying.
As a result of my inattentiveness, I was given the title of a bad listener, of not caring, of being irresponsible. My grades dropped to C’s and I gave off the impression of being apathetic, neglecting to remember coffee dates or birthdays, or important pieces of information. My undiagnosed ADHD symptoms were clouds, like overcast in my adolescence, and brewed into a storm in my early adulthood.
So no, to answer my earlier question, my life and my habits were not exceptional. For the life I wanted to live, and for everything I wanted to achieve in life, I needed the diagnosis.
The cost of a diagnosis
In the cold, desolate months of the Ottawa winter, my third year of University came to a predictable halt. Seasonal depression hit me like a brick amongst the impending stream of research essays, double digit negative weather, and the uploading of grades that really did not seem to match my level of my intelligence.
I found myself stuck, just like the last two years of school, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
I watched my friends and peers, with equal drive and ambition, start assignments, go to work on time, and balance their busy social life with punctuality and a “just do it” mentality.
Why couldn’t I just do it?
I laid in my bed, staring across the room at an unopened text book and a Word document with one finished sentence out of a ten-page paper that was due the following day. Next to it, was even more work, dirty dishes, and a pile of laundry that grew and grew with each following week.
It’s hard to explain how it feels living in a vicious cycle of inattentiveness. While there were other factors in my life that caused depression, there had always been a connection to its consistent arrival in the winter of each year, and my inability to achieve the success I wanted in all areas of my life.
It’s even harder to explain what I was experiencing to a medical professional, in the latest hours a clinic that was opened on a Saturday night.
That one, I think I might have ADHD.
And two, I’m depressed.
To which, the white haired man in a matching lab coat scoffed and said the two could never correlated. He scrawled a referral to a psychologist anyway, but it was only for depression.
I left that clinic feeling invalidated and angry, it almost stopped me from taking the next steps I needed. I was incredibly desperate for an answer, and some help, but all he gave me was condescension.
However, I went from referral to referral, using also my University’s tactless resources, and found myself in a place that seemed promising
The cost of ADHD is a shit ton of patience, people not believing you, six hours of strenuous psychological testing, a cheque with a price that I curse.
On May 4th 2017, I was handed some papers with my diagnosis. So, I guess it was worth it.
How can a piece of paper change one’s life?
A piece of paper didn’t change my life, at least it hasn’t yet.
It’s been over a week since my last appointment, and there are still countless steps that I need to take to get back on track.
While I live in a world that has a ticking clock for everything, I’m a twenty year old woman and I have to remind myself that I have time to figure everything out. It’s a world that define’s ones worth by their productivity, I hope to be patient as I work through habits built over a lifetime, and to know that, for know, its okay to just be okay.
I also have to remind myself that the diagnosis isn’t an excuse, and it doesn’t define me. It’s just a part of me, small but impactful on myself and other people in my life.
But I’ll just end for now by saying this: If you feel as though there is a barricade blocking you from the life you want to live, look into it no matter what it maybe. And for others, listen to them, and don’t invalidate the barricade’s existence.
~P.S. If you, or someone you know, has experienced similar things, here’s a link with more information ~
So, here I am, once again the last one to move out.
This very much mirrors our first year in residence; my last exam was on the last day, you, Ellen were already across the ocean touring Europe, and you Riss, were back home and settled with your boyfriend. I sat in the middle of your empty room that had I spent countless minutes in like it was my own. I stared at the empty walls where pictures and posters once hung, I stared at naked beds usually unmade with you in them, and heard a quiet that was so loud.
History repeats itself in more ways than one.
I’m not that sentimental in person, so when you two were packing up I had not yet realized what was happening. It hadn’t hit me. Slowly, I watched this apartment disappear, piece by piece.
I’m a very habitual person, so it was in those moments when I wanted to watch The Office and wait for one of you to come out and watch it with me, or when I wanted to go knock on your door to tell you something about about my day – it was in those moments that I started realizing that I was moving out of my very first apartment, and moving away from two of some of the most important people in my life.
I could write about a million things and more. But I just want to say thank you.
Thank you for everything: the good and the bad, the clean and the messy, the loud and the quiet…
Thank you for growing with me, not in the same direction, but at my side. We definitely aren’t the same people when we first met, and were aren’t the same people when we moved into this apartment.
Thank you, Ellen, for craving sugar as much as I did. For the walks to Shoppers for gummy bears makeup-less and dawned in sweats. For filling the silence with laughter (at my lame jokes) and also allowing the silence to be comfortable. And just showing me that a young woman can work her ass off and truly be completely independent.
Thank you, Riss, for listening. To my weird theories and stories, and my troubles with boys. For saving a spot at the end of your bed for me sit comfortably as I exchanged words with you. For setting an example on eyebrow etiquette, and just showing me that being a good person is far better than having a disingenuous exterior.
And thank you, to both of you, for being a pain in my ass at times. I’ll miss that.
I learned so much: how to be a good roommate, how to compromise, and while I already knew how to be a good friend, you guys really reinforced it.
However, I have to admit, I’m kind of scared. I have lived with my parents, and then I lived with you – that is all I know. While I know we will manage without our rooms not longer being separated by paper thin walls, it’s just that it’s mind boggling to know I won’t be in your vicinity. And to see you will not just be a knock on your door, but a bus trip away.
If I’ve learned anything my adulthood, it’s that relationships take effort. I’ve made mistakes in my past and promised an unlucky few that I would continue to text and call, but then it stops, and we drift away. So, I expect both of you to know that I will be inviting myself over quite often.
I hope both of you do the same.
P.S. Shout out to whomever made the only blonde girls on our floor first year share a bathroom. This wouldn’t have happened without them.
P.S.S. Ellen, you forgot a bunch of your stuff, can I sell it on Kijiji?
In light of International Women’s Day last week, I have a few thoughts:
I think too often I’m afraid to call myself a feminist, not because I’m fearful of the reputation I might get when I defend the rights of women and encourage feminine liberation, but because the word is now being associated with something that I do not consider feminism.
Think of Lena Dunham, and her show Girls: four white women living in New York City off of the privilege and wealth their parents earned, and walking through life with the word “victim” written on their foreheads.
Think of Taylor Swift, who’s built her career off of being “America’s Sweetheart,” a victim of bullying by an “angry black man,” and someone who’s built a strange inner circle of thin, white, supermodels in a celebrity feud veiled by the name of girl power.
Think of Emma Watson, who has every right to defend her choice in sparing a bit of cleavage in a Vogue photoshoot, however failed to come to the defense of her female colleagues and women of colour, namely Beyoncé, when they have made that choice in the past.
But also think that because these women have put themselves on a pedestal, and allowed their names to be followed by the word “feminism,” they now experience incessant criticism that their male counterparts will never experience. And I am guilty of this criticism.
I am a white woman who has come from an upper-middle class family in Southern Ontario. Going to university was not something I necessarily I had to work for—it was expected of me. I fully understand that my fair complexion, blonde hair and blue eyes are seen as the epitome of Western beauty. I compare how people treat me to how they treat my friends of colour, and there is no denying that there is an exponential difference.
I believe I experience sexism, from boys not understanding what the word “no” means, to being cat-called as I walk down a main street in Ottawa, to having someone mansplain something to me at a dinner table. While some will stick with me for the rest of my life, most of them are just small annoyances. Annoyances I hope one day our future daughters won’t have to experience.
I do not believe I am oppressed, at least not to the extent of many women I know—women from other cultures and backgrounds and skin colours, to women who were assigned a different gender at birth, to even the boys who grew up desperately wanting to be feminine—and I refuse to walk with the likes of Dunham and Swift with the belief that I am constantly a victim of insistent oppression, when more often than not, my privilege makes my life a lot easier than most.
So, when it looks as though I am not coming to the defense of feminism, it is because the movement has changed in the blight of becoming mainstream, and it is something I find hard to associate myself with. I don’t think the movement should be funnelled down to putting aesthetically pleasing Redbubble stickers on the back of your Macbook Pro, or posting a poem from Milk and Honey on your Instagram. While the intention is great, feminism and International Women’s Day, are about so much more than that.
However, with the new president and the events that have taken place in south of the border, I think now more than ever it is important to defend feminism—even if you see flaws in the movement, and even if your voice shakes.