We laid side by side under the covers, close enough so that I could feel her trembling.
Sleepovers were a common attribute to our friendship, and continued even through our transition through adolescence. They usually took place at her house. This time it was at mine.
There was a year and a half gap between the two of us, and the older we got, the smaller the bed seemed to get and the bigger that gap seemed to become. Sometimes it felt like I was slowing down my pace so she could keep up. Not with walking, but with everything else.
She was scared, like she always was after scary movies. And I felt guilty. I was used the terror they induced, but was able to convince myself there wasn’t a monster under the bed, no matter how much it felt like there was.
Her mom was ever-present. Her mom redecorated the house every few months, and she stopped to talk to people at grocery stores; she had time and spent most of it on her kids.
Her mom preserved my best friend’s innocence with a fervor, skipping over sex scenes in the movies we watched, swatting our heads when we said bad words, and bundling us up like the Michelin Man the moment the thermometer read negative.
It was an alien concept, attention. It was not something I’d commonly receive, at least to that degree. When I played with my best friend, I was also under the temporary care of a woman with lots of time. I’d drop off my stuff after school and immediately make my way over to their house. I wouldn’t ask for food, but I’d make rather obvious hints that I was hungry. But, it wasn’t just the food that I was there for, it was the conversation. Sitting on their kitchen island, grabbing handfuls of Goldfish crackers, sipping apple juice from straws, her mom would lean over on the other side and let us in on the neighbourhood gossip.
The bubble-wrapped kid and the latchkey kid. A 21st century friendship.
It sometimes felt as though my best friend’s mom knew me more than my own, but as I grew older I knew this wasn’t the case. My Mom went to work at a stressful job and came home to do her stressful paperwork. Time was a luxury my she did not have even for herself, and even if she wanted to give me more.
I looked over at my best friend who’s fear made her cry. Sometimes it felt like the responsibility of retaining her innocence was in my hands too. I would get glances from her mother that could only suggest that she was aware I knew more than I was letting on. Thinking of the look I got when I’d let it slip I didn’t believe in Old Man in Red when I was eight years old made avoid a similar conversation three years later when I stopped believing in the Old Man in the Sky.
I didn’t have hard life, not at all, but when I came home from school, I didn’t have anyone tall enough to close the blinds; I learned how to get a chair and grab the box of cereal on the top shelf; I watched the war torn news because it was my thumbs pressing the buttons on the remote.
Some part of me wondered if my best friend knew how lucky she was, but as I watched her trembling, I didn’t know if lucky was the right word.
I reached out grasped her trembling hand in my steady one, and stayed awake until she fell asleep.
I often envision myself in the middle of a history textbook, taught forty or fifty years from now to disbelieving high school students. I imagine that future youth reading the sometimes ridiculous, sometimes catastrophic histories with a better understanding of the events than I do now.
An infamous real-estate mogul and reality television star elected as President of United States of America; an ever-changing climate growing increasingly chaotic with each change of the seasons; racial disparities sprouting riots on the streets of cities; two imbeciles across oceans with hands over a red nuclear button. Wars leading millions of people to different parts of the world in the hope they can find a new home. The list goes on, and on, and on.
The future youth will have the luxury of looking back at a distance. Right now, it’s almost though I wake up each morning to an alarm on my phone, along a notification from the world’s most recent tragedy.
I am also studying it, analyzing the world and these intricacies in real time.
Professors who are there to prepare us for the real world, to make us productive citizens and fine attributes to the workplace, are simultaneously making us question every layer of society and the systems the expect us to work for.
All the while, our lives keep going. Classes still need to be attended, work still has us on the schedule. Friends are there, and then they are not. Family gets older.
Cynicism, despite my lack of trying, has seeped into my daily life. It’s hard to find motivation to keep going in a world that insistently tries to tell us not to.
And honestly, it’s difficult to envision a future. The one thing I know about the future is that it’s shrouded in uncertainty.
So, in the least preachy way possible, I’ve compiled a small list of things to do when that uncertainty seems to overpower everything else you’re doing in life. These things aren’t the typical “stay positive” or “eat healthy” advice on most “How-To-Be-Resilient” think pieces all over the internet. And, I say “least preachy” because my sermon would be like the sick healing the sick – I’m also doing this as a reminder to myself.
Look for someone wise words.
There might be someone in your life – an eccentric aunt, the old man next door, your old piano teacher, or a professor who moved you with her words – someone who seems to know a bit more about life than you do.
Reach out one of them.
At this age, we know so much about the things we are studying and using concepts that our parents haven’t ever heard of. But we might be coming home to dirty dishes in the sink, an unmade bed; you might have not called your parents in a while, or are in a fight with the person you’re dating; or you might’ve not been able to eat a home cooked meal since Thanksgiving.
Whatever it is, your twenties can give you a whole lot of life, but no credentials to know how to deal with it.
That person doesn’t have to have white hair and nearly a hundred years under their belt. it could even be your Mom – while she doesn’t understand some of the things you’re passionate about, I’m sure she could give you a hefty list of relationship advice, as well as an easy recipe to make from her Pinterest account.
Consider un-burning those bridges.
Perhaps it’s that little bit of Catholicism left in me from a lifetime ago, but I have found one of the keys to my inner peace has been forgiveness.
It could be a person, event or thing; some girls who bullied you in elementary school, a friend that turned sour and never figured out why, a neglectful parent…It’s amazing how good it feels to let go of the resentment. Hatred, regret, betrayal, all of these things that can sit in you like toxic lead.
There’s already enough happening in the world that can poison us, it’s unhealthy to harbour such feelings from our own lives. If you can let go, do just that.
And I know, somethings can’t be forgiven. You can forgive someone or something for the sake of shoving the weight off your shoulders, with no intention of letting them re-enter your life. Sometimes forgiveness isn’t a selfless act, it’s a selfish act.
Out of sight out of mind?
My parents may have read too many articles tying a connection to phones and the increase of anxiety and depression in college students.
They might be right, I’m often distracted by my cellphone, and find myself worrying too much about the content I chose to share and what people might think of it.
I’m consistently disappointed by the news I read and misinterpreting the things my friends text on a daily basis.
Realistically, turning off your phone just isn’t likely. It’s our main form of communication, professionally and personally. Getting a notification has the same psychological response as someone calling your name. You have to look.
Your phone is a window to the world, and even though it’s an amazing tool that to have access to, it doesn’t mean it needs to be used every waking moment. I’m not saying you should feign ignorance and look the other way at what’s happening in the world, because to me, ignorance isn’t bliss. I’m simply saying that, for a few moments of the day, it’s okay if you don’t look at your phone.
Problems have solutions, look for one.
I know people who face troubles and their main solution is to not deal with it, to run away and never look back. I often wonder if that works out for t
hem in the end, because I question its long term effectiveness.
I mean, we could all pretend a problem doesn’t exist. But each problem can become a wound that festers.
Looking back, I realize that I’ve faced most conflicts with the desire to settle it. Not going to bed angry, as my Mother would say. Sometimes you have to
re-break bones in order for them to heal properly.
But what if that problem is something that’s bigger than a falling out with a friend, or a class that you’re bound to fail? Something that seems so far out of your reach, that the only thing that can settle in
the pit of your stomach is hopelessness?
Something like one of those things your professor mentioned that kept you up at night.
Every problem has some sort of solution, but not all solutions fix the problem. They heal it.
Finally, just take a deep breathe.
Our generation hasn’t been dealt a fair hand, but we’re often blamed for some of society’s downfalls. Our mid-life-crisis have become quarter-life-crisis, and then we are accused of not being resilient.
I think we are quite the opposite. Considering the hand we have been dealt, we are the first generation to finally address things past generations have been sweeping under the carpet. That should be proof of our resilience in itself.
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from something that hurt. I think I am resilient despite the fact that stress sometimes overpowers my life. I have to let everything that happens sink in, I need to feel it, so that I can move on and deal with the rest of the world.
Putting one step in front of the other, you focus on one thing at a time until you’re ready to move on to the next one, and know that not all things can’t be solved at once.
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 ~
A writer’s job is to create characters and worlds that are inspired by the world they live in; to delve into the mind and see how their cogs and gears turn. It’s a naturally empathetic hobby. But how do these ideas mesh in our world which is so upturned by issues like identity politics, or high tensioned racial disparities? How can a middle aged woman get into the mind of a young boy in a wizarding world? And how could a white man get into the mind of a black woman residing in the south side of Chicago?
Growing up, I’d always work on these impressively complicated soap opera-like plots in worlds that were even more complicated. I’d make these characters that were so deeply thought out they seemed like my friends. But in my teenage years I realized that all of the stories and people I created were white. And by white I mean incredibly White.
YA and its obsession with paleness
In Twilight, Stephanie Meyer found every way to describe Edward’s deathly pale skin, and I found it really interesting for some reason. It found its way into my own writing, describing characters from translucent pale, to peachy, and sometimes tan.
Hermione Granger being described in the Philosopher’s Stone as having: “lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth”, led a generation of young women of colour to rightfully assume that she probably looked like them. As a reader, I would read of how every character was described, and despite lacking descriptions of skin colour or race, I’d almost always assumed they were white.
Diversifying my own writing
As a writer and and a reader I began to challenge myself. I wanted to diversify the worlds I was creating and reading. For the latter, it wasn’t hard. While reading the Hunger Games it seemed positively certain to me that Katniss was supposed to be a woman of colour with black hair, grey eyes and olive toned skin. However, for writing it was much more difficult.
It’s not so much that I was forcing myself to create diversity in my own writing, I was actually keen on creating stories that diverged from the majority of fiction, television and film that were white. I wanted the stories to reflect my own life and my own friends that had changed when I moved to a larger and more diverse city. But I realized I was breaching into territory that was not my own.
Much like formative years, I was creating stories and worlds that were incredibly endeavouring. I was trying to write stories about people from walks of life and from perspectives I couldn’t actually fathom. Some people’s lives, real or not, take more than the imagination.
When writing in the first person perspective, one has to have confidence in what they’re narrating. They have to do their research. But how can someone like me research the lived experience of a black man, a muslim woman, or a transgender teen?
The answer is, I don’t think I can. It’s just not my place.
So… what’s the solution?
White people just can’t write in the perspectives of people that don’t look like them? I’m not sure if that makes sense. The lack of diversity in the world of fiction, on screen and off, is a problem. Encouraging a white-dominated field to only write within their demographic would create a bigger divide and even less representation.
Third person is a great compromise; writing as spectator, as someone watching but not entirely knowing.
But most importantly, it’s not about encouraging the white dominated field of fiction to diversify their protagonists, but to encourage more people of colour to write their own stories, and for them to create their own characters and worlds that are inspired by the realities they live in.
Empathy in Readers
A Cambridge University study by Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education, said that: “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think”.
I credit my knack of reading from an early age to my ability to effectively empathize. One is stepping into another’s shoes when they read from another person’s perspective. It comes to no surprise that the people who read on their free time in their formative years ended up following movements like feminism, and stay attuned to other similar social issues.
By encouraging people of colour to write, it will open the doors to many people to see new realities, characters, and stories, and develop an even more empathetic readership.
As for myself, I recommend Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and perhaps even add these to your summer reading list.