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.
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.
Recently, I was intrigued by the golden age of television, and the era of the 90s sitcom. Most notably I was fascinated by their aesthetic, from the straight-legged Mom jeans, the plaid mini skirts, to over tweezed eyebrows. To be honest, I still see remnants of that era in my own wardrobe, and I can’t even count the times I’ve referenced Jennifer Aniston’s perfect golden locks to my hairdresser. I’ve seen these trends coming back within the clothing racks of Urban Outfitters and H&M, but what I presume will never go back in style is the way they went about dating.
Born in 96, my memories of that era are only fragments from having to dial up my home computer and listening to the Spice Girls on my walkman. The only real window to dating in that world was through shows like Friends, Seinfeld, and even Boy Meets World, and because I grew up with those shows, I expected that my life would replicate those images on screen. One solid group of friends that meets at the same cafe everyday, a steady career right out college, and maybe even marrying my high school sweetheart.
The genesis of Tinder was in 2012, two years before I started university. I knew by then that the images on television that taught me about dating could not be applied to this new reality. By then, it was no longer uncommon or looked down upon to have accounts on OkCupid or Plenty of Fish. In fact, that seemed to be the main way people met and interacted with people they might want to fornicate with.
I don’t like Tinder. I can definitely say with confidence after having an account off and on for just over two years. While I know people who have fulfilling relationships and adventurous sexual escapades, it has just become incredibly tedious to me.
However, what is the 90s sitcom equivalent? Would it be when Joey from Friends flirted his way with a girl in a public space to get her phone number? To which, later he would come home from work, pick up his curly-wired telephone phone receiver, and call her up. Assuming that she gave him the correct digits, the cute girl answers. There they would have to have a pleasant conversation that would usually lead to a nice dinner, and the cute girl, feeling obliged since he put his card down on the table to pay, would have sex with him.
Now, you swipe, you talk, and you meet up, and yeah.. The rest is history.
It’s like dating is the same puzzle, but with pieces rearranged. All first encounters are online, but people just want to see a similar picture in the end.
20th century dating is strategic, and I was able to understand it for the most part. I was able to select the right selfies and group photos that would enable a butt load of matches and superlikes on Tinder. In my first year, I took it too seriously, getting caught in the web of guys who saw me as disposable as my profile on the site.
But, I grew, and I learned to hold my own ground. It got to this point where I just kept swiping and swiping, thumbing through pictures of guys while barely looking at their name or age, and getting a rush to my ego whenever they already liked me and feeling temporarily disappointed when they didn’t. It was a game – like Candy Crush or Temple Run – and just a way to pass my time in bored moments with no actual thought to what it could lead to.
It started making me question why I couldn’t find someone, out of the hundreds of people who swipe on Tinder, there ought to be a perfect fit for me, right? Except, I haven’t actually formally dated anyone, or have been able to call someone my partner. Thanks to Tinder, I’ve had “things”, which have been extremely casual and not worthy of introducing to my parents; so after a while it just stops either due to our busy schedules or sudden lack of interest.
I’ve fallen into this growing category of millennial who have been single their whole lives. That makes us believe that there must be something off kilter, and that it can probably be found within ourselves.
This mentality used to plague me for a little while. But then, over the last two years, I realized that I actually haven’t been actively searching for anyone. I’ve been content growing and living on my own, finding fulfillment through many amazing friendships.
The whole “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” rhetoric is definitely not as apparent. Far more frequently, I message them first. I’ve offered to pay for my dinner, despite it being turned down almost every time. And in no way do I ever feel obliged to do anything I don’t want to do.
It reminded me of the first episode of Friends, and how the writers were hesitant to write a pilot where one of the main female characters, Rachel, forgets the name of the man she hooked up with the night before. They didn’t want her to be perceived as promiscuous. Now we literally have shows like Broad City, where the two female leads, Ilana and Abbi, openly talk about their sexualities like its the weather.
So, I think that’s where the main difference lies. It’s not just the way we go about dating, and the means to which we meet people, it’s that the social norms that came along with dating then have slowly melted away. Society is more open with everything, including sex, and I prefer it that way.
If someone asked me what era I would rather date in, I definitely would say today. While there are flaws in our current era of Tinder and casual sex, there’s flaws with every era. I’d rather be dating in the time where, to be a women and to be sexual, aren’t as negatively co-existing concepts. And, I’d rather on my iPhone restlessly waiting for a reply, than the landline, because well, at least I can see if they’ve read it, right?
For the most part, I am pretty privileged to say that my life, with a gradual incline upwards, has been going at a slow and steady pace. What I really mean by that is, I definitely didn’t peak in high school.
My first day of high school kind of set the stage for how my next four years would play out. Whether it was a blessing or a curse, the uniform at my Catholic high school was something that really did not come natural to me.
My old friend from grade eight came to my door on the first day of grade nine, and somehow managed to perfectly avoid the regular awkwardness that came from adorning a never-worn forest green kilt and matching sweater vest.
I, however, wore the exact same pieces, including two butterfly clips pinning back my overgrown bangs, pink and blue patterned elastics on my braces, and a pair of white knee high socks to go with my two inch heeled ballerina flats.I watched as she gave me a once over, with a look that foreshadowed her embarrassment as we walked several blocks to the bus stop.
High school was a strange time. The years that followed weren’t far from the standard I set on the first day. The braces came with the whole package: off-coloured foundation that barely hid my acne, dark eyeliner on my waterline, and outdated lenses. But as I said, with emphasis on slow, my experience steadily went upward. Overtime, I gained more friends, got rid of my acne, and then my braces – shedding a little layer of myself that was no longer needed.
Besides my apparent awkwardness, what I also brought with me from elementary school was writing. I jumped from interest to interest, from visual arts, drama, and even singing in musical; I became a jack of all trades in the world of amateur art. But writing remained a constant. Writing was something I developed a passion for in grade three, and storytelling was was something I could remember doing with my stuffed animals before I was able hold a pencil in my hand.
There were few times in my adolescence I was able to share that passion. I entered a few poetry competitions in elementary school and completed some short stories the years after. After years of sheer naivety, my dream of being novelist became something that seemed out of reach. I thought maybe I needed to choose something a little more practical.
I set aside my ambitions and made writing something that I did on the side. That was until my final year of high school.
April 2017 is the third anniversary of a play I wrote and directed in grade twelve. It was called The Fitzgerald’s; a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family at funeral. It was a two act play featuring a drunken grandmother, a gay uncle, a trophy wife, all members fighting and obsessed with their reputations. It was a script that was chosen and supervised by my eccentric drama teacher. My best friend was the stage manager, and the tight knit group of incredibly talented friends I made in grade eleven, starred as the main characters.
For nine months I did rehearsals twice a week and tweaked the script to its best and final product. It went through a regional competition called the Sears Drama Festival. The first official performance was in this small town in a place called the Lighthouse Theatre. That night, with nails digging into my seat, I had never been more nervous is my life.
And it was amazing.
The theatre was packed with students and the parents of students and theatre-goers. When the actors came out in tableau a hush went over the crowd. They acted on their marks and added their own touches to characters that finally meant something to them.
The audience was alive; they laughed in all of the right places – laughed more than I would’ve ever expected. I even saw a few people cry.
When it was over, I embraced everyone that was involved, including my drama teacher who was responsible for giving methat opportunity. I went out to the lobby and heard someone yell out, “Who wrote that?” and everyone pointed in my direction. The girl actually ran up to me, and amongst the absurdity of that night, asked for my autograph on the playbill. My family was beaming at me with pride.
It was a first for many things; my first play, my first real leadership role, my first piece of writing that was made into something and received awards for. The first time I ever really felt like I was taken seriously.
When we went back to school the next day, back in the uniforms and into our daily routines, I was still living on high that no one but myself, the actors and the crew knew about. Yet this time, my path was carved out, which meant I could walk a little more boldly.
To be honest, I hadn’t let myself think about that memory or that play for a while. Much like high school, I’ve entered a lull in my university career, letting the tedious stream of formal essays take out every ounce of fun I originally found in writing.
However, this year in Ottawa, a young man was standing at the bus stop in my front of my school, staring at me like he wanted to say something. Eventually, he did and asked me if my name was Alannah Link, to which I replied with a confused yes.
He told me that he saw my play a few years back, and that him and his classmates all I loved it.
He didn’t know it, but he gave me a dose of nostalgia that reminded of me of that night, those people and that play. A story I wrote in the last year of high school and performed in front of just a few hundred people, found itself just 600 kilometres away from the town I first performed it in. Right then, the the world felt incredibly small. It made me want to search for that feeling again.
I recognize that I didn’t peak in high school, but I definitely made the happiest memory there.