Reflection #5: The Challenge of Integrity

One of the difficult things about language is that words can often be empty. It’s easy to play lip-service to ideals, hard to live up to them. I’ve always prided myself on matching my morals to my actions, but I don’t often find myself in situations where I have to prove that I live by my morals.

That is probably because I make it a point to surround myself with people who I know aren’t going to act in ways that are counter to my own sense of morality. Among my friends, respect for others tends to be high on our list of priorities, so there’s not much reason for me to act in a way that implies defense of my own morality.

One of the principles that I have always lived by is that I do not tolerate disrespect shown to my friends, especially when my friends aren’t there to defend themselves. This has been true for me at least since middle school, when I broke away from a friendship because that person disparaged one of my other friends. However, I was a very different person in middle school than I am today. Back then, I was much more aggressive in the defense of my friends, and I didn’t care about the potential ramifications of my actions or the fact that I could potentially find myself alienated because I chose to defend someone that the rest of the group was disparaging.

Fast forward to now, almost fifteen years later, where I’m in college and much more aware – almost painfully so – of the potential fallout my actions can cause. The words I say, the actions I take – everyone around me is so much more aware of those that if I say the wrong phrase, people assume that I mean something I didn’t intend to say at all. It’s almost like I have to walk on eggshells to be able to say anything at all if I want to keep from offending the people around me or at least keep from being misunderstood.

It took me years to accept that people typically misunderstand me when I speak…it’s why I spend so much time writing. For some reason, in written language, I make more sense than I do when I speak. Maybe it’s because when I write, people don’t get the chance to interrupt me and thus cause me to lose my train of thought. I can say what I mean the way I mean it without having to constantly be on guard for the potential misinterpretation of my words through the patterns of the sentences I choose to use to convey my message. As a writer, of course, I have to be aware of this, but I can do so by reviewing what I have written. Once words leave my mouth, it’s very hard to back up and rephrase something that is misunderstood in a way that makes the original meaning clear.

In either case, communication is a delicate art. When I am around others, however, I am continuously aware of the potential for misinterpretation of the words I say. Because of this, I am also always aware of the potential misunderstandings of the actions I choose to take. This constant vigilance – it’s really hyper-vigilance caused by two decades of not quite fitting in (the gift/curse of ADHD) – can make it much more difficult to act with integrity in situations where it is called for.

Last week, however, I was powerfully reminded of what it means to have the courage of conviction. In a small group meeting, someone brought up one of my friends and started a conversation centered around trash-talking this person and making fun of this person. I don’t know if it was supposed to be a way for the person doing the talking to feel better – I don’t really care. I managed to listen to two sentences of disparagement against my friend before I couldn’t handle the situation. I stood up, told the group that I wasn’t going to remain in the room where my friend was being trash-talked, and I left.

The emotions I felt while doing so, however, were fairly complicated. I was angry that my friend was being trash-talked, of course. I was frustrated because the people in the room are also my friends and they were indulging in gossip, which is harmful to the target, especially when so many of them are advocates for different types of movements. But the one thing I wasn’t expecting to feel was on the verge of tears. Granted, when I get truly angry, I have a tendency to cry – when I’m furious, I cry, and it takes a lot to push me there. But that wasn’t the reason I was on the verge of tears. No, when I left, I was also highly aware that the group could end up trash-talking me in turn because I chose to remove myself from the situation. I refused to conform to their expectations, and I was highly aware that my actions may cause them to resent me.

As far as I am aware thus far, however, that hasn’t happened. I heard that there was some concern that I wouldn’t show up for a meeting later that night because there was concern I was genuinely angry (I was). That doesn’t mean the trash-talking didn’t happen, or that it won’t in the future. It just means that I was highly aware of every potential ramification of the choice I made by walking away from them when they were trash-talking one of my other friends, and I had the strength to do it anyway.

It would have been far easier to sit there and listen to the disparagement of my friend, to never expose myself to the potential for backlash, and to pretend that everything that was going on around me was okay with me. But my commitment to my integrity allowed me to make the harder choice, to take the harder path. Walking away from a situation like that is in no ways easy, and turning words into actions rather than let them remain empty – that is where the real challenge of integrity resides.

Reflection #4: Observation and ADHD Resources

This isn’t really a reflection, more an observation. Out of the last few things I’ve posted, I see that people have gravitated towards my post about ADHD and the relationship I have with the medication I take.

That got me thinking about whether there is enough information on the web for people who have ADHD to really explore, and I mean the real-life stuff that people care about rather than the science. I know there are some of us who love the science stuff – I actually own the book “ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says” by Russel A. Barkley, Kevin R. Murphy, and Mariellen Fischer (experts in the field).

But what most people want to know about ADHD is what life is like when you have it, not about the science. That’s true of anything though – we tend to be drawn to experiences rather than explanations, as we can see better through other people’s eyes than we can through the scientific nitty-gritty facts. It’s just how we’re hardwired.

So, as I was thinking about that, I was thinking about what kind of blogs and websites about ADHD exist, and there are a lot of them. Not all of them are high quality, of course (fact #1 of the internet: you can’t trust everything you read on the internet), but there are a few. All of the ones I am going to mention deals primarily with Adult ADHD, which, to be fair, can present some problems when you’re looking for resources.

The Websites

ADHD in Adults: This is where experts talk about ADHD, so it’s still pretty heavy on the science side of things. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting there – for someone who has ADHD, it is imperative that you learn exactly what it means to have the condition. Living with it is unavoidable, but the more you know about ADHD, the better off you are in terms of your ability to cope with it. This is probably the best site to keep up with the current research about ADHD.

ADHD Roller Coaster: This blog is run by Gina Pera, who is the author of “Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone Your Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder” , and there are both personal stories and research-based news pieces on this site. This is a good place to go for a blend of professional and personal.  She has written other books, but this title is the one I own, so it is the one I chose to mention.

Totally ADD: This website is run by Rick and Ava Green, two Canadians who are responsible for the documentaries ADD & Loving It?! and ADD & Mastering It! The website itself is more of a blog where the two of them discuss the personal ramifications of dealing with ADHD, particularly the difficulties those who have ADHD face.

In addition to websites, there are some pretty good books that I’d recommend to anyone who has ADHD. A lot of them are science heavy, but there are a few that are books written by those with ADHD to share their personal experience with the disorder.

ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says by Russel A. Barkley, Kevin R. Murphy, and Mariellen Fischer. I mentioned this book very briefly, but it is one of the best books on the current science surrounding the condition. Barkley is the leading authority on ADHD, and he is the one who demonstrated that executive functioning is what is most-impaired in those who have ADHD, which was such a critical finding that a case could be made that his research completely changed the way ADHD is handled as a diagnosis as well as the way further research on the condition has been done.

Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, as well as their other books including Delivered from Distraction and Answers to Distraction are invaluable books. They were among some of the first I read when I was diagnosed, and I can’t properly express how much the science combined with the anecdotes of others with ADHD helped me come to terms with the disorder.

I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not by Wes Crenshaw may easily be the book that finally gave me the tools I needed to be able to cope with ADHD on a day-to-day basis without feeling like I was spinning out of control. He offers 13 principles for people who have ADHD to utilize, and I have found all of them to be incredibly useful. Out of all the books I have listed thus far, this is the book I would recommend if you read no other book at all.

Here’s to Not Catching Our Hair on Fire by Stacey Turis. This is a book that is 100% anecdote, as Stacey takes us through what she experienced as a gifted individual who happened to also have ADHD. This book is invaluable because it reaffirms the fact that ADHD does not discriminate based on IQ. This helps put to rest the idea that a person can be “too smart” to have the condition – which was something I heard a lot from some of my family members when I was first diagnosed.

There are, of course, many more resources, but these are the ones I’d recommend first to anyone who seriously wants more information about what ADHD is, how it impacts your life, and how to manage it.

Reflection #3: The Problem with Being P.C.

I’m not a P.C. person. Never have been, never will be. Which means, of course, that I get looks of outrage because I don’t censor myself, I don’t issue trigger warnings, and I don’t apologize for what I say unless I am saying something intentionally to cause offense. If someone takes offense from something I say that I don’t mean intentionally, that’s 100% on them, not on me.

I’m of the firm belief that intent matters more than impact, even though it seems the current climate of our culture is trying to insist otherwise. Impact means more because impact is what people hear, what people take in, what they feel, and hurt feelings are anathema to today’s world. That’s why the usage of trigger warnings has gotten to the point that even university professors are putting them in their syllabus.

The name of the game seems to have become “See who can spot the microaggression first.” Microaggression, incidentally, used to refer only to race in its inception back in 1970. Today, however, it is applied to everything possible. There seems to be this rampant idea that people need to own the unintentional harm that they cause. Especially when the person assuming that a microaggresion is occurring fails to take into consideration that they may be making assumptions of their own about the identities of the person in question.

Couple with that, however, is this idea that people who belong to dominant identity groups can never be harmed unintentionally or intentionally by people of marginalized identity groups. In that vein, it’s perfectly acceptable to completely dismiss the viewpoint of a white male because he has white privilege, so of course his viewpoint is invalid. And he also has male privilege, so his viewpoint is doubly invalid. If he happens to be Christian as well, then his viewpoint is triply invalid. If he is straight, quadruply invalid. The higher number of dominant group identities you hold, the less serious you’re taken.

Which is, in a word, absurd. Like, seriously? If someone who is a white straight Christian male has an educated perspective, his perspective shouldn’t be dismissed just because he happens to belong to dominant identities groups. The fact is, p.c. culture has led us to this ridiculous belief that we must qualify our statements with all our marginalized identity groups in order to be taken seriously. The more marginalized we are, the more serious our views are taken.

Because of that, I am actually refusing, in this article, to disclose any of my identity groups. Because what I identify as should not determine the validity of my arguments or lend weight to my arguments. When it comes to academic arguments, the only thing that should have any weight at all is the credentials a person holds.

I went to a leadership workshop a while back where the big 8 social identities were discussed. There was some literature about five stages of dialogue, and rather than take the credentials as they stood, one of the participants asked (in a rather nasty tone), “Was the man a cisgender straight white man?” Like that mattered more than the actual credentials the man had earned by doing the necessary research! The workshop leader answered, “He’s none of those things,” and then moved along, but I could tell even she was taken aback by the question.

And this is the reason I refuse to be P.C. in my speech. I don’t know when we started to believe as a society that a person’s impact mattered more than their intentions, but I frankly find it ridiculous. If someone tells me that I need to stop being lazy or stop over-analyzing the world around me, I’m not going to assume that they are judging me. I don’t know their intent, and intent matters to me. If I am offended by the language someone uses, then the fact that I am offended lies with me and me alone. I am the one who decides how I take the words that someone else says to me. I am not going to internalize the potential harm of a potential microaggression – the only person harmed by that is me. The fact that others out there do allow perceived microaggressions to become internalized reasons for their hatred of people with dominant identities is ridiculous.

Now, when it comes to macroaggressions – those are an actual problem. If someone blatantly states that the reason that they don’t respect someone is because they belong to a particular identity group, that’s a real problem. If someone says “I don’t respect my teacher because he’s black,” that’s a macroaggression, racist, and a real issue that needs to be addressed. That’s not a microaggression which are generally statements that unintentionally cause harm. That’s a truly aggressive statement. On the same side of that, however, if someone says “I don’t respect my teacher because he’s an old white guy,” that’s also a macroaggresion! No matter what identity group you belong to, when you make a value statement about another individual in an identity group you don’t belong to, you are being a judgmental asshole. Full stop.

Let’s try to remember, for the love of all things sacred, that at the end of the day, each person we deal with is a human being. That’s all that should matter. Not the color of a person’s skin, not their age, not their sexual orientation, not their gender, not their physical/mental ailments, not their political affiliation….NOTHING ELSE. The thing that we have that connects ALL OF US is  the fact that we are HUMAN. So can we please stop fucking separating ourselves into groups that then subdivide further and further until nothing resembling compassion is left?

Stop fucking dismissing people because you disagree with the way they identify or because they happen to fall into a dominant group. White people are white the same way black people are black. Straight people are straight the way LGBTQIA+ people are inherently LGBTQIA+ people. These aren’t fucking choices – these are things we are born with. So stop issuing value judgments towards those whose birthed identities are literally beyond our control.

Every life is valuable. Every perspective matters. Every story counts. So, no matter who you are or where you come from, if you’ve ever discredited someone else’s perspective simply because of their skin color, gender, etc., then you are part of the fucking problem. Whether you belong to the dominant or subordinate identity groups doesn’t fucking matter. If you see potential offense in everything someone says that may potentially invalidate your identity, you are part of the problem because you are perpetuating the myth of victimhood. You are turning yourself into a victim, and self-victimizing is not a great avenue to affect any kind of change in the world. The people who have changed the course of history have done so by refusing to let the world victimize them and refusing to victimize themselves. Can you imagine someone like Martin Luther King refusing to listen to a white person because they just happened to have been born white or straight?

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he says:

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high place of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

Not to mention, the man won a Nobel Peace Prize. He didn’t believe in violence, at all. In his acceptance speech, he says, ”

…Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

….Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.

If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

So why the fuck are we okay with creating language that divides and divides and divides until even communities that should be standing together are separating from each other? For a man who affected some of the greatest change that our country has ever seen, we certainly are terrible at taking his lessons to heart.

A Bit of Speed Reading Fun

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

I hadn’t actually tested how fast I read in awhile, so I was curious as to what this little test would reveal. My results – 1920 words per minute. There’s a chart on the test at the end that shows you where your reading skills line up with the rest of the world. 1500 words per minute is the rate at which speed readers are found, with 700 words per minute being the rate at which college professors read, and 300 words per minute being the rate at which the average college student reads (the top percent of college students read at a rate of around 800 words per minute). The national average is between 200 – 250 words per minutes.

Granted, there are tricks to reading fast while maintaining comprehension, and there are articles out there about those tricks if you want to learn how to read quickly. I actually read fast because if I don’t, my comprehension drops. Comes from loving to read but having to contend with the difficulties created by having ADHD. While a lot of ADHDers end up being slow readers because of difficulty in concentrating on walls of text… I went the other route. I learned to read so fast that I didn’t have to think about the fact I was concentrating. I learned to consume information. So, I don’t know what tricks to share with you…at this point, I can take in every word on a page just by glancing at it. How I developed the skill? I’m really not so sure.

Anyways, have some fun with the reading test. It’s always interested to find out where you stack up compared to the national average.

Reflections #2: A Weird Relationship with ADHD Medication

Because of my ADHD, I’m supposed to have a tendency to be late to everything. I actually have the opposite problem – I’m early everywhere. I chalk that up to having been a band geek in high school. I think I carved the phrase “Fifteen minutes early is on time, on time is late,” into my soul. Also, I hate being late. I hate missing things (although doctor’s appointments aren’t really exciting enough for me to miss anything).

I’ve been thinking about the way ADHD impacts me, as well as the way it impacts everyone around me. Most people, when they hear the term “ADHD” think “Oh, she’s just got an attention problem, a focus problem.” The condition deals with a lot more than an inability to focus properly, although it does center around that. Or, more precisely, it centers around the inability to prioritize our focus, to sort out the things that matter against the vivid background of noise and attention-grabbing scenery the world provides.

I spent 25 years without a diagnosis, without medication, and then I spent one year on Adderall. I combined that with therapy. And I did well. Incredibly well – I got my priorities in life straightened out, figured out what I wanted to do with my life in terms of going back to school, and I stopped ruining relationships. Then, after I’d been successfully using the medication for a year, I decided I had learned enough about myself while on the medication to be able to handle going off of it.

So I’ve spent the last 1.5 years without medication. And I thought I was doing fine – at least, in terms of relationships, I’ve managed to get to a point where I don’t wreck them. But I was going back over my semester grades over the past 2.5 years, and I realized something that staggered me – when I was taking my medicine, I was making straight A’s. As soon as I stopped taking it, my grades started dropping. Not because Adderall makes you smarter (anyone who thinks that doesn’t understand the way the medication works at all), but because I stopped being able to properly focus on my classwork. I stopped being able to see it as a priority in my life, and I started focusing all of my time on my social life. In other words, I wasn’t handling being off medication as well as I thought I was.

And that was a stark realization for me. I’ve always been afraid of becoming too dependent on medication, becoming addicted because my mother was an alcoholic and addictive personalities are common in my family. Before I even agreed to a first script, I spent four months obsessively researching the dangers of Adderall addiction, the likelihood of it happening with prescribed doses, and the side effects of the medication. I became as much as an expert on Adderall as I became an expert on ADHD (once I had my diagnosis, I obsessively read every book I could get my hands on about the condition…at this point, I’ve easily read at least 15 books on the subject, if not more.

Adderall isn’t a cure-all, though. It doesn’t eliminate the conditions of the disorder, just like how insulin doesn’t cure diabetes. What the medicine does, however, is make the condition manageable. Lessens the severity of the symptoms, allows for a bit of quiet in a restless mind to be able to get things done. Balances out emotions so that you don’t always feel like you’re ping-ponging back and forth – which, by the way, is why ADHD is often misdiagnosed as Bipolar Disorder. Emotional dysregulation is a huge component of the condition, as is an inability to experience time properly.

Time management is a weird concept to those of us with ADHD because we don’t really experience it, so we don’t have any idea how long it actually takes us to do things. Which leads us to putting things off because we think they are going to take longer than they do (case in point, I tend to put washing off a handful of dishes because I think it’s going to take me around an hour to do them, and then I time myself when I do them and find it only takes about ten minutes). Or we get super involved in something we’re interested in and forget that we have an appointment or a class at a certain time. “Surely ten more minutes won’t interfere with my ability to get there on time.” An hour later, you’ve missed the entire class. Also, note I said I hate being late…if I’m going to be late, I will generally just skip the entire thing. I’m working on that, as skipping classes is not conducive to making good grades.

Anyway, ADHD and the medication used to treat it are topics that are much more complex than most people realize. It’s a legitimate neurobiological disorder that can, and does, destroy people’s lives. So if you’re one of those who thinks that ADHD is just a fad, just an excuse, or just a way to make hyper kids behave… do us all a favor and do some real research. You just might learn something.

Reflections #1

Next Monday is Martin Luther King Day, and I highly encourage everyone to reflect and remember the great things he did for this nation. Watch the speech he gave that sent ripples throughout the nation, throughout the world, and remind yourself that one person can change the world. By being willing to speak up about injustice, others will find their voice through yours. Do not sit on the sidelines of your own life.

Now, with that said, I’ve been considering what to do with this blog for some time. I’m going to be incredibly busy with school – 19 credit hours, 3 clubs, and all the homework that comes with it – so it’s going to be hard for me to fit in extra writing. But I have no intention of putting the blog on hiatus.

I may end up using this blog to reflect on what I’m learning, as I have a pretty interesting mix of classes. I’m taking the following: Beginning Japanese II; Philosophy: Society, Issues, and Ethics; Leadership and Ethics; Survey of Social Psychology; History of Modern East Asia; and History of American Popular Culture. I have a feeling that quite a few of those classes are going to be thought-provoking, and I have always found it easiest to explore my thoughts through writing.

Outside of classes, I’m participating in a club called AppSpeaks, and its purpose is to create a comfortable atmosphere for students to discuss controversial topics. The club hosts its own version of TEDtalks and a public forum called the Socrates Cafe. I love discussing controversial topics, so I think this will be an awesome opportunity.

I’m also participating in Sustained Dialogue and training to be a moderator of the group. From what I understand (the training is at the end of the month, so I have very little background information), the organization focuses on creating dialogue that is inclusive and allows those of diverse backgrounds to discuss controversial and sensitive topics in a safe atmosphere.

The third club is Pagan Student Association (PSA), and I participated in it last semester and will continue to do so throughout my time at ASU. Paganism is an integral component of my life and has been for the last 17 years. It is also through PSA that I managed to find a more serious group of practitioners, and, though we all come from very different backgrounds and traditions, manage to find a way to respect each other’s paths enough to participate in each other’s rituals. That’s a very rare find in the Pagan world, and I’m incredibly blessed to have found such a group.

For now, this blog will be dedicated to my own reflective writing. We’ll see what the winds bring when the semester ends.

Book Review: The Way We Fall

While I’ve read other books since the last time I wrote, I didn’t find them strong enough to discuss. I’d prefer to talk about the books I enjoy rather than the ones I didn’t, as everyone has different tastes, and I’m not really that fond of criticizing others for the hard work they’ve done. Unless it’s constructive criticism, of course, but it’s hard to offer constructive criticism of a book if you don’t personally know the authors.

Anyway, I recently finished The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe. The back of the book reads:

For the first time in what seems like forever, there were people on the streets. Everyone was going to see the shipment come in. Some people were carrying signboards with messages like END THE QUARANTINE NOW, as if that was going to change the government’s mind.

Parked cars clogged the streets around the harbor, so we pulled over to the sidewalk a few blocks away and jogged the rest of the distance. My face mask made it hard to catch my breath. I heard coughing in the crowd, and we passed a woman who’d stopped to scratch her knee. My lungs started to burn. All I wanted to do was go back to the car and leave. But Mom caught sight of Uncle Emmett’s truck and hurried on. I was afraid if I took my eyes off her for a second, I’d lose her.

The inside of the dust cover reads:

It starts with an itch you can’t shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you’ll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in. AND THEN YOU’RE DEAD. 

When sixteen-year old Kaelyn lets her best friend leave for school without saying good-bye, she never dreams that she might not see him again. But then a strange virus begins to sweep through her small island community, infecting young and old alike. As the dead pile up, the government quarantines the island; no one can leave, and no one can come back.

Those still healthy must fight for the island’s dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of the people she holds dearest, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save those she loves.

Because how will she go on if there isn’t?

Poignant and dizzying, The Way We Fall is the heart-wrenching story of one girl’s bravery and unbeatable spirit as she challenges not just her fears, but her sense of what makes life worth living.

That last paragraph from the inside of the dust cover pretty much nails it. The book is written as a series of letters to Leo, Kaelyn’s best friend. While I’m not usually a fan of books written in such a style, Megan Crewe really nails it. The reason I generally dislike the letter style is because it must, by its very nature, utilize second person. And second person writing, no matter the reason it is being used, is incredibly difficult to pull off. That Crewe managed to write such an engaging book utilizing any form of second person perspective amazes me, and this book is one I would recommend to anyone.

I’d especially recommend it to those who are fans of young adult novels that deal with infectious disease, suspense, and the human interaction that unfolds in the face of trauma. The Way We Fall is definitely a poignant book that tackles some of the hardest questions that we all face everyday – what does it mean to live when others have died? What does it mean to love? What makes life worth living, even in the hardest moments? This book gets a 10/10 from me, and I’m very rarely that generous with my ratings.