Policing, social media, and dialogue

Lately I’ve noticed I’m spending more time than usual on social media. And no, that’s not because I’ve been giving into procrastination or because we just finished reading week and there are lots of new vacation albums to peruse. Instead, I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the fact that I’ve stopped censoring myself quite so much when it comes to my online presence. And unfortunately, the more comfortable I grow voicing my opinions in a world that would rather devalue them (as a woman, a young person, and a person with mental illness and an ld), the more I get policed by others.

Anyone who follows me on social media knows by now I have few qualms about sharing my opinions, whether that be directly through tweets or statuses, or indirectly through the articles, images, and other artifacts I post. I would also hope that anyone who knows me also knows that I am always trying to learn, especially from others’ lived experience. I am not anti-dialogue, or debate, or conversation. I also recognize that while it’s important to be able to express and stand behind your opinions, it’s also important to be open to discussion, reconsideration, and reflection. As Freire would say, we are all student-teachers, and teacher-students. I know that I hold some pretty problematic opinions. And if I don’t share these opinions, I’ll never be able to address them, and learn why they are problematic. We have so much to learn from each other.

The problem is, it’s often the same people who partake in conversations and get invited to the proverbial table. And it’s also often the same people who get heard. In saying this, I acknowledge that I am one of those people. I am extremely privileged – I’m white, heterosexual, and able-bodied, my parents are both well-paid and highly educated professionals, I am a full-time student at a highly regarded university, I have the time to write this blog, and I have the confidence and self-value, as well as others’ past affirmations and support, to believe I have something worth saying. That said, even though my voice may be, at times, over-represented or expressed and there are many conversations in which I should not take part but instead listen, this does not mean I do not have things to contribute based on my lived experience and studies. And since stigma and discrimination – in my case abelism and sanism – are still very real things, I think it’s extra important that people with lived experience of different social identities contribute to these conversations (but only when they feel comfortable and safe doing so, of course. We also need to be careful and wary about tokenizing people). We need to call more people to the table who have lived experiences that we don’t (or just abolish the damn table. That would probably be best). Social media is one place where everyone gets a table of their own. And that’s pretty great.

You might want to respond by saying that in a democracy everyone has a right to freedom of speech, or that it’s reverse *insert form of discrimination* to exclude people from conversations (because obviously asking people to listen instead of talk is a form of exclusion and discrimination!), or that it’s discriminatory to put the onus of educating others entirely on the shoulders of various in-group members. To this I respond: we do all have freedom of speech, at least to an extent (personally I draw the line at hate speech, abuse, and harassment), and I totally agree that it is unreasonable to expect only in-group members to educate others about their experiences. But we also know that power is unequally distributed in society, and that, as I noted earlier, some people are heard much more often and much more loudly than others – for example, I’m sure many female readers have had the frustrating experience of having been mansplained.When we get really good at always listening to the same folks, we forget about/invisibilize/erase others. So while yes, you do have a right to jump into conversations, sometimes it’s best you don’t and instead invest your energy into listening and considering what others are saying and why. Sometimes it’s just not your table. (also reverse *insert form of discrimination* do not exist. You can read more about this here or here or here).

Getting back to social media – I am more left-wing than most. I am probably also more idealistic and pessimistic than most (and yes, I am aware that’s a contradiction, but it’s one I’d wager is familiar to many sociologists). I am also perfectly okay being a feminist killjoy. This means that the things I post often rub people the wrong way. The status quo is comfortable. For a lot of people, it’s what feels safest. When I am critical of things you hold dear or take for granted, it can feel scary and threatening. I get that. I’ve been there too. This would probably explain why people are so quick to disagree with me on social media. It’s instinctive. To take a closer look at how this often plays out, let’s unpack the sorts of things I am frequently told in relation to my online presence.

“You are wallowing in your mental illness.” No, actually I am using my lived experience, interest in, and passion about the matter to raise awareness about living with mental illness in abelist and sanist society and institutions. I think I am doing some work that is of value, and I fully intend to keep doing it. And no, thinking, writing, and talking about mental illness do not actually worsen my “symptoms.”

Related to the comment above: “You’re promoting mental illness.” Reading or writing about the effects of chemo does not cause cancer. Same thing applies to mental illness. I am, however, hopefully promoting awareness. I also think I am well positioned to promote awareness, in part because I actually live with mental illness, but also because I am in a fairly secure and privileged position and both am able to and enjoy writing.

“You aren’t being fair to *insert person/group/institution imbued with power and privilege*.” Just because you’re the big cheese does not actually make you exempt from criticism. In fact, you’d better prepare yourself for it because chances are you are representing something much bigger than yourself. And the rest of us get to hold you accountable and be critical and responsive to your actions and words because the power you wield and the decisions you make actually have very real effects on the rest of us.

“You’re posting ANOTHER article about mental illness?” “You’ve written ANOTHER article about mental illness?” Yup! You bet! It’s my passion, my interest, and my everyday life. It is totally cool (and arguably therapeutic) if you want your newsfeed to be filled with puppies and only puppies and ALL THE PUPPIES ALL THE TIME. If that is the case, please don’t follow me. Most students, and all academics, have specific fields of interest and expertise. Mine happens to be mental health and illness. It’s actually really important that I keep learning about it and writing about it for many reasons. Among them, if one day I’m going to become someone others look to for knowledge about this area, I need to know as much as possible about it. I will never be done learning. I will never know enough. I hope you feel the same about your area of interest too.

“You’re being a hysterical woman again!” Okay, fine, no one actually says that anymore. At least not to me. But what many people don’t realize is tone policing is actually a divisive, disrespectful, and diversionary tactic. By focusing on my tone – ie. “I can’t take you seriously when you’re so angry” or, “you’re going through a combative phase” or, “that’s your anxiety talking” – you are taking attention away from the thing I am talking about. Also I have every damn right to be angry about the issues that affect me. I’ve spent four years fighting to have access to adequate and accessible mental health services at my university, and spent four years dealing with the effects of not having these. So yes, I’ve earned the right to to be royally pissed, as long as it isn’t hurting anyone else. Also I think anger, in moderation, can be productive. I would be very scared of a world in which people never got angry.

“You give *insert group you are a part of* a bad rep.” Read up on respectability politics.

Related to the accusation above: “I also have *thing you talked about having* and I disagree with you. Therefore you are wrong.” Firstly, your experience doesn’t discount mine. Nor does mine discount yours. Just because I talk about having mental illness does not mean I believe I am the only person in the world with mental illness or the Definitive Voice of Mental Illness. I don’t believe my opinions represent those of anyone else.

“Every time you write about this, you are eliminating a potential job offer. Or a boyfriend.” You might be right. I am not so naive as to believe that stigma and discrimination no longer exist, or that employers get super enthused when they see that your reading speed is at the tenth percentile. But the kind of employment I plan to go into will hopefully be the kind that actually sees my disability and mental illness as assets, along with my related activism and advocacy. So long as I know I am helping give voice to mine and others’ experiences they are unable to share, and are thus helping to validate them, and/or helping to teach others about what it’s like to live with mental illness, I’m going to keep doing it. I am no expert on boys. I will not try to speak to this particular warning.

“I find what you post triggering.” This one’s tricky. It is impossible to apply trigger warnings to everything that might be triggering to someone because of the diversity of our backgrounds and experiences. However there are common themes survivors have pointed to as triggering, and I try to either employ trigger warnings when posting about these, or to make them accessible only by intention (ie. you have to click on a link to access the information I’m discussing). That said, there are some things that just don’t work with trigger warnings – things like pictures. I worry we sometimes slip into using trigger warnings as a way to police others, especially when it comes to things that we are unaccustomed to seeing or hearing about, because the Other is scary. Also at some point I think we need to be realistic about lived experiences. For me, that might mean talking about dermatillomania, or even posting pictures of it (though never with open wounds). I’m sure that no one logs onto Facebook to see my super scabbed face. But it’s validating and empowering for me to have you acknowledge that this is one of my every day struggles. And I am tired of having to make myself palatable because of your sensibility. If we dilute or whitewash things too much for the sake of protecting others, are we really protecting those who are most vulnerable? Or are we just protecting normativity and the status quo?

This was a very long-winded way of asking that next time, before you comment to disagree with someone’s post, ask yourself about your intentions. Are you genuinely curious about why they posted that article, or feel the way they do? Do you think you can add fodder to the conversation? Or do you just want to make sure that the opposite opinion (ie. yours) is pasted right next to theirs, lest someone agree with them? Do you feel threatened? (in my case, maybe because I am just a “crazy” girl who speaks her mind?).

We all use our social media differently. Personally, I like to use social media to curate and solidify my identity, to raise awareness about the issues I care about, and to ask us to be critical of dominant discourses (you bet I use my sociological imagination every day!). I cannot recall a time I have disagreed with someone else on their social media profile. I prefer conversations in person, and find that public online conversations get very loaded very fast, and of course, cannot express the nuance of face to face interaction. You don’t all have to use social media for the same reasons as me, or in the same ways as me. That’s the beauty of it.

But my space is my own. And as much as I am all for dialogue and learning from each other and our experiences, sometimes I just want my space to remain just that – mine. I already invest a lot of time into everyday activism, and am starting to find social media, which used to be a place for me to partake in communities who understand and accept me, to be taxing and exhausting. I am tired of being policed. You may have a very different use than me for social media, and that is okay, but I do ask that you respect my own. I am also not saying that everyone who disagrees with me does so in an attempt at policing. I am thankful that others have pointed out my taken for granted assumptions, and I have learned from their pointing out things I did not consider. These sorts of comments are different from the ones I have been writing about today.

I want to learn from you, but I want to do so when I have the time, and space, and concentration to give serious weight and consideration to what you are saying. And when I log onto Facebook to do a cursory glance at my friends’ updates or to take note of the articles and blogs I’d like to read for the day, I don’t intend to spend the next hour justifying myself to you. I spend enough time doing that already to society as a young woman with mental illness.

Have you been policed online? If so, how have you dealt with it? What kinds of things do you find get policed more than others? Do you think online conversations hold much potential for educating and consciousness raising? What is your take on social media debate? Comment below!

 

 

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Pro-tips for Procrastinators, part one

After writing my last post, I worried that I’d painted a pretty bleak picture. But I am here to reassure you that hope is not lost! And so, before posting part three of my mental illness/learning disability intersection series, I’m going to slip in a post or two about how I deal with procrastination. Despite what you’ve been told, just because you make the same mistakes time and again does not actually mean you haven’t learned from them. I don’t claim these tips will work for everyone, and understand that people meet their own needs differently. However they have at various times worked for me, and so I’ve decided they are worth sharing.

1. Study hard, play for a few minutes as a reward. 

a) The SelfControl app is your new best friend. You can download it for your Mac for free here. This app lets you block any number of sites – which you can edit anytime before you turn the app on – and then asks you to set a period of time during which to block them. I usually turn the app on for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour at a time. Giving yourself a 30 minute work period might not seem like much, but I think it’s worth admitting upfront that a lot of us struggle with our attention span. If you can focus for 30 minutes, you’ve earned yourself a 5 minute break. If you can focus for 45 minutes or even an hour, even better! (although you still only get a 5 minute break, or maybe 10 minutes if you’ve studied for an hour). Also be sure to be honest with yourself when writing up your blacklist. Mine includes Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, but also Hotmail and Outlook, and occasionally I’ll add various news media and blogs to it as well.

b) You can also try the site mytomatoes.com. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it came recommended to me by one of my previous psychologists. The site lets you work on one “tomato” at a time. You set a timer (like the SelfControl app, I usually aim for 30-45 minutes per tomato) and then work for that period of time. When your time’s up, the site asks you to write down what you accomplished during your tomato. It’s a total guilt trip – if you goofed off or got distracted you realize pretty quickly that you just wasted 30-45min – so I suggest using it in tandem with the SelfControl app. It is also fun to work on tomatoes with your friends when you’re study buddying. Set your timers at the same time, and encourage each other to focus on your tomatoes!

2. Make yourself accountable to others.

This one’s all about the self-imposed guilt-trip.

a) Find a study buddy! When putting out the call, make clear that you are not looking to study aloud through conversation with someone else in one of your classes – although if you’re into that, that’s totally cool too. Instead, look for someone who will study quietly in the same space as you. Invite them to your house (snacks and/or meals are a big incentive here), or invite yourself to theirs. You can also offer to meet in a common area. Not only will you feel guilty if they look like they’re working hard while you know you’re not, but you can also take breaks and relax together once you’ve worked for a sufficient period of time. Although I often feel like a burden constantly asking my friends to study buddy with me, they reassure me nearly every time that they too get more work done when we work together.

b) Work in a public space. Some people thrive in more dynamic environments like coffee shops or cafeterias. I’m more of a silence person myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work in a public space. There is of course the main library at your university or in your city/town, but also other public-ish study spaces, at least at Mount Allison, like department-specific libraries, computer labs, various centres (in my case, the Meighen Centre) etc. I find that working around other people makes me feel accountable to them, even if they are complete strangers, and I get embarrassed if I think they assume I’m working on school stuff when I’m actually working my way through every picture of a friend’s vacation on Facebook. I also find that working around other people helps me keep my anxiety and panic down, and forces me to shower, get dressed, and get out of my room, all of which are healthy habits as well.

If campus isn’t an option but you require silence to work, try noise-cancelling headphones or classical music. Better yet, use the same classical music every time. I’ll warn you this will completely and utterly ruin this soundtrack for you, but it will ensure that you both associate this music with studying, and get to know the soundtrack so well that you aren’t distracted by it. I probably owe Yann Tiersen a shoutout when I graduate, considering the number of times I’ve listened to the complete Amelie soundtrack.

c) If, for whatever reason, options a) and b) are not available to you, you can try co-opting others to help hold you to your deadlines. If I know I have to get an assignment done by a certain time and that if I don’t, I will be flirting with disaster, I’ll sometimes e-mail my professor and let them know when to expect it. I’ll also ask that they send me a reply, if possible, acknowledging that they’ve received my assignment. I usually let them know that I don’t require feedback or anything – just a simple acknowledgement that I’ve sent my assignment. Although rationally I know that my professors do not spend their Friday nights waiting breathlessly for me to e-mail them my essay, my anxious brain tells me they do, and thus once I set this kind of deadline, I feel beholden to it. I also tend to keep to this kind of deadline for fear of my professor’s judgement (but don’t worry . They’re not actually judging you. They have lives, and way too many students, for that).

I’ll do something similar with friends if I know they’ll be staying up late and I want to make sure I get to bed at a reasonable hour and don’t draw my work out all night long. I’ll ask if I can send them a draft/part of a draft/final product at a certain hour, and also request they let me know they’ve seen that I sent it. It sounds silly, especially because there’s no way they’re actually going to read whatever I send them, but I swear it helps me stay on track.

3. Designate a study space. 

Once you’ve found a space that seems to work for you, save it for your study space. It might be a favourite desk in the library, a favourite library period (I might marry the Johnson, the philosophy library at my university pictured above, one day), an armchair in your room, anything really. Don’t let yourself Youtube dance videos there or watch Netflix if you have it (thank goodness I don’t) because this is now your sacred study space. When push comes to shove and you need to get stuff done, you’ll always know you can rely on that space to stay focused.

4. Keep an agenda. 

I swear it’s not as scary as it seems. I hadn’t used an agenda since first year because I often found looking at everything I had to do was overwhelming. I’ve given agendas a second chance though this year, and I’m very glad I did. As it turns out, it is actually way less overwhelming to lay everything you have to do out in front of you than to hold it all in your head. Moreover, trying to remember everything you have to do runs the risk of you forgetting something (that is possibly important). I’m pretty sure most universities offer their students free agendas. Personally I invested in one that was better suited to my needs. It’s pretty (which is totally key if I’m going to motivate myself to actually look at it), featuring Charley Harper prints, and includes a separate calendar for each month, along with space for daily scheduling.

5. Know your enemy, but be kind to yourself. 

I’m pretty terrible at this one, but seriously, try not to beat yourself up if you’ve procrastinated yet again. It doesn’t actually accomplish anything or help anyone. You are not the only procrastinator in this world. Your worth is not equivalent to your productivity. You do not always need to apologize for living your life outside of school. You are dealing with your stuff, which may include mental illness that actually contributes to your procrastination. That said, be wary of your proclivity to procrastinate, and try to do what you can to be proactive about it.

I would love to hear your own pro-tips for procrastinators. Comment below! Procrastinators unite!

I have many more tips brainstormed, but I’m going to save them for a second post on how to deal with essay-specific procrastination. Make sure to check back next week!

 

On the intersection of mental illness and learning disabilities, part 2

I think the most salient aspect of having both mental illness and a learning disability for me is that I have less of a buffer zone, or less slack. Once I fall into a familiar rut, usually because of my mental illness, it is much harder to climb out and get back on track.

Let’s take a look at how I approach something like midterms. I may or may not have already procrastinated due to intense anxiety, but that is not what I want to focus on today. I try to work on my assignments in order of their due dates, but often end up starting with whichever I care about most first, or with the one that causes me the least preemptive anxiety.

I start by working through the reading required for the assignment. Reading anything for school, especially when I am already anxious, is a constant struggle against my perfectionism. I feel like I must read every word if the reading is to “count.” If I skip a section here or there, not only have I “cheated” on the reading, but I am also sure my professors will find out, and that I may have missed crucial information. I also find it exceptionally difficult to move past a sentence if I do not understand it (note: I process information in very tiny bites, and then try to weave them together into a coherent picture. So I do move from one sentence to the next when I read). Being extremely insecure about my intelligence, my anxiety and imposter syndrome seek out every opportunity to remind me that I am a fake. For me, not understanding one sentence represents far more than not understanding one sentence, in one article, from one syllabus, from one course, in one instance in one year. It represents an inability to comprehend an entire theory, which will probably lead to my failing the course – or at best scraping by – which will then prevent me from going to grad school, or, if I do make it there, will prevent me from understanding anything in grad school and on and on it goes. Moreover, if I do not understand a sentence, I worry that I may be missing The Most Important Sentence Of The Whole Article and thus The Whole Point. Couple this with the fact that my reading speed is already at the tenth percentile because of my learning disability, and bam! You’ve got yourself one very, very slow reader. I can spend hours reading a textbook and think that I’m making good progress and time, only to look down and realize I’ve made it through 7-8 pages.

If I’m being totally honest, this process has probably actually started long before I get around to reading. I’ve probably agonized over finding The Perfect essay topic, and then lost hours and possibly days to collecting every possibly relevant article from across the world wide web, firstly to ensure that there is enough material available for my essay, but secondly because I want to make sure I have read The Very Best And Most Important articles.

While growing up, my parents always told me that my grades didn’t matter so long as I had done my best. My perfectionist mind warped this motto into a standard that was/is totally and completely unattainable (seriously it’s been 22 years and I still haven’t reached it). The idea of “best” is a bottomless, inexhaustible concept to me. I can always do better. If I spend a day writing an assignment, I haven’t done my best unless I’ve also taken advantage of the night. If, when searching for articles, I simply opt for the first ten that pop up, I have not done my best. This is usually combined with feeling beholden to my professors’ expertise and assignments. I feel like I have to do every assignment justice, respecting it as an end in itself – an end carefully thought out by my professor in order to maximize my learning. Unfortunately, this perfectionism is not contained to my schoolwork, but rather bleeds into all aspects of my life. It isn’t enough to send someone a card when I think about them – that card also has to be handmade, and come in a personalized decorated envelope or package. It isn’t enough to organize an event unless I have baked 100 cookies for it or had it catered. (I am not making this up. I baked over 100 cookies for a panel discussion I was organizing last year when I got it into my head that this event would FAIL unless everyone had a sugar cookie dipped in icing. More on aspects of perfectionism, like all or nothing thinking, on another day).

I’ve probably realized I am definitely behind schedule by the time I finish reading. Or it’s now the night before my assignment is due, I’m still reading – and nowhere near done – and it finally strikes me that my professor is expecting a hard copy of my assignment in 12 hours. I used to be able to pull all-nighters, but am unable to do so now because of my meds. I can make it until 2 or 3 am, and then I pass out. There’s no way around it, but it probably works to my own benefit anyway. I might be able to crank out the assignment and get it in on time (my learning disability doesn’t actually affect my writing speed. I am a quick writer, and can pump out assignments once I’ve put the time into reading and processing in preparation for them), but far more likely is the scenario in which I have introduced so many stressful elements that I get completely overwhelmed and spend the night panicking (and also probably drowning in a sea of self-loathing, guilt, and shame). I have officially missed the first deadline. By the time I get the assignment done and am willing to hand it in (a massive struggle in itself), I’ve put all of my eggs in one basket, leaving myself little time to complete the next three assignments coming at me in rapid succession. I don’t operate at anything less than 120%. I worry that I’ve trapped myself in expectations I myself have constructed; if I don’t put in 120%, my professors will still assume that I have, since I usually do, and thus my work will still be judged in comparison to my usual standard.

Rinse, lather, and repeat. If I didn’t have a learning disability, and wasn’t desperately perfectionistic, I might be able to remedy the situation. I could throw together some mediocre work, hand it in, move on, and complete my assignments on time. Unfortunately, that’s rarely how the story actually goes. I am so convinced of my lack of intelligence that I will not let myself hand in anything unless it is at least 40% overdone. I feel like if I put in the extra 40%, at least I can continue to spin the myth of my intelligence, and continue to fool my professors. I am terrified of letting them see how hopelessly inadequate my work is before it has been put through the wringer. Moreover, no matter what the time crunch, my reading speed remains infuriatingly slow. It is immensely frustrating. My learning disability also means that I find it very difficult to skim. I need to focus on trees, as it were, before I can make an attempt at the forest. Add a good dose of stubbornness and deep-rooted insecurities about intelligence, adequacy, and worth, and you can begin to see how I trap myself in the same vicious cycle, time and again.

How do you combat your perfectionism, imposter syndrome, or procrastination? Comment below!

Check back soon for part 3 of this series on the intersection of mental illness and learning disabilities! I’ll be exploring how these play out in the classroom (focusing more on the auditory processing side of things), and later, how I navigate the stigma attached to each. 

On the intersection of mental illness and learning disabilities, part 1

I was six years old when my speech therapist told my parents I would never be able to learn how to write a paragraph. My mother was devastated. I was in grade three when my family doctor first asked my parents if they’d like to put me on anti-anxiety medication. My learning disability (hereon referred to as an “ld”) and anxiety reach as far back as my memory serves.

I remember driving home from kindergarten and bursting into tears when my parents asked me to describe my day because I didn’t possess the communication skills to articulate myself. I vaguely recollect the primary school psychologist asking me to talk about my fears after being referred to them because I pulled my hair out during tests (at the time the only fear I could identify was of spiders, and I had no interest in dwelling on those). Though it is probably safe to say my longtime ld and anxiety colour my memories, for me they are pretty indistinguishable from my experiences; they are simply facets of my everyday state of being.

Ironically, though my parents were open with me about both labels growing up, I didn’t understand what they entailed until much later. My parents placed me in a private school in grade one (fun fact: this was the only private school willing to accept me – and even then it was on probation – because I managed to fail every school’s entrance exam). Turnbull School was a huge blessing for me in many ways. I received significant support, began to catch up to my peers, and was eventually given enrichment, though I continued to perform poorly on standardized tests. Since I was getting the support they thought I needed, my parents didn’t see the use in getting my ld formally diagnosed. The ld remained apparent to my teachers though, who continued to ask my parents about it every year (even in grade eight) during parent-teacher interviews.

By high school I had developed the coping mechanisms I needed to excel, and no one suspected my neurodiversity. Later the psychologist who did my testing would tell my parents I had “the tenacity of a bull dog”, and that I had spent so many years overcompensating for my ld (cue perfectionism), that it was no longer obvious to others, like my teachers.

The turning point came in grade eleven. I worked up the courage one night to approach my parents, distraught and exhausted. I needed to know if I was spending every waking hour studying because I had an ld, and required this sort of time commitment in order to keep up, or if I was simply compelled by my anxiety and perfectionism. A psychologist’s appointment was booked, and soon after, the results were in. I had both an ld and significant anxiety.

It took me until my final semester of grade twelve to ask my high school for the accommodations to which I was entitled. I might have requested them earlier had it not been for the stigma I experienced upon (and even before) “coming out” with my ld. Though the psychologist requested one of my teachers who knew me best answer a screening questionnaire, I was too embarrassed to approach her. I had achieved 100% in her course, and felt she would be skeptical about the legitimacy of my ld. I doubt my suspicions were far-fetched. One of the teachers I did ask refused to respond on the grounds that he could not believe I had an ld. The first people I told following the test results were my friends. It took little time for them to inform me that I was simply looking for a way to get higher marks, that “everybody has their problems,” and that there was no way I could get the marks I did (and do) and have an ld (more on that misconception another day). Even the teachers who agreed to accommodate me in grade twelve grumbled about how “everyone was getting diagnosed with lds these days.” I internalized the stigma to such a degree that I asked my parents if the psychologist had diagnosed me with an ld because we had paid her to test me. I felt immense guilt about having the privilege to get formally diagnosed, and continue to struggle with this guilt today.

Around the same time, near the end of high school, my mental health plummeted. Looking back, I was probably dealing with my first bouts of depression. I remember skipping my favourite creative writing class after my dance teacher watched a run of my dance piece. I was so convinced it was a horrible failure that I couldn’t stop crying, so I hid inside a prop backstage and weeped until my friends left class to come looking for me. I was completely overwhelmed by the expectations I believed others held for me (which were really just my own). I might be one of the few teenagers whose parents had to confiscate their textbooks every bedtime once they realized I had devised (personally, ingenious) ways to secretly study through the night.

This brings me to university. The other day, one of my professors asked me how I felt about mental illness and disability always being lumped together in syllabi. I had a few things to say in response. Firstly, anyone with both/either a mental illness or disability will feel differently about this. Secondly, my mental illness is definitely a disabling factor in my life, and thus I consider it to be a disability. Thirdly, syllabi are largely the product of time constraints. I’ve also seen gender and sexuality taught together, as well as race and Indigeneity, though I don’t believe the time constraint justifies this phenomenon. His question, though, got me thinking. In my case, my ld and mental illness are intimately connected, and though I sometimes experience them separately, they often intersect.

Check back soon for part two of this post!