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YA A to Z: O is for Outsider, a guest post by author Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Today for #YAAtoZ we are honored to have author Kirstin Cronn-Mills talking about being an Outsider.

yaatoz

My mom swears I knew how to read at three. I know my dad was teaching me about Roman numerals and the Valley of the Kings at four. I had no idea these things were even slightly unusual. Nobody in my house was neurotypical, but I didn’t know that, either.

It was reinforced over and over in elementary and high school: I didn’t think like other people, I didn’t react like other people (puberty emotions x 1000), I just . . . wasn’t like other girls. End of story. This fact mostly made me sad. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I did have seemed to accept my oh-so-brainy-and-different self.

College was better—I could be curious to my heart’s content, and I didn’t know when others judged me, because I wasn’t around those people. Then I fell in love, went to grad school, got married, went to another grad school, had a baby, and got a full-time job. All of it regular human stuff. But I still felt like an outsider.

The reinforcement continued: I wasn’t like other moms, or other soccer parents, or other teachers, and definitely not like other spouses, much to my husband’s dismay and frustration. Why was I so emotional? Why was my brain so busy all the dang time? Why couldn’t I relax?

Finally, through a long string of events and a couple lightbulb moments, the answer arrived: I have ADHD. I had been misdiagnosed by my psychiatrist for 23 years. Yes. 23. I’d even had an MRI in 2006, after my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor (our hometown is a cancer cluster, so it was worth checking). My psychiatrist said “Hmm. You have a less robust frontal lobe.” That’s actually a sign of ADHD, but neither of us put the pieces together. I said, “Well, it’s served me all right so far.” And that was that.

Turns out women and girls with ADHD tend to be more inattentive, with less outward hyperactivity, and our chattiness or scatterbrained-ness is chalked up to being “just a girl” (side note: research needs to catch up and explore how many different genders express ADHD, but right now it’s focused on the binary)  Lots of us are diagnosed at midlife because our estrogen decreases, so our symptoms skyrocket.

TLT O is for Outsider

It also turns out women with ADHD feel inadequate, judged, and stupid because we can struggle with tasks that are stereotypically ours—paying bills on time, throwing kids’ birthday parties, managing a household. Add in the societal pressure to be a perfect parent or spouse, along with the pressure to look like a fashion model, and we get depressed and anxious. Doctors end up treating the symptoms, but not the root cause.

After I figured out the right category for my brain, I grieved. Hard. I grieved my mistakes (soooo many) and the time I’d lost trying to be someone I wasn’t. Then I put the pieces together (again) and grieved for my grandma and my dad, who lived and died in times where their brains weren’t recognized or understood. But while I mourned, I was also ecstatic, because I understood who I was. I knew there were others like me. Now we’re outsiders together.

Fictional Characters with ADHD: Books We Love – ADDitude

Not long after my diagnosis, my friend Rachel told me I was a superhero—an X-Man, in fact. Hadn’t I noticed my superpowers? She stopped me in my tracks, because she’s right. I can focus for a really, really long time—so long that I’ve managed to write 9 books, plus a lot of poetry, while raising a son and working full-time. I have compassion for days, because I feel things so deeply. I am also easily amused, and generally happy—plus I’m funny. Usually.

The absences my brain creates—a slippery relationship with time, a tendency toward forgetting, SO MANY EMOTIONS—can usually be balanced out by my superpowers. Not in the eyes of culture, of course—same as in the X-Men mythology, our culture tends to shun us—but in my eyes, I feel as cool as Jean Gray or Storm.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills is the author of Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Kirstin Cronn-Mills is the author of Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Now, after 2.5 years of sorting out my powers, it’s time to advocate for a positive view of neurodiversity, of all kinds. My work in progress is called O IS FOR OUTSIDER. Evvie, the protagonist, has ADHD—as do her mom and the octopus researcher (!) she follows. These three women offer no apologies for their neurodivergence, and they like themselves. As the story develops, Evvie crushes on one of the octopus researcher’s helpers—turns out he’s neurodiverse, too. Nobody’s made to feel ashamed of the way their brain behaves, and everyone is supported for who they are.

Utopias are awesome, right?

In our real world, there’s still plenty of risk in claiming who I am. For example: what happens if my day job boss reads this post? She might instantly discredit everything I say and do. What if an editor sees this post and refuses to work with me, assuming I’ll miss my deadlines (I’m always early with manuscripts)? What if readers don’t give my books a chance because they assume they’re too weird?

The word “neurodiversity” comes from the autism community but can describe many different kinds of brains. We neurodivergent X-Men bring strengths to humanity that others can’t match (Albert Einstein, anyone?). If we’re a little bit late, or a little hypervigilant, or we see letters in weird orders, please be patient with us. We’re figuring out relativity or earning Olympic medals (hi, Simone Biles!). If you’re a person with autism, anxiety, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, dyslexia, or any other kind of differently-wired brain, hello. I see you and your powers, and I salute you.

As I travel through my new life, I watch people around me who are judged for being different (all kinds of difference), and these questions constantly ricochet through my head: why is difference judged and shunned instead of appreciated? Why do we need the concept of “outsider”?

In response, my WIP asks this question: what would happen if people valued our neurodiversity instead of rejected us for it?

I want to celebrate my brain—even with its frustrations and absences. I want you to celebrate yours, too. I want that for my neurodiverse kid, other neurodiverse kids, and my dad and grandma. I want us to be OK with different ways to process the world. And I want my characters to reflect those different ways to be human.

Meet Kirstin Cronn-Mills

kirstin

Kirstin Cronn-Mills writes fiction and nonfiction for young adults. Her second novel, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, won the American Library Association’s Stonewall Award in 2014. She writes and teaches in southern Minnesota, where she lives with her family and her Harry Potter-named animals.
About Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
“This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I’m Gabe. Welcome to my show.”

My birth name is Elizabeth, but I’m a guy. Gabe. My parents think I’ve gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I’m right. I’ve been a boy my whole life.

When you think about it, I’m like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side–not heard as often, but just as good.

It’s time to let my B side play. (Published in 2012 by Flux Books)

Book Review: Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza

Publisher’s description

ra6For fans of Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, Emery Lord’s When We Collided, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl,Anna Priemaza’s debut novel is a heartwarming and achingly real story of finding a friend, being a fan, and defining your place in a difficult world.

Kat and Meg couldn’t be more different. Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to people. Meg hates being alone, but her ADHD keeps pushing people away. But when the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they do have one thing in common: They’re both obsessed with the same online gaming star and his hilarious videos.

It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship—if they don’t kill each other first.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

katKat is new to Alberta and starting grade 10. Being the new girl is extra hard for Kat, who has anxiety and panic attacks. She tries to stay off everyone’s radar, ducking quickly through halls and hiding out in the library during lunch. At least in the library, she can play Legends of the Stone, her favorite game. Online is where she feels comfortable.

Meg is an extremely charismatic extrovert who has ADHD and has bounced around between friends and is currently mostly friendless. She’s one of only a few black kids in school, chatters nonstop, doesn’t do well in her classes, and is into skateboarding and watching LumberLegs play Legends of the Stone on YouTube.

The two pair up for a science project and, while it’s clear their styles of working (or not working, in Meg’s case) are not going to mesh easily, they bond over LumberLegs and LotS. Meg makes sure they start hanging out, not just getting together to work on their science project, and they start playing LotS online together, too. Meg is a lot for Kat to handle—she’s erratic, wants to make Kat socialize more, and just so full of frantic energy. Kat loves order, predictability, pro/con lists, and hiding out alone. Neither girl reveals her diagnosis to the other, though thanks to the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety, it’s pretty obvious. But not talking about the different ways their brains work and how that affects them makes their friendship all the more complicated, muddying up communication and making for hurt feelings. They have such different goals and concerns. Kat would like to win the science fair, keep playing online with the few people she feels comfortable text chatting with, and be friends with Meg but also be left to her own devices as far as being social. Meg desperately wants to go to LotsCON, to find people in her life who stick around (struggling to figure out friends, her boyfriend, and her relationship with her ex-stepdad), and just be herself without also feeling so bad about who and how she is.

 

I don’t presume to actually know what it’s like to live with ADHD. BUT, my son has ADHD, so I do have a fairly good grasp on what it looks like, if not necessarily what it feels like. This story is not really about the ins and outs of ADHD or anxiety/panic disorder. Kat mentions a counselor who didn’t really help her. Meg is on medication. That’s about the extent of any medical/therapy discussions. But, this story is very much about the day-to-day experiences of both ADHD and anxiety. Meg’s inability to focus, to follow through, to live up to her potential, to complete assignments, to remember details, to think through impulsive choices all ring very true. And, as someone who enjoys the roller coaster of fun that is anxiety disorder and panic attacks, I can definitely say that all seems legit, too. Though their friendship isn’t necessarily easy, it is genuine, and more than anything, that’s what this story is about—finding true friendship and showing your real self to someone else. The alternate narration lets readers into the heads of both girls, really showing how they feel about themselves and their lives. While coincidence brings them together and a shared fandom kicks off their friendship, it’s their deep affection for one another and their eventual honesty that really cements their relationship. A fun book about conquering your fears and finding friendship when your own brain sometimes feels like your worst enemy. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062560803
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/07/2017