About

 

A blog about the art of writing.

Liz McGehee is a full-time editor/writer based in New Orleans, Louisiana. She holds an MFA from the University of Colorado Boulder, where she also taught creative writing. She is a former managing editor of Subito Press, a non-profit publisher of literary works based out of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has also worked as the managing editor of five nationally syndicated magazines and has helped produce several literary journals.yo.JPG

She has published over 50 articles, reviews, poems, stories, and was chosen as a finalist in several book contests. In 2015, Entropy Magazine interviewed her to learn more about her experience in small press and featured her in their article, “50 QUOTES FROM 50 PRESSES: THE SMALL PRESS DATABASE HITS 50 INTERVIEWS“.

Her creative work has appeared in New Delta Review, Cloud Rodeo, The Volta, The Thought Erotic, Pouch Magazine, and she has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize as well as Sundress Press’ Best of the Net Anthology. Current poems can be found on Instagram at @badpoemance.

Her blog contains tips on how to hone your craft along with personal anecdotes, cultural critiques, lists, reviews, publishing advice and more.

How I Was Misdiagnosed with Depression for 24 Years

Today, I’m going to address something I rarely talk about online that most certainly (and often unknowingly) impacts the everyday lives of countless women, myself included. To give you an idea of how something like a 24-year misdiagnosis happens, I’ll start with some personal history.

If you don’t care about any of that, skip to the “Why Women Are Left Behind” section.  

******

For 24 years of my life, I was misdiagnosed with major depression and bipolar type-II. This started clinically when I was 11 years old, but, as a young child, I remember a darkness coming over me and taking root, like the difficult kudzu you must fight to keep from swallowing a town.

I remember writing in an attempt to make sense of my reality, to carve out a world I could call home, a place where I had permission to feel both adequate and happy.

There were situational events that made me feel wretched, but they weren’t at the heart of the chronic rain cloud that followed me around. However, these experiences gave me an excuse to grab onto other emotions like anger which, temporarily, made me feel in control of my life and my feelings.

I think that we can all agree that these are childish coping mechanisms most of us grow out of eventually. For me, this process has been difficult, and the journey isn’t over yet. It is not enough to merely admit the problem or the cause. Changing our behavior and way of thinking is the hardest part.

In my case, I didn’t understand the problem until I was 24 years old.


There’s Your Sign

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time being punished in the classroom. My teachers were always shouting my name as though an acrid taste had just entered their mouths; their words like newly slung arrows lodged in my chest.

Despite the fact that this happened constantly throughout the day, every day, I found myself blindsided and demoralized each time. I still couldn’t control myself.


Whenever something jumped into my brain, I had to do or say something about it right then and there. And this impulse has been the bane of my existence my entire life.


Somewhere along the way, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of shame all of the time. My personality did a 180, and I went from extrovert to extremely shy, anxious, and wary of all people. Most disturbing of all, I became quiet.

I even learned how to feign listening when, in reality, I was completely checked out. I remember the urge to hit myself in head to pay attention. Why can’t I just focus?! Needless to say, I did not perform well in school and, at home, my parents worked tirelessly with me on homework with very little reward.

I also began to believe at this age that I was inherently inadequate, stupid, lazy, ugly, rude, and that everything about me was just…wrong. Everyone in my life reinforced this whenever I could not easily adjust to new situations or information.

By now, you have probably guessed my real (and painfully obvious) diagnosis. Hint: it’s not depression.


Why Women Are Left Behind

It’s no secret that ADHD can manifest as other disorders, such as depression and OCD, in an effort to control the original problem. However, women are disproportionately affected by this misdiagnoses.

I am no longer surprised when someone I’ve just told my diagnosis to responds with, “I think ADHD is overdiagnosed,” or “I think ADHD is made up.”

If you’re one of these people, keep in mind that the criteria has evolved substantially since the 80s, and we are just now recognizing the gap in previous studies that built this criteria.

For instance, over 99% of studies conducted on ADHD have centered exclusively around boys/men exhibiting hyperactivity, which means the number of undiagnosed and misdiagnosed women is still grossly underrepresented, and the consequences of this are deadly.

Another reason why women are able to “hide” ADHD for so long is that we are not permitted the same behavioral freedoms as boys and men. In other words, we are working twice as hard to fit ourselves into societal roles and norms. Women, especially, are held accountable when they fail at emotional labor, organization, caretaking, housework, let alone balancing these things with a full-time job.


Whether we want to admit it or not, we write these behaviors off in boys, or we get them treated immediately. Girls, on the other hand, are shamed into masking symptoms.


Thus, changing their physical appearance, and performing restrictive behaviors that cause them to distrust their own bodies, language, and autonomy from the time they are born. This results in self-loathing, depression, OCD, anxiety, and more.

This exercise of control over women in public and private spaces is so normalized that it’s invisible. And this sort of medical erasure happens to women all of the time and not just for psychological issues. Women, and women of color in particular, with legitimate medical concerns are often patronized, ignored, and misdiagnosed by doctors.

I am reminded of the fact that both my male cousin and I had the same behavioral issues and learning difficulties in school. I was told to control myself; he was sent to a psychiatrist and given tools to deal with his disorder.


Revelations

In 2016, Quartz published an article addressing just this:


“ADHD materializes dramatically differently in girls. ‘Anxiety and depression turn into low self-esteem and self-loathing, and the risk for self-harm and suicide attempts is four-to-five times that of girls without ADHD,’ 2012 research shows…


“Unlike boys, many of whom show hyperactivity, girls’ symptoms veer more toward inattentiveness and disorganization. Girls tend to develop ADHD later than boys. They frequently mask it in an attempt to conform to society’s expectation that they be on the ball and organized.

And while some ADHD symptoms can become less intense for boys after they pass through puberty, for many girls, it gets worse [1].”

I had just been diagnosed for the first time at 24 years old when I read another life-changing article by Broadly called: “‘I Thought I Was Stupid’: The Hidden Struggle for Women with ADHD” [2], which left me feeling a mix of things, mainly that I wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t depressed. I wasn’t alone. And, for the first time in my life, I felt understood and validated in my experience.

At that time, I had already completed half of my graduate degree in Colorado with a year-and-a-half left to go. Between grad school, a 100-year flood 3 months into living there, my boyfriend at the time moving back to Kansas, and my own cross-country move, life had taken a huge toll.

I’d never felt more alone.

This feeling progressed until I became scared enough to seek professional help. Every 2-3 years my ptsd (from Hurricane Katrina) was triggered like this. Major upheavals, lack of control over my environment and relationships, worrying about my grades—it all brought up too much. Inevitably, my entire life and mental health status imploded shortly thereafter without fail.

This cycle was normal for me from ages 15-24 and even expected.

Imagine my surprise when, after many sessions, my new psychiatrist in CO told me that I wasn’t depressed. I remember my mouth falling open. What do you mean I’m not depressed?!

He became more and more convinced that the root cause of my depression was a direct result of undiagnosed ADHD. As he went through several points with me using examples from my childhood and these bouts of depression, the direct link between my sense of self worth and my ability to complete things/lack of organization suddenly clicked. Holy hell!

Not once in all of my years of therapy had a medical professional suggested this to me.

Most of the advice I’d received up until then required a lot of that pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps blend of self-help. But I couldn’t fix that aspect of my life. That was, well…me.

So here I was at 24 years old finally putting the pieces together. And with that, I felt the beginning of many painful years unravelling.


The “Miracle”

My diagnosis was, in fact, the beginning of untangling a thick web of self-hatred I’d buried myself in for so long.

I’ll never forget the therapist who performed the test saying, “It’s a miracle you’ve made it this far,” in reference to graduate school.


The truth is, it isn’t a miracle. Not in the slightest. There is no such thing for people with ADHD. The only “miracle” here is that I did not give up.


The first year I applied to graduate programs, I didn’t receive a single acceptance letter. Yes, I was an above average writer, and I was passionate about it; but that could not account for years of poor grades, a disorganized portfolio, and an abysmal GRE score.

While my friends were off starting their programs the next year, I was working at a refinery to save money and busting my ass on those applications for the second time. I remember crying a lot at the application and testing fees, during the math portion of the GRE, at the overwhelming feeling that I was doing all of this for nothing, and at the realization that I’m not the only one who has to do this and omg why am I crying?

Even though my portfolio was amazing and my letters of recommendation were from well-established poets the second time around, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t good enough. And until I was finally diagnosed and treated, I had imposter syndrome throughout all of my classes and interactions at school.

It didn’t matter that I was 1 of the 12 chosen out of 400 applicants or that I was 1 of the 5 admitted for poetry. It didn’t matter if someone solicited me for poems or was moved by my work. Or that the students that dropped were first-time applicants who couldn’t handle the workload. I can state these facts all day long and still feel insecure, although less so now.

The truth is that therapy and medication cannot completely erase years of psychological damage, but it can help. And, because of those things, it is easier than ever before to not give up or break down at the slightest obstacle like I would have in the past.

I wish that more women had access to this knowledge because it can improve your quality of life exponentially. I have much more control over my impulses and emotions, or rather, they have stabilized. Tasks are easier to prioritize and don’t overwhelm me as often. I can see the big picture of my projects and my position and am less prone to quit on impulse or self-sabotage.

Basically, my life is 80% more manageable than before, and I have some great doctors to thank for that.

There are still people who tell me my disorder isn’t real or overdiagnosed, and people who let it mar their view of my capability and performance. Then there are people who see it as a window into you.


My Thoughts on Living with Diagnosed ADHD

Personally, I believe ADHD is behind all of my creative and professional success.

If you follow my blog for writing tips and some of what I’ve said sounds a little too familiar, take refuge in knowing that ADHD has been an asset more than anything else in this area of my life.


Whether we are capable of recognizing it or not, those of us with the disorder have a unique set of tools the average person does not have access to.


That puts our perspective and our possibilities at the cutting edge of creative writing. Scores of famous writers, artists, actors, and creatives in various professions, including entrepreneurs and CEOs, have learned to embrace this disorder and use it to their benefit.

Despite many of the negatives that come with ADHD, this endless, unstoppable creativity is something to be thankful for at the end of the day.

What Aziz Ansari Teaches Us About Sexual Coercion

In the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Aziz Ansari, I felt the need to say something about consent. I’ve seen a lot of disappointing reactions on my newsfeed today, all from men. Mainly people posting this New York Times article, Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being A Mindreader. Even my gay friends have defended Ansari, and, although I adamantly disagree, I can understand why they would.


When we picture a rapist, we picture someone who is physically and emotionally capable of overpowering a woman or someone who looks rough around the edges.


Aziz Ansari is the opposite of this, more than that, he’s a likable guy. Yet, he has openly joked about sexual coercion in his skits, and we all laugh at it. That’s because sexual coercion is completely normalized in our culture.

But what is sexual coercion exactly?

Most people do not realize there are multiple forms of rape. Sexual coercion, in my opinion, is one of the most insidious forms. Here’s an example:

Picture you’re sitting at a table with someone just trying to do your homework. The other person offers you a bite of their bagel. You say no thanks, but you feel bad, because you like the person, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Five minutes later, they offer you a bite of the bagel again. You react the same as you did before. This cycle repeats until, finally, you take a bite of the bagel just to get this person to stop.


This is something women experience every single day at the hands of men, only it’s not a bagel we’re saying no to. It’s unwanted sexual contact.


So, if you give in, eventually, that’s still consent, isn’t it?

Not exactly. What the offerer has proven by the time you cave is that they do not care about your desires, your boundaries, or your consent. They just want to get laid, and they will keep chipping away at you until they get what they want.

If this sounds like something that happens all the time, that’s because it is. Sexual assault is often in plain sight and encouraged. People think of sexual assault as violent stranger rape when the majority of rape is performed by someone the victim knows and is comfortable with. It’s nuanced like that, and because of this, women have difficulty speaking up in the moment.


You wouldn’t expect a woman to pull out a rape whistle on a trusted friend because it’s not that kind of situation. You can’t expect a woman to fight or scream “no!” at these times either.


I don’t think Aziz Ansari is an inherently bad dude, or that he is even rare in thinking that what he did was perfectly acceptable. But it isn’t that hard to tell if your partner wants to have sex with you. It’s also not hard to ask for consent.

A common reaction I see to this line of thinking is that everything is being treated with “kid gloves” now. The same argument has been made for things like autism and rampant levels of mental illness. To which I say, these things have always existed; we just have a name for them now, and we aren’t accepting ignorance anymore.

The Lesson

What Aziz Ansari teaches us about sexual coercion is that it is still a societal problem we need to address. Despite the #metoo movement, victim blaming is still a huge problem.


We should not be teaching women to “speak up” more often. We should be teaching men to stop wearing women down until they get what they want, and that this behavior is, in fact, a form of assault.


Aziz also teaches us that even the nice guy can be out of touch with consent. Speaking and asking questions during sex is embarrassing sometimes, but if we (I’m looking at you New York Times) are going to make the argument that women need to be socialized to speak up, we need to make the same argument about men.

More Reading:

P.S. Medium.com published an amazing piece on coercion and Aziz Ansari worth reading. The author articulates sexual coercion on a personal level and articulates the subject better than I ever could.

Prompt of the Day: Poetry

Winter is my favorite time of year. Partially because my birthday is in the new year, but mostly because the transition from December to January feels like a much-needed purge. This is when we let go of the old and believe transformation is possible.

At Christmas we dredge up old wounds with family. We think about the new year as a chance to be better. This is a period of resolution, renaissance and rebirth.

In the spirit of this, I want you to think of a person who has hurt you emotionally in the past. A person you have not been able to let go of for whatever reason.

Why do your memories of this still ache, and/or how were things left unresolved? Do you blame them or yourself? Or both?

I am asking you to go where you have refused to go before and to address this person/incident (and yourself) with the most honesty you can muster, even if it hurts.

Rules:

  • Don’t specify who this person is or a specific incident, rather describe how they make/made you feel.
  • Use a minimum of 5 stanzas/paragraphs, OR, alternately, you can use 5 lines.
    • Doesn’t matter if you use a traditional form, free verse or prose blocks.
  • Address different questions/aspects in each paragraph/line.
    • Paragraph 1: Whose fault was it?
    • Paragraph 2: What were the results of the fallout?
    • Paragraph 3: Do you still think about them? Be honest.
    • Paragraph 4: How hard is/was it for you to love again?
    • Paragraph 5: What would you say to them now?
  • Does not have to be a romantic relationship. Supplement appropriate adjectives in the paragraph questions.

Here’s my attempt:

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 7.16.04 PM

Genre-Bending Women

I could write about this all day, but here is a shortlist of female writers that have influenced me through their individual contemporary/hybrid styles:

1. Maggie Nelson

A mixture of poetry, essay, philosophy, and memoir, Bluets blows both form and genre out of the water.

2. Lidia Yuknavitck

The first book I ever read by Yuknacitch was her memoir, The Chronology of Water, which remains one of my favorite books to date. Her use of language is so precise, so powerful, so poetic, yet perfectly bare-boned and vulnerable. Her latest novel, The Book of Joan, is a modern reimagining of Joan of Arc that takes place on space station. Again, the language is incredible and completely unexpected for dystopian, sci-fi.

3. Roxane Gay

Gay blew up in 2014 with the release of Bad Feminist, a collection of essays that redefine what it means to be a modern feminist. But long before this, her debut came with a collection of 15 stories called Ayiti, “a unique blend of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, all interwoven to represent the Haitian diaspora experience.” Her novel An Untamed State, was released the same year as Bad Feminist. Gay also posts actively on tumblr with thoughts on life, recipes, and more.

4. Claudia Rankine

When Rankine’s lyrical memoir, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, was released in 2004, she completely changed both poetry and CNF. Similarly, her book Citizen pushed this line of hybridity further when it was nominated for the National Book Award in poetry. Some argued that it was a collection of essays, while others saw it as poetic. Still others see it as both, and I am inclined to agree with them.

5. Anne Carson

If you haven’t read The Glass Essay, you need to get on that right now. Carson manages to meld poetry and the personal essay perfectly in this piece as well as The Autobiography of Red. Her poetry is typically prose heavy to begin with and extremely enjoyable to writers of different genres.

6. Carmen Giménez Smith

Crisp autobiographical poetry and a must-read.

7. Octavia Butler

Badass sci-fi daring to go where no one has gone before. “[Butler] defied formulaic sci-fi while exploiting the freedom of the genre to take her usually female and nonwhite characters to places where mainstream fiction would ten to deny them.”—Commonweal

8. Eula Biss

Please read The Pain Scale if you haven’t. She also has a myriad of essay collections that skillfully tackle hard-hitting topics.

9. Lorrie Moore

“Oh, the precarious position of fiction in our world: that over the last several decades the novel has continually been declared dead, and the short story is in constant resurrection, which means half-dead or post-dead or heaven-bound. But one continues writing anyway—as has been said by many—because one must.”—Lorrie Morre

10. Ruth Ellen Kocher

I had the pleasure of studying under this incredible poet whose hybrid work is constantly changing the game. domina Un/blued is a personal favorite.

11. Vanessa Angelica Villerreal

Beast Meridian is one of the most beautiful collections of poems I’ve read in a long time. It includes family photos, potent imagery, and wounding personal experiences to show the erasure and illegalization of Mexican-American bodies in today’s society.

12. Jennifer Tamayo

You Da One is highly experimental and uses pop culture references to explore the wound of American assimilation.

Prompt of the Day: Poetry

You may or may not be familiar with erasure poetry, but it’s essentially exactly what it sounds like. Taking pre-existing work, you mark out chunks of text to create a new poem. This process can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing writer’s block.

Ruefle-Mary-page1Mary Ruefle has a famous 42-page-erasure poem called A Little White Shadow that she created from Emily Malone Morgan’s Brown & Gross (1889). I believe I read an interview somewhere in which Ruefle claimed one of the main reasons she chose this text is because there are no copyright issues from a text this ancient. So bear that in mind before you spend too much time on this.

A former professor of mine, Ruth Ellen Kocher, took a different approach to erasure in her book domina Un/blued. While in Rome, she wrote tons of poems and later went back and erasured her own work. The results are absolutely breathtaking.

Many poets erasure their own work in the editing process without thinking of it as such. And many poets have difficulty letting words go. But this process is all about whittling down to the most precise language. You’d be surprised what can come out of that.

Rules:

  • take a text you’ve either written or a text that you love and mark out chunks to create your own poem

Here’s my attempt:

Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
So:

Taken By Frost

a yellow traveller
bent in the undergrowth
and wanted
that morning
I kept knowing
I should never come back

 

Prompt of the Day: Flash Fiction/Poetry

Laura Theobald is one of the many writers incorporating modern technology into their work. Using iOS predictive text, Theobald wrote an entire collection of poems titled THE BEST THING EVER. You too can create an interesting story or prose poem through predictive text. You’ll also get a glimpse into your psyche when you see which words you use most frequently.

Rules:

  • 20-25 words minimum
  • start with “I died”
  • if predictive text repeats the same word(s) too often, hit a random letter for more vocabulary options

 

Here’s my attempt (I can’t stop laughing):

 

BYE Y’ALL

I died in the past, and it is literally just one of my favorite places. Yeah, that’s what I’m going through. Right after lunch, I’ll be a feeling. Like this, but so far away. I’m going home now. I’ll let y’all be good. I’ll talk tomorrow night. And love with him has no chance. I died in a good mood I guess. I died in the way you told me. I died in the world. Just let me remember that.