by Nichole Shaw
Illustrations by Olivia Peters
Seton Warren is a freshman at the University of Iowa struggling with severe ADHD and identifying who her true ‘self’ is while managing to be a pioneer for mental health advocacy.
She wraps herself in a fuzzy blanket and curls into a ball, lint sticking to her leggings and wax building an impasse in her ears, shielding herself from the misconceptions shot her way. She meets my gaze, says, “There’s chaos going on in my head at all times.”
She is in ruin, and nothing but her ADHD medication is there to help her. Yet, even that so-called savior destroys her--I see it when I sit in her room watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower on a random Wednesday night, cuddling up under that same fuzzy blanket. I see it when we eat dinner together every night as she picks at her food and I inhale mine.
“Having ADHD shapes who I am. Every aspect of my life is affected by it. When I’m on medicine, I am not funny. I have no personality,” she says. I ache for her floating soul—one that will never truly stick, a slipping slope of uncertainty.
White-knuckled grip on the blanket.
“I resent society because there is such a stigma around ADHD—everyone thinks this disorder is seeing something shiny and being like ‘ooh,’ but it’s so much more than that. ADHD feels like not prioritizing anything.”
She nibbles on an orange, hands sticky with juice. She’s taken her medication today; oranges are the only food she can stomach while drugged up.
“If something comes into my mind, I say it as soon as I think it. I always end up leaving conversations feeling like I’ve divulged too much information. It’s hard to sort what’s important and what’s not important or shouldn’t be said. So, I end up just closing myself off from other people in general. It’s easier for me to not talk than to worry about talking too much.”
She avoids eye contact with me when we talk. We never really talk about the anarchy that rules one's mind and shuts the door to progress; we never really talk about the fear of living in a world where we're molded like Play-Doh and sneered at when we try to roll ourselves out and speak our minds. So, we shut up and go on standby mode to maintain the illusion of safety in ignorance. I clench my teeth instead of saying, "I want to help you destroy the demons that lurk." My jaw aches after a while and I'm crippled with distress over the world of disregard we live in.
“Ideally, I wished I lived in a society that accepted who I am regardless of my mental disorder. I think there needs to be tools found to help people that have ADHD live well. When you’re disabled, you have accommodations—like lowered sinks or ramps that can help you get places. I think there needs to be an equivalent of that for people who have ADHD.”
It’s a constant battle between chaos and order, perilous misconception and true understanding.
“I don’t know if the ADHD is a part of my personality or if it is just an illness that I have. I wonder if my true personality is when I’m on the medicine or off it. I have no idea when I’m me. But, it’s something I think about a lot.” She seems uncomfortable, uneasy, and tired. She is in a continuous state of distress about who she truly is, fighting unwarranted stigmatization of her illness in the media.
The fight to resist the chaos that plagues Seton's mind is constant. She never stops. She never lies down and lets the chaos wash over her. She is a phoenix, escaping the isolated disorder of her mind, transcending from chaos. Society built a border around her in their tumultuous misconceptions about mental illness and she tore it down on her way up, disregarding their accusatory perception of her “dangerous” instability. While she has ascended into a state of acceptance towards herself, she still struggles to accept her lack of control in her illness and in life.
“ADHD makes me regret things that I say. I’ll just be like Oh my gosh that’s so cringe-y, why did you say that? —just shut your mouth. I have an obsessiveness over what I say and how people perceive me, which is also a huge struggle for me.”
She shifts into a criss cross applesauce pose, and I’m struck by a sense of protectiveness over her. She’s just a young woman with a big heart who wants to unveil the ignorance of inaction in preventing societal progress. She is someone who wants everyone to just understand, someone who just wants all the chaos to stop. Whether that chaos is the one in her head or the one that runs rampant in our politically charged nation, it is nonetheless awfully vicious and should be worked towards a means to an end.
“My dad used to say, ‘The things you say, you’re going to get shot one day.’” But, the things Seton says are valid steps in the reconfiguration of a toxic system enabling devastating destruction in America.
People give their sympathy and tweet about how mental health awareness is so important, but they stop after that. It isn’t enough to just be aware of these symptoms. We give our condolences, our “thoughts and prayers,” but we don’t actually do anything. The ignorance lives on, and people are still dying. We excuse the situation by blaming mental illness as the kill shot because it disguises the enabling of a system that supports American destruction. It isn’t the things we say that are going to get us shot one day. It’s the things we don’t say, the things we ignore, that open the casket of destruction.
Seton and I read a speech by the National Rifle Association's CEO, Wayne LaPierre, championing the creation of a database that identifies everyone with a mental illness. The part that strikes us most with frustration was when “National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre faulted “delusional killers” for gun violence in the United States immediately after the school shooting at Sandy Hook, while calling for a “national registry” of persons with mental illness.”
The creation of a database of everyone with a mental illness is not going to obstruct the violence that runs rampant with the lack of regulation that has been accepted as the norm in the land of the fearful. People must eradicate this toxic system by waking themselves up from the coma ignorance has endowed upon them.
Seton says, "The problem is that those in power [Congress, the White House administration, etc.] keep blaming issues of gun violence on mental health alone to further their agenda. The root of the problem is guns and the accessibility of them. I think they need to realize that there are varying degrees of mental illness because we're not all the same...With the government we have now, we never hear anything about mental health advocacy. The only time you hear about mental illness from the White House right now is when they're blaming issues of gun violence on mental illnesses."
The convenience of creating mass destruction is being enabled by thick-headed benightedness. People always say they didn’t see it coming. They’re wrong. They saw it coming. They just chose to blissfully ignore it until naiveté became bullets through a young woman’s skull.
Until stigma became brain-splitting chaos you had no control over because no one helped you. Because no one helped you except for when they helped you destroy whatever semblance of sanity you had left.