“ADHD: Means I have a hard time giving a shit.
Ulcerative Colitis: Means I literally have a hard time giving a shit.” ~Morgan Rutledge
Happy New Year everyone! For our final post of the year, I present to you an interview with a very, very dear friend of mine. Morgan and I have been friends for over ten years now, but it was only three years ago that we “came out” of the invisible illness “closet” to each other. I was facing my first surgery, and I gave her a call. She was the first person aside from my parents that I ever attempted to explain my illness to. Boy was I surprised when she told me she was sick too!
We’d been best friends since junior high. I didn’t know I was sick until after high school, but Morgan knew she was sick. Once, while I was over at her house, I noticed a doctor bill in the kitchen. When I asked what she’d gone to the hospital for, she snatched the paper away and basically told me she’d never tell me ever, and never to ask again because it was embarrassing. She’s my best friend, and I respected her wish. But I was dying to know what was going on.
I’d almost completely forgotten about it until I called her about my surgery years later. It took many more years after that before I talked to anyone else about my illness. Deciding how much of your health to disclose is a really hard decision, and there’s no etiquette book explaining the right and wrong things/ways to share. But if me and Morgan, two of the best friends there are, could not share with each other, then something is seriously wrong in the world. Being sick requires a lot of courage.
So I wanted to interview Morgan about her illness, her secrets, her fears, her knowledge, and her writing. Like Rosa Fontana, our last interviewee, Morgan is an aspiring author and college graduate. I hope that as we turn to greet the new year, that we may make the resolution to face our fears and talk about the hard stuff.
On to the interview!
First, if you could give us a little intro to what invisible illnesses you have.
Lucky for me, I have two; one neurobiological, the other purely physical: Adult ADHD and ulcerative colitis.
Alright, now say a little about you.
I’m pretty boring. 😀 I just recently graduated from college and am now currently working at a university full time (don’t get too excited – I’m staff, not faculty) doing boring office-y stuff. My defining characteristic is my nerdiness: comics, cartoons, video games – if it’s nerdy and you can name it, then I’ve probably watched/done it.
You’re a writer, just like our previous interviewee. What kind of things do you write about?
I almost exclusively write fiction, with my genres of choice being primarily fantasy and sci-fi. I like action, adventure, and, admittedly, violence fuelling my drama, but I’m secretly a romantic at heart – I can’t stand unhappy endings. For purely entertainment purposes, I also write fanfiction… and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Do you have any advice for writers in general?
Stick to it. One of my major problems is I never finish anything. Whether you think it is good or bad, just get it done. You can always edit/critique later.
Why do you write?
It’s the one thing I’ve consistently loved to do since I was around eight years old – I can’t quite tell you why. I have always loved to read, so maybe that love fueled my desire to create my own stories. I got lots of encouragement from my parents so I’ve been doing it ever since. The other possibility is that my sister was doing it and I just decided to copy her like I did everything else when I was younger.
You graduated from college recently. How did illness affect your academic life? How did you balance health, school, friends, etc?
As I mentioned, I have two invisible illnesses: ADHD and ulcerative colitis. My ADHD affected my school life more than my ulcerative colitis. School has always been a frustrating experience for me, but it wasn’t until I went to college and subsequently lost my support system (friends, parents) that things really started spiraling for me. My grades started slipping – dramatically – and it was mostly a combination of my writing skills and pure luck (and the indulgence/gullibility of many professors…) that managed to pull me through. I wasn’t actually diagnosed with ADHD until the summer of my freshman year, and even then I didn’t really know how to deal with it. I got medication for it (with disturbing ease, but that’s another topic), but it didn’t always help in the way I needed it to, mostly when it came to homework. My most frustrating experiences though had to be during my junior year.
One of my teachers actually suggested to me to go to our student health center and talk to some of the people there about getting in-class accommodations. I didn’t even know this was a possibility, so I went ahead and dropped by. The woman I talked to was actually very helpful and I she told me that you can actually have someone take notes for you in class. Since I can’t take notes to save my life, this seemed like a pretty swell option. But here’s where my problem started – I needed a form to be signed by my doctor. Well my doctor was about five states away and I’d only talked to the woman like twice, so this instantly became a problem. A month or two later I was on vacation so I managed to get the form signed. When I got back I discovered that my doctor had to make a very specific note on the form in order for me to get in-class accommodations. So at that point I just said “fuck it” and scrapped the whole idea and decided to just push on through like I always did – with varying results.
Until college, I had never failed a class. I’d never even gotten a “C” (with the exception of 9th grade Biology… you know what I’m talking about, Rachel). During my college career I failed three. One of them I don’t blame myself for because the class blindsided me with its difficulty and the teacher was terrible, but the other two I failed for the exact same reason – I couldn’t get my final papers written. For someone who has frequently been described as a talented writer, this was a bit of a humiliating experience. There was, to me anyway, no reason whatsoever that I didn’t get those papers done. I made it to graduation, but by my estimations if I hadn’t failed those classes I probably could have graduated a semester early, saving both myself and my parents time and money.
I had a few meltdowns at school because of the frustrations that came from getting things done and it was hard to do anything but viciously blame myself for being an idiot. But worse than the circular arguing in my brain about how it both was and wasn’t my fault, was the my automatic defense mechanism – ignoring it. I spent most of my time pretending that I had nothing to do, nothing to get done. Late paper? What late paper? This probably prevented me from having a complete nervous breakdown, but it sure as heck didn’t help my grades. My medication, when I took it, helped me pay attention in class, but when the day dragged on and got to the point when I needed to get homework done, it just didn’t seem to work right. Hence the procrastinating and idling when I should have been working.
How did being away from home affect your health and school life?
It was hard to get things done without my mom helicoptering over my shoulder. As annoying as it is, it is a pretty solid guarantee that I’ll get what I need done, done. As far as my ulcerative colitis goes, it probably would’ve been good to have my mother’s cooking around. Better for my tummy.
What was your major and why did you choose it?
I was a Philosophy major. I picked it because I was too lazy to be an English major. Seriously. When I entered school, I was about 99% sure I would end up an English major. However, when it came time for me to choose a major at the end of my sophomore year, I discovered I accidentally already had a third of my required credits for a Philosophy degree. I also found out that Philosophy required two less credits than English. And Philosophy is more fun anyhow, if not utterly useless.
What does a “bad day” illness-wise look like for you? How do you deal with it?
In some ways, most days are bad days. I never get the writing done that I want to be done and thats very frustrating and discouraging. When it comes to my tummy problems, I feel kind of bloated and gross on most days, but its gotten to the point where I don’t really notice. It’s not really a problem unless I’m stuck on a plane and its a lot of trouble to run to the bathroom every half hour. Which has happened. On a transcontinental flight. That was… unpleasant.
What is your favorite comfort when you’re sick or just feeling down?
Sleep. I actually got into a bit of a bad habit of taking extremely long naps, up to three or four hours at a time. When I was feeling down, or even when I was bored, I’d just take a snooze. Without fail, sleep can almost instantly erase any stress. Unfortunately I can’t really so that anymore as I am employed, so as an alternative, I also sometimes listen to extremely loud awesome music.
Other than writing, what do you like to do?
Video games! Reading! Watching movies and tv shows and cartoons! Name something nerdy, I like to do. Also sleep. I love me some sleep.
What are your plans for the future?
Plans? I’m a chronic procrastinator, I have none of these mystical “plans.”
Tell us about your upcoming blog projects.
While hanging out with my best bud Rachel, I rediscovered some old journals that were written while I was in elementary school. Turns out that the writings of 5-10 year old me range from nonsensical to flat out hilarious. I thought it might be a fun idea to share these journal entries, one page at a time, with the internet surfing public with my contemporary commentary accompanying them. Since my room is currently a mess and I’m not entirely sure how to operate my scanner, this probably won’t be happening for a while.
Since I’m a video game lover and also spend a lot of time watching video game reviews on the internet, I thought I also might start doing Let’s Plays in the future. Let’s Plays, for those who don’t know, are simply videos of people playing video games with informative or amusing commentary. This too will take some time to get off the ground for several reasons, the three primary ones being: 1) I still live with my parents and they are annoying (love you, guys…), 2) I need to purchase audio/video equipment and software, and 3) I need set up a schedule to do this with a friend(s); I’m funnier when I have an audience and/or comedic foil to work with. I really want to do this in particular because it sounds fun and I don’t think there are enough ladies on the internet doing it.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?
Finishing my senior thesis and graduating. For a while during my final semester, it wasn’t looking so great. My schedule was emptier than it had ever been – only three classes that semester, only twice a week in the mornings. My days should have ended at 2:30PM, but most of the time ended at 11AM because my thesis class didn’t always meet. This led to the inescapable temptation to do absolutely nothing for most of the week. In addition, previously for classes, I only had to write five to seven page papers and one or two ten page papers. My thesis had to be twenty-five pages, minimum. This was extremely intimidating for me and it didn’t help that I kept hitting mental roadblocks and logical fallacies while attempting to put my argument together. Luckily for me, practically the whole Philosophy department came together to encourage me and help me get that damn paper done. I finished and turned in my thesis May 3rd, 2012 at around 10PM. How do I know the exact date and time? Because I rewarded myself by going to see the midnight premier of the Avengers that very same night. And it was awesome.
As one of your best friends, I know that you don’t really talk about your health much with your friends. In fact, even after knowing you for over 10 years, I’m still not sure what you took pills for at lunch when we were in school together. What would you say are the challenges of talking about health problems even with close friends?
My problem is that for different reasons I find my health issues embarrassing. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when I was junior high. You all remember junior high: it’s an immensely awkward time. So, it was difficult to talk about a disease which basically had to do with the grossest of all bodily functions – pooping. It still is hard to talk about. Not to mention it doesn’t inconvenience my life all that much, so what was the point, you know? That embarrassment doesn’t go away even with people I know very well, so its a challenge I’ve yet to overcome.
When it comes to ADHD, I hate mentioning it because it sounds… fake. ADHD? When you’re 22? You kidding me? Everyone knows ADHD is a kids’ disease. And, as I mentioned, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was already in college. Though it did explain a lot of the problems that I had throughout the years in school, I still couldn’t help – can’t help – but feel that most of my troubles could just be chalked up to laziness, if not just plain stupidity. There are plenty of people who don’t even think ADHD is real, let alone it being a problem that adults can have. So I don’t like mentioning it. It just seems like an excuse.
How do you feel when your friends talk to you about their health? Is it awkward/TMI, or is it not really a big deal?
I always have problems trying to figure out how to react. Its my instinct not to treat them any differently, but then why would they tell me if they don’t want me to? Its a hard thing to keep in mind when they act like they always have and I just really don’t know what I should say. In the end I usually end up cracking a joke after making sure they aren’t on the verge of imminent death, but I still don’t know if thats a good or bad thing. They don’t seem to mind, but it makes me nervous about whether or not I’m being disrespectful in anyway.
You were one of the first people I ever explained my illness to, and it was much easier because you confided to me that you were sick too. Do you think you might have reacted differently to my confession if you were not sick? Do you think I would have reacted differently to you if I was not sick?
I don’t think I would have reacted any differently because I don’t really think of myself of being sick – merely inconvenienced. As for you, Rachel, you’ve always been a good friend, so I don’t think you would have reacted much differently. To be honest, however, I’m not sure I would have told you at all if you hadn’t told me first.
How has being very private about your health helped you?
In my case, it really hasn’t. I didn’t bring things when I should have, and thus probably prevented myself from getting help sooner. I didn’t immediately tell my mom when blood started appearing in the toilet when I wasn’t on my period, so it was about a month or so before I ever talked to a doctor. Luckily for me, my case is fairly mild, but I could have seriously screwed myself over.
How do you think of health within society as a whole? Is this good? Could it be better?
Its not something I try to think about too much. It hurts my brain. Mostly I wish everyone could get the help they need, no matter how small their problem. On the other hand, we live in a society that embraces a “suck it up” attitude that I don’t entirely disagree with, depending on the situation. Its confusing and hard to talk about.
Obviously, you don’t look sick. How DO you look? How do others see you, and how do you see yourself?
While I don’t look sick I think I look… annoying? In class I constantly shifted around in my seat and looking all around. I usually tried to sit in the back row, but if I couldn’t I always felt bad for anyone who was sitting behind me – I must have been distracting as all hell.
Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed meeting my best friend. Best wishes to you all.