An Open Apology to the Non-Fiction, Self-Help Genre

Hi, my name’s Nicole, and I’m a reformed non-fiction, self-help book hater.

Previous blogs may make it seem like I hate non-fiction, especially of the self-help variety. It’s not that I hate it, it’s that it’s not what gets me fired up when choosing books. At least it wasn’t until last year.

What broke my stubborn streak? Once I started reading more, I wanted to add a wider variety of books – including those for personal and professional development. Upping my reading habit coincided with a new mental health diagnosis and the start of a new job. Since I had a lot of novel things to figure out, I thought I might as well add some self-help into the mix.

I learned that while there’s a lot of fluff out there, there’s also a lot of good advice that my stubborn ass was finally open to taking in. Here’s what I’ve found separates the worthwhile ones from the junk.

Well-researched

If you’re trying to convince me an idea works, you need to give me the proof. Any book that comes in with reputable studies and pertinent real-life examples to back up its claims is already far and ahead of some of the “best” self-help books I’ve read.

There are two ways these books fail at this first step. The first is the quality of the studies they use. Self-help books love using pop culture science – pop psychology being the worst offender. The moment that authors start sharing debunked research, like the Stanford Prison experiment, I no longer trust them. If they can’t take the extra minute to Google whether it’s true that showing willpower as a child sets you out for later career success or that the average person only uses 10% of their brain, then I find it hard to trust the rest. Just in case you’re wondering, neither of these are true.

The second, are the real-world examples used to illustrate the effectiveness of the advice. Some famous individuals have become a staple in self-help literature: Steve Jobs, Theodore Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, and Albert Einstein. These paragons of excellence have entered the pantheon of “most-successful-people-who’ve-ever-succeeded”. It weakens the argument when every example I’m reading are the usual suspects. On the other hand, if your only examples are average Joes with generic names who would be difficult to track down if needed, doubts start to creep in, wondering if these people exist. Being selective, specific, and critical with examples goes a long way in building trust.

Who does this well? The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – And How To Make The Most Of Them Now by Meg Jay Ph.D. + Why We Sleep: Unlocking The Power Of Sleep And Dreams by Matthew Walker Ph.D.

You don’t need a Ph.D. to write a book, but it shows when you do. Both of these books nail it when it comes to backing up their advice with facts.

If you’re still in your twenties, I recommend The Defining Decade. An easy read that covers why you should start laying the foundation for the life you’d want to live already in your 20s, even if you’re also figuring things out. Meg Jay uses real-life examples from therapy sessions they’ve conducted, with some pretty convincing evidence as to why waiting until your 30s to set a good foundation isn’t ideal.

Reading Why We Sleep gave me many sleepless nights where I reevaluated how little I’d prioritized sleep in my life. At the time of reading it, I was working a hectic job that made having a consistent sleep schedule impossible. This book forced me to come face-to-face with the reality that this was unsustainable. The evidence that Matthew Walker provides is hard-hitting and makes it a must-read for anyone still not convinced that getting enough sleep at night matters.

To the point

The majority of self-help books I’ve read are quite short to start with (under 250 pages), and often half the book is unnecessary. The culprit behind this disaster? I’m blaming an abundance of long-winded examples and anecdotes, paired with a heavy hand of repetition.

Remember that thing about good examples mattering? This is why. One well-chosen example can outweigh 5 mediocre ones. This also goes for personal anecdotes that sidetrack more than illustrating the point.

I get it. Repeating something helps it stick. Repeating something helps it stick. R̸̡̝̫̫͈̆ẽ̸͎͎̹̖̬̽͛̈́̚p̵̬͔̓̚e̵̡̪͇͔̾ͅa̶̱̽̀͝t̴̯̻͈̝̂͛͘i̵̛̟̬̮͒͛̈́͂n̷͕̍͆̏g̶͕͖̫̮͔̎ ̸̻̘̯͝ş̶͝ơ̷̗̬͊̉̇̈́m̸͕̤͆̐͘e̴̛̟͔̓͌̊̿t̶̡̪̂͜͝ͅĥ̸̨͎̝̮͓̀̎̈́i̵̩͝ṅ̴̨͍̞̣͖̍̽̋̔g̵̥̜̳̣̅͜͝ ̵̘̔́̄͑ḫ̸̟̔è̶̖ḷ̶̝̗̲͌͐p̵̡̣̭͚̗̎̚͠s̴̪͜͝ ̸̠̇̒̀͑i̷̗̮͙͌̈́͠t̶̠͙̣̮̓̓̐ ̴̘͔̳̩̔͠s̴̙͍͉̦̘̒̏̅̚t̵̡̙̖͍͑͝ͅi̶̼͈̭̺̫̒̆͝ć̴̨̥̯̄̏̓ḱ̵͙̃. But there’s a finite amount of times this can be done until it becomes condescending, even when it’s done with a wink and a nudge. When heavy-handed, the tendency to repeat statements can come across as the author thinking you’re too thick to remember the point if it’s not repeated two thousand times.

I’m not reading your book for style but content, so please, just say what you’ve got to say without underestimating the reader and get out.

Who does this well? Deep Work by Cal Newport

As someone who finds it difficult to pay attention to…anything, I came into this book skeptical. A book about how deeply focusing on one task is better than pinging back and forth? Well, that’s not only impossible, but it can’t make that much of a difference.

Still, it’d been recommended so often, why not give it a go? Well, I’m happy I did, because Cal Newport puts together a convincing book about the benefits of deep work and how to integrate the practice in your life.

While never overstaying its welcome.

Specific and actionable, yet flexible

Some people read self-help non-fiction to be inspired.

I am not one of these people.

I’m not interested in vague sentences about believing in yourself. I read self-help non-fiction to learn how to do things better. I don’t want the author to just share their philosophy with me, but for them to also share how to best put it into effect. Only telling people what to do, without providing them the ways how to do it, isn’t just useless. It can come across as gatekeeping at best, and like you don’t actually understand your ideas as much as you think you do, at worst. Once again, being specific helps in creating credibility. Even if the only point of reference is how the author did it, as long as that’s recognized, it goes a long way in building trust.

Very few of the self-help non-fiction books I’ve come across allow for adaptability in their advice. If the author also recognizes that human beings can differ in the way they live their lives, their resources, and their ways of thinking, I’m sold. Stepping away from the one-size-fits-all mentality shows an effort to think about the solution being provided from more than one angle.

If you can’t tell me what to do with your advice and are incapable of giving options or seeing more than one way to implement it, I’m left doubting its use. General tips like “be more organized” or “learn to prioritize” don’t do anything for me, unless you can give the specifics.

Who does this well? A classic: How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

At this point, How To Win Friends and Influence People is infamous. If you haven’t read it, you’ve most likely already heard about it. I wasn’t keen on reading it, at first. I thought this book was going to be an amalgamation of nebulous motivational confidence boosters. Or, it was going to be the handbook to manipulate other people to bend to your will. Neither of these sounded interesting to me.

But then my partner pushed me to read it because he found it useful. And since this was in the beginning stages of the relationship where you’re still trying hard to impress each other, so you follow through on their recommendations, I read it. And he was right. It is useful.

I am a human who gets sweaty at even the thought of interacting with other humans. Dale Carnegie’s tips have helped me be a little bit less sweaty. Which I’m qualifying as a win.

Doesn’t only exist to sell the author

I understand that authors of self-help books have to sell themselves a little. We don’t want to take advice from someone who isn’t successful or happy or an expert in whatever they’re vouching. We want to learn from the best. Unless they’re already a worldwide famous figure, they will need to bring in their credentials to convince us they are worth taking advice from.

But more often than not, from the first few pages, you can tell that a book was written to sell the author and his services more than it was to help you. If I read one more marketing book where the author says they were doing something unrelated to marketing but “I’m just so weird and quirky that this completely non-marketing thing reminded me of something marketing-related” in an effort to convince you of their expertise, I will throw myself – or them – into an active printing press.

This flaw becomes particularly egregious when the author’s wrapped up in an inspirational spiel with little substance, while also aggrandizing their own accomplishments. If the conclusion to your story is “it worked so well for me because I’m so smart and I’ll tell you how you could be too, but at a price“, then I’ll stick to not making deals with the devil and moving on to another book that will give me the information I want in one go.

You can have your actions speak louder than words, even when relying only on words. I promise.

Who does this well? On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

This one almost feels like cheating. Considering Stephen King’s reputation and what he specializes in, he more than proves himself as a master of his craft without having to explicitly shove it in your face.

On Writing gives useful writing tips in the context of Stephen King’s own experiences as an author. He takes you on his journey from amateur writer to bestselling author, sharing best practices along the way, without ever feeling like he’s bragging or boasting or trying to sell you his latest book.

It’s not about avoiding talking about yourself, it’s about not putting yourself on a pedestal in an attempt to gain the respect of your reader. Have some trust in your reader and let them decide first, before grabbing them by the shoulders and yelling out your accolades in their face.

I wish I’d told the contrarian in me to shut up and just give the genre a try earlier than I did. Instead, I’ve spent years flip-flopping between either believing I was too capable to do things on my own or believing that I was so different and broken I was beyond help. Getting outside my comfort zone and reading more helpful non-fiction hasn’t changed my life, but I’ve gained some useful tips, tricks, and tidbits along the way that have come in handy.

Simply put: self-help non-fiction can be a great tool to further your understanding of yourself and increase your knowledge about the things that matter to you.

Even though sometimes it’s still more fun to figure things out yourself, not caring if you end up falling on your face.

How To Read 100 Books In A Year (From Someone Not Organized Or Good At Finishing Things)

If there’s something I hate, it’s book snobs.

You know the ones.

The ones who give you 75 quotes on why every successful person on the planet reads 5 books every day so you should be doing it too. The ones who put reading books on a pedestal of “the ultimate, bestest way to consume information and improve yourself/your life”.

I love books and reading is an important part in my life, but I feel like people forget that reading should be accessible and easy and fun.

While sure, reading can make you more productive or intelligent or more empathetic or a more interesting person, it doesn’t have to be the end goal. I read because it’s fun. And you should too.

Because I wanted to get back into enjoying reading as much as I did when I was a kid, I’ve been setting reading challenges for myself. After two successful reading challenges in the last couple years, I’m finally on track to conquering 100 books for this year.

There’s a lot of advice out there online, but most of it seems to be for the more organized, hustle-culture, productivity-booster type of individual. I do not count myself among those. I’m more of a loosey-goosey, absent-minded, eccentric-art-teacher, later-in-life-diagnosed-ADHD kind of type.

And here’s what worked for me.

Start small.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before: don’t run until you can walk, don’t bite off more than you can chew, slow and steady wins the race, ad nauseam. It’s cliche, but in this case, it’s cliche for a reason. Of course it’s exciting to set your first reading target to be 100 in a year. It’s an impressive number, but it can be overwhelming if you’re not already in the habit of reading regularly.

If you’re starting off setting a reading challenge, have it be relative to your starting position. For me, I started with 25, then 52, and this year 100, because that’s what felt feasible.

Build up to it. As you see your want-to-read list grow, you’ll also be motivated to take on more next time.

Prioritize reading

There’s no getting around it, you have to make reading a priority. Expect to significantly cut down on watching shows, movies, or spending time on social media.

It’s necessary to be mindful of what you’re reading when building in the habit to go for a book instead of… anything else. If you use other forms of media to unwind, don’t try to immediately replace them with books on gender or quantum theory. Try to go for something that you could see as being equally as entertaining.

Basically: you’ll have to get off that darn phone, but feel free to replace mindless scrolling with mindless fluff books if that’s your jam. Just make it a switch you look forward to.

Read what you like (and what you think you might like)

Start off by reading what you like.  

If you’re not sure what you like because it’s been some time since you picked up a book or are deciding to start for the first time, this is where you brainstorm.

If you’re already a reader, go back to your old favorites and start there. If you’re not, there will be genres and topics you find interesting in other forms of media that you can carry over into the books you choose.

I love comedy, but never read funny books when I was younger. One of the first things I did when starting my first reading challenge was look up “funniest books” and tick off a bunch on that list. Even if your niche is “bleak Scandinavian detective shows”, there will usually be a literary equivalent.

Feel free to start exploring topics you’ve always wanted to know more about. I do enjoy non-fiction (despite what it may seem like from my tips), but only in very specific topics like illustration, gender theory, autobiographies, or marketing and communications – because I can apply the last one to my regular job.

If you suspect there might be a topic you could enjoy, add that to the list.

Do your research

What do I mean by the list?

The list will be the place where you put everything you want to read. This can include anything from:

  • Book recommendations from friends
  • Book recommendations from influential people you respect
  • Books you’ve been wanting to read for a while
  • Genres you want to explore
  • Specific authors you enjoy and want to know more on
  • People you find inspiring/interesting who you’d like to read about
  • Topics related to professional development (your job, industry, productivity tips)
  • Topics related to personal development (hobbies, self-actualization, philosophy)
  • Anything and everything you could think about that you’d like to spend time on.

The list will be essential in meeting your reading goals.

Now that you’ve given some thought into what you’d like to read, jot them down. Organize it however works best for you – through Excel or through an automated platform.

Sometimes one of the biggest problems with reading is wondering what you’re in the mood to read. Take the guess work and mental strain out of figuring that out and just use your list as your go-to.

Automate keeping track of what you’re reading

If you’re not on Goodreads already, get on it. And for those who don’t want to support Amazon (Goodreads is owned by Amazon, in case you didn’t already know), StoryGraph provides a great alternative that gives you even more data on your books, like mood, average length, and difficulty.

Either of these platforms will give you a great place to input what you’re reading, let you set a reading goal, tell you if you’re on track with it, and a place to dump your want-to-read list. Plus, you can categorize and rate each book, which will lead to more book recommendations.

If you’re looking to switch over to StoryGraph, you can even export your Goodreads data into StoryGraph so you don’t have to manually input everything.

Physical books, tablets, and e-readers, oh my!

You don’t have to stick to physical books during the entire challenge. If you want to save money and space, combine them with a tablet and/or e-reader.

Having several devices for reading is beneficial because each has their own benefit:

  • Physical books can be great to read at home, especially if you’re reading before bed.
  • Physical books are easier to read if you’re prone to getting distracted.
  • E-books are cheaper and take up less space than physical books.
  • E-book libraries are much more accessible than physical libraries since you don’t have to worry about physically returning anything.
  • If you’re traveling, an e-reader or tablet is more practical than carrying around books. Plus, if you get bored with your current read, you’ll have many more available.

Not limiting yourself to one medium means that you can read whenever works for you. Yes, this means you can still have screen time and read at night and sacrifice your sleep. We’re focusing on how to read more. If you’re already going to stay up late, you might as well replace your phone or TV time with a book.

VARIATION. IS. KEY.

Don’t stick to just one genre or author. Combine short books with long ones. Switch up difficulty levels: combine dense novels with easy breezy reads. Go for fiction and then non-fiction.

Read several books at the same time so you can hop between them in case you get stuck on one and don’t be scared to keep on turning to the list and mixing things up.

If you’re not easily bored, you can skip this one. But, if you’re like me, keeping things varied will make sure you don’t feel stagnant. Following up a marketing book with a graphic novel may seem odd to some, but it can help keep the challenge exciting.  

Variation keeps things fresh.

Keep a mini-library

Make sure you’ve got a pile of books ready to be picked up. This goes for both physical and digital copies.

It’s almost inevitable that you’ll reach point where you don’t know what to read and you want to make it as easy for yourself as possible. If you have pre-selected options to choose from based on the list you made, you’ll be more likely to keep going.

If you’re feeling stuck, going out to buy a new book could be an extra mental hurdle that leads to procrastination. If it’s already there, you’ll be less likely to resist the idea of starting a new book because it’s glaring back at you to read it.

So keep your e-reader stocked with options and stop vilifying the unread stack of books piling on dust in your house by using and replenishing it.

It’s more than fine if you fall behind

I’ve already professed how great I think Goodreads is, but I must admit that sometimes it’s a love-hate relationship. Goodreads will let you know if you’re on track for your reading challenge. And it feels great when you’re ahead.

But when it shows you that you’re four books behind (like I currently am at the moment of writing) it can be a teensy bit anxiety-inducing. I want to read and achieve the goal of 100 books, but I know if I panic, I’ll end up procrastinating.

Then I remind myself that I set this goal for myself and no one else and that the whole point is to have fun with it. And I also know this has happened before and I can catch up – I just have to prioritize reading a bit more for the next couple of weeks.

Remember: this is for you and it’s really all about reading more, not about hitting that magical number 100. Don’t stress if you’re behind. Enjoy the journey and read as much as you can.

Part of what led me to challenging myself to read more were some key encounters with old friends. Right when I’d resigned myself to reading less (the motivation wasn’t there anymore) quite a few people in my past started bringing up the fact that they became interested in reading because of how voraciously I read.

The reasons why? Up until then 1) they didn’t realize that reading being fun was an option and 2) they thought to be an avid reader you needed to be on some higher level of self-improvement, or some intellectual path.

That’s really what it took to get the fire going again. A reminder from some old friends of something I’d almost forgotten: reading should be fun and accessible.

If you want to know what didn’t work for my disorganized brain, head here.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Accepting My ADHD Diagnosis: The Good, The Bad, And The Truth

While most people’s association with TikTok are videos of dancing teenagers, I have that dumb app to thank for teaching me that I have ADHD.

TikTok has a powerful algorithm that learns what you like and who you are at a rapid pace, catering to your specific tastes. ADHD-related content starting showing up in between cat videos and fashion hauls, before I even knew I had it.

Before then, the thought of having ADHD hadn’t ever crossed my mind. I knew I had some sort of mental health issue, but since the people I knew with ADHD all fell into the typical association of hyperactive men who talk fast and get distracted all the time, bouncing from one thing to the next, I had rejected the notion.

After binging ADHD TikTok after ADHD TikTok, I made an appointment with my doctor to not only discuss my anxiety issues, but to reassess my previous diagnosis and check if it was ADHD.

Spoiler: it was ADHD. And it turns out, the anxiety part was also because of ADHD.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the truth, of accepting my ADHD diagnosis.

The Good

ANSWERS! ADVICE THAT WORKS! MEDICATION THAT WORKS! MY BRAIN IS NO LONGER (as much of) A BIG QUESTION MARK! WHEN I TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE LIKE ME, THEY UNDERSTAND ME WITHOUT EFFORT!

Pardon my yelling, but there’s no end to the level of peace that I’ve felt since getting the right diagnosis. For what feels like forever, I’ve been trying to put together a five thousand piece jigsaw puzzle without any reference as to what it could be. And somebody finally showed me what it’s supposed to look like. Yeah, I still have to put it together, but at least I’m no longer guessing where each piece goes.

The right treatment has gotten me in a mental place that I thought unachievable a year ago. I’d resigned myself to the idea that just coping was the best I could hope for. The people around me were balancing work, socializing, personal development, education, and hobbies, while being happy and goal-oriented. What felt impossible then, is forming into a reality now. For the first time in my life, I have a semblance of control over the raging tornado of energy whirling inside me.

I’ve also come to understand that my brain is different. It’s not a negative, just neutral. Sure, I’m scatterbrained and impulsive and incapable of sticking to a schedule. But I’m also creative and quick and ready to take action when no one else will.

Life looks more manageable now.

The Bad

As with any psychological diagnosis, the slow realization that the parts that you thought made you unique, turn out to be symptoms, is always disappointing.

Accepting my ADHD has also meant accepting comorbidities. In my case, anxiety has been a big one. There are few things I am sure about in life, but one of them is that I don’t think I have ever chilled one single day in my life.

My mom always said I was a “nervous” child. What was referred to as “nerves” turned out to be anxiety. My anxiety expresses itself as racing thoughts and overthinking, working together to make me the fastest, most overwhelmed person in all the land.

Apart from providing peak cringe material, looking through old journals makes it obvious that there was an internal wasps nest raging inside. When writing while emotionally agitated, these journals read like a Virginia Woolf-style stream of consciousness on speed. It’s just one thought after another and another and another and another and another and who needs punctuation or a moment to breathe? Everything always felt like it was too much.

This “nervousness” – which I now recognize as restlessness – also means that I never feel relaxed. Even when I’m supposed to be resting, I’ll be filled with the sudden urge to jump from task to task or start thinking about all the other things I want to do. When I’m watching YouTube I want to be writing and when I’m writing I want to be drawing and when I’m drawing I’m thinking about all the dishes I still need to clean.

Accepting that these quirks were just symptoms all along, means accepting that what I’d considered an integral part of me can be fixed. Which explains why I’ve gone through three identity crises in the last nine months alone.

The Truth

Being diagnosed and getting the right treatment are just the beginning. I’m still working through accepting that I was misdiagnosed, that regardless of treatment I’ll still have ADHD symptoms, that “catching up” for lost time is impossible, and that I now see much of my life through the lense of having ADHD.

Having lost faith in the field of psychology for myself and then having to go back to get it checked, was a challenge. I grappled with conflicting thoughts of mistrusting professionals while knowing I had to be receptive to the advice given in order to improve. The only way to confirm the suspicion that I’d been misdiagnosed was to go back and get tested. If I wanted to get better, I had to return. And I was right. And they gave me the help I needed. But I’m still angry that they got it wrong the first time around, even if I know the anger won’t solve anything.

Receiving the right treatment of therapy and medication has been a godsend. But, it hasn’t fixed everything. Just because I can identify what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how I should stop it, doesn’t mean I’m in control of it. My ADHD is still there, there’s just less of it. I won’t be able to eradicate the symptoms and managing it will be a life-long effort. But, I do feel better and more equipped than before.

Because I feel like I’m finally close to being on a level playing field with others, I feel like I’m catching up to do better and do more. The laundry list of areas I want to improve on is infinite. I want to write more, and draw daily, and read more, and get a promotion, and be more social, and, and, and, and, and… Every day is planned like there are 26 hours in the day. While I’m ecstatic that my urge to create and learn is matched by actually creating and learning, when I fail to meet the ridiculous expectations I’ve set for myself, I spiral.

An added perk to getting diagnosed in the midst of a pandemic, is that you don’t remember how it affected you in social situations, until the world starts opening up.

I’m re-learning that I can become overstimulated and overwhelmed in large crowds. Plus, all my social interactions are now viewed through the lense of my ADHD. Had I always been such a terrible listener? Did I talk this much before? Did I overthink my interactions to this degree afterwards? Trying to find out if it’s my rusty social skills from being isolated for almost two years or if it’s been my ADHD all along, is a fun game I’ve taken up.

Acceptance

I have ADHD.

What I decide to do with that piece of information is up to me, but the fact remains.

I have a tendency to share this tidbit with almost everyone I get even slightly comfortable with. It’s not to get a reaction from them or to throw myself a pity party. Partially, it’s because I’m too impulsive to ever leave any shroud of mystery about me.

But mainly it’s because I value being open about what makes us different, instead of treating it as a taboo. By being open about it, I’ve had others share that they’re in the same boat. Or that they know someone who is, who they want to help but don’t know how. Or that they’re doubting if they have it, so what’s it been like to find out if it is.

Labeling the issue doesn’t solve the problem. What it does, is validate what I’ve been aware of: there is an explanation as to why I march to the beat of my own drum and there are ways to make it easier.

For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate. To an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHD’ers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

I Was Misdiagnosed For Almost A Decade: A Mental Health Journey

Before we begin, a confession: I am an idiot.

When it comes to mental health and wellness, I was a rookie when they first diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. My parents were vocal in their distrust of psychology, seeing it as an excuse to wallow in your trauma instead of solving it.

Regardless of their prejudices, they encouraged me to go to a psychologist to figure out why I was so hell-bent on self-destruction. Their hope was that I was “normal” but had been derailed because of the zesty combination of hormones and a failure in however the other divorced parent had raised me. The reality was more that I was a teenager with undiagnosed ADHD and unresolved ✨ trauma ✨. Not that we knew at the time.

Because of this, I accepted the diagnosis given to me and dropped out of therapy a couple months in, deciding I could sort it out myself. This was the start of a mental health journey that has erred more on the side of free-climbing the Matterhorn during a snowstorm than a casual stroll through the forest.

The misdiagnosis ended up doing more harm than my ADHD symptoms, even exacerbating them. I was putting a cast on my arm, when it was my leg that was broken. In the end, I ended up with a numb arm and my leg still in pain.

I started therapy and medication for ADHD expecting it not to work. It did work. Almost too well. Because now I’m stuck with an endless conga line of “what-if’s” dancing through my brain.

BPD vs ADHD: how did they get these confused?

Before we begin, let’s answer the big one: how did Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) get confused for one another?

BPD is a cluster B personality disorder that is characterized by an inability to regulate intense emotions. This inability can result in high levels of impulsivity, a propensity towards self-destructive behaviors in an effort to cope, and emotional outbursts. ADHD, on the other hand, is a neurological condition that affects attention regulation, hyperactivity, and executive function. When untreated, ADHD can be expressed as impulsivity, a propensity towards self-destructive behaviors in an effort to cope, and emotional outbursts.

ADHD is genetic and has to be present before the age of 12 to be diagnosed, while BPD can be genetic, environmental, or both.

Gender plays an inadvertent role in diagnosis. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with BPD than men, just as men are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than women. Women tend to receive an ADHD diagnosis much later in life, and to be misdiagnosed in the first place. And yes, BPD is a common misdiagnosis in these cases.

These are the facts.

But the facts don’t fully encompass the frustration of living with the wrong diagnosis for so long, and the amount of doubt it brings. Here are the questions I’ve grappled with, and am still grappling with, because of it.

Am I a fraud? Did they get it right this time?

Being told that it looked like my BPD was ADHD in disguise was a turning point. After months, I’d been validated in my suspicions and could breathe a sigh of relief.

Until I thought about it for too long and convinced myself that I’d been faking every symptom the entire 6-month long process of getting diagnosed.

That fear that they’ve gotten it wrong again is a consistent nag in the back of my mind. Writing about ADHD this month has let me organize my thoughts when it comes to my own experiences in the context of a new(ish) diagnosis. This doesn’t mean that there are no doubts. What if I’m sharing all these thoughts and experiences and it’s something else? Am I misleading people? Am I just trying to convince myself that I actually have it?

When I start thinking that, I run through the same list every time:

  • When I talk to other people with ADHD, I finally feel heard and understood for the first time in my life.
  • Following ADHD-specific advice works, which didn’t happen when I’d follow BPD-specific advice.
  • Caffeine doesn’t make me hyper, it calms me down.
  • My medication does not hype me up and makes my brain much more quiet and subdued, to the point I can relax. Which is nice. And not what happens if you take it without having ADHD.

Still, the level of self-skepticism borders on exhausting and I’d wish my Impostor Syndrome didn’t extend to my mental health, too.

Why did I have to be so stubborn and not believe my close family and friends? Was I dumb in just accepting the diagnosis?

They say that the more someone is entrenched in a belief, the more they will dig in their heels once opposing evidence is presented. I am guilty of this.

In my attempt to get better, I’d shared BPD resources with my close friends and family. I was trying to avoid the unhealthy interpersonal relationship dynamics I’d been warned were inevitable. Disregarding the fact that I’d had no issues whatsoever with these friends and family, I felt they needed to be prepared.

Almost every single one of them were kind enough to take the time to read these resources. They were also kind enough to let me know that they did not see me in what they were reading.

I’d equivocated not believing in my borderline as not believing there was any mental illness. Denying my BPD felt like a denial of my mental struggle. And the struggle was undeniable. Had I listened, I would have heard they were aware I needed help, but that I was looking for it in the wrong places.

Lesson now learned: if the people who know you best are telling you that your perception of self is way off-base, it’s probably (definitely) way off-base.

I kept re-traumatizing myself for nothing?

BPD can be brought upon by trauma. Because of this, trauma is explored when treating Borderline Personality Disorder, to recognize and change negative trauma-related behaviors or attitudes. In my misguided attempt at self-improvement, I gave too much weight to traumatic experiences that did not need constant reliving.

Making judgements on my actions through the lense of trauma was overwhelming. I thought I’d never be able to get over that period in my life because it had affected me to the point of changing my personality. It permeated everything. I saw traces of it in the ways I thought or interacted with people.

It was inescapable.

Aaaaand it was a pointless mental prison I’d built for myself. It turns out that the keys to the prison were in my back pocket this whole time. I just didn’t know where to look.

Did I cause unnecessary damage by trying to control parts of me that were never there?

My interaction with the psychologist who diagnosed me with BPD was not an entirely positive one. After concluding that I had borderline, he admitted that his borderline patients were his most difficult to treat. He also mentioned that a lot of literature I would find would be about how other people deal with people with BPD, because we could be considered toxic and manipulative.

Overall, not a great start.

From there, I started treating myself like I was a menace to be around, self-isolating from people who just wanted to be closer to me. I pushed myself away and tried to make myself invulnerable and independent. My usual route of learning through reading was also not proving fruitful. A lot of what I’d found was confirming that being around someone with BPD was considered worse than suffering from it.

Adding to the loneliness? I felt alienated from both the BPDers and from so-called neurotypicals. If I tried to share experiences with either, neither group found them relatable, driving me deeper into isolation.

Everything I tried to do to make myself better only turned out to push me further into believing I was a scourge to society if I didn’t learn how to control my emotions.

Which made me more emotional.

Even though that wasn’t even the problem in the first place.

When my group therapy sessions for ADHD ended, the clinic offered individual sessions for problems not addressed in therapy. I spent more time in those individual sessions talking about how much damage the misdiagnosis did, than on my ADHD-related symptoms.

The misdiagnosis had twisted the way I viewed my ADHD symptoms into something untreatable and unmanageable. It also added to my low self esteem, because everything I tried to solve it did not work. I’m happy to see the level of improvement in less than a year by getting the right help. Although, I’m still bitter.

I just wish they would have been as thorough with my borderline diagnosis as they had been with my ADHD diagnosis. My ADHD diagnosis took me almost half a year to get, involving multiple interviews, including interviews with parents, questionnaires, and even then, it took some convincing after they almost threw the whole diagnosis out because I didn’t struggle in school. My BPD diagnosis was based on a hunch after just one intake session, where I only introduced myself, plus one questionnaire. It took about two weeks. Max.

At least they got it right this time, right?

For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my personal journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate because to an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHD’ers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Biggest Misconceptions About ADHD (That I Had Before I Found Out I Had ADHD)

If I say picture someone with ADHD, there’s a high chance you’re thinking about a young hyper boy, wreaking havoc like a giant monster terrorizing a city. Or you’re thinking about that same boy, but now sedated and in a zombie-like state, pumped with medication. If you are, I don’t blame you. I used to think the same until I got diagnosed with ADHD.

To accept my diagnosis, I had to accept that my idea of someone with ADHD wasn’t congruent with the reality of the disorder. Now that I’ve come to terms with what it means, I’ve put together a list of my biggest misconceptions about ADHD – that I had before I found out I had ADHD.

ADHD only happens in children

As an adult with ADHD, I’m disproving this with the fact that I am an adult with ADHD. But just in case that’s not enough, let me hit you with the facts.

ADHD symptoms have to be present in childhood (before the age of 12) in order to be diagnosed because ADHD doesn’t come out of nowhere. What can happen, is that symptoms can be less evident in childhood for some. For those suffering from mainly inattentive-type ADHD, this can be expressed by being forgetful and spacey, rather than being the human embodiment of the Tasmanian Devil. Think less Dennis the Menace, more Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes, or Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter.

How ADHD symptoms present themselves will change over the years, making it more or less evident in adulthood. This means that symptoms can begin interfering more later in life, once you’re expected to structure yourself and your ever-growing mountain of responsibilities.

ADHD is a guy thing

If you look at any list of “characters with ADHD” – as I may have just done for that last section – you’ll find that 99% are male. Boys will be three times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis, despite it affecting men and women in equal parts.

The reason? ADHD presents differently in women than men. Two factors that play a role in this:

  1. Women are more prone to suffering from inattentive-type ADHD, which, as mentioned, goes unnoticed more often.
  2. Women are socialized to internalize their thoughts and feelings, meaning less running around, causing chaos. They’ll mask their symptoms, leading to inner restlessness.

Consequences of untreated ADHD in women can be depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. In a Catch-22, these expressions of untreated ADHD can lead to those being the point of focus for mental health professionals, making it more difficult to get the appropriate treatment and diagnosis.

ADHD is all about being hyper and getting distracted

ADHD can be hyperactive, inattentive, or a combination of both. It’s not only about running around or chatting a lot but can also be about being forgetful or in a world of your own.

A large deterrent I had to get diagnosed was the fact that I could laser-focus on certain tasks I enjoyed, even forgetting to eat or drink or sleep. If I’m reading, playing videogames, or making art, there’s no way you’ll be able to get through to me until I want to stop. I’ve always been incapable of sticking to only one hour of an activity I enjoy – making scheduling daily tasks impossible. If I can’t have unlimited time, don’t even talk to me about doing it.

I petition for ADHD to be renamed because it’s not about an attention deficit but an attention deregulation. This means that hyperfocus, the act of being intensely focused on an activity, blocking out the world, can be a part of it for some ADHDers.

ADHD has nothing to do with emotions

Being over-emotional/expressing rash emotions is not on the official symptom list for ADHD diagnosis. But boy, can those other symptoms lead to it.

My initial misdiagnosis of a personality disorder was heavily based on me expressing that I was over-emotional and overwhelmed. It felt like I’d be going from 0-100 all the time. Now I understand that my executive dysfunction was at the core of it.

Executive function encompasses the cognitive and mental abilities that help people engage in goal-directed action. Executive dysfunction is what happens when these abilities are not up to snuff. Executive dysfunction can contribute to emotional dysregulation, as it can lead to being unprepared for future events, in itself, leading to low self-esteem, and rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD). RSD is about being sensitive to rejection and criticism, to the point of emotional pain.

These very-fun consequences tend to accumulate into a state of overwhelm, where you’re toeing the line between keeping it together and falling apart at the slightest push. It feels like spinning as many plates as you can, while someone points out how you could do it better, or that you’re not holding them right, or that you should add another plate because it can’t be that hard.

Very little wonder how you could become emotional from that.

ADHD medication turns people into unfeeling zombies with no personality

I blame popular culture for making me terrified to start taking medication for my ADHD. Popular culture had told me that it would change my personality and that I’d become addicted to popping pills. What it did was bring some quiet to the incessant monologue in my head.

ADHD medication hasn’t completely eradicated my ADHD symptoms, but it’s made life more manageable. Instead of procrastinating for weeks on a project, I’ll procrastinate several days. I now sit down and finish a task, only getting up 15 times a day to get tea, without also fixing every little thing I see needs fixing around the home. And instead of becoming overwhelmed when something happens that would tip me over the edge, I have an extra second in between thoughts to prevent catastrophizing.

Of course, medication works differently for every person, and there’s the risk that it won’t react well with your body chemistry. But for some of us, it works and takes life from “how-is-anyone-able-to-manage-this” hard mode to “sometimes-things-are-a-bit-much-but-its-mostly-pretty-alright” normal mode.

While still being the same person as without it.

Everybody’s a little ADHD

If I had a euro for the amount of times that I’ve heard the phrase “everybody’s a little ADHD”, I’d have enough for the robot litter box I’ve had my eye on for months.

I get it. Procrastinating, forgetting things, feeling scatterbrained, having different niche interests and hobbies over your life, not being good at time management, getting anxious or overwhelmed, and being prone to distraction are human experiences. What designates if it veers into ADHD territory, is the severity of it.

Procrastination means feeling physically unable to do a task, yelling at yourself to just get the thing done, being incapable of stopping you scrolling on your phone, even if you want and need to. Feeling scatterbrained means not being able to connect with others because you’re finding it impossible to be present in a situation you really want to be present in because there are ten thousand things on your mind. Niche interests can mean messing up your sleep schedule and ignoring the need for a social life for weeks because you can only think about that new interest. Being forgetful could mean repeatedly forgetting the very appointment you made to get your ADHD looked at. And getting overwhelmed can mean a burnout, because your need for stimulation means you always need to take on more than you can handle while simultaneously leaving everything until it’s urgent, to feel like you’re accomplishing anything.

All of these behaviors can have a severe negative impact on my life if I don’t keep them under control. At its worse, I feel burnt out, depressed, and incapable of functioning as a human being. This means a self-esteem so low it’s underground, and turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like excessive drinking or other reckless behaviors.

“A little ADHD” is manageable. The issue is when it’s more “a lot ADHD”. There’s no easy structuring or planning or schedule-ing away “a lot ADHD”.

Had I known what I know now, I would have been able to get the help I needed a lot sooner. But, discourse around ADHD is improving. There are more and more resources online, more openness around mental health, and more awareness around the different ways it can express.

While there’s still a long way to go, let’s keep the ball rolling in sharing neurodivergent experiences in an open, honest, transparent way. The human experience is too vast and colorful to stick to only one.

For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my personal journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate because to an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHDers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Not Quirky, Just Undiagnosed ADHD: Now-Obvious Signs I Had ADHD

Since hitting puberty, I’ve been compared to Zooey Deschanel’s manic-pixie-dream-girl characters a lot. The blue-eyes, dark brown hair with bangs, and fondness for polka-dots played a large part in it, but even more than that, is that I’ve always been called some semblance of weird, odd, and mainly: quirky.

It’s cliche at this point, but I always knew I was different. My brain didn’t seem to match most other people’s frequency. Being in a family with 3 other, very different siblings meant that these differences were highlighted in a matter-of-fact way, without any value judgement. Quirks like my obsessive reading and spaciness were just part of who I was – never something to be fixed.

It wasn’t until puberty hit, and with it a whole slew of realizations, that the once cute and quirky habits I had, were no longer so cute and quirky. My mental health had taken a nose dive.

In an effort to get better, over eight years ago I went to a psychologist and received a diagnosis for a personality disorder. This diagnosis turned out to be useless and a large source of frustration because it was wrong (more on that in the upcoming weeks).

January this year I received a new diagnosis that finally felt right: it was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, aka ADHD, all along.

If you’ve been diagnosed with any sort of neurodiversity/mental illness, you might have encountered the same issue I’ve grappled with: it turns out, a lot of the things that I thought were just little quirks, were symptoms of untreated ADHD.

Here are the (not-so-)little quirks I now know had more to them.

In a world of my own

I was a spacey child. As a kid, if you weren’t looking me straight in the eye, there was no chance I was paying attention to you. My parents had even nicknamed my own little world, asking me if I was in La La Luna. Another common phrase I heard growing up was “colgada como los jamones”. Directly translated from Spanish it means “hanged like a ham”, but really it’s more like “totally zoned out”.

I loved daydreaming. My mental world took precedence over the physical world, which became an issue when it came to socializing. For years, I never understood why I didn’t connect with classmates. Looking back at old home videos, it’s clear I was mentally checked out, dipping in and out of the conversation wherever it interested me. It’s not that I had issues with understanding social cues in the first place. I understood what was expected, but I would get distracted and miss out on key parts of social situations.

My forgetfulness only made my awkwardness more apparent. Besides the run-of-the-mill signs of forgetting homework or appointments, there were multiple times where I’d go to school with two different shoes on my feet. In my defense, they were the same color.

Nowadays, I’ve gotten better at masking, but if I’m on autopilot, I’ll still space out and forget things. Only this time, the only victim is my partner who has to hear my Velma-like cry of “Where are my glasses? Have you seen my glasses?” at least three times a day.

Devouring books

Up until being diagnosed, my understanding of ADHD was relegated to it being about having a lack of focus. Turns out, ADHD is a deceptive name. Instead of an attention deficit, it’s more akin to an attention deregulation. Including sometimes focusing too much attention on a certain task. A common way this shows up for some in childhood is with an obsession with reading.

Whenever I talk about reading a lot when I was younger, I find it difficult to paint the picture as to how obsessive this hobby was. I’d read at dinner, with my book wedged between my legs and the table. I’d read in the car, to the point of making myself nauseous. I’d even read while walking down the street like Belle in the opening of The Beauty and The Beast.

Something I don’t often bring up, is the level of anger I would have if you distracted me, which everyone around me chalked up to me being grumpy. In reality, I was worried that if I lost focus, I wouldn’t guarantee I could get it back. This was particularly annoying if I was hell-bent on doing the one thing for hours and hours.

Niche interest sprints, not marathons

Hyperfixations are the obsessive interests that come with hyperfocus. While neither are considered official symptoms, they can be good indicators for ADHD. A hyperfixation is an intense focus on something, to the point where you’re blocking out the rest of the world. Important to note: hyperfixations are mostly associated with people with autism, but these tend to last longer – many months or years. ADHD hyperfixations are significantly shorter and more akin to impulsive shifts in interests.

In preparation of writing, I tried to list all the hyperfixations I’ve had. Things I spent hours on, researching until too early in the morning, for, at most, a few weeks on end, that I dropped once something more interesting came along. Because this list ended up being 4 pages, front and back, including only the ones I remembered, I won’t go through them all. But, to get a good idea of the topics I know way too much about, but don’t care about anymore, below is a taste.

Baking muffins, nail art, running, learning Japanese, learning the guitar, become a manga artist, marine biology, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Final Fantasy XII, YouTube beauty guru gossip, making Anime Music Videos, Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls, all of Gordon Ramsey’s reality TV shows, Anthony Bourdain, Audrey Hepburn, Jim Morrison, barre, soft grunge Tumblr, the TV show Skins, historically accurate vintage wardrobes, fashion design, 30 Rock, commentary YouTube, Kingdom Hearts, One Piece (the manga and anime), bad movie reviews, Art Deco furniture, New York visual artists of the 80-2000s, Newgrounds Flash games, Stardew Valley, and Neopets.

To be clear: this is not just a list of interests. It’s a list of things I had made the main focus in my life for a short period of time, before moving on to the next one. I still regularly disorient new friends who start off sharing one of my hyperfixations, but realize a week later I’m disinterested because it’s no longer the flavor of the week.

At least it’s given me a wide range of skills and – useless – knowledge, which can be pretty handy sometimes.

I Have Approximate Knowledge of Many Things | Knowledge Meme on ME.ME
Although mostly I’m more like this.

No patience, just vibes

I hate waiting. I hate following instructions. I hate sticking to strict schedules. I love planning, but hate sticking to the actual plan. The thread through this hatred is simple: I’m impatient and have little to no impulse control.

Until my partner pointed it out, I never thought twice about the fact that the first thing I do when buying new electronics or furniture, is throw out the instruction manual because I know I won’t use it. Even as a kid, if my brother and I had a new LEGO set, while my brother would follow the instructions to build whatever was on the box, I’d be using the blocks to make off-kilter characters.

In school, I winged it during presentations. Classmates would comment on how impressed they were with my lack of note cards when presenting. In reality, I overcompensated with my delivery because I had no patience for the prep-work needed to stick to a script and would get too distracted if I had to read and present at the same time.

Even now, if you see me waiting for public transport, all you’ll see is someone pacing up and down the platform like a caged lion.

Perpetual fidgeter

Just like it seems you can only be underwhelmed or overwhelmed and not whelmed, I’m pretty sure there’s only overstimulation or understimulation.

I wouldn’t consider myself hyper in the traditional connotation of a six-year-old boy high on sugar. But I do score high in hyperactivity if we’re looking at chatting and fidgeting.

Fidgeting tends to be caused by being understimulated. Favorite forms of fidgeting apart from the obvious leg-bouncing? Doodling in class/during meetings, never being able to stay sitting in one position for too long, getting up to get tea six times a day as an excuse to walk around, and fidgeting with my hair to the point where I end up giving myself three different hairstyles in the span of an hour.

On the other hand, I also get overstimulated – mostly due to too much going on around me to focus on one thing. While it doesn’t happen as often as understimulation, it brings about its own quirks. Apart from randomly getting overwhelmed and snippy in packed public spaces, I’ve developed a party-only smoking habit that helps me take a socially-accepted pause when things get a bit too much.

Quirky or just undiagnosed ADHD? I don’t see any reason why it can’t be a bit of both. As long as no one compares me to a manic pixie dream girl ever again, I don’t care. Plus, recently I find out that Zooey Deschanel also has ADHD.

Sometimes life just comes full circle.

For ADHD Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my personal journey with ADHD, because ADHD can look different from person to person. So, DISCLAIMER: some of these experiences may resonate because to an extent, a lot of them happen to most people. The biggest difference is the extreme to which these symptoms affect ADHD’ers life adversely. If you think you might have ADHD, please contact your doctor or mental health professional.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, general life musings, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Reasons LinkedIn Influencers are The Worst

Apart from ruining the words “algorithm” and “viral” for me forever, managing corporate social media accounts has made me hate LinkedIn – the supposed platform for professionals and businesses to network and put their best face forward.

More specifically, it’s made me hate the special breed of influencer that lives on LinkedIn: the LinkedInfluencer.

The LinkedInfluencer: Who Are They

LinkedInfluencer: a social media influencer whose primary platform is LinkedIn. Those whose every other post is a humblebrag, rooted in hustle culture, who subscribe to that “if I can do it, so can you” mentality – disregarding that their upbringing came with all the privilege in the world.

If you’ve been on LinkedIn, you’ve probably run into them before.

They’re those people in your network obsessed with painting themselves as the most professional professional who’s ever professionaled. And, most importantly, they achieved everything you wish you could in life, but they did it all by themselves, through their hard work and dedication (and absolutely nothing else, they swear).

Let’s break down just why they’re the worst.

LinkedInspirational

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Source: Twitter @TheStateofLinkedIn

The LinkedInfluencer lives for inspirational stories.

Stories where the underdog loses everything but ends up coming out on top. Stories where an employee teaches a boss a lesson in humility – with them being the boss in question, of course. Stories that make 90s sports movies seem grim in comparison.

If you’re not in the position to leverage a socioeconomic systemic disadvantage, don’t worry, there’s always a way. I’ve seen people take the most selfish business successes and weasel in an Anne Frank quote just to (try to) trick their audience into being inspired.

And if all else fails, just make some shit up about a job candidate with no qualifications whatsoever becoming a superstar CEO because they understood the true value of hard work.

That always works.

#Grateful #Humble #Blessed

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Source: Twitter @TheStateofLinkedIn

Humblebragging, the act of pretending to say something self-deprecating or humble that actually highlights a success, is all over LinkedIn. There are two flavors of humblebrag: the one where you show off how much money you’re making and the one where you show off how good of a person you are.

The first one is pretty easy to spot. Some common ones?

  1. The “oh, I didn’t realize the keys to my expensive car were in the shot”.
  2. The “oops, didn’t mean to share a close-up of my designer luggage”.
  3. The “very casual shot of my everyday life in my enormous house”.

The second one is more insidious. These posts hold a dual function of telling you they’re a good person while humanizing them by celebrating they do regular activities too.

Common tactics to look out for:

  1. The “good” parent post. Some people just go for the age-old adage that everybody likes children. These posts generally talk about how they spent time with their child for the first time in months and realized that spending time with them reminded them they loved them – or that they existed at all.
  2. The good Samaritan post. If you hand a person in need money and don’t tell your LinkedIn network about it, did you even help them at all? According to a certain subset of humans, the answer is a resounding no.
  3. The eco-warrior. Particular egregious when it’s happening outside the sustainability industry. I’ve seen people working for highly polluting companies decide they were the beacons of information the public needs when it comes to sustainability tips. Turns out, you can make “taking the train to work instead of driving” a whole personality trait!

When it comes to the humblebrag, it always feels a little bit too uncomfortably personal. Somewhere along the line, people have forgotten that Facebook and Instagram exist. NB: Your veiled excuse to brag about how great you are might not be appreciated by the people who already put up with you in your daily work life.

Pair one of these posts with the insufferable zest of hustle culture, and you’re on your way to becoming a true LinkedInfluencer.

Hustle culture 5ever (5ever, because it’s more than 4ever)

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Source: Twitter @TheStateofLinkedIn

The cult of “rise and grind” is aaaaaaaall over LinkedIn.

If you’re waking up at 5, well, they’re waking up at 4. If you’ve been reading a book a week, well, they’ve been reading 3 books a day. And if you’re happy with your life because you’ve achieved some semblance of work/life balance that’s good for your health? Well, sheep, if you’re not pushing yourself to your breaking point and alienating your loved ones, then why even work at all?

It’s a one-size-fits-all culture of guilt and shame disguised as celebrating and perpetuating a good work ethic, with a supposed steadfast formula to success. When at its most toxic, this mentality assumes that the only way to be successful is for you to approach every challenge like you’re a white finance bro or girl boss with a rich daddy. And if you fail at that, it’s all on you.

The promotion of no-excuses hustle culture while simultaneously spouting incessant inspirational stories about giving people a chance, is just one of the oxymorons of the LinkedInfluencer.

Hello, Captain Obvious

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Source: Twitter @TheStateofLinkedIn

LinkedInfluencers love posting about ideas that are obvious to everybody but that they think are groundbreaking. While other influencers, like YouTubers, strive for relatability, LinkedInfluencers strive for uniqueness – or as they call it, a personal brand. They need to believe they can provide a one-of-a-kind perspective on every topic.

They’ll write posts and articles about their journey to success and learnings along the way even if it doesn’t matter that nobody asked them for any of it. The more jargon and buzzwords they can add into the mix, the better. After all, we’re on a professional platform, where the more people you alienate, the more of a high-achieving entrepreneur you are.

In reality, half of the time these posts read like a college student whose paper is due in an hour and still needs 800 words to reach the word limit. The other half of the time it feels like you’re reading some finance bro or girlboss’ half-baked slam poetry.

The only way I’m reading LinkedInfluencer posts from here on out.

At the end of the day, the goal is to inspire others in the most self-serving way possible in an effort to feel important.

“Thoughts?”

Source: my own feed

But just how are you going to convince others to engage with the half-baked post you just posted? Luckily, LinkedIn convention states there’s a perfect, one-word question to instigate discussion: “Thoughts?”

Every time I see a post end in “Thoughts?”, a little part of me dies. While I am not opposed to hearing or sharing thoughts overall – my very blog section is titled THOUGHTS – the way that this question is used is always just a low-effort way to try to game the algorithm into thinking your post is more interesting than it is.

The worst? When people repeatedly post a statement that nobody would deny, followed by “Thoughts?”.

“[Insert your profession here] is underrated. Thoughts?”.

“You should be paid more if you work more. Thoughts??“.

“Child slavery is bad and we shouldn’t bring it back. Thoughts???“.

I’m not against working hard.

I’m not against trying your best or giving people a chance or generating thought-provoking discussions with other specialists in your professional sphere.

What I’m against is low-effort, bullshit content that just propels the myth that if you just work really really hard, guys, you can do anything you want because you’re the only one setting yourself back. I’m against perpetuating the myth of being self-made, without acknowledging that you were able to afford doing unpaid internships (or even worse – rely on the work of unpaid interns) in a city with a ridiculous cost of living. I’m against pretending everybody has the same hours in the day, when some people are struggling because they need to take a second job, or are responsible for their household, or need those hours to recover, because they’re struggling with illness – mental or physical.

I’m against people being ego-inflating unoriginal dicks blinded to their own privilege acting like they’re inspirational thought leaders and underdogs.

Anyways.

Before I forget to ask…

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Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Rekindling the Love of Reading: What Didn’t Work & What Did

My life has always been consistently inconsistent. Books, although, have always been one of the few constants in it. With a fervor for reading that made those around me say I ate books instead of reading them, I was known as the reader in whatever circle I was in.

And then from one day to the next, I lost interest in reading.

Not coincidentally, those years overlapped with a bout of depression, insecurity, and a general period of darkness.

Because I was scared of losing that part of me completely, I started actively challenging myself to read more. Over the past few years I’ve gone from 25 to 52 to now trying to hit 100 books this year.

Having to force myself to do something I once loved has made me have to start finding ways to start liking it and be relatively consistent with it. In order to prepare myself, I started reading many articles on this topic and noticed that a lot of it was geared towards people who want to read because of this hustle, millionaire-at-30, CEO-life mentality.

This was and is still not my goal.

I read because it’s fun, I’m curious about learning new things, and it makes me feel more fulfilled than other forms of entertainment. There’s no snobbery or higher goal I aspire to.

If your goal is just to read more and instill that habit into your life, especially if you’re not the most organized, type-A human being, then you’re in the right place.

Here are the tips I avoided like the plague and what worked instead.

You don’t have to schedule your reading to make it a habit

While I love scheduling, I am trash at sticking to plans.

Linking to pre-existing habits only works if you have pre-existing habits to link to. Which if you do, congrats! But if you don’t, it’ll feel like linking a stone in the ocean to a grain of sand, hoping it’ll stay in the same place wave after wave.

Instead, create a general guideline and figure out what works best for you as you progress through your books. For me, something like I have to read x amount of books in x amount of time tends to be good enough. I go for x amount a week, because it’s long enough that it doesn’t feel pressuring, but short enough that I remember to do it.

Plus, unless you’re already prone to being super organized, scheduling it can suck the joy out of any reading challenge and make it feel like… a challenge. Fitting it in wherever it works best for you, be it in 5 hour chunks at night, every other night, waking up ridiculously early, or split through the day will make you more likely to want to do it, instead of only making time for it.

It’s OK to stick through reading something you don’t LOVE

You’re not going to love every book you read.

Even if you do all the research and prep work in the world, there will be books that will feel like a chore to get through. Of course, you should choose books you think you’ll enjoy. But there’s no guarantee that every book, especially once you’re over the one-book-a-week threshold, will be to your taste.

This is especially relevant if you’re halfway through the book anyways – by that point you might as well finish it. The good thing about finishing a book that leaves you disappointed is that it’ll be a good indication of what to avoid in the future.

Instead: if you’re going to commit to a book that you’re not sure you’ll like, make sure it’s a short one. Also make sure you have another one simultaneously that you can pick up in case one of them is making your brain hurt.

Screens are not your enemy

A few facts people like to ignore when recommending people only stick to physical books to avoid distractions:

  • Books are expensive.
  • Books take up space.
  • Getting every book you want is not always possible, especially if you want a book that’s not in the native language of the country you’re in.
  • Not everyone wants to resort to Amazon to buy their books (for those yelling “why don’t you just buy them on Amazon?!)

You’re challenging yourself to read more, not collecting for your personal library or trying to get better sleep. Sure, it’s harder to read if you’re constantly distracted by notifications, but there’s a reason Do Not Disturb exists.

Use it.

Reading in bed is fiiiiiiine

Which leads me to the next piece of advice that seems inescapable: never read in bed.

The reasons why? Well, because it might make you sleepy and you won’t be able to focus. Oh wait, it makes you lose sleep. Oh wait, actually it’s because you need a division of reading and sleeping and it’ll confuse your brain.

While I agree you shouldn’t pick up the habit if you already have that clear division of sleep/play/work area and a consistent sleep schedule, let’s be honest for a second. Most of us scroll for hours on our phones, in bed, every night.

If you already do that, then feel free to read in bed.

Replace the phone for a book. Those arguing you won’t retain important information are assuming you’re reading books to be a smarter, more intellectual, more cultured person instead of just reading for the fun of it. If it’s interesting to you, you’ll remember it.

So maybe just don’t read boring books in bed.

Read at your own pace. Just be mindful of what that is

Real advice I’ve read: read faster. Just read faster? That’s the advice?

Most of us won’t take a speed reading course to prep for a reading challenge. And you shouldn’t.

The fact is, you’ll get through books faster the more you read. Don’t sweat it if you feel slow and clumsy at first. Just like anything else, reading is like a muscle – the more you do it, the more you’ll flex it, and the more dynamic you’ll get. Just keep your pace and focus on what you can read that would match whatever your pace already is.

It’s easier to adjust the book content and size you’re reading to match your speed than it is to learn to read faster.

Read what interests you, not what people tell you will interest you (like practical, non-fiction books)

If you just want to build in regularly reading, focus first on what you enjoy.

You definitely don’t have to love everything you read, but you should at least like it. If practical, non-fiction books are your bread and butter, ignore this section. If you’re like me, a fan of stories more than how-to’s, then start with what you love.

My love of reading really came back in full force when I started reading more fantasy and graphic novels. I’d had a few false starts before where I’d been forcing myself to read classics, self-help non-fiction, and educational books.

While now I’ll gladly pick up one or two (or more) of these, when I was just starting, this made me automatically associate reading with it being another task, making me procrastinate.

Just read what you like and only then focus on all things practical and self-improvement. You’ll be much more willing to give it the time and energy needed for the more tedious books, once you’ve satisfied your taste for the stuff you actually want to read.

A book is a book is a book – you don’t need to break it down into pages

Math hurts my brain. This is why I chose to study social sciences and humanities. Turning something that feels like the opposite of math into something vaguely math-y just sucks the joy out of the experience.

When I started setting myself the goal of picking up more books, all I wanted to get out of reading more was finally getting to the ones I’d put off for so long.

Breaking it down into pages read and how much is the equivalent to one book average and yadayadayada may work for the more goal-oriented, one-track minded of the bunch, but for me, this is a hard pass.

A book is a book is a book. Whatever you consider a book and whatever you think you can manage, just stick to that. If you want to make it more structured for yourself, you are more than welcome to bring out your calculators and Excels.

But for me, keeping track of how many I’ve read and need to read is already a lot, so I keep it as simple as I can.

Basically, if you’re trying to make reading not feel like a chore, don’t make it a chore.

I don’t believe in a world where everyone enjoys reading books, or will fall in love with it if they find the perfect book, just because it’s something that I do. I myself don’t like podcasts or audiobooks because I don’t have the concentration for audio-only, yet know a lot of people who find them even easier and more productive than reading.

One way isn’t more valid than the other just because we’ve given this almost untouchable quality to books.

What I do know, is that you can make it easier for yourself to incorporate it into your daily life.

And if you’re one of the people who gets enjoyment out of it but seems to have this stack of unread books in the corner or their room that feels kind of daunting because everyone loves waxing poetic about how much better of a person they are because they read actual books and are educating themselves but this added pressure only makes you want to do it less so you’ve been ending up just scrolling through your phone all evening then, hey, I’m Nicole and you’re not alone in wanting to change that.

I might not be able to help make you a more productive reader, but I can do my best to give tips on how to make it fun again.

If you want to learn more about what actually did help me in getting back into reading and hitting my reading targets, I’ll be covering that in a few weeks time.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Europe Has Bad Food Too: Rating Sad Meals I’ve Had Across Europe (And What You Should Eat Instead)

For three years, a combination of circumstances led me to the least glamorous job with a seemingly infinite budget for food, allowing me to eat my way, for free, across Europe. Some of these meals were so bad, that the memory still incites anger to this day.

While there have been many good meals, time and location constraints sometimes meant godawful food due to limited options. The job itself already sucked ass and we took a lot of abuse from people on the daily, so food was the highlight of the day. A lot of times, the only place open that was still serving food plain sucked and it would crush your soul just enough so that for a moment you reconsidered all the choices in your life that led up to that exact moment.

We’re reliving the worst of the worst. By worst I don’t mean fast food or anything in that vein – I love trash food, as long as it’s not a sad meal. Anything from molecular gastronomy to a home-cooked meal to chain restaurants to regular ol’ fast food (if the timing’s right) is all good by me. What we’re talking about today is a sad meal, with 1 being “I might have just ordered wrong” and 5 being “I definitely shed at least a couple tears after eating this because it was so sad”.

Sad meal: a meal that made me sad to eat. A meal I wish I could go back in time and un-eat because the meal brought me nothing but emotional tragedy.

Madrid

Spain is a country I know intimately. I spent 7 of my formative years there and go back at least twice a year to visit family. I used to love Spain unconditionally, until working there, because we always ended up with the worst of luck. Madrid in particular has been the culprit of many sad meals.

The most memorable of the bunch was when my team had a late-night dinner at VIPS – a Spanish fast food burger joint. We rushed to VIPS, hoping for a reliable meal option after finishing off almost two weeks of non-stop 11+ hours-a-day work.

VIPS did not say they were closing and that we were about to be kicked out at as soon as we received our order.

We sat outside their steps on the sidewalk to finish our meal. Somehow, they managed to burn both the burger and bun on each of our burgers, while simultaneously serving cold fries. To set the mood, I played sad off-tune Titanic flute music from my phone while we ate and said goodbye to a terrible stint in Spain with a too-fitting meal.

Rating: 4/5 burnt burger buns.

What you should eat instead: go to a local cerveceria and get tapas. The name is deceiving (they serve much more than beer) and you can find some gems. Avoid food near the main tourist places and go one or two side-streets down.

Alternatively, try a Latino restaurant! Madrid has many good Latino restaurants – anywhere from Mexican, to Colombian, to Venezuelan, they’ve got most of it.

Lannion

Lannion is a beautiful seaside city in Bretagne that does fish very well. We ordered the seafood platter for four people, for three of us. During the meal, the seafood platter did not feel like a mistake. It was all the oysters and shrimp and crab legs and sea snails a human could eat. This particular seafood platter – a four tier tower – had every mollusc and crustacean you could imagine. It was a decadent and well-deserved treat for an overworked bunch.

The seafood platter became a mistake that same night. And the day after. And the day after that. And even a few more after.

Whatever joy we had during that meal was ripped away the following days. It turns out four tiers of all the seafood you could imagine is a terrible idea for your gut. This became evident once my colleague and I spent the next days passing the keys to the bathroom to each other like you’re passing a baton in a relay race.

Rating: 0/5 during dinner; 5/5 for the 5 days following.

What you should eat instead: get a plate or two of fresh seafood, but don’t get a platter. Your insides will thank you.

Lisbon

I’ve always been reluctant to call someone useless. Up until recently, I thought everyone had their purpose in the workforce – even if it’s just because they’re fun to be around.

This was until I met useless Michael.

No one understood how useless Michael had gotten assigned to one of the most labor-intensive, headache-inducing, prestigious projects available to his department. All we knew is that one day there was no useless Michael, and the next day there was.

One incident with useless Michael that will forever stay with me was during a tech summit where we were receiving over 1,500 guests a day, from 8 to 19 – 7PM for the Americans. Useless Michael was meant to cover me and my colleague whenever we needed our breaks (usually only a half-hour lunch). Useless Michael decided to disappear the entire first day of the event.

Seeing that he was nowhere to be found, my colleague and I went for lunch regardless, getting a burrito somewhere in the venue. Because no one was attending our parts of the exhibit, our Portuguese contact complained to us and to him about him not taking over during lunch. They specifically clarified that my colleague and I needed our half-hour lunch break and that he promised the stand would always be attended, so he should not disappear.

Instead of taking over the Herculean task of working for one whole hour, useless Michael volunteered to pick up lunch. This way, we could have a quarter-hour lunch break instead, because according to him, ordering lunch took the other fifteen. Because he’d already proven to be of little help, we agreed in order to save us a headache or two.

The next day he comes in with three large pizzas from Pizza Hut. Of these three pizzas, there’s a cheese, a shrimp and corn pizza, and a canned tuna pizza. He proceeded to eat most of the cheese and leave the other two abominations to the human palate for the rest of us, hurrying us in the process.

Not only were they the worst flavor of pizzas from the worst place, but they were crumpled. He complained that the people working at Pizza Hut must be idiots. We almost believed him until the next day, when we saw him walking in with the pizza being carried vertically in a plastic bag.

Turns out, Useless Michael not only couldn’t choose pizza properly but he also carried it in a way only someone completely unhinged and disconnected from the world would.

Rating: 6/5 sideways pizza boxes.

What you should eat instead: Lisbon has a surprisingly good Chinese restaurant, The Old House, near where the tech summit was hosted. It can be pricey, so skip sad lunch and just have a big dinner there.

Toulouse (en route)

A common rule of thumb when choosing a good place to eat is that pictures on menus indicate a low quality restaurant. While I no longer agree that this is entirely true, I wish I would have followed this on my train ride to Toulouse.

Already not feeling the freshest because of a bad hangover, I chose to eat a burger to settle my stomach. The burger in the picture already looked sad enough – like someone took a blurry iPhone 4 picture of a McDonald’s burger. But the reality was so much worse.

The burger that I received had 0 vegetables – yet still reeked of onions. The buns were stale, the burger patty looked (and tasted) like a hockey puck, and was microwaved right in front of my very eyes. In my self-induced dehydrated and overemotional state, I was very close to crying when I saw it.

Not only was it offensive to consume, it was physically offensive to my body as well. The second the last bite of this burger hit my stomach, it set off a bomb I was ill-equipped for. That train ride felt eternal.

Rating: 5/5 microwaves.

What you should eat instead: buy yourself a good French sandwich at whichever station you’re departing from – jambon beurre (ham and butter) is my personal preference and a delicious, but safe choice. Avoid train food at all costs. It’s like airplane food, only without the excuse of changes in air pressure making things taste worse.

Romania (somewhere on the road)

Romania is a country that exceeded my expectations when it comes to food. Despite having Romanian friends, no one had ever touted Romania as being a killer place to eat (which it is)

One typical Romanian delicacy that I tried is a small sausage called mici (pronounced meetchee) or mititsei. We stumbled upon it during a roadtrip that spanned 5 Romanian cities. Romania has two main highways, with the rest being mountain road, so getting from one place to the other means a lot of meandering through the Romanian countryside.

During one of these meanderings, we started smelling the distinct odour of grilled meat. There were no establishments in view where this grilled meat could be made. The grilled meat mystery was solved a few minutes later where a whole stretch of street vendors selling fruits, vegetables, Romanian plum-based moonshine (tsuica), grilled meats, and most importantly, mici, came out of seemingly nowhere.

Mici is amazing. A small sausage that’s packed with flavor and super super super affordable. We picked up the mici with some tsuica and left very content.

We became less content once, one by one, we got the meat burps. The smell of the gas that came out should be classified as a biohazard – especially in enclosed places. Considering we still had 5 hours to go on our roadtrip, a “no mici if there is driving” rule was implemented from that stretch of the trip onward.

Rating: 1.5/5 unlabeled tsuica bottles.

What you should eat instead: pick up some roadside mici!!!! It’s delicious!!!! Just don’t stay in an enclosed location with anyone who’s eaten it. If for whatever reason you want to avoid the mici meat burps, the best steaks of my life were eaten in Romania. They know how to cook meat well and, compared to Western Europe, it’s affordable.

Lyon

Fun fact about Lyon: Lyon is considered the food capital of France and one of the food capitals in the world. Knowing this, I somehow managed to fuck up our experience in Lyon so much I had the worst meals of my life there.

Let’s start with the worst pizza I’ve ever had.

My team and I had arrived late at night at this parking lot, ready to set up for the next day’s event. Working on almost no sleep, but still in high spirits, we ordered the only option available in this industrial area telecom parking lot: pizza. The pizza took an hour and a half to get to us, and our French/Chinese contact had to argue on the phone with the delivery driver for it to even get to us at all.

The taste was subpar, but not offensive. What was offensive is what it did to my stomach. I never knew a pizza could double as a laxative until we ordered this one. To this day, I’m convinced that because of whatever argument was happening on the phone with our contact, they might have added something to that pizza to do what it did to us.

The second worst meal of my life was in another parking lot in Lyon, the day after.

After the terrible pizza of the night before, I held out for a good dinner the day after. This did not happen. A series of unfortunate events led to everyone in the team being too drunk on gin to realize that restaurants had closed and our only option was now takeaway. Once we noticed, we ordered doner and ate ravenously in the hotel parking lot.

The circumstances of being in the best European food city, drunk on an empty stomach, and having the saddest of sad meals – this time self-induced – was emotionally too much to handle and I might have cried when half my doner fell to the floor while eating it.

Rating: 7/5 sad sad tears of a clown

What you should eat instead: Anything else in Lyon. Please.

Sad meals are usually avoidable. It’s part of what makes them so sad.

Picking a good place to eat in a country you don’t know is an art in itself. It’s a good skill to hone and one that I think I’m pretty good at (if anyone wants tips on that, leave a comment and I’ll share them). But every once in a while I get reminded that really, you can’t win all the time.

And when that happens, and I’m staring down a sad meal, I try to hold on to the fact that at least most of the time, I nail it.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

A Reading Retrospective: The Metamorphosis of a Bookworm

I’ve always been known as an avid reader. Like for many others, books provided the perfect outlet for someone with an overactive imagination and who is prone to escapism.

It was so bad as a kid, that the only time I’d get into real trouble was because of reading. The astigmatism from reading with a flashlight for hours under the covers and the pile of stolen third-grade books with the scratched “Ms. Oppy” in permanent marker on each one’s corner are reminders of that.

I’ve gone through periods of reading a lot and then not reading so much back to reading a lot again. Some of the books I read were because I really enjoyed them, others because there wasn’t anything else.

Now, trying to go 3 for 3 for a yearly reading challenge (my target is 100 this year) and with the resources to read whatever I feel like, I make lists of what I want to read based on what I enjoyed in the past. Here’s what I’ve gathered from this reading retrospective.

Chapter One: Scholastic & Spitting Fun Facts

Any American who loves books and who’s experienced a Scholastic fair can tell you that it feels like what they imagine Charlie felt when first entering the chocolate factory. You go to school expecting just another day and before you know it, you have your foot through the door and are hit by the smell of plastic and new books. I don’t remember exactly what I read during this time period apart from The Babysitters Club – all I remember is it was definitely Scholastic.

This was also around the time that I had a stint as an amateur book thief. Let me be clear: this wasn’t intentional, I was just a very forgetful child. My teacher, Ms. Oppy (sorry, Ms. Oppy!!) probably only realized when it was too late. A few months into my thieving stint, I moved to Spain with my stolen goods.

I also took a liking to reading childrens encyclopedias. I used to read these and then relay all the information I’d learned from them to whoever would listen. Which was usually my poor brother who had to hear me prattle about Amelia Earheart being eaten by coconut crabs and lamprey eels. This is most likely what instilled my bad habit of spouting random facts I find interesting to unsuspecting listeners.

Chapter Two: The Obligatory Millennial Harry Potter Phase

Like a lot of millenials, I was obsessed with Harry Potter. From 8 to 13, the Harry Potter books were my Bible – despite having read the Bible. For an 8-year-old, the way I found the first Harry Potter book was the closest to divine intervention I’d experienced. I just found a beat up copy in the back of my dad’s closet, under 10-year-old tennis shoes and a pile of winter coats. He states never having bought it in the first place.

I was obsessed. I read Prisoner of Azkaban 13 times. I drew every single character up until book 5. I had a 500-page unofficial guide to the mythology in the books with notes in the margins, highlighted, and dog-eared. I made potions with shampoo’s and my moms expensive perfumes.

Other notable reads: Roald Dahl, french comics like TinTin, and my first book completely in Spanish: “Me Importa Un Comino El Rey Pepino”. This roughly translates to “I don’t give a damn about the pickle king”. I only recently found out the book isn’t even originally Spanish, but German.

Chapter Three: The Traveling Library That Couldn’t & The Cult That Could

Two factors led to strange literary tastes for a pre-teen: we moved to Spain to a very remote town that didn’t have a library, and we didn’t have much money for books for when we actually returned to civilization.

The town I grew up in was a small town with less than five thousand people and a heavily dispersed population. While they now have a library, back then there was only the “library bus” – known as el Bibliobus. The Bibliobus was meant to come every Thursday.

In reality, the Bibliobus came whenever it felt like it.

This lack of access to new books meant that I read whatever we had at hand. Since my mom loves John Grisham, he became a staple. This time period also coincided with my family’s weird temporary foray into the Jehova’s Witness. The Witnesses took notice of my love of reading and plied me with all the books they had from their own publication, The Watchtower. This never seemed to concern my parents much since I spent most of my time complaining that they didn’t make any sense.

This was also the first time I hated a book: The Secret. My mom, a true proponent of The Secret, urged me to read it. Because The Secret felt even more like cult-like propaganda than that of the actual cult, I didn’t care for it.

Chapter Four: Hiding in The Library

Finally, in middle school, I had access to a library again. The librarian and I quickly became friends since I spent most of my free time there. This was about the time my friends became interested in boys and drinking and cigarettes and I still had a couple years to catch up.

I needed an escape from these newfound hormones and awkward teen years. I found it in the Eragon series and Isabel Allende’s take on magical realism – both her adult (Hija De La Fortuna) and YA books (Ciudad De Las Bestias).

Around this time, I read A LOT of manga. We finally had a good enough internet connection that I could read scanlations (scanned fan-made translations) well into the night. Some that stick out: Vampire Knight, Fairy Tail, Ouran High School Host Club, NANA, and One Piece. Somehow, Naruto was the one I never really got into.

Chapter Four: The Lost Years

During high school, with a bout of depression came a disinterest in reading.

We had some good school books that I read: Watchmen and Camus’ The Stranger were highlights. Near the end I started reading more on my own. I’d reverted to ignoring friends that were never really good friends in the first place and hiding away to read during breaks. This was about the time I slowly started feeling like myself again. The books that stand out are The Book Thief, Catch-22, Maus, and Ubik.

Here, I fell in love with The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I read and re-read this book over and over, with Iron & Wine as its soundtrack – a match I will still recommend for those who are looking for that perfect state of nostalgic ennui.

Chapter Five: Getting Back Into It

After that dry spell, I started challenging myself to read more. For that, I thank George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, because I blasted through that and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading in the first place.

Two genres kept on cropping up: beatnik literature and contemporary Japanese literature.

I can blame the beatniks on my ex-boyfriend, who had an obsession with everything 60s and 70s Americana. Because I was still picking off books from other people’s library shelves, it meant a lot of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. Out of this genre, my favorites were the autobiographies, in particular Off the Road by Carolyn Cassidy – the “untold story” of the wife left behind on Kerouac and Cassidy’s ramblin’ adventures. Looking back, it’s probably because the manic beatnik writing style stresses me out.

Here was also my first foray into Japanese literature – completely unrelated to my initial anime obsession. For this, I can blame Convenience Store Woman and the Traveling Cat Chronicles. I picked these two up on a whim in a book store in Turin and was hooked from the first page.

Chapter Six: A Little Bit Of Everything

Last year I made myself read 52 books. This year I’m aiming for 100. Because of that, I read… a little bit of everything and anything that piques my interest. I finally bit the bullet on avoiding non-fiction and try to balance fun with some professional and personal development. I’m also no longer snobbish about only reading physical books: they are expensive and take up so much space.

Because there’re too many to go into, here’s the short version, with my favorite book in each category:

  • Funny – anything by David Sedaris will do. Calypso in particular made me cackle.
  • Sci-Fi – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  • Classics – The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
  • Graphic Novels – The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Autobiographical – The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane
  • Fashion books – Fashion is Spinach by Elizabeth Hawes
  • Marketing/Communications books – They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan
  • Writing books – On Writing by Stephen King
  • Illustration and art books – Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

The only books I refuse to read are self-help books. I’ve accepted that I’m too stubborn and don’t like being told what to do.

Are you what you read or do you choose what to read because of who you are? Regardless of the answer, the conclusion is the same: the books you read show something of yourself and the circumstances you’re in. It’s why I love getting book recommendations from friends over researching online.

Every time someone recommends me a book, I feel like they’re letting me in on a little secret about themselves. Even if I don’t like the book.

Especially if I don’t like the book.

Like whenever anyone recommends me The Alchemist they’re letting me know “psssst, I don’t know good books and carry around a sense of pseudo-altruistic self-importance I try to disguise as depth”*.

And how else could you find out that sort of thing?



*Disclaimer: I am still friends with people who like The Alchemist. I just don’t trust their taste in books. Just like a lot of people don’t trust my taste in films because my favorite movie is The Room. We all have our hang-ups!