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By Claire Sosienski Smith

I didn’t speak until I was three years old. This rate of development isn’t incredibly slow, but delayed enough to cause alarm in paediatricians, so my first few memories of hospitals were going for hearing tests. My mum, however, was not alarmed. “How can the kid have hearing problems, when she can hear a crisp packet open from the next room and come running?” was her reasoning. I was a quiet, hungry child. Quieter than a lot of the other family members around me, but definitely part of the family: distracted, erratic, emotional, exhausting. I overheard my mum talking on the phone to my psychiatrist that all the women in my family are like this, but I am the only one who has gone to Cambridge, so this diagnosis of ADHD makes sense. To my mother, I make sense.

And my family make sense to me, and so have my state schools, particularly my primary school which catered for a lot of specific learning disorders at a time when government money was earmarked for its provision. ADHD diagnostic questionnaires don’t make so much sense to me. The person to waltz through an ADHD diagnosis is the type to bump into all other dancers on that floor: the stereotype of the young male child, disrupting their lessons, acting out at home. Have you ever heard of ADHD, inattentive type? I don’t really mind if you haven’t, because the wording of ADHD is outdated. “Attention deficit hyperactive disorder.” How can we avoid deficit models when discussing disability, if ADHD has ‘deficit’ in its name? ADHD is a difference in attention and processing of information. I find it to be an unpredictability of attention. I call myself erratic because ‘attention deficit’ doesn’t match up to when I can be hyper-focused, making links between unrelated topics. It’s an incredible state of mind. My attention is everywhere and, channelled properly, is a complete asset. It’s difficult when I’m in environment that doesn’t cater for ADHD.

I have a style of cognition that takes in a lot of information at once, and my manifestation of working type is ‘inattentive’, rather than hyperactive. This means that my mind will wander off to distraction and daydream to seem permanently spacey or lost in thought. The hyperactive type would typically manifest these symptoms in physical movement, such as rushed speech, a twitching leg, tapping fingers. Most ADHD-types are impulsive. We can call this risk-taking, which is a good thing, yet it can be demonised if you don’t have access to an outlet for this energy. ADHD is over-represented at universities. It is also over-represented in the prison system. People with ADHD have increased susceptibility to alcoholism and drug abuse, for self-medication or as a result of impulsive behaviour. I sympathise that the same impulses that fuel my academic obsessions spill into me being reckless with drink or drugs. People say that there are two types of times with ADHD: now, and not now. Of course I can drink seven pints. The consequences aren’t affecting me right now. I don’t conceptualise things in a linear way. It is all now: one big, bright and incredibly loud mass of information.

Sounds overwhelming? Let’s return to my primary school. I wasn’t the child disrupting class. I was finishing my work early, allowed to choose books from the shelves outside the classroom, I could sharpen all the pencils, I could be cutting out displays for the corridor. I would technically be leaving class a lot, which is something they ask about at ADHD screenings. But somewhere in my school life I became very timid about leaving class, speaking out of turn, seeking extra things to do. I think young girls and other marginalised people are more aware of boundaries: they feel the edges where they are not meant to be with more distinction, shrinking within these boundaries so they can breathe. I wouldn’t leave the classroom or draw too much attention to myself, because I didn’t want people to look at me. I internalised my distraction and restlessness as procrastination, a poor work ethic, an indicator that I was just a little bit crazy. All the women in my family seemed a bit strange, a bit too much, so I tried to be still and void-like.

Symptoms of ADHD must be present before the age of twelve to warrant a diagnosis. But we teach girls to not speak out of turn, to hide unfeminine behaviours, to work harder so no one can tell that you forgot a relative’s name because you were preoccupied with your thoughts. When you are raised female, you learn how to work harder to hide the unacceptable parts of yourself. Add into the mix the theory that, whilst it gets better for boys after twelve years old, ADHD gets worse for girls after puberty. We have a lost generation of girls with ADHD who do not know that their high-speed thoughts are signalling that they are different, and need to work with, rather than against, their brains. These narratives of women with ADHD are missing or invalidated.

I’m incredibly lucky. I had great, social ways of learning so that it was only coming to university that brought my differences in cognition to an impasse. I had a GP here who suggested I go to the Disability Resource Centre for a meeting about ADHD. My NHS waiting list took six months so I didn’t have provisions for exams, but I managed to get through them. The university wouldn’t pay for my diagnosis because the funding that makes this possible had been revoked under the current government. I was supported by my family and friends who would fill in the forms required for diagnosis, when various people in my life would question whether I had ADHD at all. You cannot be ‘too smart’ for a specific learning disorder, especially as these differences in learning and adaptive skills we gain as a result are often the origins of our academic success. People with specific learning ‘disorders’ think differently. It is essential to celebrate and create space for these differences.

I was diagnosed after my psychiatrist called up my mum to discuss her feedback about my childhood. She hadn’t scored me highly enough to qualify for ADHD under the requirements that certain symptoms must be present before puberty. My psychiatrist had told me in person that it seemed incredibly likely that I had ADHD, she just needed the forms to reflect this. Fortunately, she could prompt my mum into understanding that what she saw as good behaviour were examples of leaving the classroom, being distracted, and changing goals constantly, even if the language used in diagnostic questionnaires points towards a child who does not resemble me and uses the language of deficiency. We have imperfect diagnostic tools for ADHD and non-inclusive images of ADHD that leave a lot of people incorrectly diagnosed with anxiety or depression, or left completely undiagnosed.

I am grateful to have a diagnosis and supportive family and friends, whose input was essential to my diagnostic process. I am equally grateful that I was born with this cognitive difference. It’s time for centres of academic prestige such as Cambridge to start catering for brains that don’t work like ‘normal’ ones. Spoiler alert, this is every single brain. There is no such thing as a normal brain. The term ‘normal’ is a lazy and exclusive shorthand. Diagnosis helps people with specific learning disorders access the adjustments, support and (sometimes) the medication they need. I am not about to throw off the label I worked hard to be diagnosed with, but I refuse to see it as something shameful or an indicator of any deficiency.

These alternative forms of cognition are not disorders, and when the environments we are in actively include people who work differently, people with ADHD make sense and are able to access their unique abilities. I feel lucky that I have found a voice within an unwelcoming educational institution, finding pockets of resistance raising awareness that you do not have to change; it’s the traditions, attitudes and stereotypes around you that need radical and complete transformation. Let’s start with the diagnostic criteria, including who we recommend for and recognise are in need of assessment and support. To those who are currently slipping through the cracks: I hear you, even if it may look like I’m not listening – that’s just the way I work. ∎


You can get in touch with me at csosienskismith [at] gmail [dot] com if you want to discuss anything I have mentioned in this article. Your GP can recommend you to an ADHD specialist during a standard appointment. If you’re a university student, you can contact your Disability Resource Centre (or equivalent). Two great resources for women with ADHD are and


Hi everyone! It’s your editor here, offering constant affirmation and creative encouragement. Here’s a press release I just penned:

GENDER AGENDA is the women's campaign zine. A zine is short for 'magazine' and, as a form, zines have their roots in political, punk, and riot girl cultures. We are different to other publications in Cambridge because we want to encourage taking up creative space without any pressure to be perfect. Imperfect grammar? Poems written all in capitals? A bunch of nudes you want to publish yourself? GENDER AGENDA is the space for it. We accept almost every article, short story, poem, collage, art piece, collection of tweets that gets sent to us, either via our facebook page or email ( As a branch of the women's campaign, we accept submissions from self-defining women and non-binary people. Our website takes submissions on a rolling basis and the physical zine gets printed once a term (and we have a big launch party - get in touch if you want to DJ). This term's theme for the printed zine is "NEW BEGINNINGS" and the deadline for submissions is Friday 10th November. I can't wait to see your submissions! Don't let Cambridge tame your creative heart.

Hope it inspires you! Get in touch.



The theme for the winter edition is NEW BEGINNINGS / (RE)START. We’re looking for prose, poetry, essays, visual art and anything else that can be photocopied and distributed in the zine. Submissions are open to all self-defining women and non-binary people + can be anonymous. Get in touch with our zine officer Claire Sosienski Smith via the email below if you have questions, we’ll see you in week seven for the launch party!

Deadline for submissions: 10th November.


By Claire Smith

I think a lot about Ira Glass’ advice to young creatives about taste and the gap between the good taste that got you into creative work, and the quality of the stuff you currently produce. How so many people give up because that gap in quality and taste is hard to stomach. But the only way to close the gap between your killer taste and your average work is to keep creating. The work you make catches up at some point. The gap between my taste and my work is cavernous at the moment and it makes me not want to write. I’d rather do nothing than do something poorly.

This perfectionism is such a chokehold. It’s a step for me to call this perfectionism, as a person who has previously told counsellors that I am far too fine with leaving unwashed dishes in the sink and going out with unbrushed hair to be a perfectionist. Turns out that looking beyond the superficial means admitting that there are hidden perfectionist traits lurking deep within me, like the crumb-encrusted plates currently submerged in my overflowing sink. Quite simply, I think nothing is good enough. I think I stutter out sentences, half-formed and limping, and feel people’s eyes widen in horror as they try to decode whatever I am trying to say. I remember getting so tongue-tied trying to talk about my favourite painting because I was so intimidated by the person who asked about it. I still cringe about how ridiculous the sentences were that left my mouth, how I undersold my enthusiasm and quickly changed the subject to push any attention away from myself.

I recently opened a document on my home computer with its myriad of folders from 2013/4, and all it said was “speak up, dance and don’t fuck idiots.” It seems like pretty good advice. Forget my audacious aims of routines and nights of good sleep with freshly flossed teeth. I am allowed to be unruly as I want to be. I am allowed to not learn my lesson after the fifth time of drinking too much, as long as I am not hurting anybody. Not hurting anybody does include myself, but one night of drinking isn’t going to hurt, neither is not moisturising twice a day or imbibing trace amounts of dairy.

There are things more important than perfection. Everything in fact. People who know how it feels to be insecure twenty year olds are getting us hooked on hydration, meditation and moderation – some with the best intentions, some with only economic concern. We’re not making too much of fuss because we’re too busy worrying about the minutia. Maybe the creative work I’m producing and the face I’m presenting to the world is in serious need of some finessing, but obsessing over these little things is keeping me distracted from the goal of just doing something and showing up. I remind myself constantly that the first step is showing up, and the rest is all a bonus.

Look at me laying down some truths that have got me through my last years of education. Ripping off a few band-aids. That’s what writing can be: letting things breathe and letting things go. Peeling off the plaster and being like “Woah… Gross.” But we all bleed, right? Exposing my weird so we all feel a little more comfortable in our imperfections. Accepting that I’m a pimple on this planet, which is a giant ball of water hurtling around the sun anyway. Acceptance in the face of rejection and uncertainty. It’s worth a try. So come on, rip off the band-aid. Scabs are the original clickbait.

Help resurrect the Gender Agenda website. University life is full of over-edited and competitive articles. Bring me your midnight ramblings, the poetry you save on the notes of your phone when you’re inebriated, in the toilet cubicle, too inside your own mind. Did you just take a few absolutely sick selfies that you want to compare to renaissance art, a la tabloid-art-history? A bunch of haikus about how annoying I am? I want to read them. Gender Agenda is taking all this and more that can fit beneath the umbrella of gender identity and intersectional feminism from women and non-binary people. This is your invitation to bridge the gap and take up space – perfection is not necessary here.

Send your submissions to

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