7 decidedly fab examples of disability in fashion


fullsizeoutput_21b3I don’t mean to brag, but among my friends and family, I’m kind of known as the resident fashionista. I have a penchant for finding unique clothing pieces and putting them together in cute, original outfits; and I love looking at online slideshows of the latest haute couture shows.

One thing about which I’m even more passionate than fashion, though, is disability justice. It is defined by Mia Mingus as “a multi-issue political understanding of disability and ableism, moving away from a rights based equality model and beyond just access, to a framework that centers justice and wholeness for all disabled people and communities.” 

You might think these two things are incompatible; and in the past, perhaps, they were. However, I’m delighted to report that in recent years, there has been an upsurge in disabled bodies integrating into the world of mainstream, contemporary fashion.

Here is a roundup of some of my favorite real-world examples of the intersection of disability and fashion at work.

1. Ad[dress]ing Ableism

In April of this year, five students at Cornell University, including two fiber design science majors, created an exhibit utilizing fashion to raise awareness about disability, “acknowledging the broad spectrum across which disability is defined, and changing the way students across campus think about disability and respond to it.” Each of the participating students was either involved with Cornell disability services or self-identified as “disabled.” 

2. Chairmelotte

In The Netherlands, there is a clothing brand called Chairmelotte Wheelchair Couture, “a company offering exclusive, in-house designed, specialised fashion for ladies and gents who live in a wheelchair.” Their website declares, “The clothes are distinct from other brands thanks to a perfect fit tailored to the sitting position, concealed adaptations and extras, and the use of high-quality, mostly natural fabrics with stretch.”

3. Design for Disability

In May, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation launched a six-part web series created “to challenge perceptions and increase public awareness about the need to include people with disabilities in the fashion and design industries,” partnering with fashion designer Derek Lam and six young designers from Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and the Fashion Institute of Technology to create the accessible outfits featured in the series. 

4. Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective

Also known as the INFDC, the Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective is “the first fashion trade association for people with disabilities.” 

5. FTL Moda

During New York Fashion Week in February 2016, the FTL Moda shows, an Italian fashion platform that brings designers together to show their collections in a cooperative setting, featured a number of models with disabilities, including Madeline Stuart, the first runway model with Down Syndrome, and Shaholly Ayers, a fashion model born with a congenital amputation.

6. Seated Design

Back in 2015, Parsons alumna Lucy Jones won the Parsons Fashion Benefit Womenswear Designer of the Year award “with a collection designed for self-propelled, seated disabled people — a segment of society completely ignored by the fashion industry today.”

7. Nike FLYEASE

According to TIME, in 2012, high-school junior Matthew Walzer, who has cerebral palsy, wrote a letter to Nike in which he said his dream was to go off to college “without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day.” Thus, the Flyease 8, “a LeBron James-branded basketball shoe with a one-handed fastening mechanism” in which “wearers yank on a strap, which zips around the ankle as they pull,” was born.

 What about ADHD?

As is so often the case, while doing research for this post, I encountered a lot of information about physical disabilities and other, more outwardly apparent mental disabilities, but there was a decided lack of references to my disability, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Granted, disabilities such as paraplegia inherently require more physical adaptability. Nevertheless, ADHD does impact a person’s embodied existence, and it would be refreshing to see fashion reflect that.

Imagine, for example, if shirts were produced with heavy fabric, thereby compressing the wearer like a weighted blanket. Or failing that, it would be great if some garments could consist of flexible, durable fibers less likely to rip should the wearer trip or fall, as ADHDers have a tendency to do. Likewise, now that Nike has conquered zip-up shoes (see above), I would love to see its product designers turn their attention to creating a running shoe with extra traction to prevent unintentional slipping. In fact, I would like all shoes to be designed this way, including non-utilitarian styles such as high-heel booties or Oxfords. After all, ADHD-induced spazziness isn’t confined to the fitness domain — trust me!

 

Women and ADHD writer’s block: a crash course

From time to time, I suffer from a terrible side effect of ADHD — not of ADHD medication, but of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder itself. It is highly destructive, perhaps especially for women, and it has a name: ADHD writer’s block.

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What is ADHD writer’s block, you ask? Well, first you have to understand the science behind ADHD. Now, full disclosure: What I am about to tell you *may* not actually be correct. You see, even though I’m confident that the cause I’m going to provide is right, so far, it’s politically correct just to say ADHD is thought to have that etiology. I know in my bones this explanation is accurate, and I’m pretty sure scientists haven’t thrown their weight behind it definitively only because they’re terrified they’ll turn out to be wrong. Still, this should not be taken as credible medical advice. Having said that, the primary source of ADHD is almost definitely, in a word, dopamine — or rather lack thereof. I think Jessica McCabe explains it best:

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s part of the reward system in our brain. We do a thing; we get a hit of dopamine; we feel good. The problem is, in ADHD brains, there aren’t as many dopamine receptors as there are in the average brain. We kind of have to flood our brain with dopamine to feel the effects. You’ve heard of heat-seeking missiles? We are dopamine-seeking missiles.

The kicker is that estrogen modulates dopamine systems. According to a November 1988 article in the New York Times, “In two studies involving 200 women … the women performed better on tasks involving verbal skill or muscular coordination when estrogen levels were high than they did when the levels were low.” In other words, the higher your estrogen levels, the higher your dopamine levels; and the higher your dopamine levels, the stronger your verbal acuity. Thus, women are left experiencing heightened difficulty expressing themselves, both in conversation and in writing, during certain times in their monthly menstrual cycle and throughout their lives. 

During a bout of ADHD writer’s block, I, for one, feel tremendous amounts of frustration. I cannot overstate how aggravating it is to have half-formed brilliant ideas floating around in your head, but then be unable even to start typing when it comes time to write them down. Sometimes snatches of individual sentences will flit in and out of my mind, but when I set out to complete them and commit them to paper (well, to WordPress, anyway), they come out as gobbledygook, or worse, they don’t come out at all. This was a dangerous game for my brain to play with me back in grad school when I would need to write multiple-page papers on very imminent deadlines. And if you’re a professional writer, like me, it can actually put your career in jeopardy. Not to mention, it’s just plain annoying!

OK, great. But what are we supposed to do about it? Is there even anything to do about it? The answer, fortunately, is yes, there is:

Coffee.

As Devon Frye explains,

Caffeine is most commonly used to overcome sleepiness and increase productivity; in some people with ADHD, it’s thought to combat common symptoms like distractibility and inattention in the same way that stimulant medications do. […] Caffeine works by stimulating the autonomic nervous system — responsible for regulating heart rate and other involuntary bodily functions like digestion. In the brain, caffeine stimulates the release of certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and blocks the absorption of others, like adenosine — a chemical linked to sleep and relaxation.

So, there you have it. I usually am able to get my writing work done thanks to caffeine* — caffeine delivered in coffee form, that is. Personally, I get the most potent benefits from a regular coffee drink such as a Starbucks Grande Caramel Frappuccino (100 milligrams of caffeine) with an added shot of espresso (about 64 mg caffeine) thrown in. Of course, your mileage may vary. After all, I’m pretty sure I have the severest ADHD in literally (yes, literally, literally) the whole world; you may need less caffeine to achieve the same effects.

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In any case, after about 15 minutes of intermittent sipping, I’ll suddenly notice myself finishing incomplete thoughts and finding the language that will enable me to evoke them. Now, that’s my kind of ‘java-script!’


*For the record, coffee is not the only palliative for ADHD writer’s block. More suggestions on how to combat ADHD writer’s block can be found in Beth Harvey’s February 2016 post on her blog Smart Girls with ADHD.

5 videos that women with ADHD should watch ASAP

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! One thing for which I’m very UN-thankful is ADHD writer’s block. I’ll go into more detail about it in a future post, but suffice it to say that I’ve started writing about five different blog posts but haven’t been able to finish any of them. Rather than renege on my goal of posting every Monday and Thursday, however, I thought that today, I’d change things up a bit, and let others do the talking for me. So I combed YouTube and came up with five videos that are seriously worth a watch if you’re a woman who has ADHD or thinks she might. 

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The videos

1. “ADHD and Relationships: Let’s Be Honest” 

Jessica McCabe is an ADHD goddess. The vlogger’s popular YouTube channel, “How to ADHD,” has been comforting and informing ADHDers and neurotypical allies alike for a few years now. I chose this particular video because of its applicability to the lives of adult women, but seriously, check out the whole series when you get a chance.

2. “Russell Barkley: Is ADHD Different in Women?

Russell Barkley is one of the foremost experts on ADHD, and this video offers a rare opportunity to get his take on ADHD and adult women, specifically. One interesting moment in this five-minute clip is at around the 02:57 mark, when he explains the relationship between gender roles and niche picking in the lives of women with ADHD.

3. “ADD and the Female Brain — The Answers!

This is a delightful little video from ADHD expert Daniel Amen and his ADHD wife Tana, a health and fitness expert. Their back-and-forth in this video is really entertaining; plus, it includes excellent advice on how to keep those dopamine levels up all day long (I’ll explain more next week about dopamine for those who are unfortunate not to know about it yet).

4. “Ask Sari: ADHD & Estrogen

In this video, Sari Solden, who is one of a handful of experts on women with ADHD, gives us a refresher course on the impact of estrogen on symptom severity in ADHD women and offers advice on how to manage the fallout resulting from hormonal fluctuations. Short, sweet, and very relevant.

5. “Failing at Normal: An ADHD Success Story

Another gem of a video featuring Jessica McCabe front and center. Grab the Kleenex box and watch this TEDx Talk RIGHT NOW. Just…trust me.

 

The lie we need to stop telling women about ADHD

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Girls are less likely than boys to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The general consensus is this is because for boys this tends to manifest in hyperactivity, which is much more noticeable to parents and teachers than inattentiveness, the type of symptom most common in girls. Luckily, as awareness spreads (albeit sometimes at a seemingly glacial pace), more and more women are eventually finding out the distress they’ve dealt with for their whole lives has a neurological explanation, and it’s called ADHD.

The long-delayed moment of diagnosis is often held up as a new beginning for the diagnosed. But while being diagnosed may very well be the most significant event in an ADHDer’s life, it’s not the be-all, end-all everybody makes it out to be. No, ADHD diagnosis is a new beginning — just not of pure, wholesale relief forever after. Instead, it’s the beginning of a life of newfound clarity about enduring struggles, for enduring they indeed are: Even if she starts an ADHD treatment regimen, pharmacological or otherwise, post-diagnosis, the ADHD woman faces an uphill battle that will continue for the rest of her life.

Nobody ever seems to talk about the extreme fallibility of ADHD medications, at least those currently on the market. In truth, ADHD is often treatment-refractory or treatment-resistant, meaning an ADHD medication may only have potency in a given person for a limited period of time, if at all. Now, there are two primary classes of CNS stimulant medications: amphetamine, aka Adderall, and methylphenidate, aka Ritalin. Most people respond better to one type of stimulant than the other. But many people, for whatever reason, don’t get symptom relief from either.

Moreover, you can have the most positive response possible to a given medication, but still not experience complete ADHD symptom relief, even temporarily. Unfortunately, the neurotypical expect us ADHDers to perform at their neurotypical levels if we’ve been “lucky enough” to be diagnosed and treated. Promised patience tends to run dry.

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This is particularly unfortunate for women, who earn the censure of society for displaying ADHD symptoms that tend to be revered in men. For instance, a man who doesn’t follow directions is deemed an “out-of-the-box thinker,” while a woman gets a reputation for recklessness. And a man who speaks out of turn is viewed as assertive; a woman, lacking self-control.

On top of that, women are tacitly expected to assume and maintain responsibility not only for themselves but also their entire household, both in its upkeep and of its members. Many women discover their ADHD at some point during or after their child’s diagnostic process. The upshot is these women being responsible for a higher than average degree of care for children with ADHD when they, in fact, need to expend extra effort just to take care of themselves. 

Just to put it into perspective, for you, I’ve been aware of and received treatment for my ADHD since early childhood, yet even I have to strive every single day just to avoid falling behind. Getting ahead, excelling almost always feels like a pipe dream — this, despite the fact that I’m on the highest possible dosage of all of my medications; not to mention, I live with my parents, rent-free! 

All of this is to say, it’s time to infuse a little honesty into the adulthood-diagnosis narrative, especially for women. We need to stop leading these ADHDers to believe everything is going to be OK because frankly, it’s highly unlikely that will turn out to be 100 percent true. Again, this is in large part because of the tacit mandate to fulfill traditional gender roles. As Kathleen Nadeau, one of the foremost experts on women and ADHD, explains,

Society has a certain set of expectations we place on women and ADHD often makes them harder to accomplish. … They are supposed to be the organizer, planner, and primary parent at home. Women are expected to remember birthdays and anniversaries and do laundry and keep track of events. That is all hard for someone with ADHD.

Honesty, it seems to me, is what’s called for here — honesty and compassion. And in that vein, there’s also a great need to reconfigure the typical response to a newly diagnosed ADHD woman, which right now is something to the effect of, “Congratulations! You have ADHD. Good luck!”

In this day and age, that kind of MO is unrealistic, and as such, utterly unhelpful.

Is Twitter the next big thing in ADHD diagnosis?

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Yesterday, I received my daily Google Alert email update for the search terms “attention deficit.” I’ve had this set up for several years, but I must admit, I don’t often check it; I can offer no better excuse than that it is rather hard to keep abreast of daily news about attention deficit if you suffer chronically from it. In any case, this time, something compelled me to read through the headlines compiled in the email, and one caught my attention (no pun intended): “Searching for ADHD in a Million Tweets.” It states: 

After analyzing 1.3 million tweets written by nearly 1,400 Twitter users, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have created a machine learning model that can predict which of the site’s users are affected by attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). […] Researchers monitored Twitter users with self-reported ADHD, comparing them to a set written by age- and gender-matched controls. The team then used various machine learning models to search for patterns in the two sets of tweets.

It might come as a surprise to you, my readers, but I must say, I find the whole thing terribly problematic. Why? Because it fails to take into account the fact that there are as many manifestations of ADHD as people living with it. The effects of ADHD in the life of one person may be entirely different from that of another.

For example, Lyle Ungar, one of the study co-authors, was quoted as saying, “I didn’t realize how common it was for patients to use marijuana to treat their symptoms, so you see people talking more about dope and weed.” But in contrast to these ADHDers, I avoid pot like the plague, not wanting to be any more dumbed down than I already am.

Meanwhile, according to the abstract of the article accompanying the research, published Nov. 8 in the Journal of Attention Disorders, “Users with ADHD are found to be less agreeable, more open, to post more often, and to use more negations, hedging, and swear words. Posts are suggestive of themes of emotional dysregulation, self-criticism, substance abuse, and exhaustion.” It seems to me the way these results have been reported is liable to reify negative stereotypes associated with ADHD. 

ADHD: not ‘one-size-fits-all’

I commend anyone wishing to shed light on ADHD, which after all is still arcane to most people who neither live with it or know someone who does. Also, for the record, I’m well aware of the inherent value of the internet, and social media, in particular, having minored in communication studies as an undergrad at the University of Oregon.

Even so, this research is misguided. It assumes there is one, and only one, kind of life ADHDers live, regardless of gender identity, socioeconomic status, race, etc. 

True, some health outcomes are more likely for people with ADHD. Depression, eating disorders, and self-injury are among a slew of comorbidities, or co-occurring conditions, in ADHD women, for instance. But therein lies the salient point: These aspects are common in ADHD women, specifically. As Devon Frye notes in a blog post on ADDitude, “men with ADHD are more likely to have substance-abuse problems while women with ADHD are more likely to have personality or mood disorders.”

Thinking outside the ADHD box

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Far from demarginalizing ADHDers, the reasoning driving this research homogenizes the ADHD experience. I love the idea of a group of researchers at an Ivy-League institution setting out to make things easier for people who may have ADHD. This is especially so because Ungar has said while ADHD is less well studied than conditions like depression, “Understanding the components that people have or don’t have, the range of coping mechanisms that people use all leads to a better understanding of the condition.”

What we really need

What people with ADHD — those who have been diagnosed with it, those who suspect they have it, and especially, perhaps, those who live with it unknowingly — really need is for the medical community to realize there is no one, singular ADHD experience.

Yes, this does make it harder to single out people who are likely to have undiagnosed, and thus, untreated ADHD. Yes, this does mean there would need to be a concerted effort to map all tweets from studied ADHDers, and not just those that appear so frequently as to be acceptable to make generalizations about said ADHDers.

But the effect — newfound insight into ADHD in all its countless iterations — would be well worth it.

 

7 things that DO NOT make you a bad feminist

Between 2015 and 2017, I was a graduate student in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies master’s degree program at Oregon State University. This was one of the most important experiences of my life, primarily because it gave me the strong foundation in the feminist knowledge that I knew I would need if I wanted to become a successful feminist blogger. Yet I also derived essential benefits from the experience insofar as it revealed to me how exclusive modern feminism can be. But as the great bell hooks reminds us, Feminism Is for Everybody.

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1. Being heterosexual

At some point in this long battle for gender equality, we got confused and assumed that meant that female-identified people who love and/or want to bang people of the male persuasion must exist in opposition to the cause of feminism. If the logic here is that it is because men are part of the problem, well, that’s as sexist as the problem itself. 

2. Being privileged

As an upper-middle-class (as long as I live with my parents, anyway) Caucasian, I’m privileged. I know that. What I don’t know, however, is why this has led people in the past to assume I’m “part of the problem.” Those who are not of color and are of wealth have perpetrated some abominable atrocities. But that doesn’t mean all people sharing one or both of these traits must automatically be taken as the enemy. A lot of us have our hearts in the right place and are eager to learn from people who are differently oppressed and work together with them to make things better. The need for sexual equality knows no income or skin color.

3. Being monogamous

Sexual liberation has been a critical element in feminism since the dawn of the second wave. But somewhere along the way, being sexually liberated became a requirement to join the feminist cause, and moreover, the definition of sexual liberation seemed to shift to exclude long-term, single-partner relationships, especially relationships with men (see above). But I call bullshit. True sexual liberation means feeling free to engage in whatever type of sexual activity you want (as long as it’s consensual) without worrying about how others will perceive it. It doesn’t matter if it takes place in the context of a committed relationship. 

4. Being cisgender

Shaving your legs, wearing makeup, or being in any way “feminine” whatsoever is NOT mutually exclusive with being a card-carrying feminist. True feminists realize gender roles are human-made, and so resisting freaking out over whether you’re conforming to said gender roles, by realizing certain traits are merely artificially coded “feminine” or “masculine,” is as feminist an act as I can imagine. As Martha Rampton of Pacific University’s Center for Gender Equity notes,

An aspect of third wave feminism that mystified the mothers of the earlier feminist movement was the readoption by young feminists of the very lip-stick, high-heels, and cleavage proudly exposed by low cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression.

5. Wanting to get married

I’ve just about had it with the argument that a quote-unquote real feminist activist can’t dream of someday saying “I do.” Whatever your gender identity or the gender identity of your chosen spouse, the institution of marriage has the potential to be extremely feminist. After all, marriage, at its best, is about two people coming together as equals and promising to honor and love each other; and equality is feminism manifest. 

6. Wanting to have kids

It’s okay to want to tie the knot. The same goes for the desire to procreate. Motherhood isn’t inherently feminist, despite what some proponents of breastfeeding might have you believe; but it isn’t actively un-feminist, either: Most of the professors I studied under at OSU are parents, and let me tell you, they’re all veritable paragons of feminism. So, yes, I want to be a mom. I also want to shatter the patriarchy. Luckily for me, a feminist can do both.

7. Wanting to beat men at their own game

Second-wave feminists “rejected the ideal of inclusion because … they would only be vying for inclusion in a world built on men’s values.” This MO has continued to dominate mainstream feminism ever since. But while I am loath to tell anyone to “lean in,” let me just say there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to work in the same institutions as men, e.g., a traditional workplace, and surpass them in excellence. It’s totally OK to wish and demand that there be space for us women in the world we live in now.

Otherwise, in my humble opinion, we’re just letting those who benefit from the patriarchy off the hook.

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7 tried-and-true tricks for traveling with ADHD

ADHD profoundly affects many aspects of our day-to-day lives. Travel is no different. But luckily, after years and years, I’ve learned how to minimize the fallout of ADHD-induced, travel-related trials and tribulations. And with the holiday travel season drawing ever closer, I thought I’d share seven of my foolproof methods.

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1. Invest in a large suitcase.

Pro tip: As long as a suitcase weighs less than 50 pounds, you may check it like any other bag. So instead of trying to be someone you’re not and attempting to squeeze two weeks’ worth of luggage into one medium-sized suitcase, go big or stay home! And if you really want to ‘go the extra mile’ with your ADHD-proof luggage, choose a suitcase that’s indestructible, like this stylish pink one

2. Pack everything you’ll need — AND everything you MIGHT need.

We ADHDers have a reputation for being underprepared — a reputation that isn’t ENTIRELY unwarranted. That said, if you’re anything like me, you tend to overcompensate by overpacking — and then later, trying to thwart everyone’s judgment that you’re a pack rat, ending up underpacking. All things considered, I think it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared. Don’t you?

3. Do a packing dry run.

 As early as possible before the start of your vacation, gather all of the items you’ve decided on after reading tip #2 and try packing them in the suitcase purchased after reading tip #1. Granted, some things, like your toothbrush or your medications, can’t be packed until day-of. However, you can TEMPORARILY pack them, and you should; you need to verify that your luggage hasn’t exceeded that 50-pound weight limit. To do that, you first need to weigh yourself. Then, pick up your full suitcase and step on the bathroom scale again. Finally, subtract your weight from the weight of you and your luggage. After that, you can adjust your packing list accordingly. 

4. Spring for TSA Pre✓

As the Transportation Security Administration website boasts, with a five-year, $85 membership, “you can fly through security and don’t need to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets.” I know, I know: Not everyone can afford this. But if you CAN pay for this option, then by all means, for the love of all that is good and holy, DO.

5. Set up a mobile boarding pass in addition to printing one out.

It would surprise me very much if I were the only person with ADHD ever to misplace a printable boarding pass while en route to a flight gate. Those damn little pieces of paper are just WAITING for us to lose them! Phones, on the other hand, are much harder to lose track of, if for no other reason than that you can track them using GPS. Avail yourself of these technological innovations — you’ll be glad you did.

6. Pack your medications in your carry-on — NEVER a checked bag.

Inevitably, luggage sometimes gets lost; and it can be days before its owner reunites with it. If you make the mistake of packing your ADHD medications in the said checked bag, you could face multiple days sans pharmacological symptom control. Granted, my ADHD is particularly severe; nevertheless, I think I speak for all other ADHDers when I say having to go neurologically ‘au naturale’ for even a single day can be pretty much the worst thing imaginable. 

7. Treat yourself and pay for some Wi-Fi time — BEFORE the day of your flight.

When I was preparing to fly to Washington, D.C. to visit my boyfriend last month, I surprised myself by getting everything together ahead of time — or so I thought. On the day before my flight, I received an email trying to entice me into paying $16 for a day’s worth of in-flight Wi-Fi. I smugly chaffed at forking over so much money for web access when I had already downloaded four e-books on my iPad that could be read without an internet connection. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was on the plane and in the air that I remembered something: It’s impossible for me to concentrate on reading while flying due to the cacophonous sounds coming from every direction on the airplane. Suddenly, I was stuck in the sky for three-plus hours sans any entertainment. And as it turned out, Delta Airlines doubles its prices to for a full day of Wi-Fi once the day of the flight has arrived. In the end, I just bit the bullet and shelling out $6 for an hour online.

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That’s really the salient point: Something WILL go wrong, no matter how many fail-safes you’ve devised. The key is to expect it. And above all, you have to have a sense of humor about problems while peregrinating. Otherwise, your ADHD may keep you from enjoying yourself.

…Bon voyage!