Posted on: October 3, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Photo by Gretchen Lynch

Gabrielle Lynch reads her national award-winning essay, “In a World of Nancy Kerrigans.”

By Ethan Holesha, Features Editor

Battling bipolar disorder, autism, and depression, Moraine Valley student Gabrielle Lynch has been able to use her writing as a coping mechanism. 

Lynch’s essay, “In a World of Nancy Kerrigans,” took third place in its category at the national level in the League for Innovation in the Community College’s annual literary contest. Students from colleges all over North America participated in the contest, and a total of 12 awards were given, so to win one of them is a big deal. Lynch won $100 for taking third place. She also took first place in the personal essay category in Moraine’s Literary Contest, and then went on to compete at the Skyway conference level, where she took second.

However, writing for Lynch hasn’t just been for the accolades. It has been a distraction for her as well. 

“When I was in 8th grade to when I was a freshman my mental illness got really bad,” Lynch said. “The bipolar got really bad, and then my dad died, so I was in a mental hospital because it just got so much my freshman year. And I remember telling one therapist there I was like, ‘I hate that I’ve been so sick that I haven’t been able to write.’”

Gabrielle Lynch’s national award-winning essay began as an entry in Moraine’s literary competition last year. This year’s competition is accepting entries until Oct. 14.

Lynch has been writing for as long as she can remember. It’s always been a passion of hers. 

“I remember when I was in first grade I would steal paper from the printer at my house, just like the white sort of paper,” Lynch said. “And I would take my Crayola markers and would just draw these pictures and write above it and have little picture books.”

Lynch went to Trinity Lutheran school in Tinley Park from first grade until eighth grade. She always felt like an outcast around her classmates. 

“Whenever people examine childhood, it’s sort of like, ‘This is how it is. You’re the kid who likes science, the active athletic kid, you’re the really smart kid,’” Lynch said. “And I sort of didn’t really fit into any of those. I had my interests, But I felt so different and I felt so out of everyone’s depth.”

After elementary school, Lynch went to Stagg High School in Palos Hills. Her graduating class in eighth grade only had 28 kids, but then there were 600 students in her freshman class. This was a very big transition for her.

“It was a lot,” Lynch said. “I think I went into it with optimism where it’s like I don’t have to sort of pick from a really narrow clique of a few people.” 

After high school, Lynch attended DePaul University for a year. Because of costs and mental health issues, she chose to transfer to Moraine Valley last year.

Writing has been the only constant in her life. Every time Lynch needed an escape, writing has been there for her. She based her award-winning essay on her personal experiences as well as a movie she saw. 

“I’m just thinking back on my life. And I just sort of go for the most general sort of thing of like ‘Oh yeah, I was sort of a weirdo in school and I didn’t know things that other kids knew.’” Lynch said. “And… I don’t know, I think it’s just always been in my head and I just was like ‘Okay, I’ve gotta get this out.'”

She remembers seeing the movie “I, Tonya” and thinking, “Oh my God this is so me.” The movie is based on figure skater Tonya Harding and her connection to an attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. The film depicts Harding as an underdog,

“It sounds so pretentious to be like ‘I’m the underdog’ but that’s how relationships with my peers have been, where they know everything and they know all of the social cues, all of the normal cool things and I’m just sort of awkward, you know?”

With her essay winning awards, Lynch feels motivated to write even more now. As soon as she won the award, she thought of her mom. She credits her mom with being her number one supporter in her writing. 

“I think again like I thought immediately of my mom and all of the support she brought to me,” Lynch said. “Of course having people say that your work is good, personally, is so affirming. But then I told my mom, she was at work and I called her up and she was telling all of her colleagues it was so… I’m thinking of it from her perspective about how everything sort of paid off like all the support, all of that.”

“In a World of Nancy Kerrigans,” by Gabrielle Lynch

School shapes us and there is no way of avoiding it. My older sister was the golden child who read faster than the others while my younger sister wrote her answers on history assignments like a future politician. All I had going for me was spacing out during tests and “dancing” in the middle of class. Just wiggling like a worm in the plastic seats. In a sea of prim private school children synchronized swimming, I played shark. In my homework done by myself, I hardly gave worthy answers. Looking back on one reflective journal entry about Number the Stars, I wrote that the cat in one of the chapters seemed cute. That was all. The teachers thought it was just a young girl rushing her work when it was really a young girl thinking what she said was valuable. I suppose I thought all of my statements in school had value when really no one thought the same. Yet much of it had to do with execution. I would have a vast thought that comes out like a dim-witted joke. Perhaps not in the cat example, but I would estimate that more than half of my class participation was befallen by lack of good execution.

Homework and class etiquette were the main topics of discussion in parent-teacher conferences. However, no one teacher can focus on every relationship between the students in the class. Yes, I had friends that thought I was funny or interesting, but what they saw as funny, other peers saw as something close to evil. Every out-of-the-box thought was a pathetic excuse for participation. Every wiggly fidget was a step away from how things ought to be. No matter how my words or actions came out, they were somehow always the wrong ones. From first to eighth grade, the alienation never ended. We went from juvenile art classes in which my desk was too paint-splattered ending with an honors literature class where my interpretation of A Raisin in the Sun could not be true to what Lorraine Hansberry intended. I was always dumb, terribly unathletic in gym class, and a spaced-out freak.

Soon I graduated from eighth grade at my school of twenty-eight students into a high school of around six hundred freshmen. Here, I spent my first two years as a kernel. I only spoke to the theatre kids who approached me first. Luckily, they were theatre kids, so the weirdest ideas were always the best. My once-shunned opinions on music and movies now applauded as intriguing ideas to be explored. The kernel then popped. By junior year, I spoke up. Anatomy saw fellow students stepping over to my desk telling me that Maddie from AP English told them something funny I said to her. In said English class, I wrote an essay calling the 35th president and his wife, Jack and Jackie. The inch from years earlier still remained. Those smart kids in the back of the classroom were not laughing at my Jay Gatsby jokes. They were laughing because I managed to fail analyzing one of the easiest books to ever analyze. Jack and Jackie got me a point taken off. Lizzie said I was going to fail our group for not presenting a good enough thesis on Beloved. Forevermore, I would be the alien.

My senior year came around without much fanfare due in part to the fact that I relegated myself back to a kernel. The theatre kids left with the advent of drama club politics that I was on the wrong side of. The kids who thought I was funny did not have much material this year to warrant stories. Donnie Darko and Margot Tenenbaum became my peers instead. Just as weird as me, less judgmental than the others. While my classmates planned for college and partied like senior year was 2012, I had a potential autism diagnosis on my plate. I won’t leave you in suspense: I have it. My gut reaction came with the thought, Welp, guess I won’t be the next Jackie Kennedy. To me, she was the beacon of everything I should have been. A debutante, a well-educated woman, a political wife. I was the girl who bounced off the walls in both her thoughts and physicality. That would not fly at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. After months of sadness over what could have been, I reframed the diagnosis as a “Thank God there’s a name for it” situation. Every issue I have had in school boiled down to my lack of awareness in social circumstances. My whole life was a play where everyone knew the lines but me.

My other diagnosis came from my mouth rather than a psychologist’s. I think I may have even coined it. The Tonya Harding Complex is one in which someone has a perpetual underdog feeling. In every group situation, said person feels out of their depth with others either casting them in an outsider role or the subject imposing it on themselves. The namesake, Tonya Harding began her life in a trailer park world then later ended up in competitive figure skating, a crowd known for its properness. Although Harding’s most well-known competitor, Nancy Kerrigan grew up working class, she still had the air of a Kennedy-type. All-American enough for the masses, but elegant enough to become the ideal. Kerrigan had the designer skating dresses while Harding’s were homemade. Kerrigan had the delicate moves on the ice like a figurine, Harding jumped up with power like a shock of thunder. My jumps were flailing my arms during the photosynthesis lesson. My jumps were relating Romeo and Juliet to a song by one of my favorite rock bands. My jumps were not listening to my project group’s dismissal of my interpretations. My superpower of autism and all of its social “flaws” made me the Tonya Harding of every peer relation I have ever had. Not the salacious hillbilly Tonya Harding, but the unapologetic ice heroine with free-will.

A few months ago, my mother uncovered home videos from my birth to when I was about eight. There was a light there, untainted by opinions or critique. I wreaked havoc upon my household. I disobeyed my father when I poked at my baby sister, I ruined emotional moments like her birth with squeaky wisecracks, and made nonsensical films with my stuffed animals. Yes, there was dancing. Yes, it was bad, but those were my Tonya jumps. All of those were my Tonya jumps. I wish I could say that I learned from that young girl and resumed my life as a chaotic contrarian. These days, though, I cannot seem to muster the courage. I look at it as if I am in the shadows, watching both the contrarians and the conformists play. Just maybe I am content with being an army of one not proving myself as different or proving that I can fit in. A part of me longs for my wild exterior to match my wild interior again, but maybe wild looks different when one is older. The out-there six-year-old throws herself on the ground with every intense emotion while the out-there twenty-year-old may find liberation in simple, non-discreet oneness. I have not lost my alien behavior; I have not even molded myself into normalcy. If I have changed at all, it is that I am secure in being unique without having to tie myself to anyone else.