I got a computer science degree because I thought I hated people. I thought I liked logic, technology, and solvable problems. Yet, the more I look at things, the more I am sure that the best predictor of both resilience and health is social connections and belonging. We are monkeys; there are no functional ways to escape that mammals need connection and touch, even for introverts.
(although trees and animals and oceans and books and music and writing and movement and food, help fill related needs)
(also, linear media is challenging for me, so feel free to either go on tangents with me or skip everything in parenthesis)
This seems like horrible news to those who either
• mostly hate people, because their values clash with most of the people they’ve met;
• mostly think people will hate them, because there is something wrong with them.
The answer in both cases seems to be to keep looking for people with similar values.
It surprises me to no end that I am both engaged and seem to have a community now. It does not surprise me at all that I still default to sharing only those things that someone asks about directly. Old habits of feeling like you don’t belong anywhere die hard, but I refuse to be one of those people who curled in on themselves and stopped trying to connect.
(blogging feels supper vulnerable and all sorts of fun, shame-related outsider stuff comes up)
There was about a ten-year period in my life after turning eighteen when I was sure that no one would ever want to deal with me. One of the reasons that I play in the gifted community is that is was the first functional-for-me environment that had people who chose to play with me, even if it was not clear to them what they could get from me. As I look back on that period in my life, I see a few overarching themes, each connected to one or more of Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities.
(basically the more excitable and intense you are the more likely you are to develop into something very very atypically interesting and possibly socially positive)
(no guarantees, and I like the idea of positive maladjustment from this theory)
Positive Maladjustment: A conflict with and rejection of those standards and attitudes of one’s social environment which are incompatible with one’s growing awareness of a higher scale of values which is developing as an internal imperative. (Dab. 1972, p. 302) – (If you like things which sound like this, go here.) (It is completely off-topic)
(tangents are a lot like plot bunnies)
(note: that was not a definition of of Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities, look here instead)
I was anxious and scared all the time (emotional overexcitability), coping by feeling as little as possible and telling myself that I was not afraid of anything. My strongest overexcitability is emotional, so I tend to know when people have a problem or when a social dynamic is about to implode, way before anyone else is willing to admit there is a problem. For a while I thought that my behavior and presence was the catalyst causing all the unnecessary excitement.
(which of course meant that I was evil and should stay away from non-evil people)
(black and white thinking for the not-win)
My best explanation for my internal experience was that I was not human and/or had multiple personalities or bipolar or just crazy. Since I had plenty of sensitivities to both environment and food as well as emotional meltdowns, both of those theories seemed plausible and disturbingly likely. (imaginational overexcitability)
(much of our media deserves to be shot for creating all these tropes with no functional modeling to balance them out with)
(I know that people argue about whether “multiple personalities” or “dissociative identity disorder” are real things, either in general or in specific cases. I am not wading into that debate here. My current stance for me is that I have a wide variety of asynchronous ways of presenting myself and that they don’t need a mental health related label to “explain them”).
(asynchronous development is my favorite gifted concept)
I was captivated by touch and substances. I did not much care for having a gender identity or sexual orientation or for practicing monogamy. At the same time, I could neither hold still, nor deal well with intense stimuli. (psychomotor and sensual overexcitability)
(also central auditory processing differences, sensory integration fun, and executive function specialness… all pretty mild and all super annoying when you have no idea why everything makes you spaz out… better now that I know what to do more of and what less of and when I need downtime and what food is)
(also while I’m linking to many topics, here is impostor syndrome!)
(also, FODMAPs turned out what was wrong with my food… avoiding fructose/fructans and dairy basically takes care of it)
(if you feel like crap all the time, figure out why! Pain, tiredness and digestion issues often have a findable reason for being there.)
(The reason this is important for this article is that it is harder to make friends when you can’t eat with others or don’t feel well.)
I would do anything for an interesting conversation. I would do anything to avoid being bored. I played with a lot of risky stuff, drove recklessly, and had many older acquaintances willing to trade entertainment for entertainment. I read all the time, but hated everything about classroom instruction. I overthought everything which made emotional overexcitability worse and caused serious going to sleep without having a panic attack problems. (intellectual overexcitability, stacked on top of the rest of them)
That meant that, as I saw things, the only people who would think I was not crazy were others like me. If I wanted connection, I first needed to find other genderqueer, alternate relationship lifestyle, non-humans with multiple personalities, who also did not think I sucked and where not likely to treat me badly. Of course, that meant that there were not many options for community, healthy relationships or mental health professionals or educators I was comfortable talking with.
(the criteria that most often suffered was healthy environment or relationship, since not being completely lonely trumps everything else)
All of these put me outside of a cultural narrative where I could connect or gain social approval. There was no doubt in my mind that there was something BROKEN about me, and that meant that I deserved anything negative that happened in my life. It also, got in the way of being able to get therapy and external support for years.
I don’t claim that my logic made any sense and I will not dismiss as stupid what at the time was my best set of available coping mechanisms and reality structures. It is so socially edgy to talk about this and I am going to talk about it, since I keep seeing the same types of self-imposed isolation in the younger adults within the gifted community (and extended geek and LGBTQIA communities).
Freak. Outsider. Failure. Shameful. Labels so many of us start with. It will take me at least another 5 years to rewrite most of it. And I never would have been able to start doing so, if I did not always relentlessly search for others like me. I had no reason to believe they even existed, but it was approximately equivalent to “I can always give up tomorrow” (best use of procrastination ever!) – Also, they are not “like me,” we just like each other and have similar needs for intellectual and emotional entertainment.
Last weekend, I went to a games party, featuring a bunch of my favorite gifted homeschoolers/unschoolers. It was amazing watching the seamless interplay of people who are now my extended community, integrating a roomful of highly-intense people from about age 8 to middle age. I watched an eight-year-old patiently explain the rules of Monster Boss to the rest of us and be treated like a valued and respected member of the group. I enjoyed watching people remember to ask about things like food allergies before bringing nuts and dairy into the house. There was no alcohol, and the games were engaging without it. I watched touch and not-touch negotiated with no weirdness or overtones. Some people were boisterous, others quiet, others reading or listening to something else. This social dynamic fell in stark contrast with a couple of recent experiences at a normal American wedding: the awkwardness of another party where strangers hugged me without asking if it was ok and blaring music and the assumption that everyone can eat the same stuff and enjoy the same kind of crowded overwhelming space. It just feels different and better in functional spaces where smart weird sensitive diverse people can belong. (the other group did nothing wrong, but it is not what I pick as first choice these days)
On another occasion, I had a conversation with a younger person exploring ideas of non-monogamy for the first time. She lives in a place where everything about the way she thinks makes her feel like an outsider and a freak. This last conversation is the main reason I went here with this article. The person I talked with needed someone to discuss relationship models with. Someone who would not tell her that she was being silly for reading and thinking about non-monogamy. Someone who will discuss the pros and cons of various models with no built-in judgement rooted in shame and social norms. Someone who totally gets how hard it is to establish relationships when all the normal ways to do it never worked for you, and you tend to overthink things and not take much for granted.
If all of the older people behave in a way that looks like we are straight edge and never did anything experimental (or sometimes downright risky), who will our young adults talk with when they need to discuss less functional aspects of their lifestyle choices? I’m so much more afraid for those who can’t connect with anyone, than for those who need to try different things before figuring out who they want to connect with and how. There are loads of things I like about non-punitive, openminded monogamy, where you can totally be attracted to other people, but I would not tolerate them if they were a foregone unexamined conclusion.
It is so easy for Andy and me to pass for “normal” these days, but we are not that and we did not get here in a straight coherent painless line. We are also not all there yet, since friendships are still slow to form and we find many typical social activities way too stationary and linear to focus on for long. I’m still awkward as hell, but it doesn’t seem to matter to those with whom I connect best. Andy plays best with those who ignore that he is a lawyer and a boy and just treat him like a non-directive chill person that he is outside of work. (He put in over 5 hours to help me make this article.)
I don’t know how to wrap this topic into a neat little blog post, but here is what I do know:
Big cities on the coast have their issues, but they are much more liberal have many more venues to connect with other “freaks.” There are more options for connection and if you screw up in one environment, it is not the only one of those available.
Even when I did not believe that anyone sane could accept me, I still looked and tried different things. The last few communities I encountered, I couldn’t have even imagined. Andy and I are going on the JoCo Cruise and to WisCon and prior to a few years ago, even my imaginational overexcitability cold not have caused me to dreamwish for spaces like that. As it is, this year is the first time we have been financially able to even think about doing things like this.
There are people who are kind and intelligent and effective in making this world better, who would enjoy meeting you and talking with you. Yes, you! Even if all you do is ask simple questions. Even if you are not always kind and sometimes you are angry and violent and do stupid shit that hurts yourself or others. You can get better at all of that, and it will be easier with role models who make sense to you.
There are no foregone conclusions for trauma, depression, anxiety, ADHD, social awkwardness or other stuff like that. They can have nasty outcomes, but much of it can be healed. Not for everyone, and not necessarily without support, but it can get to the point where brokenness is no longer a salient feature of this experience. Talk to people with similar histories who are ahead of you on this path and seem to be going where you want to be. Ask them what helped them.
It’s not like everyone else is always ok. There are spaces where being very different or intense or awkward or variable or highly sensitive is not unusual. Even if the way your stuff manifests is not like anyone else’s, it can be ok, even if some of it is louder than you would like. (and usually there are some people who are also like that if you get as far as talking about it, but not everywhere)
There are many communities that do not care about how “deviant” your sexuality, gender or spiritual beliefs are, as long as your practice is respectful and consensual. It is all ok as long as no one is getting hurt. There is no penalty for what turns you on or what fantasies live in your head, the only part that is important is what you do.
There are no wrong emotions.
There is no such thing as too broken or too crazy.
If you ask for help and the person you asked is not gentle or can’t follow, find someone else.
Volunteer to help at events, even if you think you will suck at it. It will help you connect.
If you know zero people who feel real enough to be friends with, look for a new environment.
Everything is different when you are not dependent on someone else.
Comparison sucks. Those people who are doing better have some privilege or luck helping them.
Reach out. Ask for help. Offer help. Initiate. Feel awkward. Collect rejections. Repeat. Cry or scream or eat chocolate or retreat for a while or meditate or write or move.
Find your tribe. It is better than you can possibly imagine, even when it is still clunky and awkward. Let it be awkward the first 5 to 10 times. If you love the people and the activity, you will settle in and adjust, just not as quickly as you think you should.
This post is part of Hoagies Gifted Blog Hop – Gifted Friendships