This piece is about telling a personal story since the only way to relate to a social justice cause is on an individual level. This is an object lesson in what can happen when a gifted child is left to founder without the proper social and emotional supports.
- It has been about a year since I started writing to help other people understand themselves and their context and enrolled in ADD Coaching Academy to hone my ability to help people. Two since starting to run young adult programing at Beyond IQ Boston. Also, about that long since I worked up the nerve to start going to therapy.
- In the last four years, I escaped from the corporate IT grind and got engaged to a partner who does not feel the need to tell me that I am acting crazy to modify my behavior to a level that he can live with. It has also been about that long since the best model I had for myself was, “I am just not human” and I can’t live with humans, or like them. It has also been about that long since I stopped putting crap into my body and started to accept my slightly atypical dietary, sensory and auditory needs as a non-delusional baseline.
- Four years since I made the choice to get back into what I consider academia, although it is pretty independent of the way most people would recognize this term. After my undergraduate experience, I swore I would never go back.
- It has been five years since I ran across the gifted community, Beyond IQ Boston, and Josh Shaine.
- Seven years since I finished my much-hated Computer Science with a side of Business Management degree, using a combination of blind panic about the future, cigarettes, and coffee. Interspersed with binge drinking and nearly-debilitating isolation and misery.
- Fourteen years since I started college after dropping out of my second high school, terrified that my family would kick me out because I was not doing anything useful (they would not have). Knowing that I could be any kind of doctor, lawyer or engineer I wanted to be, and anything else was an unacceptable failure.
- Eighteen years since I was told that I am going to MIT or Harvard, or else… to make money. I wish they dragged me to MIT ESP Splash instead, then I might have wanted to go. I was terrified of those schools, thinking myself not stupid exactly, but certainly a horrible student who could not write.
- About the same amount of time since someone told me that all psychiatrists are crazy (when I said I wanted to be one). A few years past the point at which a guidance counselor at Bronx High School of Science told me that LSD was a mind-expanding experience for him. (He was trying to be cool, I would have liked to have a semi-responsible adult to talk with instead.)
- Nineteen years since I entered a highly competitive magnet high school, barely able to communicate in English, with no real ability to connect to other people in a functional way, and almost completely without writing or study skills. A year later I was suspended indefinitely, unless I came back on lithium, for a diagnosis I did not have. While I wasn’t doing great, I did not hurt anyone. If we had any advocacy skills, this would have gone differently.
- Twenty-one years since being teased and bullied at a small private Yeshiva, which I entered on almost full scholarship, because I sounded funny and was not dressed “right.”
- Twenty-three years since moving to America and getting grade skipped into fourth grade, with one hour of ESL instruction a week. The assumption that language acquisition “just happens” is interesting. It might have helped to have someone to talk with.
I did not react to all this in a healthy or functional way. The timeline above is scrubbed of many of the details that would make people so uncomfortable that the point of this article would be lost in the sea of reactions.
It is also obvious from here that if I had self-regulation skills and the ability to understand that I needed to ask for help, different choices could have been made. I did not, So I build my own model of reality…
So, why this story?
Because while I am luckier than some, I still lost ten years along the way due to a combination of my own headstrong stubbornness, lack of access to peers or activities that channeled my energy constructively, and not having a single adult to whom I felt safe showing the mess I thought I had made of my life.
There are better ways to do this, and not everyone would have come out of my experiences as relatively able to have a self and a voice. Luck, help, stubbornness, and privilege played a huge role. Did I mention luck?
I cannot speak to many of the experiences bright people in this country have, but I can speak to what it is like to immigrate to “the land of the free” and get lost for a very long time. I would not have been the easiest teenager, even with language and social-cultural skills, but if I understood where I was going, it might have helped me focus on reaching a goal better rather than being adrift. For many years:
- I thought that all colleges where effectively like high school. More of what I hated. I thought you went to MIT or Harvard for stupid elitist reasons, rather than to make friends with people who share interests and passions with you. I knew zero people who went to either of those schools.
- I had no idea how many different ways to be an adult were possible. I dreaded the only model I knew: a 40-80 hour work week doing something you didn’t want to do.
- I thought that I could never date ONE person, because even the best conversationalists got boring after two hours to three months. I did not get attached to people—and thought that meant I was heartless.
- I thought I was crazy, because I would react strongly to sugar, lack of food, lack of sleep, being stuck in a chair, noise, people, crowds, tone of voice, etc…
- I alternated between numb and on fire. With no clear idea as to why, or what could be done to manage it. I never met anyone who kept a journal and made sense of written patterns.
- I thought SCIENCE was about labs I could not understand, where the results never came out sensical. I thought school was an insane, pointless torture device.
- I thought that you could overcome physical limitations by using willpower — and that you were lazy or a bad person if you did not.
- I thought I was evil, because I could not be “nice” in a world that I could not yet identify as overwhelming. I judged people harshly for their “failings” and “shortcomings,” because I had never been exposed to a different interpretation.
- I could not reconcile my inability to understand how to have people connect with me, despite learning quickly. I was convinced this made me dumb. It turns out that I do not self-learn academic or social skills particularly quickly without examples and feedback.
- Since I process verbally, not having anyone to do so with (or the language skills to do so) left me in a tight prison of barely-understood anxiety. Failing to process and grow using either negative or positive events. So my conclusion was that I was just tricking everyone into thinking I was a smart or a non-evil person.
Being gifted does not prevent anyone from forming stupid conclusions and while doing their best, still making choices which may seriously damage their life.
The main protective factor is having at least ONE person you NEVER have to lie to in order to feel safe, accepted and loved.
There has to be a way to find them.
Imagine not having anyone to talk with for fifteen years… Imagine who you would be…
Would that be ok?
(If that is still you, look below for some community suggestions and resources, or contact me)
How about if you could never find it because since you believe yourself to be stupid, broken or bad and think that the whole gifted concept does not apply to you?
What if gifted was a dirty word, which you never heard of, because “socially savvy” people avoid it?
We need to be able to use the gifted label because I gotta tell you, when I google “social emotional needs gifted”, I get much more usable results and helpful community resources, than if I google “wasting her potential,” “over-reactive” or “oppositional defiant disorder”, or “will never amount to anything if she does not…”