Those of you who have been reading here for some time have seen me self-diagnose on a regular basis. As if I always have the feeling that there is something wrong with me, something to be put right. When I’m feeling particularly down I then hope that it’s something that can be cured by taking a pill. First there was the eating-disorder, then I thought I might have cyclothymia, then I thought I might be merely depressed, then I thought I might have ADD (something I did not write extensively about), and then, out of the blue while I was at the first German raveler meeting telling stories about how OCD I often am to over-compensate for my ADD tendencies, one of the nice knitters I was talking to said, “Maybe you don’t have ADD, maybe you’re gifted.”
My first reaction? Hahaha! Me? And then I thought, well, I’m not exactly stupid, but then I thought of all the really intelligent people I know like a friend’s husband who is a genius working in AI research, and people I met in university with a mind so sharp they seemed to cut themselves, and everybody else. But then this nice knitter told me a bit more of it (and with every trait she described I thought “That’s my husband!” and “That’s my husband too!” and “But that’s me!”), and she recommended some books to me which I immediately bought and read. One of the books was full of the life stories of gifted people, most of them hadn’t known for ages. And while I certainly have never learned a language in three months, or done anything that remarkable until reading those books I had operated under the common prejudices that gifted people are people who wear glasses, are a bit awkward in social settings and get high grade in math and science.
Well, I do wear glasses but my grades were never really good, all of my teachers were seriously disappointed of me because “she could have done so well if only she had applied herself”. She, on the other hand, felt that she had applied herself as well as she could, but never got it quite right. For all my life I have been suffering from having this great potential. I know that this is a luxury problem but it does not feel good, the knowledge that you could have if only you had done things different or maybe if you could have turned yourself into a different person.
So, after a couple of weeks where I felt that the things that are wrong with me, the things that make me stand out, and never fit in anywhere, and that make me say the wrong things, and forget to smile at people, and that make me jump to conclusion, and talk in a way that people go “Huh?” all the time, that these things might be due to my IQ. Sounds weird, doesn’t it?
I went here and took an IQ-test. I felt very nervous that day, my son had woken me up early, I was seriously sleep-deprived, and also had hormones that made me feel like I was thinking my way through pea-soup-like fog. I went to the test and there were only five other test-subjects, all of them male and looking as if they were studying math or engineering. The guy guiding us through the test was wearing a suit, and I immediately disliked him.
Then came the test. There were only four parts to it, some language, some math, some where you had to rotate cubes in your head, you know that kind of test. I found the language tasks quite easy, I had the feeling that I should have taken the spatial orientation test a bit more serious (typical for me all I could think about was that I wanted to get out and drink something at that point), and the math tasks made me realize that my daily life doesn’t include any math whatsoever. I was too slow to finish that one in time.
When the test was over I was certain that my score would be too low but I knew that I can solve this kind of problems if only I can think straight. After the test a couple of us went out to have a beer, and there we met a few Mensa members. And that was really interesting. All of those people were testified gifted. That was about the only thing they had in common because they were very, very different, but: You know how annoying it is when you go to eat something in a restaurant as a group? How people always take ages to order and can’t decide? Not with these people. I have never seen a group of people that big order that fast. And not one of them did the, “What are you getting? Do you think I should get the duck? Does anybody know if the duck is good here? Really? You’re getting the pork? I don’t know, maybe I only eat a salad.”-thing. None.
There was a scene with the waiter at the restaurant – and I won’t bore you with the details – that was quite funny, and usually this would have been one of these moments when I burst out laughing, and then everybody looks at me with that “what’s funny there?”-look, and then I try to explain, and then nobody gets it but with these people the waiter went away, and every single person at the table burst out laughing. They were all very much awake, had a spark in their eyes, and don’t like small talk.
I know that a lot of people consider standardized IQ-tests to be irrelevant, and I know that the only thing they can tell you something about is the exact same kind of cognitive intelligence that they measure but still this meeting together with the information from the books I have read point me towards the conclusion that having a very high cognitive intelligence might make one different enough from most people that you don’t fit in.
It doesn’t make you smart in every situation. It might make you perform very badly on tasks that are too easy, for example. You might have problems with people, you might abhor small talk, or you might do well, and have no problems whatsoever. It usually makes you quite stubborn, quite independent, relatively exhausting, and in some cases so perfectionist that you never finish anything.
Not to leave you hanging, I got my test-results, my IQ (when sleep-deprived and feeling dumb as a brick) is in the top 1% range of the population. Usually I don’t tell that to people because when I do I feel like boasting, which Im not. I don’t feel particularly smart. I’m pretty confused most of the time, I often don’t get things, and the knowledge of it makes my unfulfilled potential weigh even heavier on me. And while I’ve always known that my mind often works really fast that doesn’t keep it from drawing the wrong conclusions very fast too. I either get things right away or they never really stick. Also I’m still the same person I was before the test.
First I thought I shouldn’t tell anyone. Then I thought, wait a minute, I talk about things here like thinking I might be bipolar or having ADD, and now that I find out that I’m gifted I don’t tell? Now that I have found out that the thing that makes me feel different and not fitting in is not something that’s wrong with me at all, now I won’t tell anyone? What kind of a reaction is this?
Well, it’s understandable especially when you’re living in Germany. You get the “So, you’re good at math, that doesn’t make you special.”-response quite often. Not that I’m good at math. Or that look that now you have told someone they think that you feel superior. It does get worse when you tell somebody that you think your child might be gifted too. I told it before, my son is bored in school. I remember starting school, excited to learn something after all, and then I waited for it to become really interesting and challenging. And waited. (It did become interesting when I did my dissertation but then I never got my PhD. Failure again.)
People here in Germany mostly don’t get what the problem is. They think you’re just a bit smarter (and in their heads they think “Well, if you’re so smart why aren’t you doing better in life then?”). For me the problem has shrunk since I know the reason for all this feeling weird. It also helped me because now I know that I’m not alone, there are others like me out there, and there are ways to find them. One of those ways has been the internet, I have this feeling that there are quite a few really smart people out there writing blogs.
When I finally took the courage to tell my parents my mother said (slightly bored), “Of course, we always knew. That’s why we had you start school early.” Of course? So why did nobody ever tell me? All I ever got was the “We are so disappointed that you’re not doing better.”-look. Together with the “It’s so easy for you, don’t think you’re something special.”-talk. And then my mother said, “Well, since you’re not in academic research it doesn’t make a difference anyway.”
To all those parents out there who might have a gifted child, and who don’t want their child to know so that it doesn’t feel different from the others I say: Please tell them. Your child doesn’t need you to tell them they’re different. They can’t hide it anyway. It’s just good to know the reason why one is different. It’s not a deficit, it’s an asset. One can have a lot of fun with a brain that works well and fast. Really. And trying not to set yourself apart won’t work. Trust me, I have tried all my life.