too smart for my own good: growing up twice exceptional and girl.

Shout out to the girls who were too smart for your own good, you just need to try harder, boys don’t like you because you use big words, you’ll understand when you’re older. The girls that started out Hermione Granger, grew up to be Laura Wingfield. The girls in schools where forgetting to turn in your homework with every question right wasn’t the same as not sitting still in class, sensitive and anxious and lonely wasn’t the same as can’t make eye contact so you never got a diagnosis. Your parents and teachers saw so much potential they couldn’t see what was keeping it from showing on your report card.

In second grade, I took a test that told me I was reading at a college level. Later, took another test that told the school district I could join the gifted program. Another test convinced Beloit College to overlook my two-point-something-something GPA and never materialized final high school transcript. I could always pass tests.

No one ever thought I was “hyperactive,” but I did dance, swimming, gymnastics, cheerleading, soccer, softball, art classes, horseback riding, Girl Scouts, and clubs and clubs and clubs. Over the summer I would lose contact with the few friends I had made that school year and, after coming home from one day camp or another, check out dozens of books from the library, reading more than one a day, reading all night. Every summer since both series ended I re-read all seven Harry Potters and re-watched all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. Rory and Hermione weren’t afraid to be the smartest person in the room and they both turned out ok.

I went through these phases where I couldn’t bear to stray from a single topic. Once it was outer space. Once it was ancient Egypt. Once it was dance history. Once it was Spring Awakening. I couldn’t stand not knowing everything about the things I loved but learning something I was bored of or never understood was torture. No one ever figured out that I hadn’t understood a math class since first grade.

This February, I dropped out of school (bipolar). Last April, I dropped out of school (depression). The March before, I dropped out of school (cytomegalovirus). Junior year of high school, I started taking classes online because leaving the house everyday to go somewhere I hated was too hard. Seventh grade, I switched from a Catholic K-8 to a public middle school. Third grade, I did the opposite. Sixth grade, I never got my spring report card after missing 3 straight weeks for a migraine that wouldn’t end.

What’s the difference between a temper tantrum and a panic attack? Where’s the line between bratty and bossy and impaired social functioning? How far is disobedience from executive dysfunction?

I grew up correcting and interrupting. My thoughts came so strong and so fast that I would forget them if I kept them from bursting out of my mouth. One morning, I got to school knowing I would throw up soon, that feeling where your stomach’s upside down and you can’t stop drooling. My class headed to the library (we were young enough that Library was a class) and too soon after our teacher used the wrong word in a sentence I raised my hand. “I know, Richelle.” “Richelle, it’s ok, I said the wrong thing.” I threw up on my desk and she asked why I hadn’t said I needed to go to the bathroom.

My freshman year of high school, between quitting dance via a torn Achilles tendon and finding my way onto the speech and debate team, I walked to the public library every day after school. Having outgrown YA fiction and not yet found feminist theory, I read the DSM-IV every day. I told my friends I wanted to be a therapist. My mom majored in psychology in college, and maybe I would too. I wanted to have a word for what was making everything I thought and felt so hard.

In college, I found cultural anthropology and a classroom where the homework was about something I actually wanted to read, where my professor cared about challenging her students with complex ideas more than busy work. In college, I found a best friend whose life was eerily like mine (the other day I sent her a series of rambling facebook messages ending in “Surprise, we’re the same person” which is a half joke, a kidding-not-kidding). In college, I found words: twice exceptional, affective spectrum, bipolar disorder, neurodivergent.

My therapist told me I didn’t get along with other kids because I was too close with my mom, I have ADHD because my parents didn’t teach me executive functioning well enough, and I’m depressed because of ADHD. I’m looking for a new therapist.

Doing nothing is both too easy and too hard. When I’m depressed getting out of bed to pee approaches insurmountable. But being out of school is almost as hard as being there. It’s the logistics I can’t do, and the intellectual engagement that I need to survive. Last night I read the presentation schedule for a big cultural studies academic conference. Everything, everything, everything I care about, I could hear about, learn about, talk about there.

I fired off a string of tweets.

I texted my best friend.

why is it that the thing that makes me care about things so much and want to be good at them and learn about them and write about them (brain) is the fucking thing that keeps me from doing that (brain)!!!

sorry i know u are at an event having fun

my ideas about these things are just as good as the ideas of the people presenting!!! i just will never get to have those ideas be my job because i will never be getting a phd or probably even a bachelors degree and it pisses me off so much!!!

I wrote this post. I can’t tell if I’m frustrated or just sad. Sometimes it’s easier to be the sad girl than the angry girl.

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