The Dark Side of Intelligence

(This entire post is going to sound terrible and possibly self-aggrandizing, and I apologize now for any pain caused — but I don’t believe in minimizing my truths to make other people feel more comfortable.)

I think most parents hope their children will be smart, maybe even smarter than Dear Old Mom and Dad themselves.

I hoped for normalcy.

I suppose my kids were doomed by DNA. I let them test my oldest’s IQ, though I was pretty certain of the results already (“giftedness” tends to show up in myriad ways early on, though these signs vary from child to child; there is no one “flavor” of intelligence that covers everyone’s strengths).

Yeeep. My son is also gifted. My youngest has an eidetic memory (and I suspect her IQ is up there also — not that that’s the best or only measure of intelligence!).

Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad that we don’t have to deal with the same kinds of struggles that some other families have with academia. We’re fortunate in many, many ways there, and I am truly grateful for that aspect of it, that smoothness.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have struggles — not in spite of my kids’ intelligence, but often because of it.

With high intelligence comes a large set of potential issues. This article does a decent job laying the naked realities before the reader.

Some of these issues are most prominent in my son — the emotions running high, the eccentricities, his refusal to talk in the beginning since he wasn’t getting the words out right, the compulsions to explain every single thing in great (often excruciating) detail.

For my oldest, it’s extremely difficult to provide challenging reading content that’s still age-appropriate. She’s been reading at a high school level or higher since first grade. Some of her former teachers invested a ton of time trying to keep her in challenging curricula. And she’s Type A, perfectionist extraordinaire. If she doesn’t get 100%, she may as well have received an F.

Youngest struggles with homework, because it’s too easy to be worth her time. Her teacher has given her some optional “challenge” work too, that she can do if she likes because it should be more engaging. She doesn’t see why she should do extra work and often skims it to verify that she “know(s) all this stuff already, Mom” and then puts it aside, blank.

There are gifted programs, certainly. And they do help a bit. Youngest didn’t qualify for services (which is ridiculous) because she doesn’t fit the “plays the game well; tests well and gives the right answers at the right time because they’re supposed to” mold. She can do that, and does in the regular classroom most of the time, but if the mood strikes her, nothing will move her to complete something she sees as drudgery.

The worst part sometimes is when they come to me with one of these issues, and my heart aches so much because I know. And there are no simple solutions. There’s nothing wrong with my amazing kids and we celebrate the hell out of who they are…but they’re outliers in this world, as are many people for various reasons, both good and less so. None of the reasons feel good. It never feels awesome to be stuck on the outside.

My IQ is 157 or 168, depending on which result you use. I understand eccentricities and issues as byproducts of intelligence all too well. I rehearse my speech (and delete almost every word I write, multiple times over) because I never know if I sound too weird, too archaic or stuffy or formal. I’m certain I have ADD, and that it’s a direct result of my intelligence. I have poor follow-through — or I fixate on things. I have severe anxiety about many normal-life situations, and because I am well aware of how absent-minded professor-ish I am and how much I “should have” achieved by now, Impostor Syndrome invades every corner of my life.

You just overthink things.

Of course I overthink things. I can’t not think everything to death. It just happens. My mind is spinning in a dozen or more directions every moment I’m awake, and my dreams are vivid and out-there, with good recall. To complicate things, I have synesthesia…colors everywhere. Tuesdays are pale yellow, February is burgundy, and 16 is white and blue. Anger is pink/orange, happiness is robin’s egg blue with gold streaks, et cetera. I actually think in abstract colors (in motion, always) too, which I didn’t realize was strange until some very detailed conversations in college…I think that’s why I stumble over my words so much (the “translation” that occurs) when speaking.

I can’t watch a lot of popular shows, especially about crimes/other plots with solutions because I figure them out and have a hard time sitting through the rest of the episodes. When I’ve been thinking about too much for too long, I tend to erupt emotionally over some tiny thing that doesn’t even really matter. I can’t wear certain fabrics or super-restrictive garments, because my body panics.

(I was getting ready for bed the other night, settling under the covers, when the seams on my shirt started bothering me. I tried to ignore them, but they became too much for me to handle. I ran to my closet and ripped the shirt off, ruining it. Didn’t care. Couldn’t care.)

Everything is more. And sometimes everything is too much more. My brain overloads and I snap at someone. I get emotionally overwhelmed and withdraw. (I find most social situations terrifying; I have learned to cope as long as I know I’m free to leave whenever I need to go. My senses get overwhelmed and I feel like screaming, even though I really need less of everything.)

I know what it’s like. My kids can come to me, because I know. Intelligence is a gift — and a very dark curse. You have to walk the line of light and shadow to make life beautiful.

Most days, I do. 🙂