Twice-exceptional. Gifted plus…something…that masks or challenges the strengths. That something can be anything…a physical disability, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, Autism, anxiety and depression, mental illness…the list can go on and on, and usually does.
When you have a twice-exceptional child, you’re thrown into the deep end of the parenting pool. And because 2e is still relatively unknown, there’s not usually a lifeguard on duty to toss a life preserver your way. If you’re lucky, there’s a team of other 2e parents and advocates, and they fish you out of the water, hand you a towel, and share their snacks. Really experienced and helpful parents also have wine on hand. They know.
After a period of time, you become more and more knowledgeable about twice-exceptionality and help drag out other parents from those deep waters. You get good at recognizing it “out in the wild,” and use the code words to see if a parent needs help before getting chucked in the drink. But every so often, you catch a strange reflection of yourself, just a quick flash. It might be from your child’s “have to fit just right” sunglasses, or from a reflective surface at your kid’s OT office, or from a wrapper of a particular food your kid has to have on hand, just in case.
You know about apples and trees, but refuse to think about your apple and your tree. Your apple may have struggles, but your tree is fine! Never an issue! It’s always been strong and supported and thriving. Let’s concentrate on the apple, the tree will manage. It always has.
But the odd reflections keep popping up, quicker flashes now, until you are forced to sit and look inward, which inevitably happens while you’re driving alone, because that’s the only uninterrupted time you’re guaranteed to have.
- You remember in elementary school inhaling the entire reading textbook, and then waiting for others to catch up. The thought of not being a “good girl” kept you from acting out in boredom, so you entertained your mind in other ways.
- You remember in the 5th grade gifted pull-out class, that your class studied law and put on a mock trial. Because there weren’t enough kids for all the roles, you were tasked with two different characters, and when cross-examined, couldn’t get your mind to move fast enough to reply. It literally slammed shut. Wouldn’t be the last time your mind would just freeze. The humiliation from that would stick with you long into adulthood.
- You remember in 6th grade being dropped from the advanced math class because your mind fractured on fractions.
- You remember in 8th grade that you were determined to be as good in math as you were in language arts, so you sat and reviewed your notes every single night for months; it barely made a difference.
- You remember that you were strongly discouraged from taking advanced science in high school because you struggled in math.
- You remember looking at so many of your high-achieving peers and wondering just how in hell they were managing several AP classes, band, jobs, and a life. You finally decided you just weren’t all that smart.
- You remember considering your life in high school and thinking, “I’m not that great at school, I’m middling ok at flute, and I really suck at sports…what the hell am I good at? Well, I am good at people, but what do I do with that?”
- You remember dealing with stress (and what you realize now was probably a hefty dose of anxiety) and struggling to balance everything you wanted and needed to do, from your early teen years on. You remember discovering that a calendar and lists were the only things standing between you and complete failure. That, and dropping many things so you didn’t have so much going on; you could only concentrate so well for so long.
- You remember precisely one time that you fell asleep completely content, that you had accomplished everything you needed to do that day. It was a Sunday, and you were ready for the week. It was such an unusual feeling (and still is) that you remember it clearly, nearly 30 years later.
- You remember having your first existential crisis when you were 15, and not knowing what to do (or want to make a fuss), so you just kept on keeping on.
- You remember watching your (very likely 2e) younger brother and being thankful you didn’t struggle as he did.
- You remember learning that your (very likely 2e) younger brother took the ACT with extended time, and got a higher score than you did.
- You remember living in the honors dorm in college, and feeling simultaneously thrilled to be there with other quirky-minded folk, and terrified that they would soon discover that you were dumb as a box of rocks and shouldn’t be there (that cross-examination humiliation from 5th grade still burned). You still feel this way sometimes.
- You remember meeting the man who would be your husband and thinking, “I love his mind, he is brilliant, I am nowhere near his level.”
- You remember hiding your gifted light because…well, just because. No reason, you just did. It wasn’t that bright anyway.
- You wrote this post with earplugs crammed into your ears, because you are that easily distractible, and you wish you’d known of this trick decades ago. It also took you well over a month to actually finish this post.
By all outward appearances I’m pretty organized and reasonably on top of things. On the surface, I am. I manage to keep things motoring along by sheer will and a metric crapton of planning. I am the Queen of Organization, the High Priestess of Productivity. It’s a thin veneer of competence over a roiling cesspool of self-loathing, despair, and panic. Organization I got, it’s the focus and motivation required for follow-through that’s pulling me under.
Last year I started reading Smart But Scattered, one of manymanymany books I start and that end up teetering in a pile by my reading chair. Towards the beginning there are a couple of surveys; one to figure out your kid’s executive function issues, and one to figure out your own. I figured I was in the clear. Me? Have EF issues? Pshaw…never! Right. I discovered that I have piss-poor working memory, and accommodate for that by being very, very organized. Color me surprised.
I’ve long joked that I must have Adult-Onset Child-Induced ADD (my god, I reread that post just now and…sigh), because my antennae have been on high alert since I first became a parent, always attentive to everything around me, unable to shut it off, can’t focus deeply because then bad things happen. I joked, but I’ve also worked so hard to turn that off; the boys are older and I didn’t have to worry that they’d harm themselves if I wasn’t constantly aware of them. I’ve worked with therapists and life coaches and have talked to friends and have researched and journaled and have done all the things. I have the knowledge and the skills, but nothing has helped.
My hard-earned skills and ability to cope are tapped out, and I’m becoming more and more certain that it’s actual ADD pinging around up there in my grey matter.
Several weeks ago one of the women in the self-care class Kate Arms and I taught this fall shared a couple of articles about adult ADD, in reference to a completely unrelated conversation. I shoved them aside for weeks, because I’m overwhelmed and even with all the organization in the world, I didn’t have the bandwidth to read them. (Here’s one, and here’s the other)
I finally got to them, I had that cold sinking feeling of sudden self-awareness, I cried.
The vast majority of adults with an ADHD nervous system are not overtly hyperactive. They are hyperactive internally.
Those with the condition don’t have a shortage of attention. They pay too much attention to everything. Most people with unmedicated ADHD have four or five things going on in their minds at once. The hallmark of the ADHD nervous system is not attention deficit, but inconsistent attention.
Yes, I’m fully aware that also describes a gifted individual with a intellectual and psychomotor over-excitability. And I also know that there’s a family history of ADD, and that women aren’t diagnosed as often as men. And I also know that I was able to manage, up to a point. Parenting a complex kid flipped an internal switch and like a Rube Goldberg machine, my coping skills tumbled over each other to where I am now.
I’m tired of the self-loathing that accompanies seldom reaching my goals, or missing deadlines. I’m tired of never remembering what it is I need to do unless it is dancing naked right in front of me, or have it written down in my always growing to-do list. I’m tired of the always growing to-do list that mocks me with everything I want and need to do, but little time in which to do it. I’m tired of feeling my mind send little tendrils of attention out when I want to concentrate. I’m tired of fighting my own wiring.
Tree, it’s time to recognize that your apple is shiny and robust, but you’re not as fine as you thought. It’s time to scaffold your own self, so you can grow and thrive as well. Even previously strong trees need maintenance.
And so I contemplate the possibility that I am a 2e parent homeschooling a 2e teen. Huh. Didn’t see that coming.