Engaging in Problematic Practices

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Last weekend I got engaged.

I am INCREDIBLY excited. I put together a silly Pokemon scavenger hunt proposal. I made my boyfriend (fiance!) do a lot of goofy things and eat a lot of delicious food. I bought an oversized ridiculous fake ring to propose with. It was tons of fun, and I look forward to our wedding containing similar elements of party, fun, and goof.

Marriage is an institution with a lot of problems. It’s heteronormative. It prioritizes monogamy over polyamory or other forms of relationships. It puts romantic relationships and biological relationships on a pedestal, and helps us as a society to prioritize them over platonic friendships or chosen families. Already, we’ve had people ask us if this means we’ve changed our minds and want kids.  I’ve talked in other places about feeling conflicted about marriage, and about the ways the history of marriage is a serious pile of shit. It feels different now that this isn’t a hypothetical question, now that it’s a plan in my life, now that it’s something that I’m actually going to do.

I’m suddenly asking real questions about how my actions will affect other people, like is it ok for me, a straight, cis person, to wear a rainbow engagement ring? (after much deliberation with friends, decided that the one I chose was not appropriative or harmful). Is there a way that I can incorporate my support for all kinds of love and families into my ceremony (still no idea, suggestions welcome)? What does it mean for my relationship with my fiance? Do we divvy up labor fairly? Do we have an egalitarian relationship? Do we live out our feminist values in our actual life? What does it mean in terms of monogamy? Will people start asking us about kids more often (yes)?

It’s odd, because marriage is a Big, Important kind of an event, and it makes you ask these questions. It makes you spend time wondering if it’s the right fit for you or for the world. But there are a thousand smaller decisions that I make all the time that involve engaging in problematic or even negative practices. Literally all of us spends are lives swamped in sexist, racist, bigoted shit, and we rarely think twice, even if we are social justice warriors. Since I’ve gained weight I’ve started wearing more covering clothing. That’s problematic as fuck. I’m ashamed of having a not skinny body (I would not call myself fat). That’s internalized fatphobia. But I don’t question it, because it’s a tiny decision that doesn’t get shoved in my face. I simply do it because it feels comfortable to me, and it works for my life. I don’t put on a bikini and fight fatphobia every day. I don’t even question my clothing decisions from a feminist perspective because they’re just a part of life. And honestly, because it doesn’t directly hurt much of anyone and it makes me feel more comfortable and happier in my skin.

I’m not entirely sold on the idea of choice feminism. Just because a person makes a choice that works for them doesn’t mean that the choice can’t have implications for other people. Even if it doesn’t directly impact others, it can still have effects. I think it’s important for people to question their own preferences and ask where those preferences came from and how those preferences can help to create norms or help dismantle norms. I try to be aware of the hidden assumptions I have about what is normal, and to point out to myself and others that even doing what is normal is still making a choice.

But it also seems true to me that in most important ways, we all practically live a form of choice feminism. Most of us will prioritize our own well being over abstract values most of the time. Now that’s not always true, like my choice to be a vegetarian for many years despite having not enough protein and some really unfortunate intersections with my eating disorder. But for the most part we don’t think about a decision, say “this will make me very happy” and then choose to do something else because “it’s not feminist enough.” We balance our happiness and our values, and recognize that sometimes our own happiness conflicts with the happiness of others (this is called life).

Marriage might not be a perfect choice. It might have some negative impacts. I want to recognize the problems with it, and continue to talk about them. But I also don’t want to prioritize marriage as a choice more important than any other. No, there is no choice I make that doesn’t have impacts, but there are also very few actions that are “feminist” or “unfeminist” in isolation. It isn’t “unfeminist” to shave your legs, the problem is when everyone does or is expected to do it. Marriage is similar: it’s a family and relationship format that works for some people, and the problem is the current set of expectations surrounding it.

It’s easy, even as someone who is trying to tell the wedding industrial complex to kiss my ass, to get sucked into the idea that marriage is a choice that exists in a totally unique and utterly important category of its own. It’s easy to spend so much time and energy thinking about it that you imagine getting married could destroy any efforts you’ve made against misogyny. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “this is the most important day of my life”, even if you’re doing it with a social justice veneer.

Really it’s just another choice in a whole series of problematic choices we all make.

Every single one of us engages in some problematic behaviors, whether out of ignorance or laziness or because it is just what makes our life livable and ok. Marriage isn’t unique, and I’d really like to take that “specialness” sheen off of the whole practice (and especially the wedding day). There’s a balance in life: if I can make my life so much better by doing something that might be upholding negative norms, what should I do? I’m at the point where I say that I need to prioritize my own happiness in places where the harm isn’t major. Because my happiness is fleeting, and intersectionality is a thing, and mental illness is my life, and marriage is probably not going anywhere whether or not I get married.

So yes. I am choosing to do something I know is a problem. But literally everyone does. It’s ok. Life consists of choosing from imperfect options. And this imperfect option makes me very very happy.

What Needs to Be Said About the Orlando Shooting

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I’m about to say a lot of things that will not be mind blowing. People have already said all of them, probably better than I can. But I try to think of myself as an ally, and ally is a verb not a noun, which means I need to do something. So if more straight, cis folks like myself need to keep repeating basic truths until America pulls our collective heads out of our asses, then I will do it. Repetition is a key to learning, and straight America has some learning to do.

The shooting in Orlando was a hate crime against the queer community. Gay bars are safe spaces for many people, where they go to find community, support, and acceptance. The shooter has made homophobic comments before. The choice of location was not an accident. This was an attack on the queer community. If you believe that with marriage equality the GLBT community is fine and should stop asking for more, stop and look at what just happened. 50 people were murdered for their sexuality and gender identities. People in the queer community die every day, of suicide and violence and poverty and AIDS left untreated and homelessness. This community is vulnerable, and that vulnerability was exploited in this attack.

The shooting further targeted one of the most vulnerable populations in the US: trans women of color. The club was a popular place for Latinx individuals, and hosted drag shows. It just so happened that the night of the shooting featured Latinx drag performers. This is not a coincidence. The fragile masculinity that pervades America says trans women are a threat to everything we care about. It’s not a surprise that they are the target of so much violence when their very existence is a symbol of fucking the patriarchy.

The shooting in Orlando was a product of toxic masculinity. When physical strength and violence are lauded as the symbols of masculinity, we create people who deal with their problems through violence. The shooter had a history of domestic abuse. When we excuse rape, intimate partner violence, and domestic abuse, we make it so much easier for the violence to just keep escalating. We send the message that violence is how to deal with problems. Toxic masculinity demands that men don’t show emotion and affection, which makes two gay men openly kissing a terrifying and horrifying prospect. It says that men have a dominant role, and any man taking on the woman’s role is a disgusting perversion, giving rise to further homophobia and violence against GLBT individuals, in particular trans women.

The shooting was related to the homophobia rampant in many Islamic communities. The shooting is not an excuse for Islamaphobia. This is where things get a little bit complicated, but I think we can all hold these two truths together. There is homophobia in many Islamic communities. It can contribute to the attitudes of the members of those churches. This is not unique to Islam. Many Christian churches contribute to negative attitudes towards queer people. We need to be able to criticize the damage that religious beliefs are doing without jumping to full blown Islamaphobia that says this man was an extreme terrorist sent by ISIL to destroy America. See the difference? Homophobia in Islam contributed. Every Muslim every is not an evil terrorist.

The shooting is further evidence of America’s gun problem. Yes, America is a unique place and we cannot wholesale import solutions from smaller countries or from Australia. But it is a fact that our gun violence far outstrips other comparable countries and we need to do something. It remains true that guns are dangerously unregulated, and individuals are capable of purchasing unnecessarily high powered weapons that can kill at a rate that knives or homemade weapons cannot. It remains true that guns are less regulated than cars or chemicals or all kinds of other things that are less dangerous. We need to face up to the fact that our obsession with guns is killing people, and we need to start actually doing research into how to make it better.

The shooting is not evidence that the shooter was mentally ill. People with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. There are many complex reasons that an individual chooses to commit horrific acts, but dismissing it with “they were insane” lets us off the hook for the ways that we have built a society that fosters violence. It also throws mentally ill people under the bus and makes them responsible for violence when in fact they are an already vulnerable group of people. We do in fact need better care for the mentally ill, but now is not the right time to talk about it.

Finally, and most importantly, if you consider yourself an ally, now is the time to show it. Speak up. Tell your queer friends they can rely on you for support right now. Give blood. Give money to GLBT organizations. This event was horrific, but if you are an ally then you need to step up. I am actively calling on my fellow straight, cis individuals to mop up our mess. Take care of the queer people in your life. It’s the least we can do.

Yes Virginia, You Can Ruin Your Own Life in 20 Minutes

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If you’ve been on the internet at all in the last week or so, you’ve probably read the story about a Stanford swimmer who was convicted of rape after assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. The young woman penned an amazingly painful letter about the experience and aftermath, in which she expresses anger and dismay that her attacker was only sentenced to 6 months in jail. I’m somewhat heartened that the young man was convicted, but overall the situation has been a repeat of all the things that are wrong with the way our justice system treats rape: the young man’s potential was considered more important than the damage he did to the young woman, her alcohol consumption, dress, and prior behavior were all dragged through the mud to show she wanted it, and the young man’s background was considered enough of a “character witness” to suggest he deserved some leniency (he went to Stanford. He was a swimmer. Apparently this is enough to make you not a very bad rapist).

I was going to stay quiet because the young woman in question had articulated everything so well I didn’t think there was anything I could add. And then Swimmer McDouchecanoe’s dad had to speak up and make everything so much worse. “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

Here are some things that can happen in 20 minutes:

  1. Someone can put themselves or an object inside of you that you did not consent to. You might have physical reactions to intimacy for years or the rest of your life afterwards. You might develop PTSD. You might be labeled a slut, and your reputation might be trashed. The incident will probably stick with you forever. You might become isolated, or it might destroy your relationships.
  2. Someone can break your bones, cut you, or beat you. You might develop long term disabilities or chronic pain. You may develop anxiety about going places alone, or find it impossible to trust people anymore. If your injuries are bad enough, you might lose your job, or be incapable of getting hired due to disabilities.
  3. Someone can drop a nuclear bomb and literally kill thousands of people.
  4. Someone can shoot another person and kill them. Someone can shoot many people and kill them. Someone can permanently injure any number of people by shooting them.

You might be drunk while doing any of these things (probably not the bomb one. I don’t think they give drunk presidents access to the Big Red Button). But no matter what your state while doing them, they have impacts. All of these incidents have lifelong consequences, some of them for many, many people. The idea that the amount of time it takes to complete an action is what decides how influential that action is makes exactly 0 amounts of sense. Being sworn in as president takes less time than it took Asshole McButts to leave someone with a permanent emotional scar.

Actions have consequences. If you can ruin someone else’s life in 20 minutes, then you sure as hell can ruin your own.

And yes, I understand the idea that we should forgive each other and that one mistake or bad choice shouldn’t be enough to ruin someone’s life. People should be allowed to move on. Of course that’s not really how our criminal justice system works, but it also doesn’t take into account the fact that you don’t just accidentally rape someone. It comes from a background that leads to the conclusion that someone else’s body exists for your uses. Choices that can destroy someone else’s life don’t just come out of nowhere, even if they only take a brief amount of time to enact.

So no, Daddy Douchecanoe, I don’t feel bad that your son has to do six months of jail time for 20 minutes of action. I feel bad that his 20 minutes of action have left someone else with enough trauma to last a lifetime, who doesn’t get to leave jail and go back to living her life. There is no end date to the jail of PTSD. One action can affect a life, but unfortunately she didn’t get to choose that action. He did. That’s why he’s responsible enough to serve his damn time.

Neurodiversity and the Naturalistic Fallacy

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I’m pretty much one of the biggest fans of the ideas of the neurodiversity movement out there. Brains are different and we can deal with that? Great! All people deserve accommodations and human rights? Awesome!

For some reason this is something that gets peoples’ goats. I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it is that pisses people off about the neurodiversity movement, and I think I’ve figured out at least some of it. One of the basic tenets of neurodiversity that a lot of people get hung up on is the sentence “Autism/ADHD/learning disabilities/mental illness is a natural human variation.”

There’s no question that autism or mental illness or ADHD or learning disabilities are human variations. That’s pretty damn obvious. Are they natural? Well most likely. Mental illnesses have existed for as far back as we have records, and few people want to argue that they’ve just been created by some sort of unnatural means. Some people will say that autism is unnatural because of vaccines, but honestly fuck those people. They have no evidence. Some people seem to think that in order to be “natural” something has to be caused by genes with no influence from the world, but that actually makes no sense at all. For the most part I also haven’t seen very many people argue these things either. They recognize that a mix of genes and environment cause variations in human brains.

The problem is that a lot of people buy into naturalistic fallacy, or the idea that if something is natural, then that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Some people within the neurodiversity movement believe this, and that’s why they think neurodivergent people deserve rights. That’s not really the majority view of the movement though, and it’s not the one I’ve seen articulated by most organizations. But there are also people outside the movement who buy into the fallacy, and those people are causing a lot of confusion.

See here’s the thing: if you buy into the naturalistic fallacy, then the fact that autism or mental illness come with negative elements means that they can’t be natural. I’ve seen people argue against neurodiversity by saying “I’m autistic and sometimes my autism makes my life hard in x, y, and z ways.” Oddly enough that doesn’t actually address the claims of neurodiversity, but if you believe “it’s bad” means “it can’t be natural” then you think it does. For some reason when advocates say “autism is a natural human variation” people hear “that means that it’s great, requires no treatment, and comes with no downsides!”

There are actual arguments that happen between neurodiversity advocates and those who advocate a more medical conception of neurodivergence. These are good arguments to have. There is a wide variety of quality of life for those who are neurodivergent, and we need to talk about whether embracing neurodiversity will really improve life for the whole spectrum of people. We need to talk about specifics of which therapies and treatments are a problem and why, versus which really do provide an individual with more tools to live the life they want. But what we really can be done with please, is the debate about whether there are downsides to neurodivergence.

We all know there are. It’s all anyone talks about. When we say that neurodiversity is natural, we’re not arguing against that. When we bring up the benefits of variations, we’re trying to balance out a conversation previously dominated by the inabilities of neurodiverse people. I’m so sick of arguments that fundamentally misunderstand and straw man the arguments of the neurodiversity movement. I have never actually seen an argument against neurodiversity that disputes that basic tenet, even when people are saying they are. So please: look up the naturalistic fallacy and come back when you have an actual criticism of neurodiversity.

The Depression/Creativity Link

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I’m having a hard time writing lately. My brain feels sucked dry, as if I just don’t care about the things that I used to care about. I’m not sure if it’s burn out on the topics or burn out on writing, but getting words out is a serious challenge right now. I think there are some deeper issues here about putting forth a lot of time and effort without seeing a whole lot of pay off, but there’s also something a bit more personal.

In a twist of epic proportions, I have spent most of this month not being anxious.

I forget the last time that happened. It seems this therapy thing is starting to get at the very deep seated issues and perhaps it’s convinced my brain to run a little more slowly. Everything seems a little more balanced: I’m happy with my work, with my relationship, with my friends. I haven’t had any serious depression signs in a while. Cool.

Here’s my worry: I feel less passionate. One of the benefits of anxiety was the heightened awareness that came with it. I noticed things that were a problem and I made connections between things. My brain was always racing, always on. I couldn’t move on from an issue without dealing with it somehow, and that included social justice things that didn’t even affect me. It was how the wheels of my brain and my work kept going. My emotions just don’t hit as hard and as fast anymore, which is really great for being a functional human being who can go through a day without feeling like the world is ending, but not great for someone who wants to have Serious Inspiration.

I feel so tired and dull and numb. My brain is quieter now. I am fairly certain that I’m not as smart as I used to be. I wonder if I’m finally feeling all the stuff that I was pretending didn’t exist for a long time, all the tiredness that comes from pushing too hard for years, the deep hurts that come from using food and work as your only coping skills. I wonder if I’ll swing back towards the middle some day when I’ve recuperated from the long illness that is depression.

I know that it is a myth that mental illness is the way to be creative. I have seen for myself that I think more clearly when I’m not starving or suicidal. But what I wonder is if balance makes passion difficult. When my brain is in the midst of depression and anxiety, writing often feels like the only escape. It’s a necessity. I’ll prioritize it over cleaning or calling my insurance or doing other unpleasant, adult tasks. Without that driving, painful, intensity of mental illness feelings, it’s easier to do all the functional things that one should do. I make more time for my friends, I make time to improve my house, I do stupid adult things like cleaning regularly and researching the best vacuum cleaner. I just don’t have as much time to write because it isn’t a screaming priority. I still care about writing, and I try to make time for it, but when it’s coming after a full day of work and therapy and freelancing and taking care of my cat and managing insurance, I just have less left in me.

There’s a selfishness to being sick that comes of necessity. It’s the selfishness that says I have no choice but to pay attention to me because I cannot function otherwise. I miss that selfishness. Even as I’m learning a different kind of selfishness that comes from saying no and setting boundaries and listening to my wants, I’m still not sure how to balance the things that I’m passionate about with the mundane tasks of existing. Maybe this is why so few adults can keep up their hobbies and passions. Intentional self care is far less exciting than the self care that comes out of desperation.

Without some need or want, my writing doesn’t have the drive that it used to. It comes out slowly when I make myself sit down and create a topic out of thin air. Questions and concerns aren’t whirling around in my brain, ripe for a blog post, the way they used to be.

In many ways this parallels a larger difficulty I’m feeling: a loss of identity. There was so much happening inside my head for so long that I felt as if there was too much of me. These days, I feel as if I’ve shrunk. It feels more manageable, but I’m sad about it too. There isn’t as much chaos, but I’m not sure what’s left. Writing has often served as a stand in for who I am. I’ve stripped away so much of the sickness. Now I suppose it’s time to build up again.

I’ve never heard people mention that recovery might take away some of the abilities that seemed normal for my whole life. Even if overall the changes in my life are positive, any change is hard, and this change has side effects that affect my fundamental self. It’s not as simple as “there’s no relationship between mental illness and creativity.” I don’t think I’ve lost all my creativity, but I do need to relearn how to be creative. I don’t want to ignore it for the sake of presenting a good face on recovery.

So here it is: recovery is making it harder for me to do some of the things that I love. I don’t need them in the way that I used to. I trust that eventually I will figure out how to make this version of my brain work for me, but that doesn’t change that it’s harder now.

 

Getting to the Heart of Things: Am I Just Making It Up?

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My therapist and I have recently been embarking on a long and poopy journey deep into the recesses of my brain to try to tease out some of the reasons my particular set of neuroses decided to express themselves through my body. Unsurprisingly, I find this a frustrating and unpleasant experience, as thinking at great length about the relationship between my emotions and my body makes me want to stick my tongue out and go “phooey. I just don’t like my body and that’s it.” But I am curious about what made it all circulate around my body. How did I go from needing control and perfection to needing control over food in particular and perfection in the form of an abnormally skinny body?

So we’ve been talking about blurry, early childhood memories, or tenuous connections between what I know I feel and how those feelings express themselves in behaviors, or my early family relationships and lessons. A lot of it feels like looking through darkly tinted glasses: I can make out shapes, but I’m not entirely certain what I’m looking at. I’ll be sure there’s a connection between my feelings of uncertainty early in childhood and my eventual eating disorder, but teasing out that relationship and the catalysts later in life seems impossible. Any given issue, like my need for control, has about 15 different large elements that could have been an important “cause”. We’ll spend an hour delving into a particular relationship or incident, and by the end of the time there will be something like a narrative that offers an explanation.

It’s helpful in that knowing where something comes from helps me tailor my self care and my coping mechanisms. I’m a control freak because I grew up around some volatile people? I’ve surrounded myself with very stable folks who will listen when I tell them I’m scared they’ll get angry with me if I do x action. I seek reassurance that their feelings are stable. Understanding what needs are going unfulfilled helps me to meet those needs.

But on the other hand, I feel like I’m making things up. With so many possible explanations, all of which can be turned into neat narratives, how do I know which one is right? Even more worrisome is the fact that memory is so very fallible. There are many examples of people suddenly remembering things that never happened during therapy sessions, and even if it’s nothing quite that sinister, it’s easy to reinterpret or misremember the past (especially early life) to match your current interpretations. Is it really helpful to try to delve back so far? How much accuracy can I have when I’m partially relying on secondhand information from my parents about my early life, supplemented with fuzzy, emotional memories.

Here’s something that a very literal, black and white, absolute thinker like myself has trouble with: there is no correct answer to the how of my personality. A life cannot be reduced to a couple of simple equations that can be solved if you plug in the correct self care. There is no correct narrative about my life. I do not make sense and I never will. These are not judgmental statements. Ambiguity and randomness are facts of life. We just don’t like to admit that they apply to ourselves, especially when they end up creating pain in our lives.

So is there really any point in trying to make sense of all the billions of small factors that combined to give the world my current self?

I think there is. Each narrative contains some elements of the truth. This week I may focus on some of the difficulties my parents had when I was a child and the ways that it impacted my sense of stability. Next week I may focus on my natural tendency towards order and how it expressed itself as far back as I can remember. The week after I might think about the difficult relationship I had with my brother as a kid. Each of these things contributed something to the way I am right now. When I find answers, I like to hold on tight to them. This is how it is. I don’t get to do that with these kinds of answers. Each one is just a partial, flawed answer. I have to be gentle with them, or they will fall apart. Each time I try to grab onto one too hard and say “this is who I am, this is why I am,” it stops making sense.

The multitude of narratives also helps protect against all the bits that I don’t remember quite correctly. I have to fit competing narratives together, which means parts that don’t make sense get challenged. Any time I become completely convinced that one thing explains all of me, I have to remember how easy it is to tweak my memories to fit.

Of course trusting myself to figure it out in a reasonable manner is even harder as someone with anxiety and depression: I don’t trust my abilities and my brain. This is a hard task to begin with, but for those of us in therapy who really need to undertake it, it’s even harder. It’s easy to imagine that we’re lying to ourselves to make life easier or explain our behaviors away. I once again appreciate the importance of having a therapist I trust. I once again appreciate that this long term work of building a life that balances out my difficulties is impossible when I’m in crisis. I once again appreciate that nuance is necessary even if I hate it.

Posts like this leave me unsettled because there’s no conclusion. I do think that speaking openly about what therapy is like and how it can be difficult is important. I also want to recognize that therapy changes over time. I have been in therapy for almost 5 years straight now, and while ideally therapy is not unending, I have been working on distinct and distinctly important things throughout that time. This feels like it’s close to the end, and that’s exciting, even as I realize that there’s a strong possibility I’ll never be done with the work of accepting that I will never make sense of myself. So no, I’m not just making up stories to make myself feel better. There is some element of self creation in the narratives I choose to talk about, but the overlapping narratives give me some insight into the truth, as far as it exists. That may be the best I can do.

The Pitfalls of the “Gifted” Label

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Note: Sorry I’ve been away for so long. I was putting on a conference and gala at work, then moving! We should be back to our regularly scheduled programming now.

Lately I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure to do something awesome. Maybe it’s the season, or the fact that I’ve been feeling more like an adult than ever (with my real, big kid job, and an apartment that’s just me and my boyfriend), or maybe it’s seeing friends around me graduating from law school or getting books published or starting their own blog networks. Whatever it is, I’m wondering what I’ve been doing with my life

It happens periodically. I grew up with a lot of messages that I was pretty smart and would do pretty cool things. So every now and then I’ll remember when I was 11 and wrote my first draft of a novel. I remember hearing about Christopher Paolini and scoffing, knowing that when I wrote MY novel, no one would be able to tell it had been penned by a teenager. I imagined my name being on everyone’s tongue by the time I was 20, as That Girl who had shattered all expectations, been a prodigy.

I don’t talk about it very often, because it’s embarrassing to tell people that when you were a child you thought you would be a famous writer. But it’s not so ridiculous. My parents and teachers were all supportive in the way that makes you think you’re one of a kind special. I was gifted, I was capable of anything, I needed special work and special challenges to match my brain. At the time, this kind of encouragement was pretty par for the course. It was early in our understanding of gifted kids. I’m glad I got support and I’m glad I had people who pushed me to do more.

But I’ve begun to suspect that labeling a kid gifted is setting them up for disappointment later in life. Last week I was at a conference for work, and saw Rebecca Banks Cull and Diane Kennedy discussing autism and giftedness. They said something that really stuck with me. “In our society, giftedness is synonymous with achievement.” Until that changes, when we tell our kids that they are gifted, we are telling them that we have certain expectations for their achievements. Those expectations are almost always financial success, academic success, or other markers of societal status. More than that, many gifted kids get the message that their giftedness is only real when there is an external way to measure it: IQ, a book deal, a position as a college professor, prestigious awards, or success in their chosen field.

For me, giftedness often presented itself as speed. I picked up on things quickly, I completed my work before anyone else, I always finished tests early, and my work was still typically high quality. I assumed that everything else in life would come quickly too. I was told from a young age that I was working beyond the typical abilities of people my age. I was told I developed empathy early, that my abstract thinking appeared sooner than other kids, and that I had a maturity beyond my years.

So here I am wondering why I feel so behind in life.

I don’t think it’s because I’m actually doing anything wrong. I’m at a pretty average point in life for a 25 year old. But after a childhood being told that not only would I accomplish beyond my peers, but that I would do it quickly and easily, it’s easy to assume that I’ve done something wrong when my life just looks average. It’s easy to think that it was all a lie when people said that I was gifted, or that I have been lazy, or that I have squandered my talent. It’s easy to assume that the problem must be with me instead of with the fact that getting things done sooner isn’t necessarily better, or that working and living as an adult is drastically different from school, or that perhaps my talents are not easily measured by achievements.

The biggest problem with that gifted label as I see it is that it gave me the message that I didn’t really need to persevere. Things always came easily to me, and that was praised. So now that things are taking longer, and requiring more commitment, I begin to think that I’m incapable of doing them at all. I’m certainly not going to stop. I’m going to get a book published. I’m going to make a difference in the world somehow. But it feeds my imposter syndrome in a serious way to look back at the expectations people had for me when they labeled me gifted and compare those expectations with the achievements I have today.

I think that it’s always dangerous to give a child a label that implies they will be successful. The world is too random and out of our control to ever guarantee that. Giving a kid the idea that they can make themselves be successful is a dangerous idea, and a set up for disappointment and self hatred. I must have done something wrong, or I would have changed the world by now.

Or maybe, just maybe, those expectations are too high, unnecessary, and irrational. Maybe I’m doing just fine, and patience is the lesson I needed when I was told I was special. Perhaps it’s still the lesson I need. Average is ok. Average people do outstanding things all the time. There is no essence of myself that is gifted, and is just waiting to escape given the right circumstances. Mostly, doing amazing things is a lot of boring work. That’s what giftedness doesn’t get at. The mundanity of accomplishment, and the way that amazing moments of understanding don’t do a whole lot to pay the bills and get you through the everyday. Instead of focusing on what I haven’t accomplished yet, I want to remind myself that I still bring insight and curiosity and creativity to the world. I am still valuable, even if I haven’t translated Linear A yet.