Saturday, August 15, 2009

Introduction: Coyote in My DNA

It’s more than appropriate that my first-ever blog entry began life a couple of days ago as a discussion board post. I have no experience at all with blogging, but plenty of experience spouting off on discussion boards and writing long, introspective e-mails to my friends. I’ve been addicted to Internet discussion boards ever since I got my first computer with a modem in 1994. That computer came with Prodigy software installed. The service is now known as “Prodigy Classic” to old Prodigy hands, but in those days it was called simply “Prodigy.”

It didn’t take long for me to find my cyber-home: the Prodigy forum on Religion Concourse 2 called “Debates – Religious Issues.” This was the most raucous and confrontational of all the Prodigy religion forums, and I guess there was something about the supercharged atmosphere that resonated with me at the time. I got into countless arguments, but I also made some very good friends on that forum. Sadly, I have lost track of many of those friends over the years, although I’ve remained in contact with others who have recently become my Facebook friends.

I probably made at least as many enemies as friends on that board, though. I’m an unabashed liberal when it comes to both religion and politics, and I’ve always been very outspoken about it. For several months, my signature line was: Everyone is entitled to my opinion. Anyone who knows me at all knows this is not an exaggeration!

After Prodigy Classic folded in October 1999, I became the co-moderator of a short-lived interfaith forum on the now-defunct Delphi service called “Conversations About God.” But the gravitational field of Prodigy (its second incarnation was known as Prodigy Internet) sucked me back in again and I began neglecting “my” Delphi forum. Again I gravitated to the Interfaith forum, and again I got into more than my share of raucous arguments. And I made new friends who had either never been Prodigy Classic members at all or who I never had occasion to meet there.

The forum where I am currently a regular could be considered the third and final incarnation of Prodigy, since it’s the brainchild of a former Prodigy administrator. A few regulars from the old days (both friends and foes) still hang around there. A couple of days ago I addressed a version of the following post and two others to my friend Sean on the Religion & Spirituality board. It is autobiographical in nature and doesn’t have much to do with religion except peripherally. I guess it’s become second nature for me to spout off about anything and everything on religion forums, and that’s what I did here. I found myself writing these posts almost before I realized what was happening.


Reading them over a day later, I decided they weren’t too whiny and self-pitying to be my first blog posts after all. And if they are...too bad! A certain amount of whining is to be expected or at least tolerated on any personal blog. I’ll try to keep it to an absolute minimum, but don’t ask me to make you any promises!


Coyote in My DNA

I was an intellectually precocious child who finished high school far too early and nagged my poor, but pliable, parents until they let me, aged 15, go away to college on the strength of an insufficient scholarship.

Sean,


WOW!!! I am truly impressed, even though I'm also gifted. This was noted early on, both by me and by my parents and teachers and everyone around me. After teaching me the alphabet when I was three, my mother was able to convince the school authorities to let me start kindergarten at age 4 1/2. After that head start, I was always six months to a year younger than my classmates, although I never officially skipped a grade. (My sister did, though.) When I was in the fourth grade, my reading skills were tested at the 10th grade level, the equivalent to a sophomore in high school.

Unfortunately, this amazing potential was never matched by any significant academic achievement, due to the genetic booby prize that went along with it. I have Coyote the Trickster in my DNA, commonly known nowadays as ADD or ADHD, depending upon whether hyperactivity is present or not.

But in the old days (the 1950s and 1960s) they didn't call it anything--or if they did, they called it "what the hell is wrong with you, anyway?" A question I couldn't even begin to answer until I was 57 years old. Or worse yet: "You have so much POTENTIAL, Linda. If you would only APPLY yourself, if you would only FOCUS." As if "focusing" were an act of will! Everyone believed that, including me. They all acted as though if I couldn't focus, it was simply because I wasn't "trying" hard enough, or because I had some mysterious phobia about success or “will to fail.”

Occasionally, some of the more charitable school counselors got a clue that one reason for my lack of focus was the fact that I was utterly miserable. Because I was shy and self-conscious and perceived as "weird" by my classmates, I was bullied and tormented nonstop all through school--from the first grade almost to the day I graduated high school. By then I was a confirmed Outsider, with a volcano of rage inside me and boundless contempt for the Establishment.

It got to the point where I absolutely cringed when anyone brought up the subject of my "potential." I reacted to that word as though I'd been slapped in the face. The guilt was just that overwhelming. NOBODY was more aware of my potential than me, and it was a standing reproach to me that I was apparently doomed to never actualize it.

Worse than that, my chronic underachievement often seemed like an insult to God who had so gifted me. I knew I couldn't claim credit for what was innate and inborn, but only for what I did with it. And I was seemingly unable to do much of anything with it, or only in fits and starts if I did. It wasn't until I was 57 years old, when a book on adult ADD practically fell into my hands in a library, that I finally learned the name of that nameless curse I had been aware of since I was five or six years old.

What I have just inflicted on you is the old tape, which I am in the process of replacing or at the very least revising. I guess it's painfully obvious that I haven't replaced it yet, but I'm working on it. But my wretched childhood and adolescence are one of the main reasons why I threw myself into the Sixties counterculture with a vengeance, including the "free love" aspect of it, and why I have absolutely no regrets about that to this day. I'll continue with that in another note, though.

9 comments:

Lee Spangler said...

Whether you are ADD may explain something, but it seems to miss the point. You didn't do anything really to deserve the cruelty and bullying in your childhood or the obstacles it dealt you. It is the victim saying my personality or my actions caused this terrible behavior of others to happen me. The herd hates difference and deserves condemnation for that attitude. Likewise you could be ADD and been a science freak and gone off on all kinds of gifted tangents and been amazingly successful financially and with notariety in the scientific community like some friends I have. But no, you are talented in the arts. It is not your fault that gifted artists in this age are less rewarded and have a tough go of it. Also you lived in a time of less opportunity for people from financially disadavantaged families. Many people far less talented than you have ridden through life on the coattails of their parents wealth and their connections. From that standpoint, the playing field wasn't level. more later, Lee

Gina Pera said...

Thanks for posting this blog, Linda. We absolutely need more voices like yours on the Internet -- people who know ADHD is real and can write vividly about how early ignorance took a toll.

Lee -- Yes, it's true that the "herd" often hates difference. Look at the "birthers" and their rejection of Obama's citizenship; I suspect their limbic systems are in overdrive, and irrational, vestigial "fear of the other" is making them vulnerable to conspiracy theories (which also are "self-medicating" for some).

But sometimes the herd is our mirror. When we hear feedback often enough, from many different people, it often means it's time for some self-scrutiny -- and change. Too often, though, what's lacking is an understanding of how that change can happen.

It's also true that many gifted scientists have ADHD but I would disagree that their ADHD makes them gifted. In fact, I'd wager there are more scientists (or would-be scientists) with ADHD whose careers are cut short or marginalized (or never come to fruition) because their ADHD symptoms mean they don't meet deadlines, lose focus of researcher, cannot collaborate with other scientists, have trouble communicating, and managing money.

Living in a very scientist-heavy community, I'd go so far as to say that this is the more common scenario.

In fact, sometimes I think that scientific discovery could be propelled forward an order of magnitude if more scientists were diagnosed with whatever is creating obstacles in their work and working relationships -- most typically, it seems, ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome. Then they could develop effective coping strategies instead of blinding coming up against them (and making their co-workers and employers come up against them, too).

JMHO,

Gina Pera, author
Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Raksha said...

Lee - Of course I didn't *DO* anything to deserve the kind of treatment I got from the other kids all through school. I know that NOW! OTOH nobody is born with a victim mentality--at least I don't think so. It's something that develops with time and consistently negative experience.

We moved a lot when I was a kid, and it happened in one school after another. Every time we moved and I was enrolled in a new school, I considered it a second (or third or fourth) chance to "fit in," because after all, the kids at the new school didn't know I was a freak.

Ummmm...oh yes they did! After a week or so, they knew. Inevitably, the snickering and the bullying would start all over again. So I figured it had to be something about me, that there was just something weird about me. I had no idea what it was, but the other kids apparently had a mysterious radar for it.

I'm surprised that Thom Hartmann's books on ADD/ADHD aren't cited more often on the various ADD blogs and discussion boards I frequent (I lurk on them a lot more than I post). I really like them a lot and think his "Hunter and Farmer" model is the most promising yet realistic one I've seen so far.

Anyway, in the first chapter of his book, "Healing ADD" he says: "Most people who grew up with ADD and count themselves among the walking wounded would tell you that their wounds came not from the ADD itself (unlike the tormented paranoid schizophrenic or the chronic depressive), but instead, from the response of the world around them to their ADD."

I can definitely vouch for that! When it happens in one environment after another, one school after another, then you do develop a victim mentality. Especially when you're a kid, you figure you MUST be a freak because everyone keeps telling you you're a freak and treating you like a freak. Of course, there's always the strategy of throwing it right back in their faces and flying your freak flag high, but you have to be a little older and wiser(?) to even think of that, let alone do anything about it.

I wish I could respond to more of your post but I'm kind of written out for one day. But thank you for taking the time to read my post and respond to it. I very much appreciate that.

--Linda

Raksha said...

Gina - thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog, as far as it's gone. I guess this means the comment I wrote earlier on Jeff's blog actually got posted, or else you wouldn't have seen my link. The last time I checked, my comment was still in conditional status pending moderator approval. I could read it, but didn't know if anyone else could.

I hope there's an editing faculty for comments on Jeff's blog, because that comment of mine is a mess, full of typos and omitted words (YES, I'm a perfectionist!) I saved it in MS Word anyway, thinking I might clean it up and develop it into another blog post down the line.

As I said earlier, I'm kind of written out for one day, but I'll try to respond to what you said in your comment tomorrow.

--Linda

Lynne said...

A young lady in our community, a friend of my neighbor's daughter, took her own life last week. From all appearances, a lovely, talented child who should have been popular and well-liked, but the popular people shunned her and made her their object of ridicule. She spent time this past summer at a clinic that deals with kids with severe psychological problems. Her pain manifested itself in cutting. The day before school started, last Tuesday, she begged not to have to leave the clinic and go back to school.

Well, she didn't go back. Her memorial was Friday night...one of the lost ones; my heart cries for her family and those who took the time to know her and accept her, with all her foibles. Only 14, in eighth grade with her whole life spread out before her...such a difficult time for outsiders.

Raksha said...

Omigod, Lynne--how totally tragic! It breaks my heart to read something like that.

Re "From all appearances, a lovely, talented child who should have been popular and well-liked, but the popular people shunned her and made her their object of ridicule."

I can relate. I can TOTALLY relate because I've been there, but somehow I survived. However, my sister did NOT survive and I can't forget that for one minute. My sister Jantha was beautiful and gifted, with an IQ of 154. She was at least as good a writer as I am if not better. Her death in 1984 at the age of 34-going-on-35 may or may not have been a suicide. Years after the fact, I realize hit the trifecta: ADD+anxiety+depression, and very possibly borderline personality disorder on top of all that. With me it's "only" ADD+anxiety (panic disorder), which hasn't bothered me all that much since I went through menopause. No serious depression as far as I knw--at least not clinical depression, although I understand it can be extremely debilitating for others and even fatal.

This is why I'm blogging, and why I'm making it so personal. I am hoping that others will see themselves and/or their loved ones reflected in me, and hopefully find a way out of the labyrinth I understand so well. I wish there were something I could have said or done to save this 14-year-old girl. I want more than anything in the world to save the next one, or the one after that, by showing the world what their predicament feels like FROM THE INSIDE. That is what motivates me more than anything.

Love and Light,
Linda

Lynne said...

I'm feeling lately like I'm living in Peyton Place or Valley of the Dolls...

First there was that kid, that poor, tortured little girl, and now, the woman a few doors down drowned by misadventure in her bathtub. Her 12 YO daughter found her floater last Thursday, right before she left for the bus stop.

Mom was functional alcoholic/druggie for maybe 15 years. A couple weeks ago when she left rehab, a neighbor called the police because, while driving down the wrong side of the road, she almost took out neighbor and her little boy going for a walk.

Another neighbor tried to talk to the husband about this a few times and he told her to butt out...it was a family affair.

I'm getting a little worried about this. We live in a good neighborhood!

I hope her kids are getting some pysch help. they're gonna need it, bad.

Scott Hutson said...

Linda,

You are, IMHO, doing a very good thing, by having this blog! It takes courage to show your life and what you believe. I'm glad I found it, and...Thank You!

Scott.

Raksha said...

Lynne,

Re >>Mom was functional alcoholic/druggie for maybe 15 years. A couple weeks ago when she left rehab, a neighbor called the police because, while driving down the wrong side of the road, she almost took out neighbor and her little boy going for a walk.

Another neighbor tried to talk to the husband about this a few times and he told her to butt out...it was a family affair.

I'm getting a little worried about this. We live in a good neighborhood!<<

Well, I don't live in a good neighborhood by any stretch of the imagination, so stories like yours are commonplace here. OTOH if you want to consider the entire city of San Bernardino "a bad neighborhood" you could say that that I live in the good part of a bad neighborhood.

In fact until pretty recently, this was the upper-middle-class or professional part of town, since it isn't far from the college (Cal State San Bernardino). There are still some very nice houses here and more important--some wonderful people who have lived in the area for years.

But then there's the flip side: the vacant foreclosed houses with brown lawns. The gang graffiti. The crime. The homeless people. The drug and alcohol abuse.

I am not resigned to any of it, but it gets harder to stay optimistic and hope for better times. I start to wonder sometimes if the negative downward spiral is a kind of gravity well or whirlpool, pulling everyone and everything down under.

Or maybe San Bernardino is a microcosm for the whole country? What a errifying thought!

--Linda