Sunday, March 26, 2006

It's All Kinda Starting To Make Sense Now

I think that I'm a little bit crazy, but I'm equally convinced that things are getting better as time goes on.

I grew up with a highly active brain with an under-developed sense of self-control. That's probably as succinct as one could biographize my youth. From Kindergarten through Senior Year, I was the smartest boy in the class. There was a girl who was smarter than myself. By senior year we were both out, and that made me very smug. Ha ha, religious-right assholes on the school board, your biggest geniuses are into hot same-sex action. Neither of us, naturally, was even close to the top of the class in GPA. There's a point at which you're smart enough in the one sense to be offended by all of school itself, and yet foolish enough to go ahead and say "fuck it," even though doing well in school is a pretty fucking good idea. And yet, nonetheless, I've managed to make it to the point, where it would be difficult for me to not get my Ph.D. I've got a big head about my head.

The under-developed sense of control was always the yin to that yang, though. I could never really slow down my speech to the point where people could understand what I was saying. Not that they would have anyway, since I was reading graduate-level art history books at the age of 5. My first-grade gym teacher (I was 6 by that point) told my parents on open house night that he "had no idea that Chinese coffins were enclosed in something called sarcophagi."

"Well, Egyptian ones were too," I added.

But back to that whole pesky self-control thing. I've also never (until recent years, when I've been taking increasingly large doses of amphetamines) been able to walk at a normal pace, unless I actively think about it, and even then I get this amazing sense of frustration. This also plays out in other arenas. Don't ask me the number of cars I've owned in my lifetime. My poor parents. The first week I was on Adderall was in the winter, a little over a year ago. I was driving with some friends to go snowtubing (yawn - it sure as hell isn't snowboarding) and the journey took us through the state of Maryland. "WOW!" I shouted, "I don't feel an undying urge to ride these cars' bumpers at a single carlength!" There were parts of myself - aspects of my basic behavior that I had never thought about - that could actually occur at a reasonable pace. This was new to me at the age of 25.

And the reading. That was something I looooooooved as a kid. Started reading at age two, and by the time I was five I was reading adult books, though mostly just in art and geography. I read every issue of National Geographic that was published during the calendar years of 1974-1981 (those were the eight years that my parents had a subscription to). They got me my own subscription some time around '85, and I read the new ones, too. My dad also accumulated dozens of books on Egyptian art, and I read the kid, young-adult, popular press, and college-level ones. The only one that was actually graduate level I skimmed more than anything. It was a little dry for my taste. I also just read anythingthefuck that I could get my hands on. Didn't sleep much as a kid; just read all night, every night. I'd go to the public library and practically get armfuls at a time.

Something unfortunate happened though, and that's that around the age of 8 or 9, I just couldn't read anymore. After a paragraph or two, I'd just start drifting. Decided I didn't like to read. Now, I always liked computer and video games, but around 3rd or 4th grade, they started being about all I liked. Nothing else held my interest much. I played Tee-Ball one summer (the summer I turned 8, between 2nd and 3rd grade) and I loved it for the three-week season. Then my mom signed me up for a second three-week season and I hated it. Learning the game was fun, but once I knew the rules and I had done it for a little while, waiting to bat was boring! I was smart enough not to torture myself in outfield, and usually took 1st or 2nd base when we were fielding. But still, I just didn't want to be there. And I had loved it just days prior. That was really the summer when ADHD started to kick in. Basically, a good deal of recent research is starting to suggest that the hyperactivity and the impulsivity is there from preschool, but the inattention either doesn't kick in, or isn't noticed, until some time in elementary school. Well, it happened to me.

I try to avoid the maudlin approach to looking at it all. Oh, poor me. But in a sense, it's a mini-tragedy to be a bright kid who loved to read and, over the course of elementary school, turn into a videogame addict who got enough bus referrals, conduct slips in class, and in-school suspensions that I could still be wiping my ass with them if I didn't throw them away on the way home from school every day. Wasn't my "fault" (though I think if you wanted to analyze the semiotics of "fault" you could fill volumes, so let's move on) that I couldn't sit still, keep my goddamn mouth shut, do my homework, control myself when I disliked my peers. Really strict parenting, the absence of siblings, and a small private school probably would have reduced some of the problems. However, I had none of these. I also didn't have the parents who put their kids on Ritalin. I had the "my kid's smart and he's bored with the material in school" parents. If eight-year-old kids had insight into such things, I imagine I might have said, "No, mom, YOU were smart and bored with the material in school, yet you got straight As from K thru 12. Have you noticed that you're driving me to school every morning because I can't ride the bus anymore, because I've gotten five bus referrals this semester?" But kids - although they do say the darndest things - seldom actually state things in such a darndest way, and I was no exception. And I continued to do poorly in school.

Anyway, I'll try spare you the whole sappy book at this point in time. This post is getting awfully long and isn't even proving my point yet. My point is in regard to the big head. The only thing I had as a kid was the undying belief that I was an unqualified, and yet brutally oppressed, genius. There's a reason why A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my top 2 or 3 favorite books ever written.

What's funny is how my ego grew so completely enormous around the idea of "I Am The Smartest Thing Alive" and how it shriveled, like George Costanza in the pool, around most other aspects of my life. As my childhood chaos spiraled - I was just about the worst-behaved student in elementary & middle school - I was pretty convinced that I was a piece of shit in most areas. Depression grew in middle school, abated in high school, came back senior year of high school (and then came psychotherapy and pot smoking to bring me out of it). But by the time you're a smart-but-low-achieving college student, no one seems to realize that you might have that Hyper Child Disease or whatever it's called. You're just called a slacker. And as you grow older, you do get better at suppressing the external behavior - so instead of pacing around, you sit there with the miserable urge to jump on shit and you know you can't. So again, people don't really believe that you have a natural mental deficit to pace yourself and focus your attention. Plus, depressed people can't concentrate, so ADHD got missed by my senior year of high school-freshman year of college shrink. But anyone who talked to any of my teachers ever would have had a clear picture instantly. I'm sure even my college teachers found me too much to handle.

At any rate, I do believe that when I get neurotic as an adult, as I've been the last couple of weeks, it seems to come from the ego gap: I'm trying to believe, to understand, to remind myself that there are actually some things I don't know and some times when I'm wrong. And I'm desperately trying to believe, acknowledge, and grasp that I'm not a total outcast. It ain't middle school any more. It's just tough when you're a kid who develops such extreme beliefs in two directions - "I know everything" + "I can't do anything right." Because neither is true, but if you believe them both for long enough during your formative years, it's hard to remember all the time that they're both wrong.

So that's my deal. That's my tell-all open therapy session for today.


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