The Crippling Intensity of Being Gifted

I think this summed up the intensity of giftedness in a nutshell.

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:

A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
To him…
a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.

~ Pearl S. Buck

eyeWhen I think of myself and the intense feelings I have surrounding… everything, I often wish it were not the case. I have lobbied for changes in our laws and when they don’t go my way, I’m CRUSHED. When the DARK act went through, completely ruining my work in Minnesota legislature for GMO labeling, I was pretty much a big ball of yuck for a good 2 weeks. I can’t watch the news, it sucks the life out of me.

Now that I’m unemployed, I apply and get rejected, and it just about kills me every time. When it comes to finding employment, my brother used the phrase, “when you’re hunting duck, you want to get a lot of shot in the air,” but he is certainly not nearly as invested in the application process as I must be. With each rejection, it cripples my desire to try again. I applied to be a Foreign Service Officer and took the test. I passed the first set of hurdles and submitted my personal narratives, but was eliminated. I was stunned and hurt. I had pretty well convinced my family it was a good thing to be traveling around the world as a foreign diplomat, but then was rejected. I didn’t even make it to the interview stage. Humbling yes, but painful when I knew I could do such a great job, and crippling when I looked to apply again. If these jobs that I think would fit me so well are rejecting me, what is wrong with me?

I’m looking at local politics and have been inspired to run for city council. My only reservation is that if I run and lose, I’m going to crawl into my hole of bleakness for a good 2 weeks at least most likely. I want to continue to serve people, and I have great ideas for helping people who are homeless and building better food banks. Things are not getting better in our area and we need to do something. So I will run and I will continue to work to improve our system. It’s exhausting, and I don’t know for a fact, but I highly suspect, that very few politicians have the same passion to really make it better. I don’t doubt that they want to help, but I don’t know if they pour so much of their soul into it.

Fortunately, there is also the other side of the equation. We homeschool, and I get to watch my kids learn and grow nearly every day. I was helping another family at the skating rink earlier this month and their young girl looked at me and said, “you seem like a really great Dad.” This sort of thing melts me even when it’s not my own child.

beamOne of our daughters was in a gymnastics meet last weekend and got a 2nd place and 4th place award. Unfortunately, she fell twice on beam and stepped out on floor. She had a couple bad events, but she was thrilled to have done so well on the other two. If she had not competed, she would certainly not have won anything. So I guess we all have to learn that if we fail to get up and try again, that’s really the only way we lose, but boy howdy is it a painful experience at times.


Invisible Advocate

invisible-man-shadows-pol-ubeda-41.jpgGifted children (and adults) are often not understood by most people. It’s very similar to an invisible disability in a way, especially when the gifted one keeps it a secret as long as possible. There is a connection between invisible disabilities and giftedness.

When I started writing about being gifted and learning disabled back in my undergrad years, I felt alone. I didn’t purposefully ostracize, but some of the people who would approach me after a presentation I just didn’t feel they were really on target. I felt they were beach goers compared to the submerged SCUBA diver. They would see the surface and say they knew the ocean despite never diving under and experiencing the coral reefs or any of the underwater life.

Since my collegiate days, I married and had children. My children all have had learning challenges and it’s in large part why we home school now, but the bigger challenge comes from a similar issue we wrestle with even more often than having highly sensitive girls who don’t often fall within 2 standard deviations of the norm. I have kids with invisible health issues. I started advocating for my oldest while she was anaphylactic to egg, pork, chicken, turkey, strawberries, tree nuts and fish. This was me going to the beach. Since then we have added Eosinophilic esophagitis x 2, and dysautonomia. What they all have in common is that they are invisible and I’ve become an underwater explorer along the way. Unfortunately I’m not wearing SCUBA gear and have had issues being in WAY over my head.

Invisible disabilities can be difficult socially. Some people seem to get it, while others just don’t. I used to think that if people cared more they would understand and help to make a bumpy ride a bit smoother, but I have learned it’s not always the case. Friends and even family can be clueless and even say things that leave you speechless. Just recently my youngest was having feet pains (EoE related symptom). I ran up stairs to retrieve her script so she could practice her lines (she’s in The Velveteen Rabbit play coming up). Somebody I’ll keep anonymous for now grumbled about us enabling her in a negative way.

This lack of understanding is a huge problem. It belittles the needs of people. This is why we all need to advocate. We need to advocate for our children and for others. When somebody says “maybe the allergic kids could just hang out in a separate room and we could throw Dum Dums and Smarties to them.” It’s not acceptable to even joke about it. We fought hard for civil rights, and now, finally, excluding someone based on the color of their skin is no longer welcome in our society. It was a lack of understanding between people that spurred racism and it’s the same with invisible disabilities or giftedness.

ta188etqzgb3uwi_b1vo1jsuoecpmzpn_invisibleIt may be scary to be the first person to stand up for the family being excluded, but we are all the better for the change. We have seen it in the past and we can continue to include better in the future. As the school year rolls along, consider non-food rewards and treats for the classes with children who have food allergies. You don’t have to be an underwater explorer to do the right thing. Enjoy the beach, and enjoy everyone as who they are.

Homeschooling and LD and Falling Through the Cracks Oh My!

eyechartWhen I was a kid, I went to public schools, but they did me no service. I was not diagnosed as having a learning disability until my senior year of college. I knew our girls had strengths and weaknesses, and they needed to be addressed. Unfortunately our experience in the public school realm displayed a lack of recognizing their needs. The school our girls attended seemed to feel that average or within 2 standard deviations of average was acceptable and if you were on the high end, you were fine.  Getting services in public schools can be a challenge; getting services for homeschoolers can be a different kind of challenge.

In schools, getting services for things like dyslexia when your child can still read and comprehend above grade level is near impossible because “she’s within normal range”, “she’s fine.”  We recognize that our daughter needs services even through she reads and tests above her grade level, however we struggle to figure out exactly what services she needs, therefore struggle to know who to ask for help.

So with all this, you may be asking, “Gee Tom, how do you get services for your kids?” Well there is no easy answer to that one. It’s a lot of talking with other parents, hit and miss, trial and error, and referrals from one specialist to another so insurance will cover whatever possible. Families who live in a rural area may not have as many options when it comes to specialists, and that can really suck. We have been fortunate to have found a wealth of knowledge in our support network. We talk to a lot of other parents who face similar challenges and are always sharing curriculum ideas, coping skills as well as therapist experiences.

When our daughter was in school and we were told that she would grow out of her letter reversals, we accepted what the experts were saying rather than follow through with our gut instinct. We delayed her services a couple years and now she struggles more than she probably should.  If we had kept her in school, she would have slid through the cracks though. At home, we know better than to say “she is performing above grade level, so she must be fine.”

When one of our daughters began losing interest in reading and said the words were blurry, we had her checked at the eye doctor who said she was fine. We were not satisfied and went to our support network to find a better optometrist. We had to travel a bit farther and we’re glad we did.  They ran a functional eye test and we learned that she was not “fine.”  This is very typical of how it works in our house: we keep pushing to find the help we need.  I think this is typical of most homeschoolers and public schoolers alike.

So as this school year starts I say, stay strong and keep pushing for help if your gut says it’s needed.  Trust your gut – it’s usually right.  And look in every corner.  You never know where you might find help for various needs.  I would have never guessed that an optometrist could help us beyond the blurry vision.  I would have never guessed an optometrist could say her vision issues are causing her to skip lines and that might be why she’s not understanding what she reads. Help and answers may show up where you least expect them.


Finding a voice

You_are_here_galaxyI read. I read books and blogs and articles and I am pulled into the miasma of it all, overwhelmed, adrift in the sea of words and caught up in the ebb and flow of …everything.  It’s amazing. I love it and yet it makes me doubt myself even more. My self-doubt of why my voice matters in the maelstrom of amazing voices makes me balk at writing anything.

Even the marginal books I read I can appreciate (usually) and I wonder why in the vast ocean of words my voice would make a difference. There are so many amazing stories and writers that all my if’s add to the downward pull of what if my story isn’t compelling enough, what if I can’t come up with the right words to deliver the message?

Writing a blog for me is fear. It’s more than just an Imposter Syndrome thing, but it could be involved. It could include higher anxiety as well. Either way, it’s an ugly monster that washes me in, caught in the under tow, pulled away from the assured safety of the shore line voyeurism of just reading, my safe haven of reading.

Then I recall the advice given to me by a powerful lobbyist when I asked about what they do when they have a politician who is just completely against them. (This was a person who lobbies nationally for developmental disabilities) “I just add what I can. I think of it like a water glass. Some politicians already know about the needs of others and how to help. Their glass is already full, but we still want to give them what we can so they have extra. Others have an empty glass and I try to just add a few drops here or there if they are strongly opposed to it because you never know. One day they may have a niece or nephew who has an extra chromosome or a close encounter with a learning disability that makes all of my attempts come flooding back and fills his glass quickly, or it just may be that a few drops as often as possible will eventually start filling that glass.”

When I started advocating for gifted and learning disabilities, I focused more on the learning disabilities because I saw more of the short end of the stick on the side that didn’t allow their intelligence to be recognized and appreciated. As I’ve moved on, I see more and more that it’s the same struggle. It’s inappropriate education and a lack of understanding and my voice is more than just my stories.

Now I just need to keep my courage up to write. I’m so much better at presenting than writing. I get caught up in the moment and flow happens. Writing can occasionally be a flow experience for me, but more often than not, is a long hard slog.

Resilience vs Inner Drive

Resilience [ri-zil-yuh ns, ri-zil-ee-uh ns]

  1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed or stretched; elasticity.
  2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.
  3. what I wish I had all of the time I don’t and just want to curl up and take a nap until I no longer feel the fear, doubt, and believe the self-defeating verbiage in my head.

I can tell the stories of being strong and fighting through adversity, and it always comes off sounding more valiant than it feels. I am not valiant; I’m simply trying to do what I’m supposed to do in life.

Recently I graduated Partners in Policymaking  (Class 30) and I’ve been really pushing for the Stock Epinephrine bill to allow schools to keep a spare auto injector on hand in case somebody has an anaphylactic reaction while at school. This is not for the peanut allergic kid who you may feel is forcing you to come up with an alternative snack for your small one. This bill was for the child who did not know they had an allergy. It’s for when a child is stung by a bee for the first time and has an anaphylactic reaction. It’s for the family that has to still pick up their child in the emergency room (that’s where you go even if you feel fine after having a shot of epinephrine), but gets to leave with their child – in good health – just an hour or 2 later.

The bill went to House and Senate in Minnesota. I spoke with my Representative personally, made a number of calls and sent emails. My Senator sent me a nice email back assuring me he understood the importance. On the Senate side, it was passed off to a sub-committee and died a horribly anonymous death. Fortunately on the House side it was strong enough that it was rolled into an omnibus** education bill.

I continued to make calls and send emails to various government decision makers and most often simply left my information in their voicemail or hoped the email would see eyes. The summer recess was approaching, but since Stock Epinephrine was in the omnibus education bill on the House side I knew it would be addressed before they adjourned.  Last Friday I was in St. Paul and met a person who introduced me to Senator Hoffman. The Senator emailed and asked me to call his assistant to have him pulled off the Senate floor when I arrived. I was VERY casually dressed, but he listened intently, treated me very well, and then pulled in Senator Dahle (a conferee* for the omnibus education bill).


I got to speak to a conferee just 8 hours before the House and Senate decided to include the Stock Epinephrine in the final writing of the bill. I know I was not the only person fighting for this bill, but it was a big success.

What I don’t include in this story are the number of emails I sent (over 100), or how many calls (I didn’t keep track), or the difficulties I had in seeing Senators and Representatives along the way. I had my own stories about why it was important, but  it can be challenging to feel comfortable speaking to legislators, especially when they have other things on their mind and don’t seem to want to talk to you so much.

So am I resilient? Only when I don’t and just want to curl up and take a nap until I no longer feel the fear, doubt, and believe the self-defeating verbiage in my head. Oh that darn self-talk. I think I’ll have to save that for another post.

Resilience to me is not something to build or grow as much as the opposite is something to avoid. I don’t admit defeat easily. When I played tennis I loved the phrase, “You can’t hit a ball I can’t chase.” I don’t know if it’s tenacity, stubbornness, a part of the brain that refuses to quit, or something else. If I quit though, I would do nothing – or the least stuff possible, and to me, that’s no life at all.

I think I do more because I have passions, inner drives to make things better and keep my mind entertained with …everything. What are your thoughts on resilience? Is it resilience or an inner drive or some combination?

*Conferees are the negotiator committee members between the House and Senate. The Senate and House may modify wording, but they are independent and can end up with many discrepancies between one another. The Stock Epinephrine portion was in the House’s version of the omnibus education bill, but not in the Senate.  Each side passes their own version, then the conferees negotiate the bill to read identically on each side, it’s voted on again, and if it passes both sides (with the same wording), it moves to the Governor’s desk – that’s your social studies lesson for the day.

**An omnibus bill is when legislation wants to vote on a group of bills rather than so many independent ones.  It can be used in good or bad ways depending upon which portion of any particular omnibus bill you feel strongly for/against.

As a follow-up: Governor Dayton signed the bill into law shortly after I published this post.  The section starts at 3.23 of the full omnibus education bill 

How the heck do I nurture my soul??

Ye_Olde_Knight_and_Dragon_by_JoJo83Not long ago at a seminar I attended, I did an exercise that asked everyone to draw what they wanted to be as a child. We shared our drawings with the group I was in. Some drew cowboys, others superheroes, and I drew a knight slaying a dragon. At first I wondered the relevance of my thought, but I quickly realized how accurate it was. I fight for the just causes, even when they may be against great odds. This is what nurtures me. I have trained to be an advocate for disabilities, how to meet with Senators and Representatives and tell my stories in a persuasive manor, and how to bring a community together to spotlight social injustice. This is what nurtures my soul. Unfortunately, this is not what brings in a paycheck.

I would go broke fighting against social injustice. Oh wait, I already have! I’d fight against discrimination even if it cost me grades in college. It did. I would fight for fair treatment of others even if it caused lost friendship. Were they really worth my friendship if they didn’t have an open mind of acceptance? I don’t believe so.

When I was in the Navy, there was a guy named Hill. He was from Tennessee. Before joining the Navy I drove through Tennessee and a cashier had difficulty making change when I bought gas, so in my mind, Tennessee was not a state of great minds. I met Hill in Boot Camp and as a Company (unit), we had to carry him through. He could barley get himself dressed at times. (Honest to goodness, dress inspection day, he had his t-shirt on backwards).  Mind-bogglingly we were both entering the nuclear program. In A-school we all took a math test and somehow Hill scored a 4.0 (he passed) on day one. I forced myself to sit down with Hill and have a conversation with him.  He had a slow drawl and pronounced nuclear as well as former president G. W. Bush, and it was painful to have a conversation with him, but soon I realized how brilliant he really was. It was my prejudice that had kept me from seeing such a great mind.

Since that time in the military 25 years ago, I’ve met some other brilliant people who are trapped inside disabled bodies, and still discriminated against. I’ve met students who are thought to be stupid because they have a learning disability, but are also gifted. I know people who are believed by some to have less value because they have any number of disabilities. I will fight for them until my last breath. Some of it maybe for them, but really, this is what nurtures my soul, so I really fight for them because I want to be that knight, even when the societal dragon breathes fire and leaves me banged up pretty bad at times. That’s how I nurture my soul.

I realize I took the topic to a personal level rather than with the broad “gifted” class in mind, but I feel each of us has an internal rhythm that pulses in a magical way when we find ourselves moving closer toward our entelechy, and THAT is what nurtures our soul.

And just to let you know, the image at the top was NOT the one I drew.  My drawing ability pretty much peaks about where stick-figures begin.

What does creativity look like?

164236_10200972033486386_2048216904_nWow, creativity. The thought of forced creativity is scary for me because it’s like saying, “You’re a funny guy. Say something funny.” I have a hard time being creative on the spot. My daughters have no reservation when it comes to being creative though. And now that we are homeschooling, I get to see creativity in motion.

My Wife is really the instigator of the lessons and she lays out the objective and the limited “junk” (straws, spoons, tinfoil, cups, tape, etc..). The girls have a blast creating their own designs and seeing how they work.  There have been some failures along the way, but that’s part of creation. I love watching them come up with a new way of thinking and then seeing if it works in the real world.

The creativity they are allowed at home is boundless. We don’t care if they shoot a marshmallow (or 12) from the dining room into the living room or dog dish. It is just part of the fun.

My oldest doesn’t seem to like numbers. She likes the math concepts and figures out patterns really well, but not the hard numbers. I get that. I was/am horrible at long division and multiplication, but I excel in more challenging math concepts. Drilling for her is punishment in her eyes. So we have dice. We can roll dice and can change the “game” depending on who’s playing. We can use 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 20, or 30 sided dice and use these to add, subtract, or multiply the numbers shown (division gets complicated at times). This is our creative way of making math more fun. We adapted the idea from a game called Sum Swamp.

Regardless of what the way you use creativity though, I find letting my girls be creative is what really helps them right now. They find new ways to use all sorts of objects. I was told that the average person could only come up with about 30 uses for a clothes hanger. I could come up with 200 pretty well, but I think my girls are getting better than me, and that’s fun. They learn new ways to tackle challenges and that’s what I think we’ll need more of in the future. Just as I agree with Sir Ken Robins in saying that we can kill creativity , I think we can nurture it as well.

I’d like to think that this creativity would be helpful in my children’s future. I know it’s been a blessing at times for me, but a curse others. Maybe if I keep up with the “respect others” lessons it will make things easier on them than I made it on myself.

How do you think creativity will be implemented in the future and should we “teach” creativity?