Ever since starting this blog, I’ve wanted to talk about what it’s like to “come out” as a Rainforest Mind (a.k.a. “gifted adult”).
I’ve thought quite a bit (naturally – RFMs are “overthinkers”!) about using the term “coming out”, and it continues to feel like the right one to me.
My giftedness as a child was a source of isolation, frustration, and bullying. As an adult, my giftedness has been a source of – well, isolation, frustration, and social loneliness. It’s certainly not something I ever talk about openly with other adults, who tend to get uncomfortable at the mere mention of the G word, especially related to adults.
Hence: “coming out”. Attempting to normalize. Attempting to feel publicly okay about “being a certain way”. I’m on the road, but not there yet.
In previous years, as I sought out therapy for ongoing challenges and depression (ever-present, though thankfully managed well these days), my last two counselors both pointed out that being a “gifted adult” was something I might want to consider as an integral and exploration-worthy part of my identity. I pushed back by saying I wasn’t interested in joining Mensa (I have very little interest in IQ per se), and that I really wasn’t quite sure how this related to much of anything.
My first “formal” introduction (on my own) to the idea of giftedness in adulthood was stumbling upon Marylou Kelly Streznewski’s (1999) Gifted grownups: The mixed blessings of extraordinary potential. (If a book has been written about something, then surely it’s a “thing” – right?) I knew all about being designated “gifted” as a child and navigating those schooling waters – but what did it mean, exactly, to use this term later in life? As Streznewski writes in her Preface:
“If you think that gifted children are a misunderstood minority in American society, try looking up ‘gifted adult’ in a good library; but do so only if you enjoy watching librarians twirl” (p. v).
In discussing her motivation for writing this book (which involved first conducting in-depth interviews with 100 participants), she describes being a high school Advanced Placement English teacher seeing students who “needed special help”:
“Year after year, a significant number of them arrived in my class at the end of a long road fogged with what they called boredom. They complained of inability to concentrate, lack of motivation, feelings of failure, and were obviously wasting a great deal of talent” (p. vi).
I haven’t written yet about my experiences as a gifted teenager (that’s a whole other set of blog posts), but the brief story is – I didn’t cope well; I dropped out of middle school, then out of high school, then out of college (the first time around).
In other words, I am yet another example of Streznewski’s findings that “managing a high-powered brain/mind can create difficulties in school, work, and society, and can make finding friends and partners a challenge” – and that “the problems and pleasures of being gifted do not change, only the context in which they are experienced as one grows older” (p. viii).
Looking back at the notes I took while reading Streznewski’s book, I see so many sections underlined, circled, check-marked, and/or annotated with “me” in the margins. Here are just a few from various chapters:
Chapter 3 (In Hiding): “I’m careful so my girlfriends won’t think I’m showing off. I guess I just don’t want to make other people feel bad” … “I have to be careful about dates. The last person was angry with me for using big words” (p. 42).
Chapter 4 (The Gifted Family):“You get so tired of trying, looking, hoping, every party you go to, every new house you move into, that you will find someone who is compatible” (p. 60).
Chapter 6 (Young Adults: The Extra Mile): “I hate Tupperware parties! I’d rather stay home and read” (p. 117).
Chapter 7 (Bored, Bored, Bored: The Quest for Challenging Work): “What may be viewed by others as restlessness or discontent is the norm for a gifted person” (p. 135).
Chapter 8 (Finding the Others: Friends and Lovers): “I can create unusual responses to situations which are interesting and catch me by surprise. When I am emotionally threatened, I become hyper-intellectual” (p. 192).
Okay – all of this (and much, much more) really resonated with me. So, I would say that reading Streznewski’s book was part of my “coming out” – though once again, there weren’t many people I could converse with about it. I did try recommending it to one friend/colleague who never responded, then gave up.
The next time I intentionally brought up giftedness was when I joined a SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) parent support group. I couldn’t help reading our parenting textbook through the lens of my own experiences, and continually said to my group of parent-peers: “It’s super-hard to separate the parenting of my own kids from what I went through myself as a gifted kid, not receiving adequate support. I think I need to process that first.” Indeed, parenting my own “designated-gifted” kids has given me permission to talk more openly about “the G word” – and to think more deeply about what it means.
Attending a SENG conference also brought me face-to-face with a fellow gifted-adult traveler, Aurora Remember Holtzman, who told me about her podcast, Embracing Intensity. Aurora was one of the first people I spoke with personally (albeit briefly) about accepting, exploring, and embracing adult giftedness – with all its intensities. (I will return to more ideas from her podcast interviews in future blog posts.)
Meanwhile, Paula Prober’s more recent work around Rainforest Minds (a more palatable phrase than “gifted adult”) has also gained a bit of a following. With her books and blog, Prober seems to be intentionally cultivating a sense of community and “normalcy” around rainforest mindedness (a.k.a. adult giftedness).
I hope the stigma of giftedness will lessen with time. I really do believe that diversity of all types is critical to human flourishing (and indeed, that we can’t avoid it). Now we “just” need to overcome avoidance of discussions around intellectual diversity.
I hope that for me, “coming out” as gifted can eventually shift to “reaching out” to like-minded souls instead.
Streznewski, M.K. (1999). Gifted grownups: The mixed blessings of extraordinary potential. John Wiley & Sons.