Letter about intelligence, emotions and not being where I thought I would be

18th of May 2020

Dear reader

I’m very intelligent. I do not say this as anything fact. I have been told this for as long as I can remember. I learned the word intelligent when I was very young. I remember asking my mom what it meant because people used it about me all the time. I suppose I wanted to know what they were saying about me, and it wasn’t fair they used words I hadn’t learned yet. My mom told me it means clever and I asked her why people didn’t just say clever then. But I never got an answer.

I’ve always asked too many questions. Always wondered too much about how the world and people work. My parents gave me this collection of kids encyclopaedias when I was little. Each one had a different subject. The first one I got was about the weather. I was in kinder garden and was unafraid of thunder. So after my parents had read that particular book to me, the adults at the kindergarden realised I could calm the scared kids. So when ever there was thunder they bought me around to the scared children and I explained calmly and scientifically that thunder is just hot air and cold air colliding up in the sky and that creates a lot of energy.
My favourite of those books were the one about the dinosaurs. It’s the most worn or whenever I open it I still find little paper pieces I put inside to show my parents what pages to read next ( it was all of them, I wanted to know everything). I knew all the names and when they lived and was so fascinated by these extinct creatures. The only thing that managed to push this interest aside was when my dad (who after his accident when back to school) came home and started telling me about the universe and the stars and planets. I was seven at the time and in absolute awe of the solar system, the Milky Way and galaxies.

In school I loved math. It was the only subject the just made sense to me. I understood it immediately and I still find it fun. I know a lot of people has a very different experience with math, but for me it was the best. I wasn’t challenged enough and that I find very sad. I have a feeling of lost potential, because all the teaching was standardised and my teacher had to teach 20 kids who needed different approaches and different challenges. And I often think this is how we lose some kids and waste others.

Later in school I loved physics and chemistry. But I never got biology. It didn’t really make sense. I had a hard time with the starting premise for everything in biology, which seems to be that everything wants to be alive. And no one could tell me why. Physics and chemistry made so much more sense. They were more logical and simple and a lot more like math. I know that physics gets a lot less logical and simple if you learn more than I did at the levels I learned it on, and I wonder how I would have coped with that. And I wonder if I would have liked biology if someone had tried to teach me about it from a starting point of dinosaurs, evolution and skeletons, and not all the other stuff that never made any real sense to me and never caught my interest.

I promise I have a point to all this. I just have a few more things before I get to it.

At 14 a friend and I look the mensa IQ test online and had fun with analysing and talking about the questions. I wanted the real test someday so bad. But you couldn’t get it till you were 18 unless a special psychologist did it, and there wasn’t really a reason for that. I just wanted to know what my IQ was. So back then I wrote it on my 18th birthday wishlist for my parents. Who ignored it. My dad later told me he thought I would be sad if my IQ wasn’t high enough, but he never asked me how I felt or why. If he had I would have told him I just wanted to know. In part because being call intelligent and clever all the time got a little tiring. Especially when it was used by everyone around me to tell me I could do anything they wanted me to and that I was never allowed to have subjects that were difficult or didn’t make sense to my very logical mind. So I kind of just wanted to know if I was as clever as people told me and if I wasn’t I had the papers to prove it when I was tired of hearing it.

I realise now what a privileged it is to grow up being told you are intelligent till you get tired of hearing it. Just like I now understand that I was very very privileged to be told I was beautiful so much. Back then I just felt it was a useless thing to be told over and over again. What was I supposed to do with beautiful? How was beautiful going to help me accomplish anything? Intelligent was something I could use and do something with, and I think I feel this great big feeling of loss and wasted potential because it was such a big part of how I defined myself.
I was called nice a lot too. A lot. A little, pretty, blond girl who always did what she was told, always acted nicely and talked politely. I was a teachers dream. And the even the other kids at school (who I wasn’t friends with because I was too weird and didn’t understand the social rules) called me nice very often. It never felt like a compliment. It felt like another useless label I didn’t know what to do with. Treating other people with dignity and respect, listening to teachers who were just trying to do their job of helping us learn, those things seemed to me to be ordinary things we should all do. And here is was getting the word nice thrown at me like a gold star for good behaviour all the time. It didn’t make sense and somehow that word felt very limiting. I’m not sure why, but it did. Maybe again because it was a word that didn’t leave room for mistakes, being human or having feelings of my own.
But mostly people thought I was intelligent. And then I started to think so too.

I finally got the mensa test in my 20’s. It was a gift from a friend. We took the official test together. And I was sick and on antibiotics, so I was told I could reschedule if I wanted. But I felt well enough to take the test (I decided I could always redo it if it went bad). It was so fun. It was an amazing challenge and whatever the result would be I walked away having had a good experience. When the letter finally arrived I really didn’t care about the result. And yet there was a thrill of happiness to discover my IQ is high enough to join mensa (I haven’t had the money for it yet, but it’s something I hope to prioritise when I get a job).
I was so happy with the result. I was happy to have taken the test. I felt once again like I finally had words that described a part of me I had always had and always known, but didn’t understand or know how to get to know better till that moment. I wanted to talk about it and share my happiness and tell the world I finally understood myself better, but I didn’t. Because I kept worrying it would be wrong and that I was somehow being unkind or rude by saying that. I didn’t want to be those things so I didn’t.

I don’t walk around thinking other people are stupid. I know that IQ measures one kind of intelligence and that there are many other kinds as well (if the model I learned about is still relevant). I recognise that everyone has skills, perspectives and experiences that are very worthwhile and that differs greatly from my own. And that is amazing. I am often in awe of the skills I see people have that I know I don’t and that I would never be great at even if I put lots of effort into learning it. And maybe that appreciation of other abilities comes from being in a family I don’t have a lot in common with. My brother and I are as different as we can be. He would never pick up a book, but he is very good at talking to people. He is great at using his body, he likes exercise. I am the reader who doesn’t know how to talk to people and feel like a foreigner in my own body. My mom is the most practical human being I have ever met. The way she approaches the world and tasks is so strange to me, and I try to learn everything I can from her. She folds fitted sheets and can always pack all the groceries perfectly in one shopping bag no matter how much we have bought, seemingly making it bigger on the inside, like some kind of weird time lord technology, I can never replicate, simply by the way she organises it. These are the incredible abilities. Things I value and appreciate and don’t take for granted. I’ve always believed the world had need of different things and that is why we as people are so different and have s different abilities and outlooks on the world. These perspectives are needed.

And I promised there was a point and I’m getting to it now. I know it took a while.

I’ve always been this intelligent, logical, not very good at emotions person. I was always interested in science and math and things that made logical sense and had a right answer. And this week I have been thinking about how my life has taken me down a very different path. A path of emotional intelligence, of making sense of my own and other peoples feelings. A path of kindness and caring (in my friendships). In my work I am doing something linked to science, but it’s biology. How did I end up working with biology? And what happened to my beloved math and chemistry and physics? I’m doing no math at all. I’m actually hoping my future job will contain some communicating. I am talking to friends about their big emotions like depression and trauma and helping them figure out how to cope. And I’m getting good at the emotional intelligence needed to do that kind of thing. And I always work from a place of both kindness and logic. But I am still at a loss. When did this become the thing I used my logic to figure out? How did I end up here? Too many years in therapy? Not enough challenges in math? Too much trauma of my own?

I miss the more pure logic and science and math parts of me. I am confused about when my life became this labyrinth of emotions and making sense of them. Which I am doing very well. But I can’t remember choosing this path. I don’t even think I would have chosen it.

I’m on a good path. And I know there is no turning back. I’m not even sure turning back is what I want to do. I’m not really sure what I want to do. But I’m allowing myself room and time to be confused and a little sad that I am a very different person than I thought I wanted to be.

In case anyone is reading and wondering, I found a way for emotions to make sense. For real. I found a way to understand them and I realised they are not irrational, they are not crazy. They are in fact very logical and very useful. Sometimes they overreact and sometimes they misunderstand things and situations and sometimes they get the time, date, occasion wrong. But I think we all do that sometimes. And honestly emotions are really caring and kind and well-intentioned.´

Maybe I should write something about the function of emotions, but if any reader is curious I’m sure there are plenty of resources online to look up. Or just watch Disney’s Inside Out. It’s a great place to start and a very good movie.
The last thing for today. The thing that really made the emotion thing click for me is this: Emotions are a data set. They tell you something. Being in touch with your feelings gives you access to a lot more date. And making good decisions require a lot of information. And people who shut themselves off from their emotions shuts themselves off from a lot of important information. You don’t need to react to everything the emotions tell you. You don’t need to let them control everything. But having them as a dataset, ready and at hand, is so useful. And that to me is very different from burying them or denying them or being detach from them. I feel like I am more in contact with them than ever before. Because I have finally learned how to listen to what they tell me and let me tell you they are very smart. They can only react to the information they have, and sometimes they get stuff wrong. But that’s why listing to them is so important. You lose nothing by listening. And they usually aren’t mad at you for not doing what they want if they know you listened.
I don’t know if that approach will work for anyone but me. But for me it was a revelation to realise that this is a possibility. And my world feels so much bigger and better and more whole when I don’t shut myself off from my emotions (which never actually worked, they just got louder and more difficult and then they seemed scary instead of helpful).

I hope whoever you are out there that you are safe and healthy and taking good care of yourself and your emotions.  I hope you feel you are in a good path even if it’s not the one you thought you’d be on. Thank you for reading and thank you for your time.