Category Archives: Intelligence
An introvert with generalized anxiety disorder is probably not the ideal candidate for a job that demands an ever-increasing amount of attention, but I never seemed to have trouble with speaking in front of people about work related things. I’m a pretty solid public speaker, and I knew my material well. The painful part was usually what so many other people find easier: small talk. Conversations with strangers during coffee breaks are the things of nightmares. Being an officer meant a lot of schmoozing and a lot of visibility; as if it wasn’t enough to work for The Salvation Army, I had to wear the hideously outdated uniform in hopes that it would draw more attention.
In my new job, the uniform consists of a black polo shirt and some form of neutral pants. It lets people know I work there, but doesn’t make me look like a lunatic. I am identifiably invisible. Which suits me, for the most part, but… Sometimes, I kind of miss the positive impression that I had a few months ago, simply by being in another professional role.
No one ever thinks much of the woman at the gas station. No one assumes – or even supposes – that I have a bachelor’s degree and am working towards a masters. I doubt it crosses anyone’s mind that I once played a part in huge, life-changing transformations for some people. They don’t look at me and see someone who has spent days at hospital bedsides, or frozen herself while outside in the dead of winter, feeding hungry people, or blown away doubters by raising tens of thousands above and beyond the Christmas goal. No one associates me and my job with compassion, kindness, love, or responsibility anymore.
I never did any of those things so that I would be recognized for them; I did them because it was the only way I knew how to be.
No one sees anything like that now, because almost no one sees me at all – I am invisible. They see a being in a polo shirt mopping the floor, or running their fleet card, but not me. Honestly, sometimes I’m really glad for it, because I hate working there and I can’t wait to have a job that actually makes use of my education and capacity. I find myself reminding myself as I push the salt spreader around outside that this is not really me, that it is a temporary fix.
Tonight, a customer kind of snapped at me when I carded him. I’m used to it; people really think nothing of talking to retail workers like they’re subhuman. After a few seconds, though, the guy looked up and apologized. He said he’d had a horrible day with customers and he hadn’t meant to be snippy with me. He was wearing his own polo shirt with a pest control logo on it. I thanked him and wished him a better weekend. While fleeting, for those few seconds, it seemed like for the first time all night, I wasn’t quite as invisible to the person on the other side of the counter. He at least remembered that I’m human and that I wouldn’t like to be spoken to that way.
I don’t know what to do with how I feel about this. Is it prideful to say I’m better than this job? Is it selfish to say that I miss the recognition, even though that was never my motivation?
This job is exactly the job I said was my reason for making it through college: because I never wanted to be here again. When I think about it, I get so angry I could string together profanities better than any sailor has ever dared. I get angry at the people who made my life as an officer so miserable that I resigned. I get angry at all the bad officers who get to skate by on piss poor work because of the usually unnoticed good work done by the good ones. I get angry at myself for thinking this job is, in some ways, beneath me. I get angry at the people who applied for the same, better jobs I applied for and got them. I get angry about being invisible.
I don’t regret leaving. As miserable as being invisible is, it’s a Mardi Gras parade compared to my daily life three months ago. It’s just hard to go from an identity that is generally esteemed (whether or not it’s deserved) to one that is invisible at best (even though I know what I’m capable of).
Like seemingly everything lately, I don’t know what to do with this, other than to keep going. To get through this shade of hell and onto something better. Because almost anything is better than being invisible.
In the words of my therapist, my “brain doesn’t run on jet fuel, it runs on rocket fuel,” by which he mean my brain runs hotter and faster than average. It can be a good thing, like when I catch on quickly in school, but it can also be a bad thing, particularly when my super fast brain tangos with my anxiety disorder. Anxiety is perpetually asking what could go wrong? and my hyperthinking brain comes up with answers at warp speed. This is why I sometimes refer to myself as Super Anxiety Girl: able to jump to the worst possible conclusion at any time!
Just a couple of posts ago, I wrote about how horribly online dating has been going, and the responses from my friends were either a. It has been just as awful for me, or b. It worked for me, so keep trying! Figuring I had nothing to lose, I kept at it.
There was a profile I’d noticed a few times, but he had made the first contact. At first, the interactions seemed stunted and awkward, but I kept talking to him, and eventually, we fell into some good conversation. CJ asked me out just after publishing that post, and I said yes. A lunch date wasn’t too much commitment, I figured, and so despite all my previous online dates going terribly, I shaved my legs, consulted my bff about which skirt to wear, and carefully decided on Yves Saint Laurent Glossy Lip Stain in Vintage Rouge. My hopes were admittedly not sky high, having been let down before.
The food was so-so, but holy crap, we clicked. What was supposed to be lunch turned into 3.5 hours and only ended because I had to go pick up my mother. We giggled. Our knees kinda sorta touched under the table. He sweetly asked permission to kiss me before he did, and the kiss wasn’t bad at all. I smiled the whole way home. I hadn’t been gone from the restaurant for 20 minutes when he texted and asked if I wanted to hang out that evening. I said yes, and when he texted me his address, it turned out he lives four blocks from me. We ended up watching Harry Potter and Comedy Central and talking until 3:40 AM.
The next few days, we texted, hung out after he got off of work, and it is weird how well we both seemed to fit together. He’s 35, has a reliable job, owns his home, has a stable, normal family who lives in town, is kind, funny, sweet, a good kisser, and doesn’t seem to mind holding my hand. We kind of fell into each other and I wish I could explain it better than saying “we just make sense,” but that’s honestly how I feel. Somewhere along the way,very early on, we decided we weren’t going to see anyone else, and a bit after that, we decided that it suited us to use the boyfriend/girlfriend labels.
In a few weeks, I went from hardly talking to him to feeling like I’ve known him for forever. One night last week, I had to drive from northern Illinois to Detroit and back in one marathon drive. Twelve hours on the road, not counting the hour and a half I spent stopping for gas and delivering the packages to the Chrysler plant. I was happy when he called me after he got off work, but I never imagined he would stay up literally all night to talk to me while I was on the road. At times, we didn’t even talk, we just were there, silent, miles apart, but still together.
All these things are wonderful, right? Right.
Except that this relationship is different than all of my previous relationships. It’s less complicated, more intense, faster, deeper, scarier than any other relationship I’ve had. And that’s where Super Anxiety Girl swoops in.
On Monday, CJ and I spent the day in Chicago, my favorite place at my favorite time of year. He traipsed around Macy’s, Millennium Park, and the Magnificent Mile with me, in the rain, no less! When we got back to his place that evening, we talked and watched TV, and in the midst of the conversation, we ended up in a weird place. I’ve fallen a bit farther than he has. Not that he hasn’t fallen for me at all, but he’s more cautious. I told him that I didn’t expect us to be in exactly the same place, and that’s the truth. I told him we can slow down and take things easier. It had seemed so easy for both of us to fall into the relationship, but we responded a bit differently.
I left his place and almost cried while I drove home. The next day, I barely heard from him. The day after that, Christmas Eve, I didn’t know what to think. Were we over? Had it ended that quickly? What had I done to screw it up? Was he lying when he said that he liked being with me/that it was unexpectedly “right” with me/that I was beautiful, smart, and vibrant? Did I misread every kiss/every hour of handholding/every “thinking of you” text he sent me? Was I too much of myself too quickly, and that turned him off? When he talked about going to a Bulls game or a theater show sometime, was he just blowing hot air? But more than anything: What is so very wrong with me that makes me so undatable and undesirable? A million questions a minute, each worse than the preceding question, and it didn’t stop for nearly two days.
Looking back on that conversation now, I see that it wasn’t as catastrophic as I felt it was at the time. Truthfully, it was going too fast for both of us. Slowing down is a good thing. But slowing down doesn’t mean ending. Being in slightly different places doesn’t mean not being together. I have come down from the proverbial ledge on that one, but it was a tough few days of questions without talking much to him. However, we’ve texted since then, and we’re good.
We were originally going to see each other Christmas night, but he rescheduled for tonight. Then, tonight’s date was rescheduled for tomorrow because he works at the airport and there are flight delays. It has been an epic feat of cognitive behavioral skills to keep myself from over thinking the reschedules. I know that flights are delayed, and that means he has to stay. It’s not that he doesn’t want to see me.
It has all happened really quickly, and it has been really intense. It scares me. It’s nothing like my previous relationships, yet I’m terrified that history will repeat itself. In the past, whenever I hit a rough moment in a relationship, the guy bailed. I wasn’t ready for someone who would stick around through it. As smart as I am when it comes to many things, relationships are where I feel like I hardly know my head from an acorn squash. The cues that everyone else seems to pick up on fly right over my head, and all my intuition is useless.
Dating CJ has been so much fun, and endlessly exciting, even if it’s hell on my nerves. I’m honestly glad he said something about needing it to slow down because I didn’t realize then that I needed the same thing. I hope that this lasts for a while, because I really like him. It is completely new territory for me, but oh sweet mercy, I hope it works.
One of the earlier memories I have about Robin Williams (the man, rather than just as a character) is being told that he was incredibly brilliant, and with a very high IQ comes an increased risk of mental illness. I was told that while stunningly funny and phenomenally captivating, he also struggled with addiction and mental illness.
When I read the headlines everyone read this week, I was immediately heartbroken and a bit scared. Ok, initially a lot scared.
I was scared because while my diagnosis is different that his, my IQ is in the top <1% of the population, like his was. Having a higher IQ means you think differently than those with an average IQ, and sometimes, that makes me wonder if I'm going crazy (only half seriously). Brains are tricky bastards, simultaneously letting you think that you're smart enough to not do something irrational and then letting part of your brain malfunction and let you think that the irrational thing IS rational.
His death reminded me that I have to keep working at my mental health because being smart enough isn't enough. I've never been suicidal, but when anxiety sets in, the dark hole is just as deep. So I ate better food again. Went to the gym again. And I took a friend up on his kinda-short-notice invitation to tag along to the state fair with his wife today.
BobbyJeff, as I've called him before, has been a very good friend, despite us not having met in person until today. I met him and his wife at their place and then went to the fair together. We walked in the perfectly-not-hot sunshine. We took pictures of flowers. I watched baby goats that weren't even two days old, and a calf who was a week old. I drank lemonade that wasn't lemony at all. I watched a free concert by The Romantics, a sleepy tiger show, and looked at art.
For the most part of today, I didn’t think of things that were stressing me out. I was able to be present, and that’s HARD with anxiety. It was so good for me.
BobbyJeff and his wife didn’t have to let me be the third wheel, but I’m grateful for the time spent with them. They’re funny, smart people, and pretty decent fair-going buddies. I didn’t ever feel like a third wheel, which is also amazingly rare.
There are things that could and should be done. Things that will get done tomorrow. Today, I had to take care of myself, because that’s the best hope I have for success. I’m not as good at taking care of myself as I should be, but cultivating that habit is already in progress.
First confession: I see a therapist a few times a year to keep tabs on my anxiety (confession 1.5: telling you that makes me anxious enough to break out in hives). In my last visit, I figured out that because I’ve been so guarded for so long, I feel like most of the people I know don’t actually know me. In my recent attempts to be braver, people have been encouraging, surprised, and maybe a little confused, but there hasn’t been much of a kick-back.
So I decided to start a crash-course in me, to just start writing and see where it takes me, in an attempt to be better at being brave. Some of these are more profound and personal than others, but not everything has to be enlightening.
– I don’t cry very often, but when I do, it’s over something stupid.
– However, Christmas songs make me cry almost every time. I can’t hear Judy Garland sing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” without white-knuckling against tears.
– I don’t care if patterned socks don’t match, but I’ll buy new socks before wearing mismatched white socks.
– Late 80s/early 90s hair ballads get turned up reallllly loud if I’m alone in the van when they come on the radio.
– I think I make better scrambled eggs than my mother – and that makes me feel guilty.
– I know I make better chili, and I don’t feel guilty about that. It’s my best dish.
– I think that you can be in love with someone more ways than just romantically, that there is a different kind of falling in love that happens between friends.
– I’ve fallen in romantic love three times.
– At least up to this point in my life, I’ve never wanted to be a mother, and the thought of giving birth is very nearly as terrifying as drowning or being burned in a house fire. I get a lot of flack for this.
– Despite not wanting kids, I know what I’d name them, and I’d be furious if you “used my names.”
– I’m lonely almost every second of every day.
– I have a terrible habit of leaving socks everywhere. And water glasses.
– I believe pretty underwear can change your whole day, even if no one else sees them.
– I don’t really like bacon all that much, and I will almost always pick a flavor other than chocolate if given the choice.
– I love stand-up comedy, but almost all my favorites are dead and most of the current ones aren’t funny.
– I don’t believe dead people become angels or are “watching over us,” and that makes it harder when I wish I could still talk to my grandparents.
– Sometimes I have to fight so hard against the tendency to judge people.
– Simon & Garfunkel is probably the best musical mood-changer I will ever have.
– I love high art: opera, classical music, Shakespeare, impressionist paintings, etc. It makes me feel alive.
– My favorite painting is Pissarro’s “The Crystal Palace.” I have to see it every time I go to the Art Institute in Chicago.
– My favorite songs are tied: “Silent Night” and Amos Lee’s “In the Arms of a Woman.” I listen to the latter just about every night on the playlist I use to fall asleep.
– My favorite movie is “The Matchmaker,” which most people have never heard of or seen, and it’s just a rom-com from the mid 90s, but I LOVE it.
– I hate “Les Miserables.”
– My high IQ means school was almost never challenging and I got lower grades than I could have because I was so insanely bored and underwhelmed.
– I think less of myself for not being as well-read as many of my friends. I start hundreds that I don’t finish.
– I have read an embarrassing amount of chick lit because it’s how I turn my brain off when I need to escape.
– I read poetry because I absolutely love words, but the only poems I’ve written in the last twenty years are the two on my blog because I feel like I love poetry too much to ruin it by writing my own.
– I am allergic to blue dyes, which makes life more difficult than it should be.
– I love going shooting with my uncle Curt and cousin Marky.
– I love having nicknames for people. It’s not just something silly to me; it’s the highest form of endearment to me, because it implies intimacy and usually a longer relationship than others. So no matter how old we get, they’ll still be Noonie, Fran, Branoh, Stevie, Marky, Pokey, Calebaleb, Sarahberry, and Eedle.
– There is one secret I never told anyone until I told Brandon last December, and while I’m not sure if anyone else will ever know, knowing that he knows is a kind of freedom I didn’t know I could have.
– When I’m running at the gym, I am often screaming obscenities in my head (studies show swearing lessens pain). The only thing that keeps them from coming out is that I’m usually wearing a camp t-shirt and I don’t want people to see scripture on my shirt and hear obscenities from my mouth.
If you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed! 🙂 I’m not sure if there’s anything new here for you, or that it was so fascinating to read, but writing it was good work for me. A few things on there were kind of scary to share, but I share in hopes that it will help me feel less misunderstood and help me feel braver next time.
Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh*
My mother very often tells me that I am a great communicator. It is usually right around the time I send out another round of just-because cards to a group of friends or when she is encouraging me to respond to conflict. I don’t think that she is entirely wrong; I think I am a decent writer when I have the time and passion fueling me on. Where I think she is mistaken, though, is the assumption that it comes easily to me, when in fact, the very opposite is true.
My Myers-Briggs personality type is “INTJ,” one that is very uncommon, and is exceptionally uncommon for women – female INTJs are almost like unicorns or Bigfoot in our elusiveness. We operate on logic, systems, and research, and generally hate small-talk. It is not that we dislike people or anything, but we appreciate efficiency, and if we are going to communicate, it is going to be for a reason, and with great intention. In our natural inclination for research, we tend to observe before interacting, and while we might look bored, trust that our minds are racing. We are very Spock-like. When we join in the conversation, it is not by accident. Our words are carefully chosen to express exactly what we feel/are thinking, and when we get it right – ooooooh, when we get it RIGHT!!! – it’s like happy little internal firecrackers. When we read something that is so concise, so eloquent, so beautifully poignant, it leaves us breathless. Words are seduction and power, and not to be handled lightly.
For me, the process of writing is like shelling and eating walnuts. I love walnuts, but those little buggers are a pain to get out of the shell. If I’m lucky, I can position the nutcracker just right on the shell, and with just the right pressure and speed, BAM! I have a perfectly shelled walnut, beautifully wrinkly and delightfully woodsy, and in no time, I am smiling at my accomplishment. Most of the time, as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t get the nutcracker in the right place, I apply too much pressure too quickly, and I end up with a broken walnut. Still just as delicious, but the sense of pride isn’t quite the same. Often, at this point, I haven’t even gotten the whole walnut out of the shell, and I end up having to use the metal hook to dig out the stubborn bits left behind. When I write, I occasionally say exactly what I want to say on the first try: the right words at the right time in the right mood and BAM! I have a beautifully written bit of communication that gives me a sense of pride. More often, though, I think too quickly, forget that the reader may not be reading from the same context as the context in which I am writing, and instead, I end up with a bit of communication that might get the job done, but seems to be lacking in some way. Sometimes, I have to revisit it over and over, pulling the stubborn words and thoughts out of my head, until what you have before you is close enough to what I want to communicate.
That’s why writing is so great: you can always edit before you publish.
Verbal communication is another story. Verbal communication, especially with new people, often feels like trying to play the water glasses while herding kittens at the same time: frantically trying to appear calm and directed in an attempt to produce something pleasing to the listener while internally checking and rechecking and rechecking myself to make sure that I am not going to let things get carried away and scattered. At the intersection of having an INTJ personality, a very high IQ, and a moderate case of generalized anxiety disorder is a big pile of fear surrounded by a million questions: What if I come on too strong? What if I am too honest? What if I say something totally bland that ends up being received as offensive? Are they going to think of me as a know-it-all, when I’m not trying to be? Am I going to speak too soon and sound like an idiot (a primary characteristic of INTJs is not wanting to appear lacking, and appearing uninformed is as horrifying as it gets)? Am I missing social cues that I should be getting?
When I am talking to someone I don’t know well, it feels very much like my attempts to converse in German: though I studied the language for years, and speak it (poorly) with my sister, I stumble and make dumb little mistakes that cause the listener to kindly correct me or ask if I really meant what I just said while I internally chastise myself for “knowing better” and still getting it wrong. I replay the conversations in my head over and over, realizing all the times that I should have said something differently (hello, anxiety). This is why I love texting so much: it lets me think before I spit out a response, to taste my words before hitting “send.” It isn’t perfect, but it is a lot less pressure.
Electric communication will never be the substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.
But oh, the conversations with those who know me best, whom I trust, who hold together the pieces of me: those conversations are priceless. It is the only time that I can communicate without worrying about herding kittens, and it is the best, fastest, and surest way to internal peace. Unfortunately for me, my three best friends live far enough away that I cannot see them all that often: one is two hours away in the Chicago suburbs, one is in Baltimore, and the third is farther still, in North Carolina. So while Dickens was right, he couldn’t have imagined the way that communication would transform into what it is now. I get a lot of flack for how often my phone is in my hand, but the truth of it is that I rely on my “electric communications” with my best friends. Throughout the day, they are my reality-checks, the stop-signs for my over-thinking brain, the truth-tellers amidst a barrage of negativity. The “ding!” of the Messenger app or the I’ve-got-a-text alert is sometimes the most beautiful thing to my ears. I treasure the times when we can manage a phone call or Skype or, even rarer, a chance to talk face-to-face, but for now, I’ll take what I can get, because I know that behind those bits of electric communication are the faces and hearts who know me best.
I love to communicate. I love to share ideas and stories and get to know the hearts and minds of other people. I just also find it terrifying and challenging. I wish that I could skip past the getting-to-know-you part and already know you so that I don’t have to herd as many kittens while we talk. For starters, though, let’s start with a text, an IM, a postcard, or a note delivered by owl, and know that when I meet you or see you the first few times, I’m not trying to be cold or stand-off-ish or weird or offensive or a know-it-all, I’m trying to play the water glasses and herd kittens. Don’t worry when I stare intently at my coffee cup or fidget with Silly Putty the whole time (a FANTASTIC help for those with GAD!). I’m not checking out. I am trying that much harder to get to know you.
When I decided to name my blog “Three Standard Deviations,” I thought of about a hundred ways in which I am “deviant”: intelligence, politics, geekery, being a female minister, personality type, and on and on. This blog is going to be about all that stuff and more, but I figured that I would start with the origin of the name:
I’ve always known I was intelligent. I was bored in school, so I argued with teachers and considered most homework a waste of time because I wasn’t challenged by it. I read non-fiction books for fun, get excited about politics and science, and I have yet to figure out why anyone finds Duck Dynasty entertaining. However, I’ve always seen myself as a little-bit-above-average on the intelligence scale. Surely I wasn’t that much more intelligent, because I am forever finding more and more things that I don’t know.
I was wrong. I hope you don’t find this arrogant, but I’m not just a little intelligent. The last time I took an IQ test, I was sleep-starved and wrecked with anxiety, and even in that state, I tested three standard deviations above the norm (hence the name of the blog). In other words, my IQ is in the top <1%.
That terrifies me. That feels like a lot of pressure. That places me in what sometimes feels like an impossible place.
I’m a pastor, a calling that pushes and pulls me straight into the path of people – people who are looking for me for answers, guidance, or a listening ear. My heart is in it. I cannot imagine doing anything else and yet, I can think of only a few careers that would be more challenging to me because more often than not, it feels like I am in a different place than they are, speaking a different language. I love logic and thinking, and I am stymied by the intensely emotional places from which others seem to operate.
The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular sit-coms at the moment, and most of the people who watch it seem to love Sheldon. For the first few years of the show, we all laughed at and with Sheldon as his incredible intelligence gets in the way of his social interactions with the rest of the cast. He doesn’t pick up on most of the emotions that others are displaying and he takes everything as literally as one can manage. For a while, I thought “yes, that’s me!”
Then came the character of Amy Farrah Fowler and I felt like I needed to check my home for hidden cameras. Amy, like Sheldon, is phenomenally smart, but unlike Sheldon, Amy wants desperately to “fit in” with her friends. She is eager and honest to the point of awkwardness, and at least once an episode, we all cringe as Amy misses the mark. Most of the time, I feel like the “Amy Farrah Fowler” in my social universe.
I am part of a denomination, but I was recently told that it is likely that I have the highest IQ in my region of my denomination (the US Midwest), and that most of the rest of the clergy are either at the norm or a little below (NOT to imply that there aren’t others with higher-than-average intelligence or to associate value with intelligence; it is merely to point out where I am an odd duck, so to speak). Holy pressure, Batman! Are you kidding me? What this has meant is that interactions with other clergy are murky. Even though we are all called, we have very different personalities, interests, gifts, and political leanings. I want to have deeper friendships with them, but I get in my own way. I am too intellectual, take everything too literally, dive into a debate that the other person takes as a personal attack… Those who seem to share my interests and aren’t pushed away by my intelligence all live far away, so Facebook and blogs is the extent of our interactions.
I’m working on figuring all this out. Not every post will be this serious, but, as you have probably already figured out, I’m a fairly serious person. I’m not sure what I’m going to accomplish with this, or who, if anyone other than my parents, will read it, but if nothing else, I will do it for me, because I like to write.