Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Being Gifted is a Beautiful Mess

Today, I read a blog post written by Glennon Doyle Melton on the blog Momastery. The post is entitled, "Every Child Is Gifted and Talented. Every Single One."

Ms. Melton doesn't get it. Even though I'm what is classified as Profoundly Gifted, the word "genius" doesn't apply to me, yet she keeps throwing it around and showing her ignorance of special needs children. Ms. Melton says that everything she's ever written on her blog is open for argument except this. The argument she has now started is "a tough break" for poor little her I guess, although I don't believe for a second she wrote what she did not realizing the response (blog hits) she would receive.

Ms. Melton and I believe many of the same things. I believe that every kid has gifts and talents they can use to make our world a better place. I believe that success in a classroom doesn't define personal success. I believe all young people are capable. I believe these things so strongly that I am trying to convince the people who represent us in Government that all young people are capable, have gifts and talents, and should have as many opportunities as possible to engage in the political process.

I'm afraid though that Ms. Melton doesn't know how hurtful her statement is to a kid like me. I'm not angry with Ms. Melton. She just doesn't understand. I've been dealing with people who don't understand my entire life.

Ever since I can remember, adults I encountered would comment after talking to me, "You're so smart." Really? I was just talking to you normally. I wasn't trying to get you to notice anything special or different about me. I learned to say as little as possible so I wouldn't draw attention to myself.

When I was little, I would try to start playing with the other kids. They would imagine all kinds of things and I would want to imagine too. Pretty soon, they would all look at me funny. Sometimes, I would want to play a game and would soon realize the other kids I was trying to play with weren't able to play the game with me. It wasn't their fault, but it made me sad. I learned to just go along with what the other kids did or play by myself.

I don't remember learning to read because I was so little when I started. To me, it was something I could always just do.  I remember bringing books with me places where I was going to have to wait and keep myself occupied. I remember people saying things like, "Wow! Are you reading THAT?" I learned to not bring my books places with me anymore.

I've always been interested in lots of things. I've been interested in political figures from an early age. I was once obsessed with the Titanic. Other kids would talk about the things they were interested in and adults would talk about some of the same things I was interested in, but when I talked about those things, the other kids either didn't understand or thought I was weird and the adults would do the "WOW" thing. I learned to not talk about some of the things I was interested in and talk about the more normal things instead.

I just started this blog last year, but I've been writing for a very long time. It's something I've always liked to do. I never wanted anyone to read the things I wrote though. To me, they weren't good enough. Lots of things I did weren't good enough. I knew in my head how things were "supposed to be" and if I couldn't make them as good as they were "supposed to be" what I did wasn't any good at all. I learned if I just stuck to the easy things, I could do them the way they were "supposed to be" and I stayed away from the hard things so I wouldn't feel like a failure.

Something happened when I was about Kindergarten age. My mom started introducing me to kids that could play my games with me. These kids had new games too that were so much fun! Their parents would talk to me and not treat me all weird. They talked to me like an actual human being. These people gave me presents for my birthday that I didn't have to just pretend to like!

I also started being homeschooled around that time. I didn't have to spend time on the things that I already knew how to do. I could spend my time learning things I didn't know. I could spend more time learning about my interests. Sometimes I had to do hard things that made me really think and try in order to complete my work. Instead of memorizing lists and facts, I could think more about ideas. I could go as fast or slow as I wanted and wasn't limited by any kinds of grade levels.

I've come a long way from that little girl I was. A lot of that is because I've had a lot of support from my parents, friends of my parents, having peers, having understanding and qualified teachers, and amazing support from the Davidson Young Scholars program. I also discovered the world of theater not too long ago and that world is a sanctuary for me. Not only am I encouraged to be creative and have the opportunity to use the things I'm really talented at, I'm in a world where people push me to improve and not just settle for what I think my best is or what their already formed idea of what a kid my age "should" do is. It's a place I can develop my gifts.

Despite the fact I am extremely lucky to have all the support I do and places where I fit in, that little girl is still part of me. I think she always will be.

I'm not a really good student. I get distracted a lot and I have an easier time with complex things than I do simple ones. Sometimes I put off assignments until the last minute either because I'm afraid to try them or because they seem boring to me. I start a lot of assignments and projects that I don't finish. I'm really lucky to be homeschooled because if I had to go to a regular school I would probably be a "problem" student.

I can't watch SPCA commercials on TV and other things about animal abuse because I will be upset for a long time afterwards. I'm not talking about getting just a little upset, but upset to the point I don't want to talk to my friends or leave my room for awhile. When I get angry, I get REALLY angry and sometimes it's hard to calm down even though I recognize that's what I need to do. When I don't feel like things are fair, it makes me very uncomfortable and I feel guilty if I don't speak up or do something about it.

I still have a hard time interacting with kids my age sometimes. It often takes a lot of patience and a lot more effort than it does interacting with my gifted age-peers. It's hard to participate in a lot of activities designed to separate kids in groups by age. I find things move too slow, the activities are over before it feels to me like we've even started, and the other kids are often very immature and distracting.

I still don't like attention. I know that sounds weird from someone who has put themselves out there the way I have, but I don't. I hate watching videos and interviews of myself. I always find something wrong, something I could have done better, something that wasn't the way it's "supposed to be."

I get a lot of criticism from people who do things like call me a prop and think adults are pushing me. Some ignorant people seem to think I should just "be a kid" and "stay home and play with my dolls." Ms. Melton is no different with her denial of who and what my peers and I really are and her statements that encourage gifted children and their families to face similar attacks.

She makes it easier for people to belittle our abilities, deny our accomplishments, and ignore our needs. Yes, I am "advanced" in many ways and some things come very easy to me. But being gifted is not always a gift. It comes with a lot of dark things, things Ms. Melton obviously didn't take the time to truly understand before she proceeded to contribute to a stereotype that hurts me and other kids like me. It's a stereotype that can prevent other kids from getting the kind of support that has helped me and helped many of my friends. We don't need anyone's chosen deity to suddenly miraculously help unwrap us like presents. We need real solutions both inside and outside the classroom to help us reach our individual potential, better understand ourselves, and find our place in the world around us.

Some people say I'm a beautiful person with a beautiful mind. Really, I'm a beautiful mess.


  1. You are beautiful inside and out. And beautiful is not always easy or appreciated. Sometimes being gifted is the same way, dragging along deep dark thoughts that weigh you down and worry your soul. But you seem to have an understanding and an acceptance of all that excess baggage. I can hardly wait to see what you do with your life Madison. <3

  2. Thank you for writing this. Many of the things you are discussing are things that my son struggles with as well. The life of a gifted child comes with some very unique challenges. I'm happy to see you are navigating them well. :) Good luck!

  3. I really don't know anymore, myself. Please carry on, find your potential. I have stopped a while ago. I will graduate normally, at the age of 19. I feel very connected with this. Every project I have started in my life I have stopped if it depended on others: my writing that nobody could understand; my plays that were too "weird", my mathematical-graphical figures that nobody could use, my philosophical perspectives that halfway through made people retract because their mind was too saturated.

    Please do not let your gift isolate you. At one point in life, starting young adulthood, you will feel that you can perceive on a different level, that nobody will quite understand. Think of yourself as a kind of bird that does not need other ears for confirmation of its song's beauty; and keep singing, whatever it is that you will find passion on.

  4. Thank you for writing this, Madison. I tried to write a response to the blog post earlier today, as my daughter is quite similar to you, and I also found Ms. Melton's post hurtful towards her, as well. You wrote what I could not express earlier today. Well done and well said. This post was beautifully written by a beautiful girl. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Though I agreed with many things Ms. Melton said, I feel she missed the point of her subject matter. The point of putting the so-called "gifted and talented" kids with each other is not to put them on a pedestal and tell other children that they are mediocre. It's to allow the kids who think on a more advanced level to interact with each other uninterrupted. My school, the school I've been attending since I was three years old, however, has always been too small to separate into groups. And because of this I grew up thinking I was alone. My points of view were always different from everyone else and this made me an outsider. Not an outsider in the tragically beautiful manic-pixie dream girl storybook way that loneliness is too often portrayed but instead in the terrified to open my mouth for fear of being ridiculed or worse: further isolated. This has been going on since kindergarten and has persisted since. In the past couple of years I have been dealing with increasingly drastic issues with anxiety and depression, but I can remember having milder versions of those feelings since the fourth grade. For years I thought there was something wrong with me, and my classmates thought that too. I wore my "individuality" and "free-thinking," terms assigned to me by teachers unanimously every year like badges but in the back of my mind there was always the constant wish to give that up. For a long time, the only thing I had in common with my classmates was my hatred of myself. So I shut my mouth and learned to keep quiet. That is, until in seventh grade, when I took the SAT and tested into being eligible for a summer camp with Duke TIP, which I did this past summer. And those were the best three weeks of my life: totally and completely surrounded by "nerds". That was when it kicked in that so many other people had felt the way I did. So then, this year, what was supposed to be my eighth grade year, I became the "guinea pig" for our school, which had just merged with a local high school, and took ninth grade classes at the upper school, though still technically being classified as an eighth grader. Things have been so much better. Truth be told, the classes aren't much harder, but it's the people I'm with and the environment that have made everything so much easier. Most of the ninth graders despise me, since my opinions tend to be so opposite to theirs, and I'll hear them or see them talking about me behind my back frequently (since I've come out as Bisexual at school that's increased even more), however, I have found solace in my friends in higher grades, mostly sophomores and juniors. I still have issues with depression and anxiety. I wake up most nights around 2-3 AM, and even if I don't I can't sleep in because my body is still so pumped with adrenaline. The difference is, now I have a small group of people who I feel comfortable talking with in my school, who I can have interesting and mentally stimulating conversations with, WITHOUT them rolling their eyes when I use a word such as "stimulating". I have never dumbed myself down for anyone, and I never will. Being "gifted" and being gifted alone are a surefire recipe for loneliness.

  6. This was beautifully put - thank you for sharing. I am profoundly gifted, as is my five year old daughter, and the things you wrote about certainly resonate with our experiences. I wish more people really "got it".

  7. Thank you! I was an invisible kid too, felt ackward a lot, shy. And my daughter shows the same behaviour; she doesnt like when I interfere proudly when she draws or do stuff; and I recognize the feeling so I respect that. You to will age; you to will learn, you to will develope more; and I hope you can come more at ease with yourself. I feel now more the same as other people; I didnt when I was a kid. I now see that everyone had their own struggles; I have more oppertunities to connect to other people; so I dont feel lonely at the top or bottom anymore. I dont feel gifted, never felt that; I just think differently; wider; of everything and have a strong passion/desire to dig deeper and filter information. I learned love is very important; unconditional love, to come at ease, just be yourself. And I still have so much to learn; experimenting in life; learning; playing; learning everyday. Giftedness is not a target; it is a way; an obstacle course...

  8. This was beautifully written. My husband and I are doing research for our almost 4-yr old son who we believe is gifted. Through our discoveries, we are learning so much about ourselves (and things that "didn't make sense" or ways in which we were different from our peers/friends as children). Countless a-ha moments, as when I read your post, and I thank you for sharing!

    Not everyone understands what it's like to not "turn off" your thoughts, or to be indentured with extremely sensitive emotions (I do, and our son does, too).

    I will say my dearest friend is also gifted, and she and I are kindred spirits. I'm so thankful every day that we found each other, as we share stories from our childhoods AND now, motherhood with gifted children. Finding a support network at ANY age is so. freaking. important.

    Keep being yourself...and please keep blogging! You're giving so much hope and inspiration to those that need it.

  9. I am so glad your parents made it possible for you to interact with true peers, so that you did not have to be a "weirdo" all the time, like I did!

    If only I had known when I was your age that people like me existed, and that my intensity and my overexcitabilities were NORMAL (if only within this group of people), I believe I would have felt much more secure about my identity and human value. Please hold on to your knowledge that you really ARE very, very different from all those people who want to knock you down a peg and be a bit more like them. No matter how hard you try, it will not be possible for you to be a truly accepted member of their groups, at least not for long, so putting a lot of effort into gaining access is bound to hurt you. Stick to your kind for a good part of your socializing, and treat the rest more as acquaintances than personal friends.

    And keep writing! I wish you all the best, the world needs you the way you are!

  10. This is fantastic. Thank you for sharing your words and wisdom.

  11. You're a fantastic writer. I'm not telling you that emphasize your "otherness" or giftedness, but because I'm a writer and love to support and encourage other writers.

  12. As a gifted adult who educates gifted children thank you for sharing your brave and wise perspective with other young people. I intend to show you article to some of the students I work with and all of the parents. Good luck to you.

  13. This is good stuff! Thank you for sharing your feelings. You are helping so many people including my little 6 year old who would adore you.

  14. we need an "it gets better" project for smart kids (google it if you don't already know about the existing project).
    it does get better.
    there are more and more opportunities to hang around with others who are as smart and/or as much of a "mess". look forward to college and grad school if your plans run that way. if you're the smartest one in the room, find some new rooms ;-)

  15. This was so beautifully written. I admire your courage...

  16. Wow... what a beautiful article - beautiful because of the truth it speaks to the experience of being gifted in a world that doesn't understand, and the value of being with people who do. Thank you!

  17. Some day you will not feel the need to conform. When this happens, watch out world.

  18. In New Mexico, "Giftedness" falls under the umbrella of Special Education, and I believe it belongs there. "Giftedness" does not mean "High Achiever"; rather, it means something so unlike that that people just don’t get it.

    As a child born in the 50s, when my sisters and I were labeled as "Gifted", they knew not what to do with us, so did nothing but marvel at it, and tell each of us, in turn, just how smart we were, and how we could achieve anything and everything we wanted. But I didn't know how. I was in a bowl of some sort, trying to climb up the slippery sides, and just kept sliding back down. My level of sensitivity kept me in a perpetual highly emotional state, and I could not turn it off; I felt everything, and couldn't change that, so I was labeled as "oversensitive", while my responses were labeled as "overemotional". My mind never stopped problem solving, so I was told, "You think too much." So many comparatives and superlatives-so little self-esteem.

    I then raised a Gifted child, and learned about me while learning about and teaching him. I returned to school, graduated at 50, teach "at-risk" students in Santa Fe, and have two Gifted students on my current caseload. I am determined that my Gifted families will know what Gifted means.

    Being Gifted means feeling everything, while having no filters.
    Being gifted, therefore, means feeling a lot of pain as well as pleasure. It also means having the ability to feel the feelings of those around us, who are often in pain, so we are, too.
    It means knowing things without understanding how we know it, but "feeling" the truth of it while those around us deny its truth. This is agonizing.
    Being gifted means living with duality on a minute-by-minute basis; we can easily and clearly see both sides of an argument, and have to compartmentalize in order to articulate thought. But we can't compartmentalize, so we become silent, lest we be taken for silly fools.
    Being Gifted means "knowing" on a cellular level, a knowing we can't hide from, yet we try; it is so uncomfortable to know because no one wants to hear it.
    Being Gifted means being alone when surrounded by people who love and like us; because we can't relate to their words or their play or their actions, we exist in a bubble within the crowd. Sometimes we create this bubble for protection, and sometimes, we just can't find our way out.
    Being Gifted means that we sometimes get what everyone else gets, and sometimes we don't; when we don't, we feel alone, and we know we are not understood. This is a lonely place to be.
    Being Gifted means that we never feel as though we "fit" anywhere.
    Being Gifted means there's just too much to DO.
    There is so much more I could say- so much. A lifetime lived, social-emotional issues that derailed me time and time again, the struggle to find my life's work.

    Then there's this: I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's. There comes a time when the "Giftedness" becomes just that- a gift. When experience, wisdom, and hard work come together, and we have a chance to use it well, we do. We figure it out, because that's part of it, too. That critical and creative thinking part...that's our strength. We make a difference in this world. We make HUGE differences in this world- when it is time for us to do so, when our gift is called out, when we rise to it.

    Madison, all is well, and all will be well. You are light years ahead of where I was at your age, and I am a happy, productive adult, so imagine what is in store for you! Go with it, trust the Universe, trust yourself, trust that everything is working toward your higher good. Trust the process. Trust through the challenges and the pain and hurt...Just trust. You are magnificent. You are a gift. It's all good.


  19. I applaud your efforts. Thank you for sharing your struggles so others can learn from and build upon the solutions you find. Life is one of those hard things that has to be worked on throughout the journey. I am glad you are finding some outlets for your talents and hope you continue to do so as your needs change and grow. There really is no right answer since there are so many people with their own unique needs and talents to be exercised and pursued. Only advice I can give is be patient with those that do not understand. they have their limitations and deserve just as much consideration as those that do understand.

  20. Your post very much reminds me of my 17 year old son and the challenges he faced once his prodigious verbal skills became evident as a preschooler. I do believe the gender gap makes a difference in this respect as I see some of my younger self in your story, but then experienced how precocious little boys with large advanced vocabularies are viewed as simply freakish. He shut himself down for a number of years and it has been so gratifying to see him own this as a special gift as a teenager. Sensitive, quick to anger, more tolerance for complexity than simplicity...yep it's all there. :-)

  21. You are doing such good for the world putting your story out there like this. I work at a school for kids who fit this description to a T. I've learned so much from teaching the gifted population, and I agree, sometimes it is a "beautiful mess!" Thank you for letting your true self be free as much as you can. Most of us have some version of the little girl or little boy that never really goes away. All we can do is continue to shine our lights brightly and find our tribe of understanding. It sounds like you are already well on your way.

  22. Thank you for sharing this with us. I pulled my son out of public school after being told a version of the "every child is gifted" rigmarole by the Principal AND the Accelerated Learning Coordinator in our district.

    You are not alone, and as a gifted adult, I want you to know that it gets better and better. You will come to a place of peace at not being perfect at everything. Doing hard things will get easier. You will be nicer to yourself as you find more of your people.

    All the best!

  23. Thank you for articulating your thoughts, experiences and feelings so clearly. They are a vivid reflection of the stories I've heard from the myriad students I've worked with throughout the years. With your permission I'd like to share this blog entry with those in my GT Carpe Diem self-advocacy workshops. Your words give voice to the feelings of so many others.

  24. Thank you. I think you have written one of the most real and moving posts on giftedness I have ever read. It resonated with the gifted little girl inside me (although she's well past 40 these days) and all the pain and mess that it has taken me years to learn to deal with, and with the mother who only wishes the best for her gifted son - to encourage and nurture and protect him from these hurtful ideas that just keep kids from being their best selves.
    Keep writing and discovering and nurturing all your wonderful gifts. The world needs you Madison!

  25. From the perspective of 69 years of coping with the challenges of "giftedness" and "talent", you have expressed the "mess" very well. Keep on giving of your self, we are all enriched by it.

  26. Very interesting to read your blog after hearing you in an interview on an atheist podcast. Good blog and well articulated as expected. I like that you break it up into short paragraphs to make it easier for reading. That is especially important when reading on an electronic device. I think you could make it even better with the occasional header to give readers a clue as to what is coming in the next section.

    Great to hear your views on the podcast and how you came across as friendly as well as intelligent. Keep up the good work in the fight for logic and reason in society.

  27. Madison, I'm almost 50 years old, and reading your words bring me back to my younger days. Growing up gifted can sometimes be extraordinarily difficult and extremely lonely. Everyone has trouble truly fitting in--that's a human default setting. The trouble for gifties is that, unlike most of their peers, they are acutely aware that they don't fit in. It takes a while, but most of us figure out eventually that even those who seem to fit in are mostly faking it.

    I'm so grateful there are people like you speaking up, making a difference. Don't worry about the spotlight--it'll be there, and it'll go away, and it won't make a bit of difference in the long run. What will matter is how authentically you live. And you seem to have a head start on that. Well done--I really enjoy your blog.

  28. You just described me and both of my daughters, Madison. The not fitting in; the sense of not doing things that everyone else takes for granted "right"; being looked at sideways for seeing the world in a different way. When I was a kid, most of my friends were adults because I had nothing in common with people my own age.

    But here's the thing: if the Gift causes us to disdain other people, or show them hostility because they don't see us the way we see ourselves, then how can that Gift make the world a better place?

    I read Ms. Melton's blog. Yes, it was simplistic. But she wasn't being mean or disrespectful or belittling you or me or my daughters or anyone else whose giftedness puts us out of step with our peers. Her intent was obviously to encourage all parents and all children to find their own gifts, whatever they are. She was trying to express something that would help other human beings not see each other as "Other", but as part of an integrated whole in which everyone has worth and in which our differences are strengths not weaknesses.

    I don't think she deserves to be pilloried for that or spoken to and about as if she has done some horrible, spiteful thing. She was looking for a way to help her child who deserves not to feel "less than" those among us who are Gifted in unusual and obvious ways. You expressed a great deal of hurt and anger in your blog. But I think maybe that anger is misplaced. Ms. Melton certainly doesn't deserve it. She clearly has her own cross to bear. With your gifts, you might be able to think of a way to help her bear it.

    Yeah, I get the message of the Incredibles: If everyone is super, no one is. But if we use our Giftedness to erect barriers between ourselves and the people we view as "ungifted", how is that better than what the "ungifted" have done to us? And how does it create the sort of unity in diversity that's necessary for a better world in which we can all live and be respected for our gifts?

  29. Here in california the teachers barely teach they just worry about the money. Its very rare now for them to actually care. Our future is for the kids i think they should be taught with care and passion at least

  30. Está tan mal marginar las diferencias como negar que existen. Lo que hace especiales a las personas también las hace estar solas. Me identifico con algunos aspectos que describes, y me alegra que encontraras tu lugar en el mundo.