The Way A Different Mind Works

mental-health

I confess I have different ways of learning and processing information than most people.  And that has gotten me in much trouble over the years, especially while at a work place. I never could read people’s body language well enough to be good at socializing.  I can’t tell what they think just by watching them.  I can, however, read through the lines of what they write.  I have always been a much better reading learner than a hands on or auditorial learner.  I think one of the reasons I never became as good with my hands as I am with my mind or communications is that I couldn’t see diagrams or in some cases, even what I was doing.  And I never got enough repetition in to get good.  It always frustrated my teachers, bosses, and even family that it took more repetition for me to learn something than most people.  But once I learned the skill, I remember it for life.  I think I was given up on by teachers and employers too early in some cases because it takes me longer to learn through doing than most people.  But once I learned something through doing, I have never forgotten it.

Even though I am pretty intelligent in some ways (though some would argue this), I never did get the top grades in school or most of the accolades at work.  I did well enough that I gave my teachers and bosses that false hope I could be a superstar student or employee.  Yet, because of my mental make up being so much different than the norm, I couldn’t develop my skills fast enough for my employers and teachers to really see my potential.  I never could read a teacher well enough to know what was on a test.  So I had to study the entire subject.  It will make you well grounded in a subject, like biology or history, but it is not conducive to getting good scores on tests.  Likewise at work, I couldn’t read my bosses, coworkers, or customers very well.  I certainly couldn’t the first time I met them or even the first few.  Like I said, it takes me more repetition to learn things than many people.  Yet, once that knowledge is learned, it is learned for life.  Even though I haven’t played football since 1999, I still remember many of the plays we used in games and practice simply because our coaches believed heavily in repetition and details.  I loved that kind of take on sport.  I didn’t want to be fancy or eye catching, I just wanted to win and be good at what I knew and was doing.

Yet because I couldn’t learn in the way my bosses and clients preferred, I didn’t make a very good employee.  For years I was convinced I was defective and was damaged goods. I believed it so much it’s why I went on disability insurance in spite having a college degree and good intelligence test scores.  Sure I may have the natural brain power many employers are looking for.  Yet, the way my mid works and learns is not what gets a person ahead at a job, most of which are service sector jobs.  Attention to details and throughly learning your field was the way to go for a renaissance era craftsman or a high end scholar.

Yet, good luck finding those jobs today.  I have ability.  I have talent.  I have intelligence.  I have the ability to learn new things and remember those new things my entire life.  In many ways I am far smarter now than I was when I graduated college in 2004.  But that is because I found out through trial and much error how I effectively learned.  I learn by reading and by doing many times, not by listening to a lecture or two and doing a few trial runs.  It does take me longer to learn the basics than most people.  But I remember the basics far longer.  And I can build upon those basics to even incorporating some of my own takes on work tasks and ideas.

Sure it is an odd way to learn.  It is also one most teachers and employers especially don’t like.  I lost more jobs than most people have had in a fifty year career simply because my learning style didn’t fit modern corporate or service sector styles.  I may have done extremely well in an old style apprenticeship that took several years.  But, as it stands now, I’m halfway through my life and don’t have the energy or the courage to start over in something that I know will not accept my skill set or way of learning.  And it is a classic Greek tragedy as far as I’m concerned.

I have to wonder how many millions of people just in our day and age that live lives of quiet desperation and poverty yet would be model employees, crafts people, or business managers but never get the chance mainly because they learn things in different ways.  I have met only a handful of people in my life that I know was on the Autism spectrum.  Some of them were extremely intelligent, much more than even I am.  Yet most of them struggled socially and especially at work because the learning styles and ways of communication didn’t match up with the culture around them.

I think that things we classify as mental illness like schizophrenia, bi polar, autism, etc. (even homosexuality and bisexuality were considered mental illnesses until quite recently in many places) have always been with our species.  It just wasn’t as much of a disadvantage in a less structured Stone Age civilization.  In fact, I imagine that many of the first medicine men, shamans, astronomers, and priests were men and women who would be considered mentally ill by modern standards.  But they had a different way of learning and looking at the world than most other people in their little tribes and bands.  And it helped to eventually launch civilizations.  It’s the eccentrics and the odd fellows and odd ladies who took our species from only a few thousand scattered wanderers many thousands of years ago to the teeming billions who are actively making plans of colonizing other planets and celestial bodies.  Providing we don’t seriously screw up this transition, who knows what the human species will be capable of given thousands of years scattered across a few star systems.  And it was mainly because of the oddballs and mad men who, while scorned and condemned among their contemporaries, led the way forward out of the Ice Age caves to now standing at the entry way to the cosmos.

It’s been a long and strange journey.  And it’s one I hope is only entering a new phase rather than reaching it’s climax and decline.  The choice is up to us who are currently alive and how much we chose to nurture and value those who don’t think like the norm.  I may never be one of these innovators who profoundly changes the world.  For now, I am content to be among those who appreciate the eccentrics and encourage them onward.  The road to the stars is fraught with great difficulties.  But, because of the odd ones, I believe we are up to this task.

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The Curse of Being Intelligent with a Mental Illness

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I’m still sleeping more than I would like.  But I really think I often sleep just out of boredom or lack of stimulation.  In some ways I feel like a zoo animal where I have my basic needs met yet I feel something fundamental is missing.  I speak of course of social interactions.

As much as I enjoy being an adult, one of the things I miss about high school and college is being around intellectually stimulating peers and taking challenging classes.  Now that I’ve been in the ‘real world’ for thirteen years, I now realize just how rare and special those interesting class discussions and all night conversations really were.  It saddens me that I’ll never have that back.  I didn’t lose that from lack of trying to keep social networks up.  I lost many of my friends from moving out of state, starting careers, starting families, etc.  It’s painful not to have intelligent conversations.  I crave intellectual and mental stimulation every day.  I can’t go through a day without reading a book or online journal.  Learning is my drug of choice.  It gives me a jolt that no drug, woman, booze, or money could possibly give me.

Now that I am an adult starting to get a little gray in my beard, I am painfully realizing just how rare intelligent people and good conversations are.  Few people in my low income housing complex talk about anything besides how they don’t enough money from disability and gossip about fellow residents.  And it gets quite boring really quick.  After about five minutes of hearing such drivel I’m ready to go back home and watch youtube.  It’s absolutely frustrating not having interesting people to talk to.  I am not hard wired to just sit on a park bench, smoke cigarettes, and complain about how bad the world sucks.

Intelligence has been both a blessing and a curse for me.  Being smart has allowed me to keep writing a blog inspite of a severe mental illness.  It has also helped me stay out of money problems.  I have friends who make much more than I do but their finances are worse than mine because they couldn’t stay out debt or just bought junk they don’t need to impress jerks they don’t like.  But intelligence has also murdered my social life.  For some odd reason, most people I have met over the course of my life (especially since I left college) just hate intelligence.  And it’s frustrating.  I wonder if a hatred of intellectual things is just a rural thing, an American thing, or if it’s just cross cultural and smart people are just condemned to have lousy social lives while benefiting an ungrateful humanity with their accomplishments.  Mental illness is lonely enough.  Being intelligent with a mental illness is a double curse.