The Journey

The vote of “no confidence” was earned by a world of others who chose to look the other way when care and attention was needed. Of all the things I’ve battled in this life, this one lies at the root. And it’s the place to where I return again and again – a difficult place I must face in order to remember what matters most and why I am the way I am – different.

I listened yesterday to a researcher speak on “twice exceptional” individuals. He described those whose gifts are counterbalanced by deficiencies or difficulties and how this paradox poses incredible challenges for them and for those with whom they interact. Frustrations build within twice exceptional individuals and with their teachers, peers, and families. An example of a twice exceptional person is someone with superior intellect or significant gifting who also has a learning disability or a psychological disorder. These individuals are complex and thus perplexing to those who do not share this unique composition – oftentimes those who do not share are the ones tasked with teaching, managing, or raising these unique characters. Even when the responsible party dose share a similar composition, challenges remain.

Self-concept is formed through interactions with others. No matter how bright or capable a person is, no matter their potential, if treated as if they are a bother, ignorant, annoying, or less-than, they will believe it. Consider the significant growth and development that naturally occurs in an imaginative, creative, uniquely complex mind in the first 12 years of life. Then consider the impact of incessant correction, criticism, and negative emotion directed at the child for expressing enthusiasm, questions, and comments that, by nature, press to be shared – all occurring in the context of a peer group. Just consider the cost… By the 12th year, puberty has either set in or it is about to, and with puberty comes the deep desire to fit in, to be liked, to be valued and seen as worthy…

I can’t untangle Noah’s experience from my own, nor can I imagine how different this journey might be if I did not share so much in common with my boy. I guess part of my grief is that I feel I should have been able to spare him, to protect him, to prevent the pitfalls that entrapped me, and yet I did not succeed in my efforts to do so. And…in all honesty, I trip over the truth that I trusted where I should not have. I knew better, but I did it anyway. Apparently, I still held a deep-seated belief that I somehow deserved at least a portion of what I had received as a kid. I did not believe Noah deserved it and I somehow psychologically and emotionally surmised his outcome would be better and his suffering less. I was wrong.

That 5th grade year in the hall would be bad enough if only the one teacher who sent me there had known where I was, but he was not alone. Every teacher in the school knew. Every parent that visited knew. Every administrator knew. Even the visiting counselor knew, and no one did a thing. That year all adults in my life who in any way had dealings with the school earned my vote of “no confidence.” How could I ever forget that the vast majority of people look the other way unless it is them or their own who suffer? I won’t forget again.

I remember the tenderness and sensitivity Noah exhibited early on. He would pat us gently on the shoulders when he lay his head there as a baby – so gentle, loving, and affectionate by nature. Then his natural exuberance that he, my niece Grace, and I all share for nature and for life that was there from the very first of his interaction with the world. I was delighted. But then at age 4, the first sign of trouble, Noah said to me with a sad countenance, “Mommy, I wish I could go on up to heaven now.” I asked, “why, Noah?” He replied, “because sometimes I have very bad thoughts that I can’t make go away, and I know in heaven the bad thoughts won’t be able to come.” I had to hold a response until I had time to get away and let my tears fall. I knew then he had it, too.

I did not know until I was 18 years old that there was a name for what I suffered – OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by disturbing, intrusive thoughts that lead to repetitive, compulsive behaviors. A common example is fear of germs and contamination and then washing or sanitizing behaviors in attempt to alleviate the fear. OCD can take many forms, but in all cases the intrusive thoughts torment the mind of the sufferer. The thoughts are almost always those most abhorrent to the person and leave the person feeling and believing they are dirty, bad, or evil. Imagine suffering with this and then having others treat you as if you are bad. Just imagine how that evolves in the developing mind of a child. Try sharing this with teachers and administrators who are clueless about psychological disorders. Pride is an ugly thing and you know it when you see it. So many in authority had rather keep it simple and look the other way than to take the time and patience necessary to save that one life. Just a note: when we save one life, we are never saving just one life; we are saving every other life that that one life influences for good. We need more who understand complexity and who are willing to invest in every life equally…

This weight I carry is both a blessing and a curse. Each day I wake knowing there are many out there suffering while the masses look the other way. I often feel like I’m “a voice crying in the wilderness” on behalf of “the least of these.” My mission field is comprised of those who will go out and be responsible for shaping culture – parents, teachers, administrators, healthcare workers, etc. It is our duty to know and understand the impact we have on one another. It is our duty to listen sensitively to those we do not understand and to care enough to do hard and holy things that others did not do for us. I am trying. Today, effort has to be enough.

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