The World’s Most Invisible Weapon
My biggest struggles , and where my self esteem would get crushed with loving familiarity, was with my Dad’s family. My academic struggles were not due to any learning disabilities, accorcdng to them. They were due to me being stupid. They said it nicely. They were , I suppose, supportive of me in a way that was hurtful more than helpful. The worst part is the ones who I admired the most and enjoyed hanging out with me the most tended to give me useful advice like “Josh you probably won’t be very successful but as long as you do your best people won’t think bad about you.” I was told I was mentally challenged (although there never any reason to ashamed of it because I was a good person) and was let know that I was not quite up to par with the rest of the family, although loved all the same.
This I think was the main cause of what would be a life long struggle with wanting to be average, or if god willed it , normal. As I grew up my unique way of seeing the world was more and more pronounced. I developed a love for comic books, travelling and philosophy. When I was in college I was never more aware of my awkwardness and being “different”. My failures on an academic scale were something of legend. It defined who I was to my father’s family. Mentally challenged became ADHD or whatever the haute couture terminology in armchair psychology was at the time.
I joined a fraternity my second semester of my freshmen year. I am convinced that is the only thing that really made me understand who I was and not ashamed of being , as by then had been thoroughly ingrained in my mind one of the most stupid people to ever be accepted into George Washington University. My fraternity brothers put up with a lot of problems with me.
I wanted to quit the fraternity because I knew I did not fit in, and not my fraternity brothers would have nothing of it. Even though my contribution to the fraternity, at least in my mind, never went past paying the dues, these guys argued with me, cajoled me, forced me to have a fun time so I would stick with it. My oddities were not ignored by them but encouraged by them. I had a hard time that they not only accepted me as “Josh” but encouraged me to be “Josh”. None of them would let me fail or quit on them. They were an extremely positive influence then and still are ten years removed from college.
Of course I didn’t realize it then. I couldn’t figure out what they saw in the defective gawky guy who couldn’t tell a story that when from point A to point B. My stories, as you can easily tell from reading this go from Point A to Point C with several stops in Points denoted by numbers and scientific symbols. As one of my fraternity brothers said tro be once said “Eventually you get to the main idea but all the information in between is somehow very useful and peritinent, you just sometimes need to wait until later in the story to see how it all gets tied together”
They realized under all the stress and depression and anger there was a good guy, even if he was a complete screw up. It was probably the first time I got positive reinforcement from any people in my life before that point.
The toughest time for me was when I was teaching ESL at Rice University. My co-workers are all brilliant. None of them teach there because it is the only option open to them. Rather they are all there because it is one of the best ESL programs in the country. There was a problem with them being brilliant. I felt more and more dumb. There was not an actual good reason for it. I was treated with respect and friendship by everyone.
The problem came with the daily struggle of feeling like a fake. Here I was with all these accomplished teachers and I didn’t have nearly the qualifications they did. Now logic would have dictated I just take a breath and realize that there was probably a good reason the director hired me. But I always found myself needing to hide the fact that I was not smart. It was odd, they would give me praise and tell me good things about my ideas, and it only made me more self conscious and doubt myself even more. Something didn’t allow me to enjoy the compliments for what they were and I never got the fact that these really smart and amazing teachers considered me a peer.
It wouldn’t be until a few weeks ago that things started to change in my life. I was talking to one of my good friends here in Houston . We were talking about some things in my life and after I mentioned the fact that I was not the world’s brightest bulb on the Christmas tree he looked at me and said “Josh are you kidding me? You are very intelligent. You see things in many different layers, really if anything you are hyper intelligent.”
I had heard that many times in my life but for some reason it stuck. It not only stuck but it was the thread that would desperately call on me to pull on it and unravel it. So I did what anyone else would do. I looked for some mental problem which would give the appearance of intelligence but be in actuality ,stupidity. After all I was still, at the point, the son who was mentally challenged, whose really big ideas were ignored , whose intuition was derided as insulting.
But I couldn’t resist pulling that string. Something compelled me to see what happened if I did. My poor tired brain couldn’t figure out what was wrong because nothing seem to be the right fit. So I wrote an e-mail to my mother and explained the situation. I explained that I knew I was mildly mentally retarted and what not and just wanted to get more information on what the defect was. She called what must have been moments after I sent her that e-mail. She told me not only was I not mentally retarded but the opposite was true. I was smart very very smart.
In the course of that conversation and I experienced a wide range of feelings. Relief that I was not mentally reataded. Confusion why no one had told me (not true upon reflection I had been told many times, I just refused to accept it) happiness, sadness. It was a very deep contrast of emotions in the span of maybe 6 minutes.
As it started to sink in I experienced a lot of emotions. If there is an emotion that has been labeled I experienced it two days ago. I think I may have discovered a few new ones that scientists did not know were possible. I started reading a lot about really smart people and realized a lot of my ways of thinking, ways of thinking I hid because I needed to use them to feel not stupid, were in fact very typical about how smart people think. A lot of the problems in my life especially y with conveying ideas to other people now made sense. All the sudden A LOT made sense.
One of the feelings I felt was anger; Anger towards family members who had treated me like the family idiot. Why hadn’t they told me I was smart? My life would have been a lot different if they had actually told me “Josh you are really really smart.” I might not be the CEO of a company or a political wunderkind but I wouldn’t be writing this blog from a hotel, jobless, nearly broke, with cockroaches and the sound roar of the freeway as my main companions had my father and his family simply chosen other words from the1,013,913 available in the English language then the ones that were chosen.