For the longest time, I’ve tried to adapt to the lack of human connection I’ve had while living in Florida. And for the longest time, I thought it was my “fault.”
Giftedness: The Plexiglas Wall
I had a mostly written blog post about how one of the burdens of being a gifted person is the existential loneliness that comes with not being able to connect with people. But it was the wrong path, for many reasons. So I’m starting afresh.
For one thing, it wasn’t a problem I had as a child, even up until high school. I felt loved by and connected with my friends. Friendship seemed to happen so easily.
But maybe the plexiglas wall of giftedness started to appear in high school, where I really wasn’t connecting with people. Being a teenager is tough anyway–you’re surrounded by people who want you to pledge loyalty while they don’t even know themselves yet.
I was bullied by my own friends near the end of my time there. So after the exclusion and isolation I experienced in high school, I moved over 900 miles away and went to college in Chicago where I found other gifted people.
I felt at home. I felt accepted. The plexiglass wall disappeared It was easy to share big ideas and the idiosyncrasies such as being intense about everything that the mainstream world deemed too weird to accept.
I thought the real world would be like this.
It wasn’t. It was tougher to keep and maintain relationships. Part of that is due to my giftedness, but part of that is what it’s like to be an adult. They don’t teach you how to create lasting friendships in high school and college–which is maybe why networking events feel so forced and inauthentic.
Lately I’ve been saying that I regret not getting my Mrs. degree because it would have been so much easier to find a like-minded man. The way my life transpired, there was no way I could have accomplished this (mainly financial woes and subsequent clinical depression), but I still feel like that.
Churched and Unchurched
During and after college, I belonged to a few faith communities in Chicago (six in over 15 years). But after reading Divided by Faith, I started my exit out of church
The book showed me showed me the toxic stew that I had been slowly boiling in as a black woman and that white evangelicalism had actually been eroding my sense of self for years, even back when I was a teenager.
So I left–and that’s what going to a Baptist church plus reading theology books will do to you. It’s a shift that I’m still getting used to. It’s not easy to just let it all go and to learn how to find friends outside of a church context.
Church has a baked-in social system, as probably most spiritual and faith communities have when you meet regularly together. That was all I knew, from birth until I was in my early 30s. I didn’t have to think about it. Through our faith, we could bond.
But white supremacy never really let that happen. There have been so many crazy episodes with people, mainly and especially in one church, and the real culprit is racism.
And even if it isn’t obtuse and obvious, it’s the subtle edging you out of opportunities, the gradual getting closer to others. It can make you think that it’s something you’re doing wrong.
Around this time, I learned a lot about giftedness from my friend who was in a master’s program for gifted education. I finally understood that my intensity about life wasn’t appreciated outside of my childhood and outside of college.
Before those conversations with my friend, because the church I was attending was so unhealthy and immature and rife with people who just want to get along to get along, I really thought I was going crazy, that there was something clinically wrong with me.
Clearly, all this feedback of rudeness, of attacks, of accusations of being needy and using others–clearly, that was all my fault.
Nope, that was white supremacy, and these incidents all involved white women. I had no problem with black women and other women of color.
So after many close friends moved south and west, I felt like I needed to the same and follow my passion for writing into grad school. It was time for a new scene.
Maybe I could shake up what seemed to be a growing isolation as people started to get married and have children.
A Dream Deferred
Moving to Florida has been the most disappointing and life-changing thing I have ever done. It was the spiritual growth spurt that I clearly needed, and it has come from a fertile yet fetid compost heap of loss.
It’s a story I keep repeating, because it was supposed to be a story of redemption, of triumph–and it is, just not in the way that I expected.
I came looking for a tribe. That’s how grad school is sold–these will be your people, forever and forever.
What I got instead was an education in how my proximity to whiteness was going to be obliterated. Even with the problems I had in church–which may have been the coming attractions for grad school–I thought that being armed with self-knowledge and an open mind would be enough.
Nope. I had never really learned that whiteness and white supremacy really weren’t things to be close to. My assimilation into dominant culture ended when I wasn’t friends with the main clique of my cohort. And then the subsequent ostracization was by my own hand, too–albeit accidentally.
Long story short: I had been blogging about my experiences in becoming a writer. I wrote about my classes and classmates. I posted them in an open Facebook group, which is the stupidest thing to have (ironic sidenote: this was a group of gifted people who seemingly aren’t that smart about basic things like privacy–I’m still kind of mad about this).
Classmates found out, read the hell out of my blog (and as a writer, it’s hard not to be a little proud of that). One wrote me a nasty, sanctimonious Facebook message that, in retrospect, was probably a bit racist.
What a boomerang of a bummer–I was ostracized from my cohort even more than I already was.
All through that excruciating time, Spirit/the Universe/God was speaking loudly through repeated numbers and this crazy twin flame situation with a guy in my program that began my second year (I kind of loathe that term, but that’s exactly what happened).
I can confidently say that I’m on the spiritual journey that I am on now. I know that if things had gone well, I don’t know if I would have reached the spiritual depths that I needed to for healing, for building a new personal foundation.
And even writing about that time, it’s just now dawning on me that I’ve been holding myself back because of the shame. Meanwhile, the same shit I was reporting about, the racism and sexism, mostly continued (though one guy did stop his talking over women!).
Still, all of these people went on with their lives. They weren’t held back by my words. I bet no one really learned anything from my experiences. Some did worse things than me and still enjoyed the fellowship of the cohort.
So why am I holding myself back? Why am I not forgiving myself? Yes, it’s wrapped up in the deferred dream of finding a writing community. That dream endured a painful death, and I’m still grieving it a bit.
Would I have really wanted to have that fellowship, besides how it would have helped academically?
Adventures in Instability
And after grad school, yes–more poverty and isolation along with my last experience in church, which was more of a last-ditch effort to get some help as I slipped into homelessness.
Yet it really drove home that even I go to church and am a member, I had to be at a certain level of stability that being an underemployed writer could not afford me. It even helped to send me into the arms of an abusive church member who raised the rent on me after my first week moving in with her. Even that was more like two friends were tired of me living with them rent-free because before that, I had been bouncing around Airbnb.
It was just domino after domino falling against me: lost thesis advisor, extended semester, lost job, lost home, lost car, couldn’t stay in the choir I was a part of, couldn’t hold onto the friends I made in church and at work.
And this was where my last blog post started, where I was looking back at all the people I had known, wondering why I couldn’t hold onto them.
I do forget about giftedness, about my intensity, about how most people are just not going to get it. I know that I tire most people out with all the thoughts I have, and with the intensity in which I express them.
But wow, I have been through it. And there are waves of self-compassion that have yet to reach my shore. But others, especially this year, have been able to extend life-changing grace, even if it’s just for a moment.
Yet the past still has some things to say.
Last week, this woman I knew in Chicago years, popped up on LinkedIn, hoping to connect. I was so annoyed with her as a person. She was this flaky, overly chatty person that somehow, people found charming.
And, it finally occurred to me that it was probably because she was white.
She and I were in the same Bible study and had the same close friends. She eventually moved away to North Carolina, where she still is–as some insurance person.
I never had really unpacked these feelings of resentment until I thought about this mutual friend we had, this cute ginger allergist, and how they would hang out–and how he and I would not.
I’m usually not “that woman” over men–well, especially lately because the current new cycle is a reminder. But there was a bit of a crush–nothing intense–for both of us, but somehow, he really liked hanging out with her. I was always mystified by the obvious answers evading me.
Why her? Why not me?
I recently vented to a friend about her, even though I thought I was just going to give more details of the subtweets I had made. It was revelatory and liberating.
Even though that has a lot to do with race and bias, it’s along the same lines of my frustration with my inability to authentically connecting with people–and maybe that’s why the now tended-to wound felt so fresh.
It’s like, what do I have to do, who do I have to be to have my human need for connection be met?
Too Broke to Care
With all I’ve gone through just in Florida–the horrible grad school experience, the subsequent poverty, the housing instability with its usurious rents and scary roommates, and the forced journey into freelancing–why can’t I cut myself some damn slack?
There were so many circumstances outside of my control that were not conducive to trying to put roots here, to finding people who made me feel safe, online or offline.
Those circumstances matter.
Even though 2017 hasn’t been that kind–my room flooded, I lost my car again, I am dealing with an inconsiderate housemate, and I have no consistent local friends–I’m now a little more financially stable enough to feel again, and that really only truly started happening in August–through a friend.
And by feel, I mean that I can feel a whole range of emotions besides anxiety and dread.
I can feel angry about a flaky woman who was buddies with someone who had no interest in being buds with me.
I can stop beating myself up for a mistake that happened years ago.
I can allow myself to be sad about a relationship that seems to have stalled or evaporated.
I can also be OK with desiring to have my own community again.
I’m not a social pariah nor undeserving nor too imperfect nor “too much” of anything to be fully emotionally supported by people.
All of that takes energy, even to say that, let alone feel that. When you are too stressed out with trying to work or finding work, your emotional landscape feels like a vacation home instead of your real home. It’s like you’ve shoved yourself into one corner of your being.
It’s easier to blame yourself because it’s easier to fix yourself than a culture that doesn’t really value longevity or discomfort–because for true relationships to thrive for a long time, you can’t avoid the discomfort of being human and fallible.
Happiness Truly Is Other People
I started to crawl out of this hole of self-blame and shame when I read this article from the New York Times, “Happiness Is Other People.”
A friend had shared that link on Twitter, a friend that I had a life-changing tarot reading from, marking a notable shift in my life. So after being caught in a whirlpool of self-doubt, that article was a lifeboat sent to rescue me.
Although it didn’t change my circumstances, it did change my perspective. It’s not that I’m (just) too much or somehow unworthy. American society is isolative and individualistic, and thus, inhumane.
Like me, like so many of us, I had been fighting against this tide. I kept reaching out and losing my grip on the people I cared about.
In the dance of relationship, it always takes two, but so many of us are not ready for that sort of intimacy, for that sort of accountability.
Yet another friend, who has been the MVP in my life lately, reminded me that the path of self-improvement is typically a lonely one, and that people–Americans–are typically self-absorbed or self-involved.
It was a confluence of answers, from three trusted women, all saying to me:
Baby, it’s not you.
All throughout my adult life, I’ve had to cut and run from so many people and places that have been harmful to me. It’s not that I wanted to. But things end, for a number of reasons, including abuse and neglect.
Sometimes, it’s just that people grow up and apart. Sometimes, the long fingers of time start to fray the bonds between us.
And then, we just slip from each other.
So as someone who has lost a lot of connections to others, it always, deep down, made me marvel when spiritual guru types talked about self-love and self-care outside of the realm of “other people.”
Yet, I really tried this approach during grad school, to be self-sustaining–which made it easier to write about all that was going wrong, including about the people who were making it go wrong.
I didn’t feel connected to them. I needed people to help support through grad school, but it wasn’t going to be them–which doubly crushed me.
Self-care itself isn’t about living in a vacuum. When I learned about self-care, it was as a social worker 13 years ago. It was to make sure you were not serving others from an empty well.
I would never choose the path I’m currently on. It is painful and humiliating and lonely a lot of the time.
So I, too, long for comfort and convenience. I’m American, after all.
But really, what I want is a launchpad, a home base–and a people with a shared history.
It helps, oh so much, to have people remind you of where you’ve come from, of where you’re going–especially when you get disoriented and lost in hopelessness and despair.
It’s also about sharing successes. When I got my first real contract as a freelancer, I took myself out to dinner. There was no one to celebrate that win with. There’s no one here who knows all the struggles I went through to get that contract, to get that deposit, to get that work. My self-satisfaction felt empty and hollow without anyone, in person, to reverberate the joy and relief I was feeling.
On a spiritual level, it’s hard to create any sense of roots or stability when everyone is off creating their own inner journeys. As someone who is heavily introverted and reflective, eventually I want to share what I’ve learned and learn from others.
I want to freely share my happiness and sorrow, like I used to.
It’s still tough to fully accept that there isn’t much I can do except to keep looking, to lean more on the spiritual support I have–angels and spirit guides. Eventually, I will find all the people, places, and things I am seeking.
So as much as we try to love our whole selves, I believe it’s impossible to do so.
There are parts of ourselves that we can’t fully see or reach that we must see and reach for others. It’s like washing your back or having to be zipped up in a dress. It’s just so much easier to have someone exfoliate your back, your whole back, or to zip your dress up for you.
If we really didn’t need each other, then I wouldn’t be writing this blog post, and you wouldn’t be reading it.
And, as much shadow work we can do on our own, there is corporate work we must do, to liberate ourselves both individually and collectively.
It can be as simple as sharing a link from the New York Times.
So, as painful and as frustrating as it is, I have to keep reaching out, because that’s what humans do. Humans do need to affirm each other, to give each other approval and support. It’s supported by science.
Sure, I could do bad all by myself, but why should I?
We’re not created to be alone.
Into the Wild and All Alone
Chris McCandless was an adventurer who went into the Alaskan wilderness after college graduation and ended up dying alone in a rusted school bus. He wrote this in a book near his death:
happiness only real when shared
He also underlined this part of Dr. Zhivago:
And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness…
Of course, so many people think his free-spirtedness is a source of inspiration. But he did eventually want to go back to civilization after being out in the Alaskan bush for almost 4 months by himself.
I don’t think McCandless was wayward, either. Who knows what was really in his mind besides the journals he had. He had barely lived at age 24. It’s been 25 years since his death.
What haunts me about the movie, Into the Wild, and his life is that he had to go to the edge of nothing and everything to find that he really did need people. Maybe that’s being too reductionist or essentialist. Bu it saddens me that he died so tragically to find an answer he didn’t have to leave the world behind to find.
So that’s where I am, where I always was. I could go off into the world alone to find new adventures and people and places and things, but what’s the point of it outside of my own self-satisfaction? It’s so much richer to have those experiences shared with people who I love and who love me.
I won’t be ashamed for being a social animal. I won’t be ashamed for wanting connection.
I won’t be ashamed for reaching out.