By Kristy Peloquin.
Lightning. Deserts. Volcanoes. Hurricanes. Quiet, reflective ponds. Wind-torn clouds in a cerulean blue sky. Struggle. Tempestuousness. Fiery curiosity. A relentless need to know. Depths of despair. Heights of grandeur. This is the landscape living inside of me on any given day.
It’s not that other people don’t also have these landscapes within. Of course we all have ranges of emotion, personality, intellect, and wiring. But life has made it clear to me over and over that there is something about the way I, and folks like me, inhabit this world that is perplexingly, frustratingly, beautifully not in the main.
Is it a difference worth focusing on? Shouldn’t I be more focused on what unites us as humans rather than what divides us? My mind circles these questions often, but for a moment – let’s say that the differences are worth focusing on. I have a feeling that the differences are, in fact, a way of connecting to the greater whole. We can say, “This is what it looks like from where I am. How does it look from where you are?” and together we can place our puzzle pieces into the picture of what it means to be human.
My puzzle piece has the word “gifted” on it. I am never sure what I think of the word “gifted” or which definition of it is the one I like the best. When I’ve tried to talk about being a gifted adult in the past, the responses range from groans to eye rolls to curiosity to anger . . . and even to a woman who told me flat out that she didn’t think that being gifted existed or another who told me I was probably bi-polar or had ADHD--these latter diagnoses seeming to be preferable to the g-word. In the end, these responses have made me cautious about using the label “gifted” in very many contexts. At the same time, though, it’s helpful to me personally to have a way to talk about what I perceive to be a part of my truth, so I want to share the view from where I am in case others find it helpful as well.
I am gifted – and that means my landscape inside is one of intensities. My particular set of intensities tends most often to look like this: I am going supernova, I am going to war, or I am going to live with the elves.
Some years ago, when I was having trouble, yet again, at a job, I got a tremendous piece of advice from a close friend. I had just finished telling him about how I had done this big thing and that big thing, a whole bunch of big things all in row in one week at work, but that I now felt very down--as if none of it mattered because all I had gotten for my troubles was an admonition from my boss to “stop overachieving.” The words had shaken me to my core. I did not see myself as an overachiever. I saw myself as having fun, working hard, solving problems; and I wanted my boss to see this too, rather than an issue that needed to be addressed. I felt completely unseen and defeated.
After relaying the whole story to my friend, he shook his head, smiled, and said, “You gotta know when and where to go supernova. You gotta find the right moment, the right place, the right people, and then you go for it and let your light shine so brightly in the sky that it changes the world around you.”
At first, I hated this advice. My thoughts were something along the lines of a fuming middle-schooler: “Don’t tell me not to supernova. I’ll supernova all day every day all over the place if I want to. What’s wrong with supernova-ing?”
But then, I started to see that his advice was on point. Going supernova, having moments of intense intellectual and creative output, were, in the context of that job, wearing people out. When I was very honest with myself, I had to admit a couple of things: 1) It wasn’t likely that I was going to stop having supernova moments because that did not feel like something I could squish without also dying emotionally somehow, and 2) If that was going to be true, I needed to find both a way to focus my supernova-ing and a context where I could supernova in ways that worked with my environment and the people in it rather than against them.
It took some practice to get to know myself as a supernova-ing human, and I still sometimes don’t quite get the timing or the context right – but a lot of times I do, and when I do, there is an exquisite synergy with the people around me and an other-worldly feeling of joy within.
Going to War
“Fortunately, I happen to be rebellious in nature…” – Amy Tan, Mother Tongue
Another part of my landscape is a tendency to “go to war,” as I call it. It’s the powerful, gravitational pull I feel towards standing up for the oppressed, pointing out injustices, drawing attention to ethical issues, shining a light on frailties in our society, etc. These are incredibly intense moments of righteous indignation and fiery, passionate marches into fighting the system--whatever the system might look like at the time.
When I was younger, this manifested as epic teenage rebellion against the religion in which I was raised. Later in life, going to war meant being disruptive in my college classes, challenging my teachers and other students, and eventually, after entering the workforce, even whistleblowing on an issue at my government job.
It took me a long time to see, and even longer to love, the going to war part of myself. When I was in it--feeling emotions, sorting through arguments, researching solutions, devising plans--I couldn’t see that the very act of sensing the issue and fighting for the cause was an aspect of myself. That other people didn’t feel as passionate, weren’t as mad, weren’t as willing to challenge the system was hurtful and bizarre to me; and for a long time, I felt extremely lonely with all my crusades.
After enough wars, enough loneliness and exhaustion, I finally started to see that yes, there are a lot of problems in the world; and yes, I would probably never stop feeling them all as a personal call to action because my wiring makes me feel, see, understand, want to save, want to fix. But I needed to find a way to hone this particular part of myself. To this day, my rebellious nature needs focus. It’s an impulse I am constantly in touch with. I still go to war, but I am much choosier about what wars, when, and how I fight them.
Going to Live with the Elves
The last piece of my landscape I want to share is one that is tough to articulate, so let’s talk about Lord of the Rings instead.
At the end of the film version of Lord of the Rings, the hero Frodo, having just completed his perilous mission to save the world, stands on the shore of a river near his home. Behind him, the elves who aided his journey are departing in boats back to their land. In front of him, his best friend beckons him to stay, to return to The Shire with him and enjoy the good life. However, having seen too much, having been through too many trials and now bearing the weight of them in his soul, Frodo announces to his best friend that he will not be able to return to The Shire. He will, instead, go live with the elves in the Undying Lands.
This is a scene to which I have always been deeply drawn. Going to live with the elves is, it seems to me, a lovely expression for the need to go to a place where I can peer into the abyss, engage deeply with things I need to explore or process – creative ideas, spiritual questions, trauma, grief, beauty.
Going to live with the elves is more than simply feeling introverted. It’s about disconnecting in order to connect, switching from engaging some parts of the world in order to engage other parts. Sometimes it means not talking to people for a few days. Sometimes it’s about going somewhere in my thoughts so that I appear “lost in thought” or unengaged in matters of the present. Other times, it’s a literal disconnect from ordinary life in the form of a road trip, retreat to nature, or shutting the door to my room and hanging a “do not disturb” sign on it so I can deep dive into making art or writing.
As an aside, I completely understand how difficult actually doing this can be. It is not an easy feat in the constantly connected world in which we live and have families, jobs, and responsibilities. I also do not see it, for me at least, as a luxury – rather, it is a necessity. In my life, disconnecting has had to take many forms, has had to be squirrelled away in many nooks and crannies--its value being so high that occasionally my rebellious side kicks in and demands that I re-evaluate what I think of as true so that I can find a “truth” about my life that includes the ability to go live with the elves.
However it looks, the disconnecting part of the equation is essential. To reach the land of the elves, travel is required. Going there, engaging the strangeness of life, processing the hard stuff, reveling in the good stuff, having uninterrupted, extended time to be, think, meet, and explore is healthy, especially for the sensitive, gifted, creative, deep divers.
It is also, in the end, how I find my way back home.