I hate being called smart. Not because I believe it’s false, not out any sort of modesty, but because of what usually follows. Because usually when someone is saying I’m smart, or observing just how smart I am, it’s usually followed by one of two things — how I’m squandering my potential, or their jealousy because they want to feel smarter than me.
I was the gifted child. The one who read above her grade level, who took to things easily, who could come up with the clever ideas. I was the one the straight A students wanted in their lab group in high school, but didn’t have the time of the day for me outside of class. But my grades were always on the brink of failing or only just passing. I didn’t want to pay attention in class, I didn’t bother to study for tests. Why wasn’t I trying?
In elementary school, I was singled out for a special class. I was told it was an advanced class, and it meant I got to leave my regular class and go to another class room for specialized lessons with a few other students. That didn’t last long, and no one ever told me why at the time. Years later, my mother commented on it, implying she felt it would have been a hindrance to me—that it was for students with special needs—so she’d fought it tooth and nail with the school administration. I still wonder what might have happened if I’d been allowed to continue with those lessons.
Homework was always a fight — more often than not it felt like busy work and I couldn’t find anything helpful about it. So I just didn’t do it. Well into high school, I didn’t bother to study and did well enough on tests without the need to. And when I finally started to hit subjects that didn’t come easily to me? I had never learned how to study, because no one bothered to ask why I wasn’t doing my homework, they’d just get angry. At home it was always “get your homework done or you can’t…” and I’d just spend all night staring at homework and hiding in my room. At school, teachers would talk to me bewildered that I was getting such good scores on tests, contributing well to class discussions, but I was constantly just not turning in homework and my grades were always on the brink of failure.
A couple of my teachers were cool about it, a couple of my favorites in fact. My German teacher would let you write in your answers during in class discussion when the homework was due, and you’d at least get partial credit. There’s something to be said about learning through repetition, and writing down the answers was better study than just not doing the homework. And then there was my scifi/fantasy lit teacher. You could literally turn in any assignment as late as the last day of the semester, and he had a sliding scale on how much credit you lost depending on how late it was — the highest you could get was a C for a perfect paper once you reached a certain point. This was a large weight on him, especially since all his tests were essay tests, and he’d have those to grade at the same time as all this late partial credit work.
As I moved into the world beyond school, things only got worse. I attempted classes at the local community college, and when I encountered a lot of frustrations, I threw my hands up and gave up on it. My dad threatened to start charging me rent if I didn’t go back to school, and that backfired on both of us because I said fuck it and started paying him rent when I’m pretty sure his goal had been to get me to engage with college.
I spent years working retail, which was a maddening meat grinder. Managers under pressure to meet utterly unreasonable goals set for the enrichment of the company shareholders, a lot of them highly unqualified to be leading people because the ones who are qualified usually either languish at the lower levels of the pecking order because they can’t ‘yes sir’ well enough, or quickly move onto better paying jobs that are less meat grinder. Those of us who make the mistake of showing any sort of potential, without the follow through to either get the fuck out or claw our way up to management, get taken advantage of. After my first manager, who was an amazing and caring woman, got the fuck out of the store and moved onto better things, I worked for a series of men who were always happy to sing my praise until I pushed back or had a bad day. Then they’d come down on me like the hellfire of a million suns.
Even though you could probably start to pick out the signs of ADHD as far back as elementary school, the difference in how girls are socialized and how it manifests, meant that even I hadn’t been aware something was different about me. I just thought I was being stubborn and lazy, because that’s what the parents and later authority figures told me. Retail is such a high stress environment, especially the further and further we work our way towards this pending collapse of capitalism, I just assumed that I wasn’t cut out for the work. Even when I actually knew my shit, I was good at what I did, but I couldn’t measure up.
My first job was at Radio Shack, and I lost count of the number of times I had customers talk down to me when they didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about, turn to coworkers who knew less than me, and then had to watch as said coworker had to turn to me to ask me to answer the question. But I was a bad employee because my dollar per ticket wasn’t high enough, I didn’t sell enough of the bullshit extended warranties (they weren’t worth it on anything other than headphones, tbh), I didn’t attach enough accessories when I sold cell phones… never mind that half my shift would be spent supporting my coworkers when the customers would go to them instead of me because my boobs apparently meant I couldn’t know about computers and patch cables and batteries and shit. Then when I moved to OfficeMax, my background in all that shit helped me be one of the best sales people with the office equipment, but again, I’d end up helping coworkers and my numbers would suffer, or I’d be given special tasks (like setting up the ad every week) but still be held to the same sales expectations as my coworkers who didn’t have to do this shit too.
When I finally got out of retail, it was such a fucking relief, and I thought all my problems would go away. And for a while it felt like they had, because I was still running on the high stress mode that retail had put me into, so I was expending twice the energy I should have to in order to compensate for all the things I could never get right. Eventually though, shit went south with that job too. I would lose focus on shit, fail to remember to do small tasks that should have been easy to remember, having to constantly write shit down or I’d forget. I’d get yelled at when the printers fucked up, even if they were repeating issues that Xerox continued to fail to fix, because I was supposed to be watching every fucking print that came off the machine while running multiple machines at once. Like, seriously? This really became a problem when the machines started getting fast enough that if I loaded enough paper for a job, started it, and turned to another machine, I could have fifty or more double sided color prints that were bad just in the time it took me to set up the second machine to start running and get the first proof off it.
Bonus round was when a coworker was harassing me, I went to the bosses about it, and I got blown off. I was told by one that ‘everyone has their issues’ and he proceeded to compare my leaving the shop silently at the end of the day, instead of saying goodbye, to the coworker’s harassment. The other boss told me that coworker just wanted to be my friend, and got pissed when I called him on that bullshit — because telling a woman that a man harassing her just wants to be her friend, and she should give him a chance is exactly that, sexist shit. I’m still not sure if either of them realized that was the final straw on my relationship with them. If I’d been in the mental state necessary to really effectively job hunt, and if there was a market that actually would pay a woman without a college degree anything resembling a living wage, I would have been long gone from the place by then. But the fucking cherry on top with that shit? They ended up firing the coworker a few months later, over other issues, and after he’d been gone for a while, one of them commented they wish they’d known sooner about coworker’s problems… then was bewildered when I stomped the fuck out of the room without saying a word. Yeah.
They sold off the business and retired a year ago, and the new boss is around my age. So far he seems to be fairly understanding who I am, and how my brain works. So work’s been a better place for me, even as we all have growing pains from his having to learn the ropes and everyone adjusting to the changes. But he and I sat down for my year end review… and he dropped that smart bomb on me — “You’re probably the smartest person here” is what he said to me, then proceeded to point out my failing to live up to my potential. And I voiced my concern over that pattern because of all the shit I laid out in this blog post… but I couldn’t really drop all that in the meeting, so I glossed over it and gave him the tl;dr instead. I’m not sure if he fully understood the depth of my concern. So, we’ll see how this plays out.
All this ranting to say, I really am starting to think I’m ADHD. I read people talk about it, and I go ‘that sounds like me!’ But they also talk about how hard it is to get a diagnosis as both an adult and a woman, and I already have enough issues following through on shit, especially medical shit I know I need to handle. So, I’m like… self medicate with caffeine and use the fuck out of reminders and timers on my phone, and hope for the best. Yay team. >.>