No Longer the Smartest Kid in the Room

buffalorenoir

The most blissful moment of my life was near the end of my freshman year, when my high school gave out awards for academic excellence. I won honors in three subjects—I was most proud of the English honors—and then took the cake overall: I had the highest GPA in my grade. Walking down from the bleachers, being watched by everyone, wearing a pretty dress picked out for the occasion—it was a perfect experience. Before I accepted the medal and shook hands with the principal, I thought, “This is the best I’ve ever felt.”

I felt completely validated by the external measure of accomplishment. Being best in my class bolstered my sense of self-worth. That was the pinnacle; sophomore year I had the second highest GPA, junior year, the third highest. I left high school early to go to Reed College, but once there, found I had no coping mechanisms for not being the smartest kid in the room. My classes were interesting, but I was overwhelmed and unable to cope with the amount of reading assigned. I had a nervous breakdown. I left Reed. I dabbled in community college for a bit, but after a year I dropped out altogether. Of course, too much homework wasn’t the root of my problems; the real issue was clinical depression (for which I am thankfully now medicated and therapized). Without academic success I didn’t feel anchored. (read more…)