Jennifer Harvey Sallin (Switzerland). On "Nowhere Floating."
Have you ever seen that photo, the one of the astronaut in a spacesuit just floating completely alone in space? That feels, at times, like an accurate self-portrait of my intellectual experience. I admit this has become less the case since I a) realized I’m profoundly gifted and b) figured out how to use my gifts to connect back to other humans.
But before you feel relief and think,ah, well, good for her, now she belongs somewhere, I should mention two things: 1) It’s still not easy for me to communicate with my own metaphoric “earth”, and 2) I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be free-floating and feeling like even the “earth” isn’t there at all. Sometimes point number one triggers point number two, and I feel that floatiness again. At those times I still -- at the age of 42 -- feel existentially freaked out, in a sort of black hole of dread, and I can’t help tears welling up in my eyes. While dissociative techniques used to help me cope with the sense of utter disconnection, over the years, I have learned to come back into my body and to comfort whatever feelings it is holding onto related to the floating in the middle of nowhere.
But why floating? And why in the middle of nowhere? What’s profound giftedness have to do with that? Well, for some profoundly gifted people who are lucky enough to grow up around other profoundly gifted people, they might have had limited experiences of this extreme Nowhere Floating. But for me and for many others who did not grow up with profoundly gifted peers, this Nowhere Floating can feel like the dominant or at least a very frequent life (i.e. social) experience.
It’s because people often don’t have a clue what I’m thinking, and even if I try to tell them, they still don’t have a clue. I can get closer to earth if I simplify what I’m saying, which usually means cutting out huge parts of what I’m thinking - but ok, all forms and scales of communication are valid. The problem is that to get to the ground, I have to simplify myself so much that I can no longer remember who I am or whether I even exist. No One Being (i.e. having myself not feel real) is perhaps a worse torture than Nowhere Floating (i.e. having my context not feel real), so I always find myself coming back to the floating if I have to choose between the two. My life has been a ping-pong between the extremes
That said, I don’t want you to be thinkingoh, poor soul, she’s damned forever.Once I’ve been able to reconnect to “earth” close enough -- through understanding myself and others -- but not so close that I lose myself, I’ve come to enjoy the strange and mystical views I’m lucky enough to see from “up here” and on the journey back and forth.
I’ve worked as a psychologist long enough to know that none of our lives is perfect, gifted or not. We all inhabit contradictions that can make us feel like different parts of ourselves are existentially irreconcilable to one another. And yet we’re still alive, living all those parts and experiences. The most important way we can support ourselves and each other is by seeing and holding those apparent contradictions and knowing they are parts of the whole self.
I guess that’s harder for many to see in me, because they’ve never been to where I inhabit in space, don’t want to go there even if they could (believe me, many people tell me this regularly), and so have trouble even imagining it or believing it exists. For them, we could say that “seeing” and holding my experience of life is like trusting that quantum phenomena exist. I’m sort of a wave (the travelling aspect) and a particle (up here or down there), all at once and on a scale most people don’t see with their eyes. When others understand and welcome that as a mystery to be respected and valued on its own terms, I have felt “seen” and like I matter (i.e. I exist, I am matter), even if I know they’ll never be taking the journey with me. In that sense, I can relate to others, too, understanding they have their own more local version of the wave-particle experience of life, on a scale which is not accessible to me because of, well, my scale.
And you know, every once in a while, I see another astronaut floating out here or travelling back and forth, like me. Whenever I do, I know that, ultimately, I’m not really alone.
Jennifer Harvey Sallin is a licensed psychologist and professional coach. She is the Founding Director at InterGifted. Her work is focused on psychology-informed personal development for Gifted Adults (adults with high intelligence). She also focuses on climate psychology and leadership, recognizing the urgent need for climate action. She believes our heightened psychological awareness, courage and resilience are the foundation of effective, timely climate change.