As a child, I had a love/hate relationship with Thrifty drug store. Mickey Mouse Band-Aids and ice cream? It was the feel-good place of the 80’s. But a high-pitched squeal that haunted every Thrifty-Drug store we visited in the west cut into my ice cream/Band-Aid therapy as soon as I walked in the door. It didn’t seem to bother anyone else, but to me, it quickly led to a headache and left my eardrums thrumming like the leftovers of a rock concert. The fluorescent lights, perhaps?
The ancient TV at home squealed too. But as long as I didn’t sit at a certain few spots in the room, I managed just fine.
Same thing with other sounds, only inconsistently, and smells. During P.E. class, basketball day left me nauseous when the gym filled (at least to my sensitive nose) with the stench of a fifteen or so sweaty basketballs. Some thought I was making it up for attention. Because shy kids do that.
Along with a list of other goodies, people like this are considered HSP or Highly Sensitive People. It’s not a disorder, it’s just a thing. I only recently learned this after discovering about another family member who is an HSP. I thought we were just quirky.
Today, of course, there’s a diagnosis for everything, and the word quirk has gone the way of outhouses. For example, researchers believe grammar-sticklers may actually have OCD.
So I start thinking about my family member and myself, and all those tests they can do with MRIs now—all those people who we thought just had “that way” about them are turning out to have nameable ways of walking through this world. Before you know it, we’ll all be diagnosed with something. But it got me to thinking: Many people with nameable quirks are gifted in some way. Are we looking at diagnoses all wrong?
Are we so focused on trying to be normal that we’re missing the big picture? Let’s walk through this:
We know that many great artists, academics, etc. have struggled with mental illnesses, disorders, syndromes and all sorts of diagnoses. And then there’s the fascinating Synesthesia. Billy Joel, Tori Amos and Vladimir Nabokov are among the many creatives with this condition, as are several of my author acquaintances.
To further my study on this, I found a few videos of struggling people who give clear pictures of what it’s like to walk in their abnormal shoes. One was a Ted talk video of a woman with HSP who called it a gift even though her children had it so severely she had to pull them out of school. Why a gift?
Another is this short video where Frank Stevens, a man with Down Syndrome, defends his value to those who would prefer to end the lives of D.S. babies in utero for failing to be normal. They see him as low-functioning, but I’m sure you’ll see something else when you watch him speak. His achievements, knowledge and willingness to offer his disorder as a means to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, but most of all, his general happiness that’s common with those with D. S. is extraordinary. That’s higher than many people hope to function.
To say normal (or undiagnosed) people don’t have problems would be a blatant lie. Anymore, fewer and fewer of us are found to be what’s considered normal. (Of course, God made sure it was documented long ago:
I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.
You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;
Your works are wonderful;
I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. Ps. 139:14, VOICE)
People need to be able to cope in this world, of course, and thank goodness there are wonderful resources to help.
But should we consider them less valuable? Because as we already know, people who aren’t diagnosed with something (yet) still have problems. So what is value?
Most people want to be happy—there are pills, therapy, articles, books, movies—you name it, that are all involved in making people happier. I believe God has approached this detail in those with Down Syndrome with excellence.
Perhaps when people like Rain Man, Einstein, and Frank Stephens step forward and pull their extraordinary gifts from places illogical, it scares those who can’t see past the quirks.
I believe the beautiful things that come out of our differences are the most valuable things of all, because they touch the very nature of God.
Whether or not more people are discovered to have disorders or nameable things than in the past, or more are just being diagnosed, I wouldn’t worry so much that there are more people with problems because there aren’t—there are just more people with gifts. Maybe God is opening our eyes to see that we all have them.
“You have to dare to be different if you’re ever going to dare to be great.”-Jeffrey Ford (Asberger’s Syndrome)