Intelligence & Intellect

Thursday night I informed my parents that I wanted to make a new start at university, which went better than expected. My mother stressed that I had to get my act together this time around, but the conversation wasn’t unpleasant.
It was one of the few times when my therapist had actually told me what to do: “You need to talk to your parents, soon.” I had been afraid of doing so, mainly because I’m prone to worst-case-fantasies and after a while I can’t tell anymore what’s a realistic expectation and what’s just exaggerating imagination. The biggest problems (by far) in the equation are money or related to money: how everything’s going to be financed and whether I’ll be able to still get a job after all those years. I am going to try applying for a student loan; I don’t like the idea of accumulating debts, but on the other hand it would mean a stable “income” and I could concentrate on the actual classes.

The anxiety is finally gone. I still feel nervous about my cognitive deficits, but try to tell myself that at a time when the depression was not quite as pronounced, I had no problem handling the intellectual part of university.
The irony of it is that I grew up being told how intelligent or smart I am, but instead of becoming convinced that this is true, I live in constant fear that some day people will find out that in fact I am not nearly as intelligent at all and it was just a huge misunderstanding… It might just be a manifestation of chronically low self-esteem, coupled with what I experienced when I was at the absolutely lowest and my concentration was so poor that I could hardly read two lines from a text. The letters would start dancing before my eyes, flowing into unintelligible gibberish.
The topic came up in session and my therapist told me that he had gotten to know me as an intelligent person. “Did anybody ever tell you?” – “Quite a lot of people told me, actually,” I replied, “But… well….” He asked me to guess how many out of his CBASP patients had been able to do a situational analysis alone on the flip chart after a comparable number of therapy sessions, with hardly any help or correction from him, as I had the week before. I was clueless. “None,” he said; then, after a second’s reflection, “No, you are the only one.” He explained that even though a considerable number of his patients with chronic depression were highly intelligent people, I was the first to take the knowledge and transfer it that quickly.

Rationally I know that my intellectual capacities used to be above average, and I also know that I am not the smartest person alive – not even the smartest person I know.
There are three aspects I worry about: first, depression changes the cerebral structure and I worry that the last years, when I had more symptoms over a longer time than before, “damaged” my brain so much that it will never fully recover.
One problem lies on the side of perfectionism, because less than excellent results would feel like a failure in the past. So, I don’t wonder if I’ll manage to pass exams, but I worry if I’ll be able to get good enough grades to not make me feel disappointed in myself.
The last aspect is whether I’ll be able to control my nerves in exam situations, because it has happened that I got so nervous that there was nothing but “white noise” in my brain, like a temporary amnesia – I literally couldn’t remember anything, even though I knew it was somewhere in my brain. My therapist explained to me that this happens when your brain is too busy with too many different things at once: if you are sitting an exam and suffer an anxiety attack at the same time, the brain will eventually tend to the anxiety only and neglect everything else, because the anxiety starts a lot of instinctive reactions in the body. Instincts, however, always have priority.

Yet, a part of me is also looking forward to studying again; happy that I get a second chance at higher education and doing what I used to love so much when I was younger. There is a little glitter of hope on the horizon.


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