At nine years old, I wouldn’t walk into supermarkets; I would fly. I would grip the cool metal handles of the towering shopping carts with my childishly hot hands and push off with one foot, propelling myself into infinity. The only thing that could bring me back to earth were my mother’s disapproving looks and barely successful attempts to make me “Slow down!” or “Come back here” since I might “plow into someone.”
At school, the poster-plastered walls seemed to close in after long days, edging closer and closer until I felt energy-induced claustrophobia creeping up my spine. The blue and green and yellow of the carpet and walls and finger paintings tumbled and blurred as I turned myself upside down and shifted my weight onto my surprisingly steady palms. “No handstands in the classroom!” my teacher would admonish, kneeling beside me and gently lowering me to the floor, afraid my precarious center of gravity would soon destabilize. “You have to learn to stay seated.” To little me, this seemed just too much to ask; sitting down for such long periods seemed a feat only someone as grown up as she could accomplish.
It wasn’t long before my teachers started making other comments. Soon it wasn’t just “You need to learn to stay seated,” but things like “Paige is slightly immature and behind the other children socially” and “Maybe you should consider keeping Paige back a grade so she has time to mature and settle down.”
My mother knew she had to do something. Suddenly I was sitting in an over-air-conditioned room with a smiling lady who showed me flashcards of dogs and fire trucks and houses, and prompted me to repeat as many as I could remember. She gave me different samples of sounds, testing how long I could remain focused on the voice crackling through the recorder. I was too young to know that she was testing my attention span and mannerisms for ADHD.
After I was positively diagnosed, my mother enrolled me in gymnastics to address my overabundant energy. I was mesmerized by the many ways I could contort my body and the countless flips I could execute in midair. The possibility of moving into the advanced group with the older girls motivated me to spend my boundless energy tumbling and balancing in the gym, instead of sprinting and rolling in the supermarket.
I soon realized that this solution could be applied to other areas of my life – even those that weren’t physical. After all, I didn’t merely have an excess of physical energy, but mental energy as well. The world seemed to me an incredibly complicated tapestry, and I wanted to unravel its mysteries thread by thread.
When I was 10 years old, my brother introduced me to the wonderful world of the fiction novel. From that day on, I was hooked. Stories of vampires and werewolves and witches and warlocks from other worlds swirled in my mind; I constantly had my head in a book.
To this day, I continue burning my mental energy on novels, although my tastes have transitioned from teen fiction to classics like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
But merely reading words on a page wasn’t enough. Somewhere inside me, I had created my own worlds, unbeknownst to my conscious mind. The day that my hand picked up a pen and put it to paper remains blurry in my memory; it is almost as though it happened of its own volition. I soon became addicted to the beauty of the English language, to the way hard consonants could be combined to elicit a sense of urgency and anger in a reader, and the way liquid consonants could be melded to coax out a sense of calm and happiness.
High school came speeding toward me like a freight train, and instead of fully embracing the four years to come, I felt my excess energy – whether it be physical, creative, or inquisitive – made me different from everyone else. I was that teenager who pored over classic literature and wrote poetry for fun.
The summer of eleventh grade, fate brought me to the moment when I discovered I was not alone in these pursuits. It was the first hot summer night of the Iowa Young Writer’s Workshop, and listening and observing the other teens around me, I felt the sense that I’d arrived at my intellectual home. Here were peers whose minds were always buzzing and whose hearts were always open. They were propelled by the same abounding energy that I was. They too understood the law of physics stating that energy could neither be created nor destroyed, only changed. And they, like me, had chosen to channel it into something positive.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.