10 October, 2022 Aurélie Salvaire

During the last months, I have decided to engage in a full neuro-psychological analysis, including tests about cognitive, social, sensorial and emotional abilities.

The result being that I have been officially assessed neurodiverse, my cognitive profile highlighting the presence of a High Intellectual Potential. HIP refers to anybody with an IQ superior to 130 and represents around 2% of the population.

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This “giftedness” has pros and cons.

On the bright side, it means that I have a brain that works extremely fast without being aware of it, that I thrive with multitasking, new projects and challenges, that I have a powerful memory, over efficient language skills and reasoning (which explains a lot of my work in writing, storytelling and public speaking), a high sensitivity to others’ emotions and feelings, an important level of empathy and a high speed of information, a superior intellectual efficiency and very high curiosity or craving for knowledge, a strong sensory sensitivity (noises, cold weather, clothes labels or scratchy fabrics…) and a heightened creativity, focus, and innovation.

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On the less bright side, it means that I am subject to higher stress and anxiety, that I have a low inhibition and a high impulsivity, that my high rhythm makes me often impatient and less adapted to the general rhythm of processes and people, that I have to make extra efforts to regulate my emotions which are deeply affected by my environment, that I often have the feeling that I don’t fit in, that I feel extremely bored when my intellect is not stimulated and that this boredom leads very quickly to sadness and depression, that I have difficulty to manage frustrations, that I can be hyperactive and restless sometimes driving myself to exhaustion.

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HPI is mostly linked to genetic and biological factors. And a part of me thinks that my mum was probably an HPI herself. Yet, since the majority of research on neurodevelopmental conditions like autism and ADHD has been focused on boys and men, women are often overlooked. Misdiagnosed as anxious, depressed, or simply “sensitive,” many women don’t learn about their neurological differences until they are adults.

HPI people are neurodiverse. Neurodiversity entails people who have a different brain functioning and also covers people with ADHD (5% of the population), people with autism or Asperger syndrome (1% of the population), people with dyslexia or Tourette, Highly Sensitive People and many more…

In total, 10-15% of people around the world are neurodiverse.

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 Neurodiversity is also highly linked with mental health as there is a higher propensity to experience depression, anxiety and stress.

Neurodiversity is finally connected to gender. Gender identities that differ from biological sex (non-cisgender identities) appear to be more common in autism and neurodiversity.


In her book Divergent Mind, Jenara Nerenberg explains how many women realize later in life that their mental-health challenges had been rooted in unrecognized attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism.

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The result, Nerenberg suggests, is a “lost generation” of women, riddled with shame and low self-esteem, who “have no name for their life experiences and feelings.” With her new book Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You, Nerenberg hopes to empower “women who have a deep sense that they are ‘different’ from the norm but would never in a million years think they ‘have’ ADHD, Asperger’s, and some other neurodivergent trait.”

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This means that so many smart, sensitive and gifted women, limited by patriarchy to the boring routine of household management, have fell into depression and died. It means that so many smart, sensitive and gifted women have been called crazy and locked up or drugged.

Neurodiversity is part of the efforts of Diversity and Inclusion, as much as gender, race, religion, social class, physical ability or age.

 My journey to this diagnosis has started in December 2019, in Toulouse, in a professional event where another HPI, facilitator and clown, told me: “I am sure you are one too”. Neurodiverse people tend to spot each other. Intrigued by this conversation, I started reading on the topic, books such as “Je pense trop” from Christel Petitcollin or “Asperger et fière de l’être” from Alexandra Reynaud.

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I started to recognize myself in those books. It made sense. I never thought of myself as a specifically gifted person. It had always been easy for me to learn, to study and to perform so this easiness made it natural, organic. I thought it was pretty similar for most of us.

Also because after not fitting in too much during my childhood, I progressively created an environment of similar souls, hypersensitive, restless and craving for justice.

In 2021, I decided to pursue a professional diagnosis with different psychologists in Spain and in France. The result is not really a surprise to me, but it explains a lot of things…

It’s been the difficulty to find a job environment where I thrive instead of mutilating parts of my soul to fit in, it’s been the deep research of meaning and especially professional meaning throughout my entire life, it’s been being bored to death in so many low stimulating environments, being deemed self-centered and not enough empathetic by friends or colleagues when I could not understand why they could not handle a complex situation, it’s been being fired for challenging the norms, feeling depressed for sensing that my potential was wasted and squandered, having existential crisis every six months.

It’s been feeling lonely so many times, struggling to find a romantic partner that could keep up with my pace, feeling that I annoy my entourage with my existential questions, it’s been dealing with constant emotional ups and downs, joy and enthusiasm but also deep sadness, loneliness and sometimes even suicidal thoughts.

It’s been recognizing myself in some of the traits of Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, it’s been people telling me that I have a very strong energy, family members being overwhelmed by the books, articles, podcasts recommendations I send them when this rhythm of knowledge absorption feels perfectly normal to me, it’s been being able to improvise very easily, to train or speak in public with very short notice without any problem, thriving when a challenge requires to mobilize my brain at a high efficiency level.

It’s been never understanding why we need to live in ONE place and have ONE career, It’s been being a “multipotentialite” or slasher and thriving with different projects and sources of income at the same time, it’s been engaging in unbalanced relationships where my empathy and deep listening skills for my partner’s stories and traumas were hardly matched in return.

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It’s been asking the waiters to turn the music down or leaving a shop because of the blasting noise, it’s been implementing a project or an initiative two minutes after having had the idea of it, it’s been sending emails without requesting previous authorization, it’s been disobeying rules I deem stupid or useless, it’s been feeling deeply hurt by injustice.

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It’s been feeling strongly depressed when the weather is cold and humid, when there is no light or sunshine for a few days, it’s been feeling sad when staying in an accommodation with no heating or cosy decoration, it’s been feeling deeply lonely after spending one or 2 days on my own, it’s being totally bored in meetings who could be summarized in an email, having no patience listening to people who do not go straight to the point, it’s been not sleeping at night after a conflict with friends or colleagues, it’s been struggling to find THE right career path before acknowledging I would have to create my own, it’s been not studying medicine when after a hospital internship I understood at 14 I would be too deeply moved by my patients diseases or deaths.

Image source: https://www.theminiadhdcoach.com

It’s been being rejected by some romantic partners for being perceived as needy and overwhelming when HPI crave for deep emotional connexions, it’s been understanding from a very young age what my parents were feeling or needed and sometimes acting as an adult or a therapist when I shouldn’t have, it’s being able to pinpoint instinctively the defining moment in my interlocutor’s life story, it’s been annoying my boss because I quickly end up telling him/her what they have to do, not out of arrogance but because it seems obvious to me and I think it would be beneficial to the organization, it’s been losing jobs or clients for being blunt and honest, for not aligning, complying or being silent enough.

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It’s been writing my personal blogs in one go as if they were writing themselves organically in my head and flowing naturally from there, it’s been feeling bad for not being able to settle down, being labeled an eternally unsatisfied person by friends or boyfriends, a greedy and unstable one by colleagues, it’s been people reproaching me that I go too fast, that I give them the answer before having listened to the whole question, that I am too unsettled and emotional.

It’s been neurotypical colleagues being afraid of my hyperactivity, feeling threatened by my rhythm or considering that I am dispersing myself when for me everything is actually clearly connected with the higher purpose, it’s hearing all my life “You ask yourself too many questions! Stop thinking! Don’t worry! You take everything too personal!” as if I could do something about it, it’s been losing friends or boyfriends for being too much, for wanting more, all the time.

And so many more things that I haven’t identified yet…

But I guess that at 42, it is easier to accept yourself for who you are. My goal now is to understand even better this topic of neurodiversity and to connect with other people who have also felt as the odd one out for so long.

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Because this is part of changing the narrative about being sensitive, about being a smart woman with emotional needs and the will to carve a path of her own, about challenging mental health stigma and about celebrating our unique gifts in a truly inclusive society.

So if you have a HIP in your team, remember:

  • he or she is not here to take your place! HIP individuals want to work well and fast, and they will have multiple ideas to improve quality and productivity. Their satisfaction lies in seeing the results of the ideas they are behind.
  • They are curious, eager to learn and want to share. They need to have several things to do at the same time and are generally hyper-efficient when working on things they are comfortable and interested in. They reason extremely quickly because they are unconsciously establishing links between all the elements of a problem. They do not always know how to give a linear explanation about how they achieve their results. This means that they may sometimes not be taken seriously. However, most of the time, they have the correct solution long before everyone else.
  • If you are ready to accept that the HIP member of your team is more advanced than you are in some aspects of your work, you will be able to put their capacities to the service of the entire team you both belong to.
  • If you have open-minded discussions with them and take account of their ideas, even the ones that seem completely out of the box, you might be pleasantly surprised!