Hyper. I remember first hearing myself described that way by a girl I went out with when I was a junior in college in Philadelphia. Now keep in mind that I was not exactly a stud or whatever the prevailing term was then. Plus I was quite young, not even 20. The girl was a student nurse and they had a reputation for being, well, you know, interested in possibly going beyond talking and even the goodnight kiss.
I wasn’t a superb physical specimen back then (not having the Adonis-like body I do today), but I knew that what I did have going for me was a certain degree of intelligence and a good sense of humor. So I did what I figured I was best at: I talked. I can’t remember what I talked about (this was, after all, nearly 50 years ago), but I am sure that I was about as fascinating as any guy she had ever gone out with.
I talked and I talked, and I thought about how much she must be enjoying it, and couldn’t wait for her to say something like, “Oooo, Mark, you are so intelligent and so funny; I can’t wait to take you home to meet my parents.”
But that is not what she said. What she said — and when you remember something someone said from 50 years ago, it’s because it makes a difference in your life — was, “You know, you are really hyper.”
Hyper? I had never heard this term applied to me before, nor had I heard it much, period, but I knew immediately what it meant. And it didn’t sound so good. It wasn’t “brilliant” or “gifted” or “hysterically funny” or “sexy beyond my wildest dreams.” It was hyper. And on top of that, this was a student nurse, who knew something about medicine and diagnoses.
I can’t remember what I said in response, but it was probably something like this: “Hyper? How can you say that? I’m not hyper. Sure, I may talk a lot and I talk fast, but, hey, I’m from New York and that’s how people talk up there and no one ever said I was hyper before, and I know I should stop talking now, but I can’t because once I start it’s so hard for me stop, do you know what I mean?”
But it was too late. Not for our relationship; amazingly, she did keep going out with me, and it went pretty well until she announced that she was a lesbian. However, once she had said I was hyper, the cat was out of the bag. As often happens, we learn more about ourselves from someone just spontaneously saying something to us without worrying about whether it will forever change our self-conception than we do from years of therapy, where the therapist is often very careful not to say anything that might upset his or her client, which could lead to them not coming back for another session.
Okay, I was hyper. What did this mean in practical terms? I couldn’t spend much time thinking about this because when you’re hyper you go from one thing to another very quickly,ImeanyouknowwhatImean,don’tyou?Youcan’tsitstill,it’sohardtotakeabreak,youtalkfast,youdoeverythingfastandGodit’sahardlife!
Today, of course, the term is “hyperactive” or, more completely, ADHD (“attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”), and it is more frequently applied to children — boys, in particular — than it is to adults. Had I grown up in the 1990s or 00s rather than in the ’40s and ’50s, I probably would have been put on some kind of medication. And then when I went out with that student nurse, she would have said, “You’re so quiet, Mark; don’t you have anything to say?” And who knows, maybe our relationship would have been over right there.
You see, it turns out that a lot of famous people “suffer” or have suffered from ADHD, including Justin Timberlake, Will Smith, and Sir Richard Branson. So maybe back when I was 19 I was upset to be labeled “hyper,” but today I can wear the label with pride. Sure, sometimes I feel I would love to relax, and I think about that famous last line from John Milton’s sonnet, “On His Blindness”: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” I guess my sonnet would be “On His Hyperness,” and its last line would be “They also serve who can’t stand and wait, not even two minutes, I mean there’s so much to do and so little time, and…”