When my son, Nick was three-years-old, I got him a Spiderman coloring book. I was amazed to find that not only did he carefully color in the lines, but he was very concerned with getting the colors “right.” He wanted to make sure he used just the right shade of gray for the buildings, the best red and blue for Spidey’s costume. If his crayon strayed an eighth of an inch outside the lines, he would throw his head on the table in despair. I would try to comfort him and let him know it was okay to go outside the lines, but he wasn’t convinced. This is the child who also lined up all of his toys, single file in a straight line from largest to smallest, so I don’t know why I was surprised.
His perfectionism in his art and play did not translate to perfectionism in school work. Although, in elementary school, he did well. The only complaint we heard from teachers was that he was a bit more “social” than they would prefer. We were able to help him keep on top of his homework because his twin sister, Amanda had the same curriculum. She was very organized and didn’t forget to write down homework assignments. She would come home and tell us about any long term projects and when each section of the project was due. She volunteered this information. When we asked Nick about it, his response would be, “Oh yeah….” and then he’d dig around until he found his information sheet that had been stuck in some random section of his binder. He managed to hang on to his good grades even through middle school with the help of his twin sister who had almost all of the same classes even if their schedules weren’t the same.
The trouble began in high school. His eighth grade English teacher encouraged him to take the Advanced Language Arts in high school. She knew he was intellectually capable of understanding the curriculum. She was right. What he was not capable of, was exercising the self-discipline, and having the focus needed to keep up with the homework load. While his sister basked in reading the classics, excited to have the opportunity to read Dickens, Austen, Bronte, and many others, Nick’s eyes glazed over with boredom. For the next four years, we would hear the same thing from most of his teachers, “Nick is a bright kid and does a great job with the class discussions, but he needs to turn in his homework! He could be earning straight “A’s” if only he would turn in his homework.”
We considered not letting him participate in school plays, but his counselor begged us to allow him to continue because that was the one area where he really shined. The highlight of his high school career was when he got the lead as “Seymour” in “Little Shop of Horrors” in his junior year. He continued to struggle with homework, but managed to graduate by the skin of his teeth.
He is twenty-one years old now. He lives at home. He wishes he did not live at home, but until just the other day, his employment record has been spotty at best. There have been many times where conflicts primarily over our house rules and his opinions of those rules have led to massive outbursts on his part. He has been working on this. Recently, he has been working on his music. It seems to be coming along quite well. Yesterday, I told him about this blog post I was writing and asked him how he felt about his episodes of emotional intensity and what he has been doing to cope when he feels an outburst coming on.
In some ways, he embraces his intensities and sensitivities. He thinks it’s necessary for his growth as an artist to feel things fully. He acknowledges that sometimes it can get in the way of making clear headed decisions. Playing music allows him to get it out. He has been experimenting with guided meditation. He highly recommends it as it has a calming effect on his mind and body. It fills him with positive focused energy and he can feel it strengthens him and help him to gain control over his intense emotions and use it positively to gain control over his environment.
He summed it up by saying that his emotional intensities have allowed him as much happiness as they have sorrow.