Hi all -
In light of the news about Robin Williams on Monday, I wanted to write a post that has been years in the making really. And a rare one that I decided to post on both of my sites...
Robin Williams’ death angered me in many ways, something that made me take pause. I wasn’t angry because of the tragedy of it all, but because another creative genius felt there was no way out. And more, I was angry because while his death started a much needed conversation about mental health issues and the stigma attached to those battling with a mental illness, it did not start even a ripple of the conversation I wish it had. Robin Williams was not ONLY and individual who had battled both depression and addiction, he was a genius. His very being meant he was intense.
So much of the conversations in these last days has attributed the creative genius to the mental illness, as though they always go together. But they don’t. The intensity DOES. And as a society, we don’t accept that intensity without also thinking in the back of our heads that there MUST be a mental illness piece.
How do I know this? It’s been my reality for ever.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very intense, creative person. I am a divergent thinker, a gifted adult, and prone to strong emotions. When I create, be it books, music or choreography (yes, I composed concertos as a child and conducted string orchestras and music camp. I was also a theater-dance minor in school and dabbled in choreography), I see/hear the finished product in my head long before the first word/note/move existed. Like many famous artists, everything existed in my head in perfection. My job was simply to find a way to purge it from my thoughts and get it out for the world to see.
And therein was the problem.
Once the world could see it, it was scrutinized, criticized, commented on. Teachers when I was 8 told me I was crazy for believing I could get a random group of 7 and 8-year-olds together and do a Shakespeare play (think Little Rascals does Macbeth), but that didn’t keep me from wanting to try. When I recreated a South Pacific coral reef to scale in 7th grade as part of a project that advocated for the preservation of our oceans, my teacher thought me extreme. When I came up with a theory about the relationship between political cartoons and their influence on political culture of the 1700 and 1800s in high school, my US History teacher told me I I could never prove my ideas and I should just write a term paper of something–anything–else.
Such was my life growing up.
By the end of High School I learned just how strange and divergent I was. More, I learned that none of that was a “good” thing. Nerds and Geeks weren’t cool back then. Everything that was important to me, that made me “me”, was weird to the rest of the world. And being weird was definitely NOT celebrated.
I thought in pictures, and usually had five or more thoughts going on at once. To me, in my head, multiple realities were the norm. I couldn’t understand that other people didn’t conceptualize multi-dimensional thinking as I did. I lived in a profoundly lonely world, one in which I wasn’t accepted except by my mother (gifted in her own right) and an occasional friend.
So I cultivated new interests, ones that were more mundane. I got into fashion, modeling, and the like. I developed an eating disorder and my own intensities channeled themselves into much more destructive thinking. It would be easy to think of me as mentally ill. After all, I had developed a mental illness. But that wasn’t me. Not fully. It was a means to an end, a way to belong. And it worked in the short term. I had friends, but very few knew “me”. Heck, I barely knew me.
I was called overly dramatic, a drama queen, etc – all in response to my very extreme emotions. I don’t blame people for saying it really; from their perspective it was true. I was extreme and intense. I still am. And yes, I still lose friends because of it.
In college, my world imploded as my eating disorder spun out of control and I had to admit the problem. I sought help and got better. A lot better.
On the surface.
It wasn’t until many years later, after a load of therapy, maturity and a few personal crises that forced me to self-examine, that I learned the truth about who I was and why I acted the way I did. I learned what it meant to be gifted, to be intense.
See, I never thought of myself as smart, despite the “proof” in IQ tests, the GT label, etc. And no one ever explained to me that being smart, being gifted, MEANT asynchronous development. It meant I’d struggle with EQ, at least when I was younger. Most importantly, it meant that I was – I am – intense.
Why am I writing this crazy long post? It isn’t to brag, garnish sympathy, or anything else. It’s to talk, openly and honestly and what being gifted and creative has meant to me.
There is an intensity with which I approach life. This intensity DOES NOT mean I am crazy. It doesn’t mean I need to be fixed. When I say I need a break, when I speak openly about my intensity, I’m not looking for someone out there to “fix” me like I am a problem. I just want someone to know I’m at my limit and I need a break.
When I struggle socially, or I come off aloof, please know it isn’t intentional. My brain works fast – very fast. And sometimes, I get lost in it. That doesn’t mean I am uncaring or uninterested. In fact, the opposite is likely more true. I desperately care and I am profoundly interested. I am just somewhat lousy at showing in.
And when I get down, REALLY DOWN, I am seldom depressed. I am just overwhelmed by life and its emotions.
This is NOT TO SAY that other creative, gifted people aren’t depressed. Gifted people do get depressed.
I am lucky. I have done a TON of work in the field of giftedness, learning why I feel existential depression as often as I do, why I approach the world as I do, why I am so intense. I really think it is BECAUSE of this that I have significantly improved my EQ and learned what my personal “normal” is. I have also learned when I need to ask for help – when I am overwhelmed beyond all ability to cope. More importantly, I’ve learned how to receive help from others, even when they aren’t really able to relate.
So, this is me. And it is many other gifted individuals. We are not broken in our intensities. But we do
need acceptance, even when we seem crazy. And if we do actually break, because it can certainly happen (especially when we receive the constant message that we are crazy because of our intensities, or when we fail to connect socially because there are so few who “get us”), we need acceptance even more.
And we need the world, our family, our friends, our therapists, etc to understand that our baseline – our “normal” – is DIFFERENT from everyone else. If you force us into your version of “normal”, or medicate us to some random definition of “normal”, we still are not “normal” from our perspective, and we will reject your version of help.
Sometimes with deadly consequences.
Gifted creatives are blessed with passions that burn brighter than the sun. And sometimes we get burned in the wake of our own intensities.