Intensity: The Dirty Little Secret of Giftedness


(Note: I wrote this a couple months ago and scheduled it for a time when I knew I would be overwhelmed and not have time to write. Points for planning ahead. However, since I first wrote it, I’ve been hit with the intensity stick repeatedly, and am taking an indefinite hiatus from Laughing at Chaos and social media in general, for my own sanity and well being. Because the first rule of self-care is knowing when to cry UNCLE!)

Higher. Faster. Louder.

No, not Drum Corps, though that is the unofficial Corps motto.

Gifted intensity.

You know what I’m talking about here. Everything is at an 11, plussed, bigger than life. Enhanced.

More, more, MORE!!!

And my god, it is exhausting. I’m not talking about parenting this intensity (for a change); I’ve written about that ad nauseam. I’m talking about intensity as a gifted adult.

I don’t often write about being a gifted woman. That’s mainly because I’ve been writing about my sons for a decade. But it’s also because I still have a hard time admitting that out loud. How do you admit the dirty little secret of giftedness? That intensity never goes away, that it never abates, that it is always there, and that it influences everything?

That gifted intensity can, in a word…suck?

I’ve been accused of being addicted to stomach acid, of being the Stress Queen, of being too tightly wound. And while I can’t really argue with any of those descriptors, from this side I’m more than a little tired of it. I can’t help who I am and how I react to things. I’m trying. I’ve been working very hard on self-care, basically to counteract the effects of my natural reactions to…everything. I’m getting better at knowing and respecting my limits, because when I don’t I pay a price far greater than the crime. Moreover, and key for a people-pleaser like me, I’m doing this unapologetically, with no regrets. If I need to get away from people, I will and I do. If I need to cut back in my life (or not even take something on), I will and I do. And if I need to have a second glass of Malbec to make sure the first one didn’t get sidetracked on its way to healing my psyche, I will and I do.

Because of my inherent gifted intensity, everything can easily be at a forte all the time. Life (and music) is more fun, interesting, and satisfying when there is a variety of dynamics and tempi; so I am actively trying to vary my dynamics and speeds. It’s not perfect, but generally I’m happier now than I have been in years. I’m sure a great deal of that is because of the increasing maturity of my boys, but I also know a lot of it is because of the hard work I’ve been doing for me. I can no longer live my life at the fortissimo volume and prestissimo speeds I have been (for you non-musicians, that’s super loud and crazy fast). I refuse to be held hostage by my gifted intensity any longer, with its demands of higher, faster, louder. Instead I’m working on a deeper interpretation, on more dynamic contrast, on a greater loveliness of life.

For me, in this stage of my life, that is worth pursuing.


The Crippling Intensity of Being Gifted

I think this summed up the intensity of giftedness in a nutshell.

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:

A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
To him…
a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.

~ Pearl S. Buck

eyeWhen I think of myself and the intense feelings I have surrounding… everything, I often wish it were not the case. I have lobbied for changes in our laws and when they don’t go my way, I’m CRUSHED. When the DARK act went through, completely ruining my work in Minnesota legislature for GMO labeling, I was pretty much a big ball of yuck for a good 2 weeks. I can’t watch the news, it sucks the life out of me.

Now that I’m unemployed, I apply and get rejected, and it just about kills me every time. When it comes to finding employment, my brother used the phrase, “when you’re hunting duck, you want to get a lot of shot in the air,” but he is certainly not nearly as invested in the application process as I must be. With each rejection, it cripples my desire to try again. I applied to be a Foreign Service Officer and took the test. I passed the first set of hurdles and submitted my personal narratives, but was eliminated. I was stunned and hurt. I had pretty well convinced my family it was a good thing to be traveling around the world as a foreign diplomat, but then was rejected. I didn’t even make it to the interview stage. Humbling yes, but painful when I knew I could do such a great job, and crippling when I looked to apply again. If these jobs that I think would fit me so well are rejecting me, what is wrong with me?

I’m looking at local politics and have been inspired to run for city council. My only reservation is that if I run and lose, I’m going to crawl into my hole of bleakness for a good 2 weeks at least most likely. I want to continue to serve people, and I have great ideas for helping people who are homeless and building better food banks. Things are not getting better in our area and we need to do something. So I will run and I will continue to work to improve our system. It’s exhausting, and I don’t know for a fact, but I highly suspect, that very few politicians have the same passion to really make it better. I don’t doubt that they want to help, but I don’t know if they pour so much of their soul into it.

Fortunately, there is also the other side of the equation. We homeschool, and I get to watch my kids learn and grow nearly every day. I was helping another family at the skating rink earlier this month and their young girl looked at me and said, “you seem like a really great Dad.” This sort of thing melts me even when it’s not my own child.

beamOne of our daughters was in a gymnastics meet last weekend and got a 2nd place and 4th place award. Unfortunately, she fell twice on beam and stepped out on floor. She had a couple bad events, but she was thrilled to have done so well on the other two. If she had not competed, she would certainly not have won anything. So I guess we all have to learn that if we fail to get up and try again, that’s really the only way we lose, but boy howdy is it a painful experience at times.

On Being a Crier

The cafeteria was dark. As the lights were turned on, lighting one segment of the cafeteria and then another, the 5th graders rose noisily from their chairs. Tears streamed down my face. In my naiveté, I let them continue and eventually they dripped off my jaw to create dark dots on my shirt. We filed out of each row, waiting as the other kids formed a line to leave through the double doors. Teachers stood by each side of the exit, generally uninterested in the orderly proceeding until one teacher’s head rebounded from its automatic path so she could get a better look at me. I think that was the first time I realized others noticed my weeping. Why did the school pick Old Yeller as a school-wide movie anyway?

Shortly afterward I received frequent comments that indicated I cried “too easily.” Though the statements were meant more as observations, they were delivered with a sense of bewilderment and teasing showing my tearfulness was atypical. While I’ve never been able to prevent myself from crying, I certainly changed my lifestyle–whether in front of others or even alone–to avoid being the crier.

Sad movie? Definitely not! Sad book? Nope! Drama with the death of a beloved or young character? Unh-unh. While one may be able to stop oneself from feeling strongly, I did not want to mute my feelings, thus I avoided. No such melancholy-inducing media for me. It was not just because of the blotchy face and smeared mascara, though waterproof mascara is my good friend. I am still embarrassed to have people look at me curiously because of my unusual reaction. Especially when watching Bobby Brady get paralyzed in a car accident in a rerun of a TV movie reunion of a 30 year-old show can make me cry as an adult. Despair is also not a feeling I want to voluntarily experience as entertainment.

However, it’s not just sadness that turns on the waterworks. Feeling overwhelmed, amazed, happy, bittersweet, contemplative, regretful, or impressed, in some circumstances, can leave me with sentiment leaking out of my eyes. I am the person crying at weddings. Having children means I am often emotional in public. First anything? Tears! Recitals, school performances, even school projects like science fairs. My child is performing in chorus with the entire class and my vision becomes so blurry I don’t know if I’m taking the video properly because I can’t see.

While I am very self-conscious about continuously wiping at my face and having shaky video during moments other parents easily handle with more grace, I have recognized being able to immerse myself so fully into otherwise conventional occurrences is also fortunate. I don’t see beauty, I am steeped in it–experience it as if my every sense is as stimulated as much as my sight; to feel, not just in my head or heart, but with the whole of my being. I can hardly believe I don’t affect the very atmosphere around me.  I am always a little shocked when I am happy and look in the mirror to see regular, old me. I think I should be glowing! It only seems fair–if my feelings are so immense that I can’t contain them when they involve tears, they should be equally as overflowing with joy. Though I think my husband would say they are overflowing–out of my mouth through excessive talking!

When my daughter saw an adorable chipmunk meet his end at the paws of our beloved and carnivorous kitty, I understood her heaving sobs well. And I hugged her and could say I truly understood and let her have the experience of her deep grief. I feel some success as a parent when, years later, she told me she was reading a book in class and said, unabashedly, that she was so affected by it that she sat in her high school classroom, in front of her peers, with tears streaming down her face openly, unashamed, and accepting of being moved so deeply.

When passions collide


The focus of An Intense Life this month is “Nurturing Gifted Kids’ Passions.” Well, if I wrote about that, I’d just say “allow all the tech into the house and shut the door,” and I’ve already covered that this month. Easy peasy with my boys’ passions. Tech and programming and hacking and boom, done. But me? I’m a different story.

Growing up I did a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Always played in band, but dabbled a little in basketball and photography and swing choir in middle school, softball and a year of theater in high school. College and grad school I was too focused on survival to do much more than study and practice. But once out of grad school? The dam gates burst. Suddenly I had more brain space and time to investigate anything that interested me, and investigate I did. And so, for the last 17 years, I’ve struggled to balance my passions. There is just so much that interests me, so much I want to do, that I often end up frozen, paralysis by analysis.

I’ve at least managed to whittle my main passions down to two. Flute/teaching and writing/gifted advocacy. And while it may look like four different areas there, nah, it’s really two. I teach because I play and I play to be a better teacher. I write, not nearly as much as I’d like, or on all the things I want to write, but it has led to me doing more gifted advocacy. They both take up a significant amount of time and energy, but I can’t give either one up.

There was a time when I closed my flute case and didn’t open it for 18 months. It could have been stolen out from under my nose and I wouldn’t have known. And at the time, I’m not sure I would have cared. I was burned out, and in retrospect I really did need that time away from it. But now I can’t imagine my life without playing and teaching. I love it. Teaching inspires and entertains me, and playing allows me to be the dramatic extrovert I’m not in my day to day life.

I fell into writing in 2006, when I started a blog on a whim. Thankfully I’ve gotten better over the years, with one book published and another in progress. I’ve thought about giving it up, walking away from the blogging and the gifted advocacy, but I can’t. When I get into a groove, writing is satisfying to the point of ethereal bliss. And while it’s tough sometimes, I love talking to parents of G2e kids.

So my two big passions are a balancing act. Both take a lot of time, energy, and focus. On any given day it’s one or the other. And on Tuesday nights, it’s flute, because I have rehearsal at the same time as the weekly #gtchat, and I don’t miss rehearsal unless I’m puking in a bucket. (No, seriously, in five years I’ve only missed two rehearsals, both because of “please shoot me I’m so sick” illness). I hate it when my passions collide, but it happens.

What this has all shown me is that it’s ok that my boys have only one passion right now, that it’s more than likely they’ll discover a whole world of interests when they’re older, and that I’m modeling the balancing act they’ll need as adults.

Poor kids; guess I’d better improve my balancing act.

Invisible Advocate

invisible-man-shadows-pol-ubeda-41.jpgGifted children (and adults) are often not understood by most people. It’s very similar to an invisible disability in a way, especially when the gifted one keeps it a secret as long as possible. There is a connection between invisible disabilities and giftedness.

When I started writing about being gifted and learning disabled back in my undergrad years, I felt alone. I didn’t purposefully ostracize, but some of the people who would approach me after a presentation I just didn’t feel they were really on target. I felt they were beach goers compared to the submerged SCUBA diver. They would see the surface and say they knew the ocean despite never diving under and experiencing the coral reefs or any of the underwater life.

Since my collegiate days, I married and had children. My children all have had learning challenges and it’s in large part why we home school now, but the bigger challenge comes from a similar issue we wrestle with even more often than having highly sensitive girls who don’t often fall within 2 standard deviations of the norm. I have kids with invisible health issues. I started advocating for my oldest while she was anaphylactic to egg, pork, chicken, turkey, strawberries, tree nuts and fish. This was me going to the beach. Since then we have added Eosinophilic esophagitis x 2, and dysautonomia. What they all have in common is that they are invisible and I’ve become an underwater explorer along the way. Unfortunately I’m not wearing SCUBA gear and have had issues being in WAY over my head.

Invisible disabilities can be difficult socially. Some people seem to get it, while others just don’t. I used to think that if people cared more they would understand and help to make a bumpy ride a bit smoother, but I have learned it’s not always the case. Friends and even family can be clueless and even say things that leave you speechless. Just recently my youngest was having feet pains (EoE related symptom). I ran up stairs to retrieve her script so she could practice her lines (she’s in The Velveteen Rabbit play coming up). Somebody I’ll keep anonymous for now grumbled about us enabling her in a negative way.

This lack of understanding is a huge problem. It belittles the needs of people. This is why we all need to advocate. We need to advocate for our children and for others. When somebody says “maybe the allergic kids could just hang out in a separate room and we could throw Dum Dums and Smarties to them.” It’s not acceptable to even joke about it. We fought hard for civil rights, and now, finally, excluding someone based on the color of their skin is no longer welcome in our society. It was a lack of understanding between people that spurred racism and it’s the same with invisible disabilities or giftedness.

ta188etqzgb3uwi_b1vo1jsuoecpmzpn_invisibleIt may be scary to be the first person to stand up for the family being excluded, but we are all the better for the change. We have seen it in the past and we can continue to include better in the future. As the school year rolls along, consider non-food rewards and treats for the classes with children who have food allergies. You don’t have to be an underwater explorer to do the right thing. Enjoy the beach, and enjoy everyone as who they are.

How To Make A Dream Poster

Girl playing in the sun
Girl playing in the sun

Parenting gifted children is a challenge in many ways. But it is also exciting. Their intensities and passions are electrifying to be around. But sometimes our kids struggle with wrestling that excitement into a dream for their future. Life happens, the world misunderstands them and slowly they begin to limit their dreams, their passions. This is where we need to intercede and help our kiddos NOT lose sight of their dreams.

Dreaming isn’t about being practical or pragmatic. It’s about imagining the most fantastical life you can dream up, and imagining it in perfect detail.  Teaching our children how to visualize their passions can inspire them to do as Henry David Thoreau says and “go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”

A Dream Poster is a great way for your children to put their fantasies and dreams into something that can remind them of their passions. Making one is easy and can be done with minimal supplies. The how-to list below can be done to create a print poster. You can also adapt it to create a digital poster or collage board on Pinterest, Tumblr page, or similar online site:

How To Make A Dream Poster:

  • Start with a listing of your interests
  • Find or draw pictures that capture those interest, as well as your goals for the future
  • Make a collage, poster, or some other artistic representation of those interests. Be as creative as you dare. Some people have made 3-D letters, decoupaged with pictures of their dreams. Others have created Wordle posters or Tumblr pages. There really are no limits to what you can create.
  • Somewhere in the picture, write a goal of something you would like to do or achieve.
  • Date the picture.
  • Revisit it often and change it or add to it as you desire.
  • Most importantly, DREAM BIG!

It’s important for all of us to make visual reminders of where we want to go, both in terms of our goals and our dreams. Teaching your children to to this can help them harness their intensities and turn them into passions that ignite their future. A dream poster can be their (or your) reminder to help us when life throws curve balls, gets too difficult, or our dreams seem to fade from view altogether.

Keep calm and close the basement door


You know, and I know, that when a gifted kid develops a passion in something, it is more all-encompassing than the norm. It’s not unlike Willy Wonka’s candy factory; it’s in every nook and cranny and in every detail of their lives. It becomes them.

So I should be grateful that my sons’ passions are not things like snakes or arachnids or making rocket fuel or international travel. I’m a little tweaked that their passions aren’t in the kitchen, but whatever.

Tech. Computers. Programming. Hacking. Building. Rebuilding. Tinkering.

This is my basement:


If, like me, you like things neat and tidy and “a place for everything and everything in its place,” then this picture probably has you rocking under your desk. This is a horrific mess.

And you know what? I don’t really care. For the most part it’s out of my sight (unless I’m on the treadmill, which you can’t see here), and it rarely oozes upstairs. The boys go downstairs and they work on computers. They tinker with aging servers that friends have given them. They program their Raspberry Pis. This is their maker space.

This is their Willy Wonka tech space. Their passion in every nook and cranny.

And I get to close the basement door.