Hearing about Robin Williams and his apparent suicide yesterday, I find that I feel like I’ve lost a friend. Or at least an acquaintance. Through his many movie roles, interviews and such, he’s been part of my memories for a very long time. And beyond his roles, he just struck me as a really decent human being.
I won’t pretend that I knew him, though. I’m not that silly. I didn’t, obviously. But there are things about him that resonate with me and how I feel sometimes.
So in one way, it didn’t entirely surprise me to hear that he may have died as a result of suicide. And that makes me so incredibly sad. Highly gifted and creative people feel deeply. It’s impossible to be so creative and “out of the box” in this world without feeling lost at times. It’s a constant battle to just live and be yourself. It’s exhausting. And I can relate to wanting to give up or feeling like things will never get better.
And, for some reason, the myth persists that gifted kids will “be fine” – they don’t need extra support or programs in schools (or in life). Really? Pay attention. Lives are at stake – literally. The list of creative geniuses taking their own lives or self-medicating their pain away through drugs and addictions keeps growing.
The research is there. The impact is lifelong. And it’s a different way of thinking and feeling and seeing the world.
And, to be clear, I’m not just talking about students who get straight A’s in school or who always know the answers. Not necessarily the teacher’s pets.
The most vulnerable kids are the ones who are incredibly smart and sensitive and feel deeply, but DON’T show up as the brightest kids in class. These kids are so smart, they know they’re not performing to their potential, that they’re not like the other kids around them, and they usually don’t know why. The frustration created by this discrepancy within themselves is incredibly damaging – leading to anxiety, depression, behaviour issues, etc…
Too often, even the most successful, brightest and most creative people go through life afraid on the inside, hiding the fact that they’re constantly questioning themselves. Someone once explained it to me as “imposter syndrome” – being afraid that you’re not nearly as great as everyone thinks you are, and someday, they’re going to find out!
Giftedness as asynchronous development resonates with me – it’s not about performance or achievement, it’s about an internal experience of the world that doesn’t fit within the norm or within expectations. And, since it doesn’t fit, the continuous message is “what’s wrong with you??”
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration is also critical for understanding gifted and highly sensitive/creative kids. His work showed that certain kinds of inner conflict – those that we might call existential crises (questioning your world, your place in it, the way things work, who you are, etc…) – are necessary for development. That anxiety and depression need to be seen (in these cases) as signs of growth instead of as a “problem” needing to be “fixed.”
And I shared a lot of what I’ve learned so far (about myself and my children) in a post here, along with links to several resources and books to read more: http://www.iwasthinking.ca/gifted-what-does-that-mean/
Please, if you work with or are raising children, take time to learn about what “gifted” actually means. So that you can recognize these vulnerable kids, support them, see them for who they are. And, in turn, reflect back to them the wonders and challenges of their non-neuro-typical brains.
Lives depend on us.