The gifted adolescents that I have known grapple with existential depression, anxiety, loneliness, perfectionism, sensitivities, empathy, misdiagnoses, bullying, and serious frustrations with the school system. Here is “one” teen’s voice synthesized from the many that I have met over the years. All people will benefit when we take the time to understand our gifted children.
I’m in counseling because my parents are worried. I don’t have any real friends and I spend a lot of time in my room or on my phone. My grades are dropping. I’m actually failing in a couple classes. They’re afraid I’m depressed, maybe even suicidal. My parents are right to be concerned. I don’t know what’s wrong but I’ve been kind of a mess ever since I can remember. And lately, I’ve been wondering, what’s the point?
I remember being in kindergarten and I tried to talk with the other kids, you know, about stuff I’d read like the demise of the dinosaurs or how volcanoes work. They’d just look at me like I was from another planet and go play in the sandbox and I’d wonder what’s wrong with me. What am I missing? How could they not love dinosaurs? How could they not love reading?
Then my kindergarten teacher kept teaching about colors and shapes and counting to ten. And I’m thinking, what about multiplication? What’s wrong with me? I was supposed to sit still and fill in the blanks on the worksheets when what I wanted was to know the size of the universe.
It’s been that way for years. Sitting in a classroom, eager to learn something, anything, and hearing the same song over and over. I’m so disappointed in people, in teachers. I stopped doing the homework in some of my classes and that’s why my grades are so bad. I just don’t see the point of repeating something I already know. People tell me to just do it, but it’s torture. And then there are the papers to write. Either I do so much research that I can’t possibly put it all in a 5 page paper so I never hand anything in or I know what I write won’t be good enough so I don’t even start. They say I’m lazy. Am I lazy?
There is one teacher, though, Mr. Grey, he keeps me in high school. He loves his subject, English literature, and he loves my curiosity and questions. He started a philosophy club where we could talk about film, literature, politics, anything. I’m usually the only one who shows up but he’s always there, getting my mind working hard. And it gives me hope. Makes life worth living. Someone who loves thinking outside the box; someone who isn’t intimidated or offended or annoyed by my insatiable appetite for learning. I’m really grateful for Mr. Gray.
I used to be very emotional. I cried a lot and my parents called me dramatic. I was also very sensitive to noise, textures and smells. I didn’t like birthday parties because they were so chaotic. I could tell my parents were extremely uncomfortable with this. But I care deeply about things and feel sad when I can see other kids getting hurt.
And I worry a lot. I worry about climate change, world hunger, poverty, racism. What can I do that will make a difference? Why am I here? What’s the meaning of life? My brain never stops. It’s exhausting.
You know, I just want someone my age to care, to think with me, to ask questions. I feel like such a freak. Our symphonic band went on a field trip to San Francisco. I was so excited to see the city, the art museums, the culture. All the other kids wanted to do was go to the mall. The mall. Like they’ve never seen a frickin’ mall. I couldn’t stand it and desperately wanted to leave the group but I didn’t want to create a scene so I kept my mouth shut. People think I’m moody and disagreeable but I’m really just incredibly tired of trying to fit in and feeling like a fool. I just want to be normal. I just want to have friends. I’m so lonely.
I guess I should also confess that I feel enormous anxiety when someone asks me to do something I’ve never done before and don’t know if I can do it well, and fast, and the best. You know, like sports for instance. I avoid sports, at all costs. And I quit piano because you have to practice to get good at it. I’m used to being the best and getting approval for it and I’m afraid that I’m really not as smart as everyone says. So, I don’t take any unnecessary risks.
People try and help me and I appreciate it, but it’s mostly inadequate. They come up with quick fixes and easy answers. I try and tell them gently that it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple. But they don’t get it. Sometimes the only thing I find soothing is my dog and a walk in the woods. I feel a deep kinship with nature and a sense of connection with trees and the wind. I still cry at a perfect sunset.
I can’t wait to get to college. Maybe there’ll be kids there I can relate to, who will accept me. Or maybe there’ll be a professor in the music department who can give me the feedback that I’m looking for. See, I’m in these bands at school and I get these awards but they’re meaningless, you know? I don’t deserve them. I make all these mistakes that no one seems to notice. I don’t get it. They tell me I’m the best trumpet player they’ve heard in years. But I know how much better I could sound. What I play is crap. And they don’t hear it.
Then again, I’m scared to death of college. I’m not sure what I’d do if I were put in a class with really smart kids. What if the work is too hard? What if I don’t have all the answers? What’ll I do? Who am I then? How do I study for a test? I haven’t really had to crack a book yet. What if I can’t get the answers fast? And, what will I major in? I have so many interests. They say I can do anything I want like that’s a great thing. But all I feel is pressure and anxiety. How do I choose just one thing? What if I’m really not so smart and I’ve just been able to fake it all this time?
Maybe I won’t go to college.
They say that I’m gifted but I don’t know. It sure doesn’t feel like a gift to me.
To my bloggEEs: Does this sound like you? What parts are familiar? Are you raising children who are struggling? How is it for you to see your children dealing with the same challenges you experienced?
This post is adapted from my new book Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists. The book is largely a compilation of my most popular blog posts 2014-2018 organized by topic. It includes suggestions for further exploration to guide you to greater self-acceptance, meaning, and purpose. It is a more light-hearted look at rainforest-mindedness so it is a good gift book for teens, educators, friends, and therapists. (My first book is more in-depth via case studies, strategies, and resources. You can find out more here.)