One of the greatest challenges of my life has been being a mother to a son and a wife to a former husband, both creatively gifted and also diagnosed with “Mental Illness”. Working as an educator for over 40 years and training with the best-gifted minds in the country was eye-opening. Teaching in the Gifted Program – starting SENG (Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted) in Billings – and working with gifted families for 14 years in this program has helped me become a better NAMI Family Support Facilitator.
It has been my experience in working with this population that many gifted people may have issues with depression, anxiety, perfectionism, underachievement, and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to name a few. The creatively gifted are right-brain dominant in ways that are hard to imagine. Writing, singing, playing an instrument, drawing, painting, and comedy can totally monopolize their time and energy. The intensity that is required to do things well can overpower the mind and bring about anxiety and depression. If you throw in the fact that some are “Paralyzed Perfectionists”, the issues become even more pronounced.
The academically gifted are left-brain dominant and have experienced the bullying nature of students regarding the gifts they possess, such as a photographic memory for visual as well as auditory information, and the ability to learn and retain information quickly and digest it to an extent that is way beyond their peers. This can set them up for attack. They have found school, in most cases, to be easy. When faced with more challenging tasks and the thought of not doing things perfectly, the “Pressure Cooker Syndrome”, as I call it, can create intense emotional swings.
Both populations suffer from what is called “multipotentiality”— they can do many things very well. Gifted individuals are always looking for new and different ways to challenge their minds. They can be extremely intense in one area, becoming fully absorbed with very little interest in other things. If this area is threatened in any way, the “Humpty Dumpty Syndrome”, as I call it, happens; everything comes crashing down along with their emotions, and making it right again becomes the challenge. On the other hand, gifted individuals can engage in “mental gymnastics” with a multitude of activities. When they master a particular challenge, they quickly move on to something new and this cycle of change is perpetuated over time.
One of the traits of many gifted individuals is the fact that they DO NOT TRUST EASILY! Being master manipulators by virtue of their intelligence allows them the ability to “Puppet Master” (as my dear son would say) those that they deem untrustworthy. Whether parent, counselor, or friend, one false move on your part can send them away indefinitely due to the intense nature of their conversations once they have gained your trust.
Those that are highly gifted and mentally ill need a mixed approach to meet the needs of an ever-changing mind. Developing a toolbox of resources that can be used in emergencies helps the caregiver be better prepared when those moments arise. Support in all its forms has saved my life and the lives of those I am passionate about. Educating your child and yourself to the nature of what it means to be mentally ill and gifted is always a plus.
By: Pat Lowthian