Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wherein I talk openly about the creative mind...

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.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Christine, you have so eloquently explained the reality of so many gifted adults. Even though we aren't all the same, we have so much in common. Robin WIlliams was surely "profoundly" gifted, but all that you describe could be attributes of any gifted individual. I don't need to hear that someone hopes, "I get the help that I need." I am not broken, just different, more intense, more emotional, more everything. I once wrote that I was "too" and to many people, I am. I have finally, learned that I can't change those who don't understand; that I should instead, just leave it be and realize that I should not hurt because they don't "get me". Like a note dropped in a quartet, you can't pick it up and put it back, so you have to leave it where you dropped it, and just keep playing. Thank you for sharing all that you know so intimately, with everyone who is willing to listen and learn.

    There needs to be open conversation, communication, and understanding of people who are on either side of the intelligence spectrum. The other 98% need to know that we are not "broken" and that we have much to give and share if they will give us the chance. We are not a threat, and we don't deserve to be bullied because we don't fit into someone else's notion of "normal".

    I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your understanding and communication of the reality of so many, who may not even understand themselves, why they "don't fit." We all fit, no matter how often we don't feel that we do.

    1. We do all fit! I am glad this post touched you. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for articulating ideas that many of us feel, but few of us find the words to express. I hope you know that you were one of the coolest, most wonderful people I knew. I remember your concertos, and from two 6th graders sitting on a rock deciding to play Brandenburg (oh yeah, I didn't play viola yet) to writing books my entire administration is using, you are amazing. I always celebrated everything that made you different and unique, and continue to do so.

    1. My times growing up with you, Erik, Ric, and Pani are some of my very best, most special memories! Thank you for YOU

  3. Re: Gifted creatives are blessed with passions that burn brighter than the sun. And sometimes we get burned in the wake of our own intensities.

    There's no way that I could have worded this as gracefully and truthfully as you have. Robin Williams was truly gifted. Many spoke of his talent in gushing tones lthrough the years and who could deny the genius in the stretch of his acting abilities.

  4. This is a fabulous article and one I hope many people read. As an individual who has struggled with depression since my teens I have had to accept my own "normality" and struggle when people want me to change to suit their ideal. Thank you for your honesty xxx

  5. I love this post, Christine. I can't brag and say I "know" you, but reading through this I can completely see the parts of you I do know. And I'm glad you've found your way to be who you are. I've always been in awe of what you do, how successfully you manage your world (what little I know of it), and how talented you are. I'm truly happy to have become acquainted with you because I find you a delight, a wonderful mentor (whether you knew it or not), and an inspiration.

    The death of Robin Williams hit me harder than I expected. I've always been a fan of everything he has done (including those things that others didn't appreciate as much). When I heard the news, I was literally in a state of shock for a few hours. He has always represented to me the wonderful capacity we humans have to find a path and make the world a better place through what we do. I'm not talking about just the way he made us laugh. He was humorous, inspirational, terrifying (One Hour Photo), and everything in between. This only makes his death more of a tragedy. A truly bright star has burned out and it will be some time before an equivalent ray of prismatic light enters our world again.

    Thanks again for this post. I commend you on bravely putting these words out there for us to read.

    1. Thanks Eric. I so appreciate it - more than you may know

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  7. Hi Christine,

    Thanx for your words. :-) I shared them on my facebooksites. Besides my other comments on Robin Williams. A kindred mind from Holland; heavily into the advocacy of the neurodiverse.


  8. We're all entitled to be who and what we are. If we're outside what's considered "normal," I think that's wonderful. How boring to be the same as everyone else. There is a price. I know that, but the rewards are amazing.

  9. Thank you for your post. As a person who is gifted and bipolar, I understand and can related to much of what you write.

    My main goal in life is to educate people about mental illness, specifically bipolar. Our society puts a huge negative stigma on the disease. When, if educated, they would see it isn't a "mental" disease at all, but a physical one, much like diabetes. We have a chemical imbalance centered in our brain. We take medication to control that imbalance, isn't that what a diabetic does with insulin and diet?

    My goal in educating people by being very open and honest about my bipolar, is to help others with the condition FIND HELP. The stigma society has placed on bipolar, and other conditions, prevent many people from admitting or seeking the help the need. They are embarrassed. They don't want to be labeled. The don't want to be "crazy." And in the end, the lack of help can be deadly.

    So this is me: I'm a person with bipolar, social anxiety, and high IQ.

    And I hope when you read that sentence, you noticed "person" was the first world. Because whatever illness someone may suffer with, they are, ultimately, a person first.


Thanks for your input!