When I was ten years old, I was placed into a program at school called “LEAP.” I had no idea what it meant at the time, but I later found out it was designed for children who had IQs of at least 130.
If you feel impressed by that number, don’t be. Having a high IQ doesn’t guarantee success, happiness, or work ethic. In fact, I’ve struggled with all three of those things more than most of my peers combined.
I earned straight A’s throughout all of elementary school without even trying, but I came home to the most disgusting bedroom of all time because my brain was too busy thinking to be bothered with doing.
By October of fifth grade, I’d finished all of the fifth AND sixth grade math curriculum so my principal bumped me up an entire year of school. Even after being bumped up, I was still the brightest in my class. Yet, somehow I spent most of my evenings crying in my bedroom because I felt like a failure.
The first time I got an A- (in 7th grade), I sobbed for an entire evening, completely inconsolable because I’d finally fallen to the level of depravity I knew I was capable of. In my brain, that A- was the cherry on top of my failure cake.
In eight grade, I remember drawing for hours upon hours upon hours at my desk, and then throwing the papers away because they weren’t good enough. Looking back, my artistic abilities were probably prodigious, but I couldn’t see it at the time. I won first place in a statewide art competition that year, but I remember feeling confused about why I’d won.
In fact, I threw away that project as soon as I could sneak it away from my mother, and I was MORTIFIED when she hung the newspaper clipping about it on the fridge. I just knew that people were going to come over and be as critical of my work as I was.
By my teen years, I was either anxious or angry all of the time. Granted, most teenagers feel that way, but my tornadic hormones were only a small piece of the puzzle. I also had a brain that never shut off, which meant that I could literally think myself into a depression. Or I could worry myself into a sickness. One night, I watched an episode of Laverne and Shirley where one of the characters had to have her appendix removed. Within 24 hours, I was in the emergency room having my appendix taken out because it had swollen and was close to rupturing.
This was a somatovisceral response to the fear I’d conjured in my mind of going through what the character had gone through. The human brain is so powerful that it can literally convince the body to be sick.
I spent YEARS lying in bed at night, until two or three in the morning, wishing I could sleep but instead worrying about every (non-existent) problem on the planet. I was exhausted from infancy to adulthood. Even as a straight-A student in high school, I spent more days than not with my head on my desk, fast asleep, because I was too tired to hold my eyes open.
Even after skipping a grade in childhood, I still graduated high school a semester early with a couple college credits already under my belt. And do you know what happened after that? I moved in with my boyfriend, dropped out of college, and had a baby.
I didn’t reach my full “academic potential” because I was ruled almost entirely by my impulses, overactive mind, and fear of being rejected.
Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety.
Now, as an adult, I’ve struggled to finish college because my brain still doesn’t do what I need it to do. I can finish an expert-level Sudoku puzzle in ten minutes, but I can’t bring myself to enroll in school because I’m afraid I’ll flunk out. I can write a novel in a few months’ time (I’ve written eight full-length manuscripts and published one), but I can’t submit the essay I wrote on the Civil War because I’m convinced it’s not acceptable, yet. Sometimes I even skip current homework to go back and obsess over old homework that’s already been graded.
A college professor once gave me a 93% on an essay that was worth at least a 95, and I’m still not over it. I wish I was joking.
The academic work is never the problem for gifted children. It’s the perfection. It’s the depression. The overwhelming anxiety. The inability to send their brains in one direction at a time.
Even as I write this blog, I have to listen to music so that my “right brain” will be distracted enough to allow my “left brain” to keep working. Before starting this blog, I had to take both of my anxiety medications (because one is not enough), and after this blog is over, I’ll have to do something physical to mesh my brain and my body back together.
No, it’s not an out-of-body experience. It’s just that when I write, I have to allow myself to delve into all those thoughts in my brain, and I can get lost in there if I’m not careful. When I’m finished, I have to find ways to reconnect to my physical world so that I don’t stay in my head.
I’ve been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD, and Bipolar Disorder. We have no idea if the Bipolar diagnosis is accurate because the medication for it wasn’t helpful at all, but I do show a lot of tendencies. Being highly intelligent comes with a list of side effects that no one really talks about.
It’s exhausting, and it can feel virtually impossible to utilize the brain you’ve been given.
One study I read said that “gifted” children are 83% more likely to have an anxiety disorder than their average-intelligence peers and 183% more likely to have a mood disorder. I have no idea if the statistics of that are accurate, but it wouldn’t surprise me. There’s a reason why many serial killers have extremely high IQs. They’re more socially intelligent than most, they’re able to be very charming, and their brains are a minefield of constant processing.
No, not all extremely intelligent people are “crazy” and/or murderous. (Laughing at the thought of me trying to hurt someone because I’m sure I’d even worry about doing THAT wrong.) It only means that people who are highly intelligent have brains that work differently than most, and if their brains aren’t put to good use or guided in the right direction, they could find really unhealthy ways to cope with their abnormal thought patterns.
It can be a lonely world living inside your own head all the time. It can be difficult to feel understood by your peers when you look unaccomplished and lazy on the outside, but form brain connections twice as fast as anyone in the room. It can be even more difficult to have to take medicine that suppresses your brain’s ability to function at full capacity… because when your brain functions at full capacity, you’re not able to live in healthy ways.
It’s hard being told, “You’re one of the most intelligent people I know,” over and over again, but having literally nothing to show for it.
Raising a gifted child might seem like a breeze right now–who doesn’t want a straight-A student?–but try to remember how isolated they might feel. Try to remember that you might not truly understand what they’re going through, even if they seem like a normal kid. Try to remember how exhausted they probably are because they’re never able to rest their minds. Also try to remember that it doesn’t make you less of a parent to connect them with adults who can understand what they’re going through.
Being highly intelligent might be one of the heaviest burdens your child ever bears.