by Nadia Webb
On Monday I went the funeral of a gifted actor, father of three, and well-loved member of our little community. But all that love didn’t seep in past all of his pain. After years of struggling with bipolar disorder, he committed suicide, leaving his wife to find him dead in the family car. At the funeral, his father-in-law summed it up best when he said that this man had made a “terrible choice.”
As I read many of the postings on the adult gifted section of SENG’s Community Forums, I worry that a number of you are contemplating the same terrible choice. Besides telling you, “Please don’t evaluate the worth of your life in this bleak moment,” I want to offer you some tools and ideas. These aren’t comprehensive or complete—if they don’t work, it doesn’t mean you’ve tried everything and have my blessing to quit. What I’m offering is merely a starting point and it may direct you towards one of the many exits out of Hell.
Some of these are going to sound like they are from your Mom, or at least from somebody’s mom. This is my personal response to the posts, and should be taken very much as that. I know a thing or two from psychology but I often found the descriptions are too abstract for people to connect to. So this is my take on it:
Your mind and spirit are housed in a body. If you are sleeping poorly, skipping meals, eating junk, and not exercising, you are stacking the deck against yourself. This is not simplistic and reductive; this does not ignore the reality of your existential dilemma. The two problems can coexist. You can have lousy self care and an existential dilemma. They don’t coexist productively. Aerobic exercise holds its own with the antidepressants; it’s free; and you will meet some of the nicest people you’ve ever met. Return to an old sport or take up a new one. Run-a-block, walk-a-block. You start where you are…and you are still doing more than the folks at home eating potato chips and watching Dr. Phil. You will get cheers at any local 1 mile fun walk, and they mean it.
Watch it with the self-talk. If you talked to your significant other the way you talked to yourself, we might have to charge you with spousal abuse.
Some therapists are cheering sections; others are teachers. You probably need both, but not always in the same person. If you are angry or disappointed with your therapist, please be sure to tell them. Often the difficult conversations are the most productive. You can also get a second opinion. A good therapist won’t be threatened.
Finding the right medication and the right dose takes time. There are practice parameters that outline the medication options to be tried, in order, and the standard starting doses. (You can find them by using Google scholar.) If your doctor is deviating from this system, he or she should be able to explain why. And you can always get a second opinion. The more medications you are taking, the more you need a second opinion.
Crisis lines are free, open 24-7, and they don’t trace your calls, usually. You’ll only get police at your door if you say you are planning to shoot someone or do yourself in. To get your call traced, you have to present your plan like the board game Clue: “I’m going to kill Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlestick.” If you are having suicidal thoughts or hate your mother, this is all considered a non-emergency. You can just call and talk. They are usually good at dealing with anything you throw at them.
Look at your own personal collection of savage self-criticism objectively. We all have them. No one escapes the mean self-talk completely. Mine usually is a variety of, “You are a ridiculous, middle-aged woman doing something you can never hope to do well.” Ouch.
If you can’t escape the mean self-talk, at least you can start collecting counter arguments. Notice when you are most vulnerable to this voice and when you seem to shrug it off. Learn the times, settings, and people who are most likely to evoke this. Start collecting rebuttals that feel honest: “You are faster than the people home eating the potato chips and watching Dr. Phil,” “That is why there is editing,” and “Everyone is better than someone. Try other people’s rebuttals to see if they work. I often try out other people’s phrases to see if they work for me. Running has been a great Petri dish for finding exactly what nasty thing I say to myself, and what seems to work in response. (I’ve tried all of the ones I’ve listed. Thinking about silly lyrics because it is better than self-flagellation:“She’s a brick…house. Mighty-mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out.” Works pretty well.
Take the work seriously, don’t take yourself seriously. Sometimes the gifted world can take itself a wee bit too seriously.
Being mediocre once in a while is refreshing. There is a Talmudic saying that we are a little below angels and a little above dust. It is OK. I know my IQ. I know my shoe size. I know all the things I’m below average at. All of it is OK. Sometimes you need to be able to look a little foolish (or even a lot foolish). Setting aside dignity sometimes has its own dignity. (I have a picture of me running in which I look like a Smurf in my blue parka, and my hands droop out in front of me like Barney. I even tried stretching it in one of the image programs because I didn’t want to send a picture to my friends that looked quite that…um, horizontal.)
I have an identification wristband I wear running. The company offers the usual spaces for emergency information but also has room for a phrase or slogan. It took me a few months to pick out what I wanted, because I wanted to support a little self-acceptance without giving myself an excuse to lie down on the nearest lawn. I picked “You start where you are” and “Be what you admire.” It is my way of planning for the time when I won’t be able to think of them on my own. My brain will have turned to pudding, and I will just have to look down and read the words. And know that at one time they made sense. And then I will have to remember more lyrics to “Brick House.”
Nadia Webb, Psy.D., ABPnP, ABPN, is a practicing neuropsychologist, college professor, and step-mom. In her private practice, she assesses and intervenes with neurologically impaired children. The core of her practice has become the assessment of gifted and learning disabled youth. In addition to teaching at a university, Dr. Webb has created in-service training programs, designed systems for coordinating care across agencies, and served on several state and national boards addressing the needs of children. Her work has received honors from the American Medical Association, the Department of Defense, and a personal citation by Governor Jane Hull of Arizona. Dr. Webb is a diplomate in pediatric neuropsychology.