Monday, March 10, 2003
Article: Of Giftedness, ADD, Depression, and being an HSP
In my recent "hiatus" from this forum, I have been spending some time researching connections between some things that might be of interest and relevance to many HSPs.
Looking through old threads here, I have noticed that we fairly frequently "cry out in pain" over one thing or another-- anguished screams in the night over the difficulty of it all. Most of the cries relate to feeling misunderstood, for a great number of reasons. BTW's recent posts come to mind, but there have been others. From time to time, we have discussions about depression, ADD, counseling and meds.
Like many HSPs, I have spent much of my life in a "caretaker" situation, helping others. I suppose one of the biproducts of this is that you learn a thing or two along the way.... and often a thing or two your basic psychologist/therapist doesn't pick up on.
As awareness of the HSP concept continues to spread (we've gone from fewer than 150 to more than 1100 members here, since I've been posting) I feel a growing concern that many HSPs who are being treated for (or have self-diagnosed with) "depression" or "ADD" or "Bipolar disorder" may be struggling with a mis-diagnosis on top of their already complex issues. Maybe you'll read this and say "Yeah, well, DUH!"-- but maybe not.
Bear with me for a moment, because some background is relevant here.
We have periodically touched-- albeit very briefly-- on the topics of IQ and "giftedness." However, we have all (HSPs and non-HSPs alike) been well trained that "giftedness" is not an "acceptable" topic for anyone to concern themselves with, except in passing. We tend to wring our hands and back away a bit like our dog did something nasty on the carpet.... after all, we're not "supposed to" think we're "anything" the rest of the world isn't....
Now, we can come from the opposite end of the spectrum and be "developmentally challenged," and a host of people immediately jump to our aid. Not so with giftedness. After all, it's a "positive," not a "negative."
For the purposes of this post, please understand that I am NOT talking specifically about "IQ" here, I am talking about "abilities" that somehow make a person "different" because of their insights, intuitions and talents in one or more areas.
On a very broad level, there is a pretty good support network in place for "gifted children." Likewise, there is a broad support network in place for "special needs children." But guess what? When you turn 16, 18 or 21, whatever.... the support system for the "gifted" end of the spectrum completely falls away. If you are 40 (or older) odds are there never was one, for you. At best, you were perhaps recognized as someone who could tutor those struggling in the class. Mostly, you're on your own. In fact, society penalizes you a bit with "less-than-supportive" comments such as "If you're so smart, why do you need help?"
OK, so what does this have to do with being an HSP?
The few PhDs out there actively doing research on "Adult Giftedness" (Silverman, Webb, et.al.) have found that there is an extremely strong correlation between extreme sensitivity (in childhood, and as an adult) and giftedness. Understand that while this does mean that the majority of "gifted" people are probably HSPs, it does not mean that HSPs are by definition "gifted." But there are certainly proportionately more gifted HSPs than gifted people in the general population. And much like with being HSP, 60-70% of "highly gifted" adults are introverts, vs. 25-30% of the general population.
"Gifted" adults (many of whom are HSPs, remember) have "problems" just like the rest of the world. Except they are not like the rest of the world, just like HSPs are not like the rest of the world. As a (partial, anyway) result of this, there is an alarming degree of misdiagnosis of Depression, ADD and Bipolar Disorder in gifted adults.
Someone presents for treatment with "scattered" thoughts and a hyperactive mind that's constantly thinking "crazy thoughts" all over the place, as well as hypersensitivity and hyperexitablility. So they get chemical treatment for ADD. Except..... this hyperactive mind is actually a natural consequence of giftedness and sensitivity, not a "fault" in need of "repair." Yet, with a little pharmaceutical help, a brilliant mind that actually just needed guidance is instead "put to sleep" with drugs and its gifts lost to society.
But getting back to depression. The danger with depression in the gifted (and HSP) adult is that to 99% of the psychological profession "depression is depression is depression." Thus someone who presents with "depression" is (drugged and) treated for "depression."
Sorry! Wrong! But thank you for playing.....
Many of us recognize psychological clinical depression, either from having it, or from knowing someone who has it-- or just from reading. There are a bajillion web sites that will let you self-test, or read definitions from the "Holy Book Of The DSM-IV." In general something happens in our lives that jolts us, disappoints us, and we feel like we've failed somehow, and we become depressed. Things feel bleak and hopeless, but eventually a counselor helps us find the cause, which is then localized, defined and treated, and we go about our lives, armed with new "tools," "magic pills" and a new direction.
But there are many people for whom this standard "treatment of depression" really doesn't do anything. They seek treatment, but end up feeling no improvement, leading to feeling even more as if nobody understands them, and then might even devleop a belief that the psychology profession "can't help them" because they "don't GET it." More often than not, these people are HSPs who are also highly gifted.
The "good" news is that the reason you don't feel any different as a result of the treatment you're getting... is that you're being treated for something you don't actually have.
Existential Depression is often little more than a footnote in most writings and research on depression. It's not exactly a "household concept" since it generally doesn't affect many people, except in a very fleeting and vague manner. However, it is extremely prevalent among highly gifted sensitive adults. It's pervasive, non-specific, numbing and immobolizing-- in some cases causing the sufferer to reach a very logical conclusion that it makes most sense to just kill themselves. It does not respond to drugs or "conventional" therapies for depression; it cannot be "cured," only "managed" and the appropriate "management skills" generally have to be learned through Existential Psychotherapy-- which was "Chapter 4 in college" for most therapists, but a specialty for painfully few.
I just bring this up as "food for thought" for those who struggle with Depression and/or ADD/ADHD and feel "out of step." I bring this up, because maybe all that is "wrong" with you is that you have a special brain that's actually functioning normally-- for you. I bring it up because the type of depression felt by many on this board may not be as straightforward as they think. This will by no means apply to everyone, but if it "clicks" with even one or two, this post will have been worthwhile.
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