Why are our teens harming themselves? I may have found one reason. Existential depression – it’s a depth the likes of which you cannot imagine.
This may be one culprit that plagues the gifted and talented of the human race. Existential depression has to be addressed right now! So I’m going to make an assumption and use myself for example. It’s hard to say whether I was gifted or not, considering diagnostic tests were not as thorough as they are today, but I was talented. I remember feeling like a freak because I didn’t think like others.
As a child, I felt alone. There were people all around me, laughing and socializing. They smiled lingering on small talk a little longer than my tastes. Then I noticed my brother, and he was staring at them too. He was like me.
My brother was a gifted and I couldn’t focus. We both lived day to day under a cloud of existential depression. I didn’t understand when I was a child, but now I know the truth. From birth, my brother and I suffered from information overload. The fear and analyzation of four things hung over us like a dark umbrella – death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. We had to wrap our minds around the finality of death and the structure within life when we were already hard at work at convincing ourselves that we must be immortal. With that, we were inherently alone, searching to no end. My brother was successful in ways that I was not, and vice versa, but I’m not going to break it down for ya.
But what was this strange realization of self? I wanted to know if others realized themselves as I did. Did they feel like tiny adults, did they feel out of place and did they develop their own world inside the world that everyone else lived? Did they do this too? I thought my brother and I were aliens or monsters. I had so many theories of why we didn’t quite fit in.
It was too much! I had to hide it.
Most of the time around others, I kept quiet and buried my ‘strange’ thoughts. I trained myself to hide feelings, I trained myself to be like the masses. I even went as far as to create a whole new me which pretended to care about my classmate’s chatterings. Although I wasn’t all around successful, I managed to get by during many traumatic experiences with abuse at home.
But it was too much pressure!
If I had not been able to shut down, I would have, more than likely, experienced a worse outcome than I did. After all, by the time I was in the 4th grade, I was seeing a therapist for panic attacks and depression. I was convinced I was dying. In my outlook, my body was failing me. Now, you might think this was primary a result of my abuse. But, cloaking my true thoughts and training myself to be someone else did its damage as well.
Fortunately, I was able to retain that moment when I looked at my brother and knew we were different. Today, I am still peeling away layers of everyone else to find me. Every now and then I catch glimpses of her – the one who cannot deny the truth.
There is a difference
It’s true, I think that gifted and talented individuals experience existential depression, even as children. Although any one of us is capable of experiencing existential depression, especially because of a loss or impending loss, some of us experience it randomly and frequently – like every day. Sometimes, it can run parallel with Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration, meaning anxiety or stress is essential to developmental growth. So why do gifted people suffer more often with existential depression.
Well, think about it this way. If you are constantly thinking, not just about surface level things, then you are bound to start tearing every little thing apart, including death, isolation, structure and the meaning of everything. It sounds exhausting, right?
You don’t know the half of it.
Gifted and talented individuals notice every inconsistency, every flaw and ever failed ideal. They see the world as it could be, and cringe at the fact that it never really meets expectations. The gifted and existentially depressed often ask questions such as, “Why do you say one thing and do the other?”, and “Why can’t you see the ignorance in what you’re doing?” It’s not because these children and adults feel the need to insult others. They just cannot stop analyzing and using their logic to make sure you know what they have already figured out two steps ago.
And what happens when gifted individuals share their concerns? Most of the time these concerns are met with hostility. Most others are too busy paying attention to concrete issues such as being accepted. The worst part of being different is that the gifted may even feel isolated from their own family. If the gifted have learned to navigate these obstacles, then they are faced with a new set of issues – growing older.
Without ample stimulation for such minds, depression can set in. With the gift of talents comes choice. Gifted children must decide from an early age, what they want to do with all that knowledge. If there are no outlets to utilize this huge bank of information, they will start to feel trapped and frustrated. There are many factors which play into this as well, such as lack of time, money or available resources. This can also lead to depression by knowledge of their own unfortunate situation.
Gifted children then search for an anchor to pull themselves up, and in this process, they more fully understand their brief and finite life. While we hear these same concerns in adults, mostly in midlife, thoughts like this from children are alarming. These thoughts, deriving from existential depression, sometimes lead to suicide.
So, let’s help
Although we cannot change the fact that death is imminent, we can be there to help bright children cope with these endless curiosities of our finite existence. One of the first things that gifted children should know is that there are many others who think in the same way.
For some children experiencing existential depression, concerning isolation, touch is a good way to keep contact. A hug or a high five can let them know that they are not alone. As far as helping the gifted develop their own healthy structure, average examples are not good enough. These children should be exposed to alternate ways of structure and freedom in adult lives. Ample reading is one of the most important tools to ensure that children see life from all angles and not just the perspective of their own neighborhoods. Everyone needs to form their own beliefs and values in an impartial environment.
Stories about others who have paved their own road to greatness helps so much.
But these issues cannot be approached only once. Each of the four points in existential depression must be faced off again and again throughout the developing years. It takes love and determination, basically.
So, before you try to fit in, try standing apart. There in the shadows of existential depression stand others just like you. Appreciate who you are and help each other cope with the truth of life and death, for denial will not enable you to live a full life. Face it and conquer the darkness for your well-being. After all, you have this life, so live it while you can.
Go forth and be blessed!
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