It does not mean seeing depression as a gift.
Gifted Depression is the kind of depression that Gifted Individuals (AKA Gifted Adults, the Gifted Population) have as the result of the kind of brains we have.
Depression, and mental health in general, have been recognized as a public health crisis in recent years. However, even with this raised awareness, surveys show that the stigma attached to depression hasn’t changed.
The purpose of this blog is to help remove the external and internal stigma on depression and mental health issues that Gifted Individuals experience. I will also attempt to illuminate how and why Gifted Brains work differently, and how the conventional definitions of “mental health issues” and “depression” are actually natural expressions of such brains.
My hope is that such awareness and understanding can help these individuals (and the rest of the society) reassess and value of our differently-abled brains, and that this newfound appreciation for our unique brains and who we are will be the first step toward authentic self-care.
(I use the word “our” because I “suffered” with understanding myself for many years, which inspired my research. I have now accepted and even embraced my uniqueness, as I hope you will.)
The second step of Gifted self-care is discovering what our brains really need; that is, what we as Gifted Individuals need in order to feel well and loved by ourselves regardless of our external circumstances. While this may take time, it can also be a fun and fulfilling process because – as Gifted Individuals – we are good at learning new things.
There is no due date, nor is this a test. I will not knock on your door to inquire about your progress. So you can take your time as it suits you, on your own terms and timeline. No stress; only fun.
Step Three of authentic self-care for the Gifted is to adopt and apply the self-care program we’ve designed for ourselves. Do it consistently, until it becomes second nature. Self-care is not a separate program outside of our lives. It is our life, and how we will live it from now on.
Self-Care: Step One is Understanding Gifted Depression
The first step is discovering what Gifted Depression is, becoming aware of who we are, and what our unique brains have to offer.
We will first look at what being Gifted means, individually and as part of the Gifted community.
Gifted Individuals are those who display multiple qualities of intelligence, beyond just a high IQ. (Some studies referenced in this site may be limited to high IQ, with no mention of high multiple-intelligence qualities, but we are going to expand on those theories, and hopefully expand our minds in the process.)
The five “Overexcitabilities” Polish psychologist and psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski’s described in his Theory of Positive Disintegration are often pointed to as indications of being Gifted.
(A superior translation from the original Polish of “Overexcitabilities” is “Hyperexcitabilities”, which literally means “superstimulatability”. And you thought those other words were big!)
Dabrowski’s theory was based on his clinical observations. Present-day psychotherapists specializing in Gifted or bright individuals continue to observe these traits in their clients.
The Gifted and Neurodiversity
Just as no two fingerprints are the same, no two brains are the same. If we consider the variance of our brain(s) in a spectrum, those who vary more greatly from the middle or “average” are the neurodivergent brains.
Gifted brains are neurodivergent, varying to different degrees from average brains. Examples of how Gifted brains differ from neuro-typical brains include the Hyperexcitabilities described by Dabrowski, which many Gifted Adults, including myself, can strongly relate to.
Additional Gifted brain traits have been discovered and agreed upon by experts in the fields of Gifted education, Gifted psychotherapy, and Gifted neuroscience.
The following are examples of Gifted traits experts have reached a consensus on. Some of these may overlap Dabrowski’s Hyperexcitabilities, such as intense emotions, and strong (or clear) ethics.
Gifted Individuals are also more idealistic than most, striving to be the best version of themselves in order to rise above personal events in their lives, as well as impersonal events they observe in the outer world.
Examples of Gifted Traits and Depression Symptoms
Intense emotions: Gifted Individuals are passionate. This passion often manifests itself as impatience – about small events (sitting in traffic, waiting in line) and large events (graduating from college, completing work, achieving goals) and personal relationships .
On the other side of the spectrum is the neuro-typical “happy-go-lucky” attitude and approach to life exemplified by common expressions like “Chill, Man!”, “It’s all good” and “Don’t worry, be happy”.
Gifted Individuals have strong ideas and opinions that aren’t so easy to ignore or brush aside. Our heightened emotional sensitivities are both the cause and result of our emotional intensity.
However, our emotional intensity and sensitivity is not something that meditation practice can erase, nor should it.
It’s not even about achieving perpetual, indestructible “inner peace.” However, meditation and deep self-reflection may help calm the tempo; slow down the reactivity. With the ability to examine the ego, when one of those old triggers comes along, we will have the new power to think twice rather than simply react impulsively. But intensity is our nature. It’s about how deeply and quickly all our senses and intellectual faculties can process information.
An example of how our emotional intensity leads to expressions of depression is when we “erupt” and shock the person/people we are interacting with, who may not have information about our background or an understanding that intensity is part of our nature, which makes them “take it personally”.
Only we know that how strongly we respond to an interaction or conversation is a personal expression, not a personal attack. Their unknowingly inaccurate reactions of sadness or anger directed toward us cause us to feel guilt and sadness over being misunderstood, and perhaps the feeling of alienation that everyone who is different in any way sometimes feels.
We may also seem intimidating to most people. Those who see our light beneath the sometimes-stormy surface, and can hang out and enjoy our company, are brave souls indeed, but they know the rewards justify the occasional challenge.
Clear/Strong Ethics: I am cautious when using words like “morals” and “morality” because I’m very aware of the danger of imposing a certain set of “morals” on all of humanity. I’m most wary of how words such as these are used as a weapon to squash freedom of choice and negate or even obliterate our soul’s desire, our essence as human beings and/or our Life Purpose.
Both the secular world and organized religion have pushed agendas that have caused and continue to cause cruelty and bloodshed, costing the lives of many living beings, and always in the name of “morality”. So, to avoid limitation or possible misinterpretation, I have chosen the word “ethics” but still pray that it’s not misconstrued.
Gifted Individuals have a strong sense of right and wrong. In this sense, “right and wrong” are viewed from the perspective of moving the human race forward vs. compromising and settling for less.
The Gifted often see compromise as weakly-held standards, or the complete lack of them, perhaps for the sake of survival (however superficial that definition of survival is.) Or, they may see compromise as an effort to be popular or accepted by the larger group, which they consider to be an inequitable trade, and therefore intolerable.
In addition to being idealists, Gifted Individuals are often perfectionists. Our extreme approach can be defined as “all or nothing”.
We tend to be uncompromising when it comes to quality, high standards, and personal preferences. We have an inner measurement, as well as an inner sense of higher possibilities. If we know we can be a 5, we refuse to settle for a 3. Mediocrity serves no one.
However, refusing to compromise when met with the 3D reality – the physical world’s limitation of the time and space – that is, how progress always takes time (longer than we have the patience for), can be the source of our frustration, sense of defeat, and ultimately, depression.
The Gifted Individuals’ heightened sensitivities – physical and emotional – make us vulnerable to environmental toxins, which may have further direct and indirect impact on mental health. We’ve covered some of the emotional sensitivities, but what about heightened physical sensitivities? We have a lower threshold for volume, such as everyday noises and sounds, and even music or TV volume.
We’re also more sensitive to light. Bright indoor lighting at work or strobing lights at clubs or concerts can disrupt our sense of balance. This sensory overstimulation interferes with the function of our delicate minds, emotions and bodies.
When more of our energy is used to fend off the sensory overstimulation, less energy is available for clear thinking, or to balance our emotions for a sense of well-being. When we step out of our homes, we begin to experience sensory overload.
In the long run, this burdens our immune function and nervous systems, causing symptoms of depression, which include disrupted sleep patterns and anxiety.
Physiological Causes of Gifted Depression
Physiologically, the Gifted Brain is found to have more grey matter that can hold more information. More grey matter present in various regions of the brain (including the frontal cortex, that processes….) allows these brains to process a higher volume of input more rapidly. These regions represent mental faculties such as analyzing and decision-making, as well as our behaviors, all of which determine how we respond to sensory stimuli.
Another difference in Gifted Brains is higher neural efficiency. The information held in the grey matter relies on the white matter to transport it to neuron connections. These connections run more smoothly in Gifted Brains and can also handle a greater amount of traffic.
This has been referred to as “the higher fluid analogizing ability” of the Gifted Brain. Different sets of connection pathways allow different kinds of information to be processed better and faster. So, among the Gifted, some are highly skilled in the sciences, while others are talented in the arts.
When numerous information signals compete with each other for our attention, in addition to the environmental stimuli we (that is, our Gifted brains) are already processing, information overload can easily occur. The resulting manifestation might be annoyance, irritability, self-blame, guilt, or all of the above.
These uncomfortable emotions arise when we feel overwhelmed by an overload of information and environmental factors such as noise and/or the other person’s “gift of the gab”. In situations such as these, our efficient brains are unable to take a break or work non-intrusively.
With this knowledge, we can form a strategy, such as excusing ourselves to take a “time-out” from that person or the subject being discussed, or just move to a quieter spot.
Scientific Evidence of the Link between the Gifted Brain and Various Mental Outcomes
Studies over the last forty years have revealed the connections between high IQ and various mental and immunological outcomes, including depression.
Other research also shows that the central nervous systems of students with high IQ’s display hyper-reactivity. This, understandably, can lead to many other psychological and physiological consequences. Other case studies examined the relationship between the neurophysiological and neuroanatomical findings of Gifted Brains.
Internal and External Expectations of Ourselves – Another Cause of Depression
While it seems logical to assume and anticipate that Gifted Individuals will experience superior academic performance and high accomplishments in life, including a higher income level, the reality is many Gifted Individuals struggle both at school and in life.
Our hyper-excitabilities in many aspects of our lives means that we are hyper-reactive to our external environments. In a world that is content with “average”, values “normalcy” or “cool-headedness”, and lacks understanding of the biological fact of neurodiversity, our “differences” (that is, our strong emotions and behaviors) have been labeled as “inappropriate”.
The inflexibility of social/cultural structures and value systems, and the condemnation of our differences that they produce – condemnation that is as harsh as it is uninformed – has been harming the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of Gifted Individuals since time began.
If the ultimate measure of “mental health issues” is whether Gifted Individuals pose a physical risk to themselves or others, then these externally-imposed restrictions and impairments are directly and indirectly influencing our “sanity”.
Therefore, to some degree, the mental health issues of Gifted Individuals are the natural result of the 3D world we live in. But our mental health issues do not cause us to fall short of our Life Purpose. Instead, they may be part of our Purpose, and how we express our Soul.
The combination of the Gifted Traits of Intensity, Drive and Complexity, often juxtaposed with a lack of achievement, either by the Gifted Individual’s own definition or that of the outside world, would understandably be another cause of depression.
However, being Gifted is also defined by asynchronously-developed abilities between our cognitive, emotional, and physical development, as well as uneven degrees of development within ourselves.
An example is someone who is excellent in certain specialties, but with latent (or absent) development in Executive Functional Skill, causing the lesser/lower ability to organize their lives or delay maturation of interpersonal skills, leaving them feeling inadequate, frustrated, and depressed.
That’s a lot to think about, but the understanding and, more importantly, acceptance of it can replace a habit (self-doubt or self-loathing) with awareness. That’s a much stronger place to be. Then, armed with this new insight, we can take action and make positive change.
We can deliberately set up our physical environment in a way that helps us control the flow of our daily lives, become better organized, and, when necessary, enlist the help of Professional Organizers.
We can also work with great coaches on our Executive Functional Skills and/or top-notch therapists specializing in Gifted or neurodivergent clients who have proven approaches or track records to help people with unique challenges transform their lives. After all, who doesn’t have areas that could stand some self-improvement? Isn’t that what New Year’s Resolutions are about?
In summary, Gifted Depression is an inherent Gifted quality. However, knowing the physiological and emotional expressions of the Gifted Brain helps us understand and appreciate ourselves, as well as prepare tools that can help us manage the inconvenient symptoms and negative effects of Gifted Depression in our work and life.
Remember, our ultimate goal is authentic self-care, so we can express our talents and live a life that is fulfilling because it’s true to everything we are, and to what makes us truly special.