I had a different topic in mind for this blog hop. Then, as I fought yet another migraine, I decided to write this instead. Let’s talk about the dark underbelly of being gifted. Your health.
I’m not even talking about being twice exceptional like my son. No, let’s talk about how being gifted can affect your health all by itself, nothing exceptional about it.
My gifted husband has migraines. I, also gifted, have migraines. My 5-year-old son has started having random massive headaches that make him sensitive to light…probably migraines.
Gifted individuals are wired differently. Sometimes the wiring is better – to overclock your computer, as it were. Sometimes the wiring isn’t exactly what we want and does weird stuff that makes your life miserable.
Take me, for example. I have no way of truly knowing if my autoimmune diseases can be blamed on being gifted. The very nature of autoimmune – the system going nuts and attacking itself – is by nature faulty wiring. Some signal somewhere isn’t being read correctly, and my immune system goes nuts when it encounters my thyroid. Thus the picture for this post: I’m not a junkie, promise! I just take a few thyroid meds.
Migraines are also faulty wiring – triggered by oversensitivities that lead the brain to overreact. I want to giggle every time I read WebMD’s blurb on migraines:
“The frequency with which headaches occur varies from person to person. Migraines may be rare, or strike several times a month.” WebMD
Several times a month? Try several times a week, or more. How about every day? That’s life for Mr. Genius – a clean MRI, no obvious triggers happening, but random strings of migraines anyway. I’m to the point of blaming it on the weather and hoping for the best.
And what about when your highly sensitive systems (overexcitabilities) are themselves migraine triggers? Walking past a cigarette smoker will instantly trigger a migraine for my husband. Staying outside in bright sunlight will trigger mine. Actually, any headache will trigger mine – even a garden variety headache. Fun stuff.
It’s not just about my head either – being highly sensitive affects a lot of things.
For example: I have a high pain tolerance. I have a low pain threshold. Put those together: I can take a lot, but it hurts more than yours. Perhaps not directly caused by gifted, but certainly caused by higher sensitivities.
Even my gut is affected. After a recent bout of colitis the doctor tested me for something chronic like Chrohns or UC. Despite years of colitis symptoms, she concluded that my system is just highly sensitive.
I asked if that meant it was all in my head? She laughed, and told me no, it’s fairly common for people to have sensitive digestive systems. The gut has the exact same type of nerves that the brain does – and there’s a lot of brain/gut connections that science still hasn’t unlocked. She told me that the effective medications for gut super-sensitivity are antidepressants.
My stunned expression said it all – she laughed. I like my brain and the way it works – my gut can get over itself and start dealing with the sensitivities without any system-wide medications!
What about mental health?
The brain is the key to everything. What happens when it isn’t working quite right? What about mental health – neurological health? That’s a murky morass to dive into. Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakid thinks that more doctors should be trained to deal with gifted kids and their dual diagnosis:
“When pediatric diagnoses are carelessly applied, gifted children are frequently mislabeled with ADHD, autistic, depressive, or bipolar disorders.” The Misunderstood Face of Giftedness.
Gifted kids are often misdiagnosed – or not diagnosed at all. Gifted sensitivities and behaviors can mask mental illness or prevent diagnosis. It’s so confusing! The Engineer has an official diagnosis of ADHD and PDD-NOS (the old version of ASD, because he’s “borderline” autistic: they just don’t know without more testing.) His doctors are positive he has ADHD. I’m not so sure.
Sure, it looks and acts like ADHD in some ways, but it’s clearly not in others. Some days I’m convinced it’s just giftedness and overexcitabilities. Some days I’m positive his SPD is mimicking ADHD. I have the benefit of seeing it all. His doctors don’t see it all – and they see him after he’s been in a trigger situation for a while.
I can tell you that if the Engineer attended public school, his teachers would be enthusiastically advocating for ADHD medication. How many kids like the Engineer are out there? How many kids with psychomotor overexcitabilities are struggling to behave in a classroom setting when they just need to move and talk?
What about the gifted kid with the existential depression? Despair over the world’s social ills can be well warranted – but does it need medication for depression? And how about the kid who has narrow, deep interests that mimics Autism? Does he need ABA therapy or just interactions with people who share his interests?
Dr. Kuzujanakis thinks that giftedness should be considered before slapping a label on a kid (or prescribing a medication):
“It is crucial to properly distinguish pathology while accurately addressing concerns. Sometimes the best remedy is simply proper educational placement.” Dr. Kuzujanakis, The Misunderstood Face Of Giftedness
I’m not even delving into the wonderful world of 2e, where it’s often extremely difficult to get the diagnosis you need because giftedness masks the signs of other conditions.
Being gifted is so hard in so many ways. Health is just one of them – and one of the most crucial ones, especially for children in school. Misdiagnosis or underdiagnosis can brutally affect a kid who is struggling and needs help. A lot of people say they don’t care about labels, especially if they’re homeschooling. I say labels are important: they help us pinpoint strategies for helping kids cope, or for helping us parent them effectively.
As a gifted adult, having the proper label can be critical to getting a doctor to take you seriously. I can’t tell you how hard I had to fight to get doctors to take my health seriously: to them, it was all in my head. Having the right label, even if it’s one they’re not familiar with at times, helps me manage my issues and provides a better quality of life.
Health matters. Understanding your health as a gifted individual is critical to getting the help you need. Don’t write it off as a gifted quirk and ignore it.
This post is part of the Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum blog hop on The Difficulties of Being Gifted. Please go here to read more about the downsides of being gifted, and how that might affect you or your child.