While recently watching and reviewing a documentary about Janis Joplin, I learned she’s a member of the infamous “27 Club” – that is, artists and musicians who died at the age of 27.
The existence of this “group” was sad but not surprising to me, given that so many gifted artists have died incredibly young – whether at 27 or somewhere in that range.
British filmmaker Michael Reeves, for instance, made his first feature-length movie at the age of 23, his second at the age of 24, and his third (and final) movie – the brilliant Witchfinder General (1968) – at 25. He died of a drug overdose.
I bring this up not to be morbid, but instead to highlight once again that being gifted (with all the intensities this inevitably brings) can be just as challenging as it is rewarding. Many RFMs deal with existential angst that leads to tremendous psychological pain, anguish, and occasionally early death. (SENG was founded because of this).
I personally nearly died at age 12 from an eating disorder, dropped out of school countless times, and have struggled my entire life to varying degrees with depression and anxiety in one form or another (now thankfully being managed quite well).
RFMs may be so eager from such a young age to make a difference, to utilize our talents, to “do the right thing” – and so intolerant of a world that doesn’t generally live up to our expectations – that we get mired in the hopelessness of it all. Indeed, the third chapter of Prober’s (2016) Your Rainforest Mind is entitled “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Saving the World?”
Not knowing other people who share our feelings and passions can make thing even lonelier. As Prober (2016) writes:
“Loneliness may be the number one challenge for the RFM. And it often starts early” (p. 105).
RFMs may reach out time and again, hoping desperately for a connection that shows us we’re not crazy for wanting MORE – and mostly being disappointed. Before meeting my RFM husband, the only people I dated (not many, and not for long; I was mostly single and lonely) were musicians. Their passion for their craft resembled what I felt about the world more broadly – and being an (amateur) musician myself, we had this love in common. However, the challenge inevitably became that they were SO invested in their music, they didn’t really have space for a long-term partner – or kids, which I wanted.
Meanwhile, my list of “good friends” has always been small and selective. I search for people who understand and accept my complexity and gifts rather than judging them.
To that end, I remain immensely grateful for Prober’s proffering of the alternative term “rainforest mind”, given how super-loaded “gifted” still is – for good reason, due to ongoing societal inequities and injustices which lead to under-representation of kids of color and other marginalized groups in formal programs for gifted children. Indeed, gifted individuals are often highly attuned to these unacceptable facts – and I will be writing more about them.
As Prober reminds us again and again, our troubled world actually needs RFMs more than ever – “overthinkers” who dwell on society’s challenges and strive for justice at every turn. After all, we don’t settle for good enough – ever – unless forced to.
All that being said, as hard as it may be, we have to get comfortable talking about ourselves:
- We need to talk about what it’s like have uniquely wired brains, heightened emotions, and a kind of intensity that can be “too much” for many (including sometimes ourselves).
- We need to share what it’s like to experience the world at a different pace, often with differently calibrated senses.
- We need acknowledgement that our gifts cause us both great joy AND tremendous suffering.
I’m committed to keeping myself – and like-minded RFMS – healthy and well-tended so we can turn right back around and use our gifts for others. There’s too much at stake otherwise.
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