Living with Intensity

I can’t wait to get this new book called Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults by Susan Daniels (Editor), Michael M. Piechowski (Editor).

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Here is a book review.

I’ve been waiting for something like this to help us deal with my daughter’s intensity as well as my own. It’s been very, very draining for us lately. One of the chapters I’m most interested in is the chapter about overexcitabilities and family dynamics.

I’m embarrassed to say I struggle greatly in the area of compassion and understanding in the heat of the moment.

I was also humbled and cried when I started to read the blog by This Mom, a mother of a boy with Asperger’s, because it shows me how even though we don’t have it as bad as it used to be with my middle daughter’s meltdowns (due to sensory regulation difficulties) and other behavioral issues due to selective mutism (controlling behaviors at times and severe separation anxiety at others), I never had much patience and that always made things worse (I’m getting better, but I still have my bad days). I can’t say that I have had the fortitude to avoid Mother Rage. I also can’t say that it’s been easy to raise children for me, for many reasons I’ve talked about before (having 3 girls within 3.5 years, giving up my job in science, trying to reconcile how I was raised with what I want for them, and simply trying to make sure all of them are appropriately challenged because they are bright girls).

I’m not the mother I need to be. I sometimes think of how things used to be when they were at the worst part of things (when she was around 3-4.5), and how dark my thoughts were and how hopeless I felt. Sometimes those thoughts slink back into the foreground, trying to suffocate me and I’m so ashamed of myself. My worst habit is yelling and swearing when things get to be too much. I go through an adult version of a tantrum (but dammit if it doesn’t make me feel a tiny bit better to get things out in the moments before the guilt sets in).

Even at it’s worst, we don’t have it so bad. Yet the undercurrents of overwhelming feelings threaten to undermine us, my husband and I. We were always the happy couple and we spent so much time and energy on each other. Having children changed that somewhat, but having an intense child affected our relationship even more than we ever thought it would. Though most days I don’t mind my intense 5 year old coming into bed with us between 3 and 5 in the morning, on some days it really creates a problem when J and I want intimacy in the wee hours of the morning.

I spend so much time trying to figure out my daughter, looking for solutions, trying to blog *some* good things about our days on my other two blogs, that I neglect my husband at times. He’s usually good about letting me know when that happens, but I wish I could avoid it in the first place. I wish I could stop snapping at him when the girls are dancing on my last nerve. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often, but often enough where I can add that to the list of things I feel guilty about.

That’s the other thing: my husband is the only one who really knows half of what life is like when she melts down. No one in real life knows other than him, and even at that most of it is only second hand for the worst of them, because she never got really bad around him. I have video footage of how she was in her melt down modes, but I’ve been too scared to show anyone else beside him how bad things used to be. I don’t want them to think she’s got serious behavioral problems, even though at the time, they were pretty serious.

I’m still wanting to go to therapy for all the issues. I’m not sure why I’m dragging my heels on this. Maybe because I’m afraid no one will really understand how a wonderful, creative, bright child could slowly erode the foundation of our lives (though we do try to patch things up as best we can). I’m afraid of finding the wrong therapist and that it will make things worse instead of better for us.

But I’m tired of going it alone. I’m tired of having no friends to really talk to about this. I mean, I have some friends, but I have reservations about really talking about these issues. I guess if I paid a therapist, at least I’d get things off my chest, right? Maybe I can talk about the other losses in my life – like the loss of direction, the loss of my career, the loss of my youthful vitality (wait a minute, did I ever have that?) and not putting my needs anywhere near the top of the list of important things I should do.

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11 Responses to Living with Intensity

  1. kyraanderson says:

    i hear you. i do.

    and i have a few things to offer but please, take only what feels right and leave the rest…

    we found IMAGO couple’s counseling to be AMAZINGLY helpful!

    we’ve been finding The Nurtured Heart Approach to parenting AMAZINGLY helpful too!

    it’s nice to report that things in our house have calmed considerably since writing Mother Rage. not that i don’t have my moments–only human after all. but there has been a wonderful transformation for all of us over the last few months.

    sending my best thoughts to you!

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Thanks Kyra –

    I have been reading your blog posts about the Nurtured Heart approach. That’s what’s been making me cry a lot in reading your blog. I have had trouble with the positive attention. I try, to some degree, recognize the good stuff and give attention to that, but as you wrote, not nearly as much as the bad.

    I’m so glad it’s working for you and it seems to be more humane than just time-outs and punishments.

    I hope we find our way. I don’t know what IMAGO’s couple’s counseling is, but I’ll try to google it. We need something, I think.

  3. hopekaibear says:

    I found you through Mothering. There are so many things I can relate to in this post. Just know that you are not alone in how you are feeling. Sometimes it is so hard to be upbeat and positive when you have to keep trudging uphill. Especially when our situations can be so isolating.

    I’m very interested in reading more of your blog. And I’m definitely going to check out that book!

  4. HL says:

    You’re not alone. I also gave up a career in science (PhD genetic epidemiologist) and have a child with severe SPD that was undiagnosed until he started having major behavioral problems in 1st grade. For the past few months we have struggled to understand that his tantrums were not normal for his age and that it will take a lot of time and heartache for us to “fix” everything. Therapy with a great child psychologist, OT, and a team of special ed consultants that we’re paying for ourselves has made a world of difference. We’re not out of the woods yet but we are at least a lot calmer at home even if school is still a stressful situation. Please feel free to email me if you need someone to listen. We are in the same boat! Best wishes and thanks for blogging so honestly.

  5. HL says:

    I also want to add that I have had to deal with my own anger and frustration management issues. One book I found really helpful was When Your Kids Push Your Buttons by Bonnie Harris. It made me sad that the parenting I received as a child partly explains why I am so short fused but now that I’m more aware of my reactions to common trigger behaviors, I am much better able to detach from the moment (not every time but more of the time!). Our child psychologist also helped a lot because she listened and pointed out where my reactions and thinking were illogical and out of proportion.

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Hopekaibear – thanks for the support. It does help to know we aren’t alone in dealing with these issues.

    And I can’t wait for the book to come. I almost wish I would have paid for the shipping so I’d get the book faster!

  7. raisingsmartgirls says:

    HL –

    Thanks for sharing your story. I know my daughter’s SPD issues aren’t severe now (though they were much worse when she was 3-4.5 or so) . I do count my blessings for that. My middle daughter has definitely brought a lot of joy as well as frustration, and things are better than they used to be. I ought to read that book you suggested. I would like to understand more why I have reacted badly at times and how the way I was parented affects me, and why my hackles rise every time she starts melting down.

    Yes, detaching from the moment is hard. I remember having such physical feelings of dread and depression anytime my daughter’s behavior started spiraling downhill. It was as if I was being sucked into her vortex of negativity. On more than one occasion I wanted to run away from everything and start a new life somewhere else. Fortunately, I’m in a bit of a stronger place now, and things aren’t quite that bad anymore. But occasionally (and usually when I don’t take good enough care of myself, or get enough sleep) that I feel the negativity start to build.

    Thanks for the words of support and I will keep you in mind if I need a sympathetic ear.

  8. Sydsmommy says:

    I’ve had so many times when I thought not a single person could understand what my life is like. I have also considered video taping her but I am afraid of what the consequences would be. What would their reaction be to a child that out of control for hours?

    However, we do see a therapist for her SM and it’s wonderful to trouble shoot with her and have her listen. I don’t think they have a full picture of the intense and prolonged tantrums. How could they? Still it’s one person I can talk to.

    It’s quite isolating. It’s very exhausting and it’s made me doubt I can be a suitable mother. I’ve had quite a book list going thanks to this blog. Things can only improve. There is so much more to learn and try.

  9. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Sydsmommy – That’s why I’m blogging. Not just to help me sort out my own feelings of overwhelm and confusion, but also to hopefully help others. About 2 years ago, I was quite close to being extremely depressed because of the inability to manage her over the top emotions. Some days I don’t know how I kept going, but I did.

    It’s hard not to feel like we are failing our children. We aren’t, it’s just a combination of not enough information, not taking care of ourselves enough (so we have more to give and tolerate) and not enough maturation on the part of our children.

    Sometimes there’s hidden things at the root of our children’s behavior – not eating enough (especially protein), not enough sleep, or sensitivities to food (some have suggested a gluten-free casein-free diet to remove wheat products and dairy products) that cause extreme behaviors.

    I know my daughter reacts worse when she doesn’t get a steady stream of protein in her, so for her, diet does play a part in her meltdowns.

    Hang in there mama. You’re so not alone.

  10. pixiejen says:

    Wow… I happened across your blog as I was searching for a book review on “Living with Intensity” and feel like I have found a kindred spirit of sorts. I can relate to your angst, and especially identified with your quote about “trying to reconcile how I was raised with what I want for them”.

    I wrestle daily with inner conflict over how I was raised and what I was always taught (and therefore always believed) was “right” when it comes to raising kids versus the values I now want to impart to my own family. Once I had my own children, I discovered that perhaps the definition of “right” is different from family to family, even if its from one generation to another of the same family.

  11. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Pixiejen –

    Welcome.

    Yes, the definition of “right” is different from family to family. I didn’t realize at the time of this writing, but going through therapy now, I realized that I was suffering from complex-post traumatic stress disorder that would be triggered when my daughter had her meltdowns.

    My mother wasn’t able to mother me and my siblings with compassion. She was going through her own trials with my father, who had a drinking problem. They dynamic between them was complicated and painful. My mother divorced him when I was two, and my mother was most likely unavailable to me pretty much most of the time. I have no memories of being comforted by my mother when I was a little girl. My father took care of my emotional needs when he was living with us. When he was gone, so was any amount of emotional connection to a care-giver for the bulk of the time, though we received some when we were able to see him on weekends and in the summer. But when we’d come home, my mother would do everything to undo his positive influence.

    Growing up, I know my mother couldn’t comfort or support me throughout the many developmental changes that children go through. I was emotionally abandoned by my mother and my step-father (who married my mother when I was 5).

    This parental unavailability (physical or emotional) creates a very anxious child. These have life-long effects on any person, but especially so for the highly sensitive person. Usually even if one parent is unavailable, the other parent can make up the difference. That didn’t happen with me.

    My own attachment difficulties to my daughter when she was in meltdown mode prolonged her anxiety. I didn’t know then what I know now…that I would have ‘flashbacks’ of a sort. I saw no visual images, but I did feel panic, dread and fear when she was in these meltdown modes. I couldn’t give her comfort because I had none to give.

    Not to get too deep into psychology, but we all carry with us imprints of our parents in our minds from childhood (because our minds are so vulnerable). If there was neglect, criticism or abuse involved, we carry this with us.

    Most times, while we can shrug off criticism from other sources (friends, aquaintances, strangers), it’s incredibly hard to shrug off the internal critical voices.

    Daniel Siegel’s Parenting from the Inside Out helped me to understand my childhood experiences did influence how I parent. Living with Intensity helps me to understand why our family dynamics has been influenced and shaped by my own and my daughter’s intensity.

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