Matters of the heart – musings from the ER

I had a surprise emergency room visit today after I spent two days having bouts of chest pain right where my heart is located.  As I knew my grandfather had an angina attack and then congestive heart failure for 15 years, and this is the second time in 5 years I had physical symptoms of potential a heart attack, I wasn’t taking any chances.

As I was sitting there for three hours while they performed an EKG, monitored my blood pressure, took vials of blood to test for organ functioning and cardiac enzymes, and had gotten my chest X-rayed, my mind kept turning over some revelations I’ve discovered(with the help of some lovely internet friends) over the course of the past few weeks.

If you could really know me and my peculiarities, I’ve had a little bit of death anxiety and quite a lot of bit of existential depression (though I never REALLY knew that I did until recently),  ever since I was a young girl.  I don’t know anyone who thinks of their own demise as frequently as I have.

Taken from this article from SENG, Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals by James T. Webb,

Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence. Yalom (1980) describes four such issues (or “ultimate concerns”)–death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. Death is an inevitable occurrence. Freedom, in an existential sense, refers to the absence of external structure. That is, humans do not enter a world which is inherently structured. We must give the world a structure which we ourselves create. Isolation recognizes that no matter how close we become to another person, a gap always remains, and we are nonetheless alone. Meaninglessness stems from the first three. If we must die, if we construct our own world, and if each of us is ultimately alone, then what meaning does life have?

Why should such existential concerns occur disproportionately among gifted persons? Partially, it is because substantial thought and reflection must occur to even consider such notions, rather than simply focusing on superficial day-to-day aspects of life. Other more specific characteristics of gifted children are important predisposers as well.

Because gifted children are able to consider the possibilities of how things might be, they tend to be idealists. However, they are simultaneously able to see that the world is falling short of how it might be. Because they are intense, gifted children feel keenly the disappointment and frustration which occurs when ideals are not reached. Similarly, these youngsters quickly spot the inconsistencies, arbitrariness and absurdities in society and in the behaviors of those around them. Traditions are questioned or challenged. For example, why do we put such tight sex-role or age-role restrictions on people? Why do people engage in hypocritical behaviors in which they say one thing and then do another? Why do people say things they really do not mean at all? Why are so many people so unthinking and uncaring in their dealings with others? How much difference in the world can one person’s life make?

When gifted children try to share these concerns with others, they are usually met with reactions ranging from puzzlement to hostility. They discover that others, particularly of their age, clearly do not share these concerns, but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others’ expectations. Often by even first grade, these youngsters, particularly the more highly gifted ones, feel isolated from their peers and perhaps from their families as they find that others are not prepared to discuss such weighty concerns.

I have to say that such things are not the exclusive domain of gifted children, but of gifted adults too. True, perhaps we have more coping mechanisms (medicating ourselves with prescriptions from doctors or self-medicating with substance abuse) and cognitive reasoning ability to help us when we are adults, but for some of us, you realize that you have gone 30, 40, 50 years or more without really finding true peers.

Because somehow I sense the loneliness in others and I have a deep empathy for others, I have lived my live reaching out to others in the hopes I will help someone and also have my feelings reflected back to me.

Just prior to deciding I should have my chest pain checked out, I was laying in bed reading the final chapter of A Wrinkle in Time. If you haven’t read it as a child, you should now. It’s a quick read, but it is still applicable for today’s world even though it was written in the 60’s.

I won’t summarize the book for you, but if you don’t plan to (and therefore don’t mind a spoiler) here is a good summary of the book.

I never was very keen on time-travel/space travel type stories, but I am always interested in stories about the human condition. The story was written with the intent of providing sort of a fictitious rendition of communism – whereby everyone on a particular planet must conform to IT, a giant disembodied brain. It’s not a superior intelligence that ultimately wins out, but the ability to love.

This, and other thoughts of late had been on my mind when I sat there in the emergency room – like the mammogram I took a week ago that I have not received the results from, and the thoughts of friends and concerns that they have.

People walk around the earth half asleep – not cherishing every breath they’ve been blessed to take, not letting those they love know not just that they love them, but WHY they love and cherish them.

From this first article I googled about coping with death anxiety :

Existentialists counsel us to switch off autopilot or following the herd, sheep-like. Instead we should realize that we have a limited amount of time on this planet and make active choices about how to live.

From the time I was 17, discussing existential philosophy with my friend Dave (who was constantly vocal about his existential angst) into the wee hours of the morning, until just now, I had no idea I was following this very advice.

My life has been enriched because I’ve reached out to others and loved unconditionally (not just the romantic love, but the platonic love found in great friendships). If you’ve been touched, I mean really touched, by my love for you, chances are you already know it.

If you’ve let me love you, I’m indebted to you. For validating my feelings and my thoughts, and in some cases for reflecting them back to me almost word for word as I would have thought them.

If I sound like a crazy one, perhaps you might be right. But I’d rather feel deliriously awake than half asleep. I’m sorry you don’t know the joy that I know.

If you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the results of all the tests: I’m fine. Today is not my day to go. The report stated (with my thoughts in brackets) :

A specific reason for your chest pain has not been found, but it does not appear to be related to any serious heart or lung disease. It may be from emotional stress [waiting for the response to the mammogram has been stressful], a viral inflammation in the chest wall [not likely but possible], minor injury [not likely], or a stomach acid problem [very not likely].

Please send me good wishes that the mammogram comes back negative otherwise I shall be back here to process the bad news.


This entry was posted in gifted support, introspection, my stories, On friendship, paying it forward, personal issues, perspective. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Matters of the heart – musings from the ER

  1. Papa T says:

    Hey…how ’bout I send you good wishes AND you come back here to process–whether good news or bad?

    Good wishes, good wishes, good wishes…a gazillion good wishes!

    That’s one of the neat things about love–there can be no debt…no owing. How liberating (and rare) to give and be given to with no ensuing payment…or guilt.

    Crazy? Outlier? Fringe? Non-normative? Signs (labels), signs, everywhere are signs…Blockin’ out the scenery, messin’ up my mind…Do this, don’t do that. Can’t you read the signs? You may be crazy…so what? Remember > IT <

    Sometimes the anxiety that we feel just has to be felt. I have started using my extremely anxious moments as "pointers." There are times that I get so frustrated that I think about putting a gun to my head…but I am not suicidal. I want to live more than most of the people I know. But it dawned on me one day, not too long ago, that the ideation was symbolic. So, now when I get those ideas, I take notes.

    The Webb quote is SO (expletive deleted) apropos. I've read that piece about twenty times. The "death anxiety" suggestion is prime.

    Thank you, Mrs. RSG, for sharing your insight and your love. Take any assurance that you may need that my love and that of others is shining on you.

    Get some hugs from Daddy & The Girls. See ya 'round.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you Papa T. You don’t know how much that means to me.

    [thanks, now I’ve got that song stuck in my head but you are so right :)]

  3. J-viere says:

    I like the Webb quote, and like you I have felt this too but didn’t know there was name for it. I often lament not having peers. I regret that not everyone is as interested in the things I obsess over, which lately are topics such as microbes and neuroscience. (Believe it or not, it’s mighty difficult to get people to sit and talk with you about C. tetani bacteria — can’t imagine why!) I also fear the day these things cease to excite my brain, as there may be a short gap between brain-stimulating obsessions and this usually results in a stint of depression.

    More than anything though I regret not being able to cut through all the crap and just tell people how I feel. If my entire life is truly nothing more than a series of chemical transactions occurring in my grey matter then what’s the big deal with just telling it like it is? Then again, if my life is truly nothing more than a series of chemical transactions then what would it matter anyway? Ugh, existentialism sucks.

    But I guess the real angst is that I find such ecstasy in learning and discovering the wonder of the world (I am studying to be a lab tech but also intend to major in microbiology) that I very often forget I need/want people at all. Just leave me in the lab for hours, or just give me a book about microbes and I have enough brain fodder to keep me high for days.

    Of course, during that obsessive period of time I neglect to make or maintain the sort of relationships you mention. Why? Is it because it’s not important to me you? It actually is very important to me. But while there is an exact science to collecting and preparing slides and testing, etc… people and their myriad feelings are not an exact science and I am miserably inept at figuring it all out.

    And so I envy you. You’ve got deep thoughts and a big brain and are a crafty wordsmith. And you’ve also experienced enlightenment: “It’s not a superior intelligence that ultimately wins out, but the ability to love.” This is lovely. You are lovely, my friend.

    So sure, maybe all this typing just now was merely a result of some chemical transactions in my brain, but now maybe I’ve affected some chemical transactions in yours. Hmm, I guess that’s what all this “being human” stuff is about, eh? Maybe it’s not so bad.

    Sending you best wishes…

    (btw, Wrinkle is one of my absolute fav’s. I first read it when I was a young girl and I’ve actually read it many times in my adulthood!)

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    J-viere (another one of my lovely internet friends)

    I learned how not to relate to people by observing my family. I spent endless hours analyzing my own family and learning about dysfunctional family dynamics. I spent countless hours processing my troubles with my friends (the existential one and another thoughtful/insightful one) and their parents (gaining the validation I needed from adult sources). I spent countless hours deep in the middle of the nearest forest preserve, taking in the sounds, the sights, and the comforting, earthy smells of nature, knowing no one could find me there and hurt me. I began to see truth from lies and it was good.

    Let me tell you about what I loved about lab life. While my hands were busy in the rhythmic motion of the lab processes that I knew backwards and forwards (I was on the clinical side of things so Standard Operating Procedures were used – not much thought needed to go into things because it was the same every time) my mind was free to roam.

    So…as my hands were busy opening tubes up, aliquoting solutions, running instruments…my mind was constantly processing, processing, processing the events that occurred with the people in my life. I had some wonderful teachers along the way too to help me understand human behavior. I don’t mean the ones you find in schools. I mean, I continued to find other gifted individuals along the way that sat with me and took the time to help give me their assessments of things that happened with the people in my life (so that I could determine if I was right in my perceptions). I learned to pay attention to my sage friends and remember their wisdom even after their paths diverged from mine.

    It’s not that people are that complicated…they often make generally the same mistakes that it’s almost predictable. Historical literature is chock full of the same human condition that plays out over and over and over again…because *most* people don’t learn from their mistakes and hardly anybody really studies history or civilizations (go figure).

    By the by…I’d sit and talk with you about Clostridium tetani, and tell you about my days in the food microbiology lab and the testing we did for C. botulinum. And then move on to tell you how C. difficil is a nasty little bugger that wreaks havoc on your intestines and is becoming more predominantly commonplace as the widespread use of antibiotics are being used. It hides out in spores when you try to kill it, then you need MORE powerful antibiotics to get rid of it (though I bet you already knew that). But of course, I don’t think you’d die from those two. Tetanus would certainly be a painful way to die.

    Then perhaps we could move on to talking about Stephen King’s The Stand or about The Hot Zone just to scare the crap out of us regarding about fatal bugs (I mean that in jest. I don’t know if it would scare you or not).

  5. raisingsmartgirls says:


    You might also like this perspective about human relations and his take on people manage to prevent true connection from a wonderful fellow soul.

    (don’t let the post title detract you. this guy is a real kitten once you get to know him).

  6. J-viere says:

    You rock!

    I’ve been so busy wedging my way into classes I am not even enrolled in just so I can play with germs or stick my ungloved fingers through bovine pulmonary trunks! Ok, ok, yes it probably DOES matter that one of the instructors is somewhat good-looking although I’ve been trying to ignore that bit of my subconsc..uh, well, conscious awareness of, er… yeah, hmm… let’s get back to super deadly bugs… they rock!


  7. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Nothing wrong with having a little eye candy to make the experience a little more intriguing. I always had mini-crushes on the smart + sexy professors/instructors (though fortunately there were not that many or I’d never get any studying done).

  8. Papa T says:

    Imagine–your writer doesn’t have to–the ____________ felt by the (exclusively) online student. [There were too many qualifiers bouncing through my brain to fill in that blank.] Exclusively “cranial crushes” are tough…too much room for unsubstantiated (and/or “unsubstantiatable”) imaginings.

    And, J-viere, I thought my penchant as a young lad for gently stroking the back of my hand under the hanging, silky tassels in the drapery section was “odd.” Bovine pulmonary trunks? Fingers? Good-looking professors? Interesting.

    Oh, and Mrs. RSG, sometimes the eye-candy can actually enhance the learning experience.

    I probably should’ve waited ’til later in the day to read these comments.

  9. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Papa T. You should see me in the fabric store. Pure ecstasy for my fingers! I always seek to run my hands over the different textures.

    Did you know that the running your fingers over certain types of bumpy textures of fabrics actually makes your fingers tingle for moments afterward? It’s a cool sensation.

    Wow. Who would have thought what a racy conversation this was going to turn into!

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