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.