New Improv for Gifted Adults (I4GA) group launches on March 27, 2022! Click this link to register. For Gifted Adults, Improv provides a deep, moving, hilarious approach to practicing trust with yourself and others, transcending perfectionism, and feeling an unmatched experience of unconditional support. Participants are surprised at how game-based mirroring and supportive structures so […]

New Improv for Gifted Adults group launches on May 19!

Come unmasked. Discover yourself in community and in play. Transform perfectionism through spontaneity. Transcend social defenses through trust in your actual peers.

Improv is a unique and hilariously effective avenue for gifted self-development. It’s a place for gifted people to show up openly – laughing together and supporting each other.

I am working with Lisa Bany, Chief Improv Officer of Improv Therapy Group, to develop an improv curriculum focused on the needs of gifted adults. Register here.

This class offers an eight-week experience in which we come together (on zoom) with our gifted peers to explore, experiment, and play. Through Improv games and exercises we cultivate openness & playfulness, relaxation & self-care, emotional intelligence & empathy, and creative storytelling & expression

Together, we practice spontaneous group creativity and connection. A core improv principle is the concept of “Yes, And”. This simple, profound concept gives us a chance to explore parts of ourselves, our minds, and our relationships that gifted people don’t get to do often enough, if at all. Imagine a room full of gifted people, relaxed and laughing together – true social mirroring. It provokes a genuine sense of social safety, and that means you get to be yourself, co-create, and play.

Here are. a few examples of what weekly themes focus on:

Magic words — improv for acknowledging the realities of others, letting ideas be heard, and encouraging spontaneous and exploratory expression

In the now — improv for active listening and reacting in the moment
Perfect is boring — improv for letting go of being right and in control, and enjoying what is imperfectly created

Brain yoga — improv for challenging our habitual ways of thinking and opening up new cognitive pathways

Repeal inhibition – Improv for social openness and playfulness

Heal thyself — Improv for relaxing and taking care of yourself

I second that emotion — Improv for amping up emotional intelligence and empathy

Our stories, ourselves — Improv for creative storytelling and expression

See you there, compatriots!

 

 

 

 

What have you lost to COVID-19? This week, I have spent hours and hours helping people process their grief. Some have lost family members. Some, their health. Some have lost income and work. Some, graduation. Some have lost birthday gatherings. Some, weddings. Some, studies abroad. The grieving is real.

I hear a lot of folks stiff-upper-lipping it. “That’s just the way it is.” “I just have to accept it.” “Nothing I can do about it.”

None of these statements are wrong, and it may be helpful to bear those realities in mind. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t feel sadness and anger at what’s been lost. Grief demands your attention. If it’s ignored, it will make a mess. It will leak out in the guises of irritability, depression, lack of motivation, substance abuse, criticisms…

Also – being the conscientious cadre we are, we’re keenly aware of the suffering of people everywhere, and I’ve heard many folks fall into comparative suffering. “Other people have it so much worse, I shouldn’t complain.” “I feel guilty for being sad over this when others have lost so much more.”

Comparative suffering is a recipe for invalidating our own lived experiences. You’re allowed to be sad and angry about what you’ve lost AND you’re allowed to feel empathy for all the loss going on across the globe. Shutting down your own grief will not make anything better.

Let’s acknowledge that this global pandemic is responsible for losses of all kinds and that each person is bearing their own grief. Let’s hang together in our common experience and support each other through open expression and acceptance.

What have you lost? How are you grieving?

How’s your mental health? Well that’s a tricky question. The term itself is one that begs for a road map, and we all have to become consciousness cartographers if we expect to arrive.

When I’m working with clients, we begin with talking a preferred end-state. Who are you or who will you be when you are mentally healthy? What does that look like? Then we have a look at where things stand today. From there we sometimes dive into repair work from old wounds and sometimes into building on past successes. It’s a process of very intentionally sculpting a vision for mental health that fits you.

Increasing self-awareness is foundational in assessing and improving mental health. Seeing oneself more clearly is a necessary part of making change that is effective and lasting. When you’re gifted, there are some characteristics we know you’re more likely to carry.

  • We are more likely to be perfectionistic with resulting anxiety, which can manifest in innumerable ways.
  • We are more likely to feel isolated, which can lead to all kinds of defensive adaptations as we work to belong in our communities.
  • We are more likely to be misdiagnosed with a mental illness because we’re outliers in our intensity and sensitivity.
  • We are asynchronous in our development.
  • We are more likely to have our normal, gifted experience pathologized by the world around us.
  • We are more likely to internalize and take responsibility for others’ distorted views of how we ought to be. This can lead to low self-esteem and poor self-concept.
  • We are more likely to have acute sensory sensitivities that can lead to chronically dysregulated nervous systems and concurrent physical symptoms.

It can feel like a damn minefield! For every hazard, though, there’s an equally powerful opportunity to grow into a strength. We get to be intentional about who we become.

“You’ve known you’re different for a long time. You’ve been told you’re too intense or too sensitive over and over. When things don’t go well, you may find yourself taking more responsibility than others say is rational. When things do go well, you may find yourself crediting success to things outside of yourself and rushing to the next task without enjoying the moment.

You’ve been told “You’re overthinking it” as you seek to understand things that people around you accept without question. Your anxiety manifests in sleeplessness, perfectionism, overwork, and profound feelings of loneliness.

Overthinking, intensity, and sensitivity? These are features of your gifted experience, not bugs. Exploring and accommodating these features is the work of the gifted person. In a world where your strengths have been pathologized and marginalized, your task is to know yourself better and become yourself more fully.

It isn’t easy. The sense of isolation and difference is real. Figuring out how to live your best life when you’re feeling isolated and different as well as multitalented and exceptional? That’s hard work.

The good news is that you have everything you need to make the journey to fulfillment. That powerful consciousness of yours is equipped to learn what it needs to learn in order to flourish, to be mentally healthy, outside of the norm.” – The Simple Truth Of It

While pursuing an ongoing self-awareness practice, you can introduce changes to the way you think, behave, and interact. You can experiment with your consciousness and your life. You can pursue your optimal development – your mental health.

What is mental health, anyway? We’ve got a gazillion mental illness designations, definitions, criteria, and treatment approaches. For mental health, we’ve got various definitions, some more helpful than others.

The Medilexicon Dictionary states that mental health is, “Emotional, behavioral, and social maturity or normality; the absence of a mental or behavioral disorder; a state of psychological well-being in which one has achieved a satisfactory integration of one’s instinctual drives acceptable to both oneself and one’s social milieu; an appropriate balance of love, work, and leisure pursuits.”

Did they just say normality? To gifted people? We’re statistically abnormal in our wiring, yet we have to be normal to be healthy? That doesn’t fly. However, the “well-being”, “integration”, “acceptable” part makes a lot of sense from a subjective well-being viewpoint. Also, from my perspective, “Appropriate balance” is an abundantly squishy term.

The World Health Organization suggests mental health is, “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

In another version of this definition, the world “potential” was replaced with “abilities”. That latter word is much more helpful for gifted people. Our potential? We’re multipotentialites by nature, so defining health by potential-realization isn’t terrifically helpful. See my blog post about “The P Word” here. Using awareness rather than achievement in the definition works much better for we gifted folks. On the whole, the WHO definition works better than Medilexicon’s. It doesn’t ask us to fit inside a neurotypical box of normality. It begins with self-awareness, moves to resilience, and emphasizes work and community. Not bad!

Over in the realm of positive psychology, we’ve got Slade’s Complete State Model (CSM), “The CSM identifies mental health as having a high level of well-being and low level of mental illness (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress). The spotlight here is not on ruling out the mental illness or psychotic symptoms, but on suggesting that well-being and mental illness are separate issues that together structure our mental health.”

Determining mental health by pairing subjective well-being with characteristics of mental illness has its benefits and hazards. Those mental illness criteria are built on notoriously shifting sands. Misdiagnosis of gifted populations is a real problem. At the same time, it can be very helpful for people with chronic illness symptoms to have those validated in a mental health definition.

Whatever definition we settle on, it’s central to the quality of our lives to pursue our own optimal development. That means focusing on becoming as mentally healthy as we can. It’s through our perceptions and consciousness that we experience the world, so the clearer our lens, the more fully we can live.

This is my first time participating in Hoagie’s Gifted Education Blog Hop, and I’m grateful to Carolyn for overcoming some technical difficulties to make it possible. This month’s topic is Mental Health. I hope you’ll hop over to Hoagie’s to read everyone else’s great entries!

 

 

You’ve known you’re different for a long time. You’ve been told you’re too intense or too sensitive over and over. When things don’t go well, you may find yourself taking more responsibility than others say is rational. When things do go well, you may find yourself crediting success to things outside of yourself and rushing to the next task without enjoying the moment.

You’ve been told “You’re overthinking it” as you seek to understand things that people around you accept without question. Your anxiety manifests in sleeplessness, perfectionism, overwork, and profound feelings of loneliness.

You feel capable of so much, and you want to do it all. At the same time you often feel paralyzed by all that possibility and find yourself escaping into books, movies, alcohol, or exercise.

The simple truth of it is this – People with full scale IQs north of 130 make up only about 2.2% of the human population. You are three or more standard deviations from the norm. When 95% of people are in the first two standard deviations, and they’re the ones setting the social norms and rules, they’re not designing a world for outliers like you.

Overthinking, intensity, and sensitivity? These are features of your gifted experience, not bugs. Exploring and accommodating these features is the work of the gifted person. In a world where your strengths have been pathologized and marginalized, your task is to know yourself better and become yourself more fully.

It isn’t easy. The sense of isolation and difference is real. Figuring out how to live your best life when you’re feeling isolated and different as well as multitalented and exceptional? That’s hard work.

The good news is that you have everything you need to make the journey to fulfillment. That powerful consciousness of yours is equipped to learn what it needs to learn in order to flourish outside of the norm.

This journey of yours will require rethinking what the neurotypical world has taught you. It’ll mean daring to grow into your best self even when that means embracing your quirks, oddities, sensitivities, and intensities.

I’m here to help. I offer counseling services to gifted adolescent, adults, and families, so you can have an experienced person to accompany you through an evolution of self-understanding and optimizing your human development. I offer coaching services, too, for those of you who have come out of deficit and are ready to blossom into the next iteration of yourself.

Your sensitivities are amazing. Your intensity is full of life. Your overthinking can be superthinking. Your differences can make your life exceptional.

If you’re interested in taking a different perspective on your gifted experience, let’s work together. The life that’s possible for you is within your reach.

Perfectionism is a combination of experience, knowledge, analysis, and imagination. Coupled with fear and avoidance, it’s a vicious taskmaster, daring you to try and promising you’ll fail. Hypercritical, all-or-nothing, defensive, hypersensitive, EXHAUSTING.

Coupled with hope and determination, it’s an inspirational coach, inviting you to be daring and see how close you can come. Perfectionism is a function of the mind that can foster defeat or success. It all depends on how you use it.

You know (or you’ve been) the person who tries something, doesn’t instantly demonstrate mastery, and gives up, saying, “I’m not good at that.” That person imagines they ought to have innate knowledge of how to ski or paint or sing or speak Cantonese, and they can fall into an intense judgement of their performance, drawing errant perfectionistic conclusions. “You suck”, “I don’t know why you even try”, “You’re stupid”. Some folks call this maladaptive perfectionism.

You also know the person who tries something, learns a little, tries again, learns a little more, asks questions, notices improvements, and determines whether to pursue something based on its utility, interest, or enjoyment. That person also concocts a perfectionistic vision coupled with the permission to fall short and keep learning. This is sometimes called adaptive perfectionism.

Innumerable clients have heard me say, “When you’re sailing north, you can navigate by the North Star. But you’re not trying to get to the freaking North Star, you’re just using it to guide you!”

If you’re hung up in maladaptive perfectionism, cursing yourself because you still can’t sail to the North Star, there are things you can do to take a new approach. Your perfectionistic ideal is profoundly important, so don’t jettison that. Instead, put it to work making your life better.

COGNITIVELY

Imagine a measuring stick with perfect just beyond one end and complete failure just beyond the other end. Well, you don’t have to imagine it. Here’s one:

The words aren’t on the line itself because they’re both imaginary. They’re ideas that aren’t going to happen. They don’t get to be on the line!

Now imagine the same measuring stick with some new demarcations on it.

KIDDING! You don’t have to imagine it. Here’s one:

What’s the task before you? What does it require? If you’re composing a symphony, you’re probably aiming for Excellent. If you’re filling out a form, good enough will do.

Doing away with a perfection/failure dichotomy is necessary. The alternative is misery. That painful self-loathing, self-approbation, self-flagellation leads nowhere but misery. It certainly doesn’t inspire motivation or excellence. It demands surrender and pain.

The fancy spectrum of success above is one way to approach escaping the perfection/failure dichotomy. It allows you to reframe your efforts and experience into something that can inspire motivation or just let you off the hook for the little things that aren’t very important to you anyway.

EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY

It sucks to feel like a failure. It can also be terrifying to succeed. Folks clapping for you, looking at you, smiling, congratulating you, complimenting you. Or diminishing your success by saying they can do better, by making fun of you, by attacking anything short of perfection. It can feel very vulnerable to stand out. It takes courage and self-respect to make your best effort. Fear of failure, fear of success, what’s a person to do? It all seems so risky!

Those fears showed up for the first time once. In the distant past you were forming your expectations for yourself and others were sharing their expectations for you. You made some conscious and unconscious decisions back then about what was acceptable and what was unacceptable. You tied those expectations to your sense of self-worth and value. Falling short of those expectations can feel achingly terrible. Like you’re not worthy of your own compassion and kindness.

When those unpleasant feelings arise, you can bet you’re in a perfection/failure dichotomy again. Can you identify those feelings in your body? Aching stomach? Headache? Tense muscles? Throat tightening? Notice that. Breathe directly into those sensations. Experience them without turning away and without drawing errant cognitive conclusions. Breathe some more. Tolerate them.

What you’re observing is likely an activation of survival responses in your autonomic nervous system. It’s there to help you when your life is threatened. Fight, flight, freeze. Turns out it can get activated by our own feelings and fears of rejection or shame. Sounds familiar, I’m sure. Your prefrontal cortex goes offline when this happens. That means you don’t have access to your executive functioning capabilities. Problem solving? Shot. Nuanced thinking? Nope.

When you breathe into those feelings rather than reacting to them, you can calm the survival response and instead activate the parts of your system responsible for calm, reason, and well-being. That dimension of the parasympathetic nervous system can restore your ability to think things through, to come out of the maladaptive perfectionism/failure dichotomy and back into clarity.

What is it you want out of life? Purpose, meaning, love, friendship, fulfillment? Whatever your goals, no amount of self-loathing will get you there.

When you practice a different way of assessing your efforts, you’ll inevitably get better at that finding that perspective. We get better at whatever we practice. Not perfect, mind you, but quite possibly excellent. And, most of the time, good enough is good enough.

PERFECTIONISM IS AWESOME. DOWN WITH PERFECTIONISM!

Your ability to imagine the perfect work of art, declaration of love, tumbling routine, professional presentation, grocery store run, clean house, etc. is amazing. Your imagination is powerful.

Your imagination teams up with your strategic thinking abilities to plan your day, organize your time, orchestrate your interactions, maximize your efficiency, etc. What an incredible combination.

Your knowledge and experience undergird everything, and they supply your imagination and strategic thinking abilities with the parameters of known reality. It’s a symphony that coexists with your immediate, present-moment experience, and we call it consciousness. It’s inexpressibly beautiful.

Applied judiciously and intentionally, your perfectionistic visions can produce excellence in your life again and again. Applied unthinkingly and masochistically, your perfectionism can turn life into a nightmare of endless failures.

The good news is that you get to decide!

Imperfectly yours,

Gordon

 

That thing you love to do? The swing of the racket, or the turn of the phrase; The moment of ‘Aha!’ realization; An exhiliarating sprint; The balance of color under your brush; Engrossed and immersed in a state of flow/joy; The core of why you do the things you love to do.

You felt those feelings for the first time once, and you were drawn back to feel them again and again. Matches were won. Stories were written. Truths were uncovered. Art was created. And at the core of those things is the joy of doing them.

You, through some process, evolved from joy-seeking to mastery-seeking. You found layer after layer of fulfillment as your serve came together or your art found new depths of sophistication, as you got better at getting that restaurant running like a Swiss watch or bringing those projects to expectation-exceeding fruition. Joy and fulfillment combo! This sharpening of your skills served to bring that combination to new emotional heights.

Then, somewhere along the way, other motivations entered the arena. Wanting to sell enough paintings to make a living; Beating last quarter’s numbers; Dying to get into a good university, so you can get a good job; Winning the next tournament; An achievement focus began to share the stage with joy, fulfillment, and passion.

That’s when things got muddy. Yes, you’re great at math, but you’re not sure why you’re toiling for toiling’s sake. Sure, you love to paint, but grinding it out day after day after day produces burnout. Winning matches is great and all, but even that can leave you feeling empty. You’re a dialectic thinker with a talent for systems improvements, and you’ve gotten bored solving the same problems month after month.

For some, the achievement orientation overtakes and subsumes the old motivations. More medals, more awards, more degrees, more money, more renown – these things become the drive, and they can transform joyous pursuits into begrudging drudgery.

When a high school senior came to me having panic attacks, he soon recognized that he was terrified of going to college. “You have to go to college,” he said, as though it were an immutable law of physics. Hearing himself, he said, “Well, I guess you don’t have to.”

Then came thoughtful examination and a recognition that he wanted to go to college. Why? Because he loves to learn. The panic began to lift. Agency began to be restored. The sense of obligation and the emptiness of studying hard just to achieve admission to a good college wasn’t enough. The power of choosing to spend his days immersed in learning with others? That was the juice, the good stuff, the joy and fulfillment.

It’s a beautiful thing when people transform their passions into their pursuits. It’s made more beautiful by the choice to stay centered in the joy and fulfillment with which they began.

Life can feel hollow if it’s all about achievements, and it can feel chaotic if it’s all about passion. Being able to to build a life around your passions means toggling between the two orientations, both building a structure and remaining in direct contact with the passion that drives your goal.

Remind yourself why you do what you do. Ask yourself not just what you’d like to achieve, but what kinds of experiences you’d like to have and what person you’d like to become. Return to that flow state and remember the beautiful simplicity of the swing of the racket, the turn of the phrase, the grace of the sprint, the clarity of the idea, the elation of a smooth-running system. At that simple center lies meaning, purpose, and fullness.

Your gifted adolescent is astounding. She learns things so easily. She picks up new skills with ease. She has empathy, compassion, and insight well beyond her years. You think she spends too much time Snapchatting, YouTubing, and laying about. You see that she could be making straight A’s, sitting first chair in band, connecting with friends a lot more often, getting her chores done without reminders, etc.

Sound familiar?

It’s times like this when the P word starts to show up.

“But you have so much potential! If only you’d (insert desired behavior here)…

Your gifted adolescent is adept at critical thinking. That skill can often be firstly and foremostly pointed inwardly. Gifted teens tend to be in a chronic state of self-examination, self-assessment, and self-criticism. Their perfectionism and idealism lead them to feel they are falling short over and over and over. They replay conversations wishing they’d said something different. They frequently internalize others’ emotions – especially if that person is disappointed in them.

That internalization process is fraught with opportunity for cognitive distortions. Taking that perceived disappointment and interpreting it as proof that there is something innately lacking in them? It’s all too common across ages and backgrounds, and it’s especially acute in gifted teens.

Your gifted teen is working hard to figure out how to meet the expectations set up by internally manufactured perfectionism. And when you say, “You have so much potential…”, they hear,

“You are falling short.”

“You are disappointing me again.”

“You are a failure.”

“You aren’t good enough.”

I know that’s not what you mean when you think about their potential. I know you see the inherent possibilities in their lives and want them to be the happiest, most fulfilled version of themselves. But that’s not what they’ll hear.

Doing away with the P word does away with an accidental insult. Instead of focusing on what they might become one day, it can be helpful to focus on what’s most important to them today. If they’re not making the grades, you might find out what their expectations are for themselves. You may be surprised to learn that they have plans they haven’t shared with you. You may find out they haven’t yet considered how current performance affects future options. You may find out that they have a teacher they don’t like, an ongoing problem with classmates, or a set of fascinations with things that aren’t being taught in school.

Yes, your gifted teenager has scads of potential. Yes, you can see possibilities of which they aren’t yet aware. Yes, it’s frustrating and painful to see them struggle.

But the P word isn’t going to help them become more of themselves. It’s going to lead to them feeling bad about themselves.

So. Right now. Commit to doing away with the P word. Your teen will feel better about themselves as a result.

Minerva and Keanu,

It was great to hear y’all talk yesterday about your fascination with the changes you’ve made. Sherm has managed to surprise you with his initiative, and the resulting lighter household mood has created all sorts of opportunities: relaxed conversations with your other kids, pleasure reading, and consistently increasing moments where you realize that everything’s going to be ok.

What a shock when you came home late on Tuesday only to find that Sherm had not only emptied the dishwasher without being asked but had started cooking dinner! Life goal achieved. He has gone four consecutive days without insulting his sister, though he couldn’t resist insulting her shoes when she left them on the stairs. His teachers are reporting that he’s turning everything in. Zero zeroes! And all of this is happening because you made the choice to move from that dark adversarial dynamic into this experimental collaborative relationship with him.

He’s definitely not ready to be turned loose without any more parenting, and I’m sure there are going to be lots of challenging moments in the future. We’ve learned, though, that he is ready to accept more responsibility than you thought possible and that he has big goals of his own that he wants to pursue. MIT?!?! He’s entirely capable. Huge kudos to you for eliminating the word ‘potential’ from your vocabularies and for accepting the simple fact that every time you used it, he felt criticized, demoralized.

He’s got your sense of humor, Minerva, and he’s got your vivid imagination, Keanu. And because of the changes you’re making, he may slough off the other pieces that you never intended to teach – the perfectionism, the tendency to withdraw when stressed. It’s been wonderful seeing all of you practice self-awareness and allow yourselves to breathe, calm, respond rather than react. When Sherm told you to take a deep breath in traffic the other day? Pure gold.

We’re on the right track.

As his ability to manage school, chores, emotions, relationships, and health increase, you’re going to be able to back off more and more. There’s a lot of joy and freedom in that for y’all and for your other two children. Your trust in him can continue to grow, and you can have more fun together.

I appreciate all of your hard work, and I am in awe of Sherm’s talents and insight. Thank you for trusting me to walk with your family through this transition.

Gordon

Sherm,

I’m looking forward to our appointment on Friday. It’s been great seeing you relax, explore your inner world, brainstorm about possible futures, and take the pressure off of yourself to be perfect.

Here’s hoping you got enough sleep last night, because I know you have a lot on your plate today. Your little brother probably isn’t going to be any more agreeable than usual, and your sister probably isn’t going to shorten her marathon mirror sessions. Your Dad is rushing around, and your Mom is hiding out in her bedroom. Not five minutes goes by without someone yelling something, and all you want is some time to chill before going to another day of school.

Once you’re there, it’s car doors slamming, teachers pointing, and you wondering, “Do I have my ELA homework in my bag?”, “Is Louis going to give me hell again about my acne?” That sinking feeling inside while you compose your face and posture in an effort not to draw attention. Jostling, peals of laughter, what’s ups, and the bell.

Of course you have the math figured out. You had it figured out before you even started ninth grade. Ms. Lawrence wants your full attention though, so you stare in the correct direction, pencil poised above paper, maybe doodling, maybe dutifully note-taking, and let your thoughts drift. Fantasy realms – characters who are actually living their lives – places where you actually have some control over your day and your destiny – adults who aren’t constantly crying about your potential. If one more person talks about your “potential”, you’re going to throw them through a window. Enough with the Potential talk already!

The day blurs into every other day – lots of boredom, self-analysis, self-criticism, anxiety, micro and macro humiliations, the occasional laugh with Spencer, Lucas, or Greta, and then, finally, Mr. Walther’s class. He’s the only teacher you can stand, and he’s awesome. You’re huge into science anyway, but Mr. Walther really gets why science is cool, and he loves talking with you about time travel, plasma, and Foucault once you get done with lab. It’s so great that you have science and band at the end of the day. They’re total lifesavers.

It must be hard squeezing into your chair in the trombone section. I say that because you always leave room for the demon critic who chastises your every note and intonation, who excoriates your tempo, and who tells you just to quit because you’re never going to be Wynton Marsalis. When demon critic takes the day off, band is hella fun. Demon critic needs to take more days off. And there are friends here, people who don’t poke and tease and make drama.

Riding the bus home, when the other kids will leave you alone, is often the best part of the schoolday. The earbuds go in, and the metal comes on. The brain takes a break, drifting. Unless MacKenzie or Raven looked your way, in which case you float into different thoughts altogether.

Once home, it’s the usual. Grab a snack, watch some YouTube, and start on homework. Every day, Mom is over your shoulder, asking about your day, demanding some kind of something from you – maybe to do a chore, tell her about your math homework, or give you a hard time about calling your sister’s neon shoes stupid. The work gets done, but it’s hard to stay focused. You’d rather be doing so many other things. Sometimes you get the work done, and sometimes you pretend you did, and sometimes you just can’t care. Then it’s dinner, with all the chatter and the food you have to eat even if you don’t like it. Then comes the only time of day when you can do your own thing.

In your room, if your parents haven’t taken away your phone and computer again, you finally get to open Fortnight while texting with Brandon and Spencer. Snapchat is so over, but you still check it out for a front row seat to the worst dramas high school has to offer. And while you aren’t being named or attacked, you still get caught up in it. Your anxiety pulls you in.

Eventually one of your parents is going to barge in and tell you to stop enjoying yourself and go to bed. Like you’re a child. You can sometimes shrug it off and just go to sleep, but other nights you’re lying there for hours – replaying conversations from the day and reexperiencing the embarrassments, playing out fantasies, worrying about what isn’t finished for math in the morning, or just picking yourself apart, demon critic tearing at you like a saber-toothed surgeon until you don’t want to be you anymore.

Sleep, wake, repeat.

The good news is that change is happening. All of this was much worse only a few weeks ago. You weren’t sleeping nearly as much. You were missing school WAY too much. You almost lost first chair. You hadn’t had access to the internet since Christmas, when you told your parents to fuck off before locking yourself in your room and hurting yourself to release the pressure. Hard to believe that was only 12 weeks ago. It feels like a totally different person did those things.

Now you’re paying attention to your feelings as they rise and fall. You’re aware of demon critic when it shows up, and about half the time you can make it disappear or at least quiet down. As unbelievable as it is, your parents are on board with this new way of doing things – If you’re managing your own life, then they will leave you alone and let you do what you need to do for yourself. It’s been a challenge to put yourself in charge of managing school, chores, emotions, relationships, and health, but you’re doing an amazing job if you may say so yourself!

You are taking advantage of the opportunities counseling offers, and you’re on your way to becoming the person you want to be. You have identified your values, strengths, and challenges. You have figured out a ton of strategies to get through the rough parts of the day and to enjoy the shit out of the good parts. Your parents don’t even know about your art project, and it’s going to be fun to surprise them with it.

You’re feeling, for the first time you can remember, like your life is on the right track, like any day can be a good day. You are dreaming of bigger things – college, moving out, an AlienWare computer, visiting Peru, and building your own life.

I appreciate you, Sherm, and I think you’re a phenomenal human. Thank you for trusting me to do this work with you.

Gordon