What does grief have to do with discovering you are gifted?
A lot, as it happens, for late-identified gifted adults, especially the twice- and multi-exceptionals and, I suspect, even more so for those who are highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted.
As an adult, you have endured years of internal and external misunderstandings, poor choices and unhappy outcomes because of your ignorance.
Struggling to fit in and make things work, yet failing time and time again. Even more critically, failing to understand why you fail, how to learn from your failures and how to stop the vicious cycle from repeating.
Then one day you finally learn that you are gifted and you go, “That’s why!” And perhaps, like me, you also thought, “Alrighty then! Time to get cracking. After all, I’ve wasted enough years already, can’t afford any more!”
But instead of bouncing up and moving on as smoothly as you had hoped and expected, you find yourself up against a whole new suite of roadblocks—old friends, you might say—that you assumed should have been banished in the light of your newfound knowledge.
Anxiety, dread, existential depression once again and unreasonable fatigue.
You get angry and frustrated, understandably so.
- Wasn’t finding out about your giftedness supposed to be good news?
- Isn’t that knowledge supposed to make your life better from here on?
- Why are you facing these old nemeses again and feeling worse instead?
It’s been three weeks since I learnt that I am a profoundly gifted adult and the first two weeks were hell.
My hair fell out in fistfuls. My body swelled and ached with a vengeance. I could barely walk. My skin blistered and peeled. My appetite was gone. I was insomniac and fatigued. I was a physical wreck.
I recovered from most of the physical symptoms well enough but the fatigue refused to budge. Tests proclaim a clean bill of health, so I knew this was psychosomatic but how, what and why?
I woke up after another 12-hour night feeling worse than ever and I was fed up. On an intuitive whim, I Googled “spiritual causes for exhaustion”. My resulting research led me to Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia: An Ayurvedic Perspective, where a single word jumped out at me.
My first reaction was, “Huh?” What does grief have to do with this? But I Googled “grief fatigue” and a Pandora’s Box opened before me.
And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief.
— C.S. Lewis
I read about bereavement and was shocked to learn about the relationship between grief and fatigue.
Yet, why am I grieving? What am I grieving about? And why is this the response to realising I am profoundly gifted?
Not knowing I was profoundly gifted—or severely autistic—my entire life was destructive to my healthy development on all levels:
- Childhood, teenhood and adulthood.
- Emotional, mental, spiritual and yes, physical.
- Personal and professional.
- Platonic and romantic relationships.
Instead of receiving support and guidance for my neurodivergence, I was judged and punished, directly and indirectly, for my differences.
Instead of being educated and empowered to make healthy choices for my specific needs, I was forced to conform to damagingly incongruous expectations.
I never learnt to identify my needs and limitations, much less respect and enforce them.
I never learnt to identify my strengths and talents, much less utilise and practice them.
As a result, I grew up deeply traumatised—mentally, emotionally and spiritually—and lived an ignorant life doomed to repeating patterns of self-destruction, filled with bad choices and worse outcomes.
By the time I received my autism diagnosis, during which I was also identified as gifted, at the age of 32, my identity and self-worth had all but eroded away and I had little clue as to how to live a healthy and self-respecting twice exceptional life.
Little wonder then, that I grieve.
If you found this article in your search to understand why you’re having such a hard time after learning you are gifted, you may have, like me, wondered, “The pain I endured in the past, wasn’t that grief enough? Didn’t I grieve already? Why do I have to grieve now, again?”
In pondering these questions myself, I came to the following realisations.
The pain you endured then was suffering, yes, but it was not grief.
Grief is allowing yourself to:
- Look back at your past with compassion born from insight in the now,
- Mourn the horrors that you endured then,
- Forgive yourself, for in your ignorance, you knew no better.
You could not have grieved until now.
The grief that comes with late-identification is unique in that it is for a suffering that you could not have identified, much less understood before now.
Ignorance blinds and binds us into impotence.
As an unidentified gifted person, you have known your entire life that something was different, missing or wrong but you didn’t know what, how or why.
You lacked the words and words have power. Words provide meaning and, more importantly, context.
This is why it isn’t until you:
- Learn of your giftedness, and more importantly,
- Understand what giftedness means for you, as a unique individual and in the context of your life to date, that grief finally explodes from within you.
In finally reclaiming a large part of yourself that was denied existence your entire life, you are grieving all the lost possibilities of your past.
I suppose the next question is, “How do I recover from a grief like that?”
I’ve been reading about bereavement because I believe the process is much the same.
You are grieving a loss that can never be returned or replaced.
You can’t go back and relive your life. You can’t go back and reclaim all those lost opportunities. They are lost forever.
It’s unfair and it hurts. A lot.
I have found some solace in Megan Devine’s article Grief and Healing: Will I Ever Recover?
Recovery, as defined in the dictionary, means to restore oneself to a normal state, to regain what was lost, or to be compensated for what was taken. […] The whole context of healing and recovery is just plain strange in this kind of grief.
That hole torn in the universe will not just close back up so that you can go back to normal. No matter what happens next in your life, it will never be adequate compensation. The person you lost can’t come back. That loss can’t be regained.
No matter what happens next in my life, it will never be adequate compensation. The wounds may heal but the scars remain. I can’t wish them away, no matter how hard I try.
The person I lost can’t come back. That person is me, young, happy and innocent of separatist concepts of difference and judgement. Her innocence was stolen and that loss can’t be regained.
It’s been over 24 hours since my eyes opened to the grief within me. Damn, it hurts.
Eating and drinking have been hard. Walking from the bedroom to the bathroom is agony. Leaving the house? An impossibility.
I wake up each day to unbearable grief and its attendant fatigue and I want nothing more than to fight it, shake it off and to move on quickly. Yet I know that is escapism.
I was also reassured to learn that fatigue is normal during grief:
Grief has hit me in many ways, but the one I was least prepared for is the tiredness which floored me these past few weeks.
[…] inside, I am exhausted, feeling unable to cope with simple tasks and craving time and space to think things through.
I am still comforted by finding out that tiredness is a stage of grieving which helps your body to cope. It’s your body’s way of slowing you down, making you look after yourself and deal with the physical aspects of pain.
For me, at this point, healing is about being still and allowing myself to be frail and fragile, and to listen, sorrow and mourn.
It’s early days still and it will take time. I will give myself that time and in the meantime, I will meditate on a question Megan asked herself in her article:
Given that what I’ve lost cannot be restored, given that what was taken cannot be returned, what would healing look like?
Excellent question and I think the answer to that lies in the next brilliant question:
What would it take for me to live this life well?
She concludes by saying:
There certainly aren’t easy answers to these questions. The answers themselves may change over time. But wondering about your own path forward is a gift you can give yourself.
It starts when you ask yourself: If I can’t recover, what would healing really be?
I will continue to chronicle my journey through grief as new insights surface and new milestones are reached.
In the meantime, if you are a late-identified gifted adult who has gone through or is going through a similar journey of grief, I would love to hear from you.
There simply isn’t enough written on the subject. InterGifted has an excellent article on the stages of adult gifted discovery, however I think we need more first-person perspectives on this very unique grief.
I welcome you to share your experiences below.