â€œI had no idea how to help my daughter, and I felt a complete failure as a parentâ€
Interview by Lucinda Leo* (Children's names have been changed)
Why did you first approach PowerWood?
Four years ago I was at my wits' end trying to cope with my 11-year-old daughter's anxiety issues.
Sophie was sensitive from the moment of her difficult birth by emergency Caesarian Section. She could never be put down to sleep - she would wake as soon as we left the room, no matter how long we stayed or how deeply asleep she was. She was even worse when my husband was working away. Sometimes I would find myself driving round Bristol at 2.00am trying to get her to sleep.
Other people accused me of creating the problem by over-indulging Sophie, but they didn't have to live with it. She once became so upset in the car â€“ I was driving and unable to stop in time - she vomited several times out of pure distress.
Sophie's insecurity became much worse when she was three and her younger sister was born. A small amount of separation anxiety is normal in these circumstances, but Sophie couldn't be pacified using any of the usual methods.
Instead of getting better as she grew older, Sophie's anxiety grew worse. Everyone else seemed to want to give me their opinion on what was wrong with her and what I was doing wrong as a parent. I could see that Sophie needed enormous amounts of time alone, and that mixing with other kids left her feeling drained. Yet people criticised me for not forcing her to socialise, and I was accused of being in denial. I had no idea how to help my daughter, and I felt like a complete failure as a parent.
When Sophie was 10 we turned, in desperation, to the health service for help. By this time I felt completely isolated and had lost all faith in my parenting. Unfortunately the health services didn't help; on the contrary their enormous workload and lack of education led to an extremely damaging ordeal for us all, from which we ultimately limped away feeling quite broken. And the problems all remained.
About a year later I came across PowerWood. A friend had told me about OEs previously, but she talked a lot about the association with giftedness, and to be honest it all looked like a bit of an ego ride. But PowerWood was different. I discovered that not only did my children have OEs but that I also had intense emotional, imaginational, intellectual and sensual OEs.
How did PowerWood help?
Simone helped me to understand how my own OEs were interacting with my daughter's.
Like Sophie, I was a very sensitive and intense child. Unlike her, I was brought up in a very authoritarian household by a domineering and erratic mother. Even as a child I could tell that the things I wanted to say were too much, and too deep, for other people to take, so I adapted to fit in. Instead of saying what I wanted to say I learned to smile, keep quiet, and be 'good', both at home and at school. People have often described me as a relaxed and easy-going person who finds it easy to connect with others, but inside I felt desperate - trapped in a fearful, stressed out, hidden place.
Simone has helped me to see my own damage and shown me how to heal. I'm now able to look back on my life journey and appreciate how the coping mechanisms I learned as a child, while terribly damaging in one way, have helped me to live an exciting and non-conforming life.
I've begun to appreciate how Sophie has developed her own mechanisms to help her cope with her OEs, and I can see that she picks up my anxiety cues. We are slowly unravelling what's going on, and Sophie is so much happier. We still have a way to go, but life is so much less limiting now.
Do you have any other children who have OEs?
Yes, my younger daughter Rachel (11) also has OEs. Hereâ€™s a recent example of how her OEs affect Rachel. She was enjoying playing an online game, and then she came to a point in the game where was required to judge a dress-up contest. Rachel felt deeply uncomfortable about having to vote a player off, and finally decided to evict someone she knew was about to leave the game anyway. But she made a mistake, and inadvertently voted the wrong person off. Rachel was completely distraught, crying hysterically for forty minutes and telling me, â€œI feel like really hurting myselfâ€.
People don't realise quite how exhausting parenting children with OEs can be. You're dealing with one thing or another every minute of the day. My kids just aren't yet robust enough for me to say, â€œI'm tired, please just go away and leave me alone for a moment!â€
How has your life changed since you joined the PowerWood community?
Now that I understand how OEs affect us, I have the confidence to be me. I no longer feel odd; I'm able to cherish the gifts I've got and to help my daughters do the same.
I understand, finally, why my daughters need less social interaction than other children. I used to feel guilty if I forced them play with other children, and guilty if I didn't! But now we can talk together about how to meet their needs in a balanced way. For example, if Sophie wants to spend time with friends she knows it will cost her more energy than most people, and she can plan ahead accordingly.
Sophie is now fifteen, and I've never met a more considerate person. Her ability to understand people's motivations gives her an emotional maturity far beyond her years, and yet her asynchronous development means she can still have a meltdown when she discovers her favourite T-shirt is in the wash.
Trying to raise an intense child differently from how you were parented yourself is difficult, and the lack of support and understanding from those around you can make you feel very isolated. I'm so glad I found the support and comradeship that PowerWood offers. I only wish I'd discovered it sooner.
*Thank you to the PowerWood mum who shared her story with PowerWood volunteer Lucinda Leo. Lucinda's experience of parenting was transformed by the workshop she attended in March, and she's passionate about helping share PowerWoodâ€™s work with other parents of OE children.
Lucinda is currently interviewing parents for a book PowerWood is publishing in 2016. OEs can look very different from one person to another, so the more stories we can gather, the better we can reach people. If you would like to share your story (anonymously) with Lucinda, please let us know.
PowerWood Project CIC is a not-for-profit Social Enterprise developed by Simone de Hoogh, the founder with enthusiastic and skilled volunteers; to raise awareness about â€˜overexcitabilityâ€™ and to offer support, information and understanding as well as tools and strategies for living positively with being different from the norm e.g. Intensity, Sensitivity, Overexcitability, Asynchronous Development and High-Ability to individuals and families with children and teenagers different from the norm.