Mastery, Activity and Pleasure (Jack, Part 4)

Jack is an unusual young man. We know this. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. He is kinder and much more sensitive toward others than most children his age. He would never mock another child for having overly red cheeks. Not that I ever suffered from that, I’m just saying.

Being different, however, can pose problems for Jack. His precocious knowledge about sexuality can alienate him from other adolescents. His vocabulary matches that of George Plimpton, and his use of words like “vicissitudes” and “sequacious” as opposed to words like ‘yo,’ ‘dude,’ and ‘fo’ shizzle,’ make him appear awkward in the eyes of his peers. He is also made fun of for having a stepmother that attends the same school as him. All of this can sometimes bring his mood down. But his intelligence and instincts tell him that he is a good person who cares about others, and that ultimately seems to help carry him through days when he is feeling blue. When he could use some guidance to give him an additional boost, I come into play.

“Robert, I feel a bit torpid today, and I’m not quite sure what to do about it. You will help me?”

“Of course, Jack. I’ll do my best. Tell me about what you’re experiencing and let’s see what we can do.”

Therapist Rule: When working with children and adolescents, it is important to convey a confidence that, regardless of problem, you can be a help. “Whatever is going on, we can handle it” is the message.

“I know I’m not depressed, just somewhat down. Dysthymic perhaps? Is that the proper term?”

Unsurprisingly that is the exact term.

“I see. A case of the blahs?” Why Jack sounds like the DSM-IV and I’m using words that don’t actually exist is beyond me.


“Exactly. Do you have any specific coping strategies that you can pass along?”

“Well let me ask you a question first. When you feel dysthymic, do you tend be…sedentary?”

“Oh yes.”

“Okay, this is very common. You need to know that a case of the blues and inactivity often go hand-in-hand. They can be best friends.” Like an idiot I cross two fingers to show how connected depression and inactivity can be, just in case the boy genius in front of me doesn’t understand this basic premise.

“So you are saying that I should become more active to help my mood, Robert?”

“Yes, that is exactly right. Additionally, research has shown that people tend to do best when they engage in activities that not only are pleasurable, but also that have a high degree of mastery. You know, things you’re good at.”

“Yes, I am familiar with the term ‘mastery.'”

“Yes. Yes of course you are. You can remember the key terms of ‘mastery’, ‘activity,’ and ‘pleasure’ with the simple acronym ‘MAP.'”

“Indeed,” Jack says. “I think I prefer ‘PAM,’ however. That’s my aunt’s name.”

“Okay, that sounds good to me.”

“Or how about ‘AMP,’ as in I’m ‘amp’ed to beat this dysthymic mood.”
“Any of those are good.” Does his brain ever stop working at the speed of light?

“Or even ‘Plan Many Activities.’ Yes that one is good too! Do you want to write all of these down for your other clients?”

“I think I can remember those,” I say, knowing full well that I will frantically scratch out all of those mneumonics the moment Jack leaves the session.

“Good. I’m glad to hear you haven’t lost your memory yet.”

“Why would I lose my memory?”

“Dementia of the Alzheimer’s Type probably isn’t far off you know.”

So in addition to reading the dictionary, he’s mastered psychiatry terminology.

“I’m glad to hear that you are concerned about my memory, but Alzheimer’s is extremely rare before age 50 and isn’t usually concern before the age of 65.”

“Robert, one day you’ll realize that 30 years is such a short time, given the grand scheme of our universe. I will see you next week.”

Jack can be exhausting at times. And depressing. I think I need a Massive Pint of Ale to help with my own dysthymia now.

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25 Responses to “Mastery, Activity and Pleasure (Jack, Part 4)”

  1. Amber says:

    Ooohhh poor Rob! I think you need a hug!

  2. Drew says:

    Jack is my new hero.

  3. Mike says:

    It seems Jack is a thinker and not a doer. Hopefully he’ll learn that action will carry him farther than unraveling it with his intelligence.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If that’s the way he acts toward someone he’s just asked for help from, it’s no wonder he gets grief from his schoolmates. Maybe a couple of swirlies will teach him the importance of applying a little mental filtering prior to speaking.

  5. Wayland says:

    I think Amber has a thing for the hero of our story. She’s wanting to get physical. Isn’t it a little soon for that, Rob?
    Aside from your new love interest, you once again entertain to an unfailing degree, sir. Keep being awesome.

  6. scootah says:

    Does Jack have NVLD or Aspergers or is he just a whacky kid?

  7. kate says:

    it’s not asperger’s:
    “He is kinder and much more sensitive toward others than most children his age.”
    http://www.aspergers.com/aspcrit.htm

  8. Maggy says:

    Actually Jack sounds like many people I hang around with. They don’t seem to understand what is socially acceptable and what is not. They cannot seperate who they are and how they should act in front of their peers. I’m not saying he needs to be completely different but using words like dysthymia just won’t help. I hope when he gets older he’ll find a nice anime club to join like I did and make friends that are more like minded.

  9. Joy says:

    Next time he comes at you with dysthymia and dementia and philosophical perspectives on life and the universe you should say…

    “Smarty Smarty Had A Party and Nobody Came, Smarty Smarty Had Another Party and Still Just the Same.” That ought to really shake things up a bit… even better than “the blahs” 😉

  10. Anonymous says:

    Gotta say I love hearing about Jack. He’s so funny XD
    I Gotta say I love hearing about Jack. He’s so funny XD
    I <3 him.

  11. kate says:

    i just wanted to add that i find scootah’s comment unsettling in that we’re a little too quick to diagnose kids these days. while jack is a bit precocious, that doesn’t mean we need to cloak him in some diagnostic label like asperger’s.
    people do this all the time with their kids and lack foresight as far as what’s going to happen down the road. i find it particularly appalling how many parents are so quick to jump on the ADHD bandwagon–pumping their kids full of ritalin because they’re a little hyperactive. nevermind that long-term amphetamine (ritalin is an amphetamine) use is probably permanently altering a child’s brain chemistry, mom & dad just couldn’t be bothered to try any number of behavioral interventions before resorting to pills.
    and scootah–you’ll know an asperger’s person by their complete lack of social tact. we have a cognitive neuroscience PhD in the psych department at my school who casually (and publicly) informs both students and professors how stupid their research projects are. he has no idea what type of impact this has on his relationships with people, although since this is happening within the context of a psychological community he gets a free pass because we all know it’s the asperger’s talking…

  12. Colleen says:

    Sounds like you have a textbook gifted kid on your hands. He sounds much like my friend Evan. In grade school, no one “got” Evan. He was smarter and more mature than everyone else. We used to pass notes that contained hand drawn cartoons satirizing the politics of the school administration. Not the type of humor most 13 year olds are into. I stuck out slightly less than him because I was a “brain” and not a “nerd” (important distinctions at that level). But my successful acquisition of a social skill set didn’t do much to alleviate the intense loneliness and alienation I faced due to never actually relating to my peer group. I was always “the smart kid” asking all the questions and using the big words, even up through college.
    I think it’s very, very important to prepare Jack for the inevitability of him having chronic trouble relating to his peers. He is too many standard deviations away from them for that to happen. But, accepting that and seeking out *true* peers – peers in intellect, not age – can be incredibly reassuring. Everyone needs to feel normal at some point, like they can use the big words without an explanation, or bring up an obscure topic they’re into without funny looks. The sooner he finds this place the better. Summer pre-college programs are good for this, as well as tutoring from MA or Ph.D. level people in his fields of interest. People who appreciate his intellect are more likely to overlook his social peculiarities, as well as provide more realistic models for him socially (I can only imagine that him trying to fit in with other teenagers would be an exercise in failure).
    I would normally consider giving advice to a practicing therapist quite presumptuous as I am far from the practitioner level educationally. However, I have been living in a mind like Jake’s my entire life, and the fight to become well adjusted was long and arduous. However, a critical step in that journey was a therapist who had some idea of what I was going through. I still consider him one of the most influential people in my development, and I offer my experiences in the hope that you might play that role for Jake and others in his position.
    P.S. – Maggy, I have never heard that refrain before, but the type of people who lob those sorts of ‘insults’ at the intellectually gifted explain the antisocial savants building letter bombs in their remote cabins.

  13. Joy says:

    It was me who said that not maggy btw…Don’t blame her for my juvenile sense of humor 🙂

    It was entirely a joke…Trust me, I was the kid who they used to say that to in the 6th grade and my brother is a worse version of Jack WITH a diagnosis…neither of us are unibombers… Not to mention all children get called names at some point and most turn out fine. The kind of trauma I treat in kids is the stuff that really turns children into the adult mentally ill. Thanks for making me clarify though…

  14. T says:

    Does Jack play any sport? (Or do any sort of physical activity?)
    Because when you said “active” followed by “mastery” I got this impression he was gonna play chess.

  15. Maggy says:

    Thanks Joy for letting Colleen know that comment was not by me!! (and btw your comment does have a grain of truth in it!!)
    Next time know that the name is at the bottom of the comment and not at the top. If you’re so intelligent you would have understood that from the very first.

  16. Amber says:

    Wayland~ Rob knows I adore him. He’s funny, he’s smart, and he lives in a different country on the opposite coast. What could get better than that?!

  17. Joy says:

    Thanks Maggy…
    Ya know, I was just thinking about it after re-reading Colleen & Maggy’s comments again… and I do think (tho I said it in a joking way) that the “smarty smarty thing” does have a point… I’m not saying it is the best therapeutic judgment to say that to him. But even Dr. Rob’s choice to say ” a case of the blahs” seems like the right thing to do. A) It helps him see that even PHDs and Doctors don’t have to be so stodgy and B) Maybe it will give him the freedom to loosen up a little. I know as an over-mature child & teen I could have used a therapist or adult in my life to (Yes, as colleen said) Understand BUT ALSO to help me be just a kid sometimes too…

  18. Ric says:

    You and this friggin’ kid. You two should get a tv show together.

  19. J says:

    Jack needs to learn from his word vomit. It’s not an intellectual faulty to be unable to hold back a comment like the Alzheimer’s one. But nature has a way of solving these things. He’s only going to end up saying something crass to a potential mate resulting in a kick in the pants.

  20. Jenna says:

    I think if Jack likes to use big words, no one should tell him not to. Maybe he can join some chess society that’s full of older people, and they’ll appreciate a young boy who speaks properly and has a good mind.

  21. Becca says:

    Jack seems to be one of many people that grow up in an awkward phase but find their niche later on in life. I’d love to hear more about the kid, and of course I love reading about your interesting days!

  22. Colleen says:

    “Next time know that the name is at the bottom of the comment and not at the top. If you’re so intelligent you would have understood that from the very first.”
    Sorry for the misunderstanding, but it would be nice if we could keep the focus on the topic at hand rather than sniping about how misinterpretation of website formatting is correlated with IQ.
    Also, a lot of people are judging Jack as being uptight. I disagree – I think he is a perpetually deep thinker who cannot avoid sounding “wordy” and academic. It would probably be more effort for him to speak less formally. Nothing Dr. Rob has said indicates that Jack is trying to “sound smart” or otherwise putting on a facade.
    I think many people are zeroing in on the short term problems of social adjustment and think Jack needs to change to accommodate the comfort level of others. I think this is a sad message, that he is flawed for being smart and intense despite the fact that this will probably serve him well in the rest of his life. Yes, he needs to know how to avoid getting beaten up, but just because he’s a few standard deviations away from normal doesn’t mean that he’s the one who needs to change.
    I know that this is a topic I probably take too seriously, but seeing the responses to this post are a window into how gifted people are viewed, and it’s been both enlightening and frustrating to read.

  23. J says:

    I think you may have read wrong into my comment Colleen. I didn’t imply kick in the pants as actually getting hit – perish the thought, poor kid.
    I mean Jack will one day need to distinguish what comments are going ‘too far’ in mixed company. I had a friend in high school who often talked like Jack. I could keep up with my low IQ and all, don’t address it like we can’t. But, sometimes she’d throw it down just to be a jerk, and was totally aware of it.
    I don’t think Jack needs to tone it down in any manner, my comment was strictly based on his joke being a little cruel – but nonetheless Jack could surely pick up normal patterns of speech as easily as an inner city youth can drop street language for an job interview. Words are powerful stuff!

  24. Colleen says:

    Thanks for the response, J.
    “I don’t think Jack needs to tone it down in any manner, my comment was strictly based on his joke being a little cruel”
    I guess I didn’t see his joke as cruel. I sort of paused for a moment and thought “that’s very true” and didn’t register that it might sting – after all, it was a correct and I think insightful observation (the part about time and the universe at least). And I presumed that he had been reading up on Alzheimer’s/dementia and his inquiry to Dr. Rob was out of genuine curiosity and perhaps concern. I pretty much missed how the whole exchange could be seen as a bit cruel, which makes me now want to reread all the comments with new perspective!
    I thought people were upset solely over Jake’s command of vocabulary. Now I’m not sure what it says about me that I interpreted his statements the way I did…come to think of it, I’ve accidentally offended people with my direct and overly logical thinking before. Maybe I am not the best person to be defending Jake since I’m starting to question my objectivity on the matter :).

  25. Joy: I agree with you; I think it was a great example of modeling for Jack. Sometimes people choose to use certain words as an intellectual wall, and others do it naturally. I think modeling for either case can work as long as it is discussed, since nuance can often be missed. It also offers a nice opportunity to broach some social skills training opportunities.

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