Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Use Your Words

"Use your words" is a statement often used with small kids who are pushing and shoving or otherwise behaving in what is considered an unreasonable manner. It is a reminder to use language rather than behavior. Behavior clearly is communication, but not always the most useful form of it.

This post, however, is about a different form of using your words. It is about using words to define yourself. It is about the words others use to define you - or don't.

Words are powerful. Words have the ability to shape lives. Your whole idea of how the world works, your whole idea of who you are, and your role in the world. All defined by words - or feelings that originated in words.

What do you remember about the way you were described as a child? What is your first memory of yourself? I was described as smart - although I always knew there was something wrong or different about me. There were no words for that, though. Asperger's was not a diagnosis I would get for another dozen years or so. I was told that my intelligence would come in handy when I was older. I have one memory of a summer camp of some sort. Sitting on a gym mat. A teenage counselor telling me I seemed much older than the other campers, more mature. All good things, she assured me.

But how? How could these be good things? I was 10 ( and 8, and 12, and 14, and you get the idea...) I wanted to know why I wasn't like the other kids my age. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be able to talk to them. I wanted to be, just once, not so "separate." And I would have traded all the smartness in the world for it.

Sometimes I was "sweet." Sweet is such a non-specific word. I grew to hate it. Wasn't there anything else good about me? So far I knew that I was smart and I was sweet. Not exactly the recipe for success in my book.

This was countered by far, far too many messages from my peers about being different, awkward, weird, and "other." Messages about being socially incompetent, even about being selfish or deeply flawed in some way. These messages were not usually specific, but they were coming from everywhere, every corner of my existence, so they must be true. They didn't hold a candle to "smart" or "sweet."

People believe that they are who they are unless given good reason to believe otherwise. I think there is a lack of positive reinforcement in our culture. Good traits are rarely highlighted. People rarely have the opportunity to change their mind about themselves for the better, unless they meet someone willing to show them, and to be persistent about it.


I finally had the opportunity, recently, at 28, to begin to have cause to redefine my 20 year old perception of myself. I joined a meetup group where the members seem welcoming and to genuinely like me. Yes, this comes as a surprise. I imagine it will for quite some time. But it's a start.

I met a longtime blogging friend in real life, who after the meeting devoted a whole blog to the meeting. Make sure you go look at Jess's blog at Diary of a Mom. https://adiaryofamom.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/kate/

Her blog nearly brought me to tears. She used her words. Thank you, Jess, for using your words.

"The concrete things that I knew about Kate are that she has Asperger’s, and also that she has some pretty serious sensitivities to fragrances and chemicals that can make life particularly challenging.
So that’s what I knew.
But please believe me when I tell you this — those are NOT the things that you notice when you meet Kate. Instead, what you see — what you can’t possibly miss — is her energy.
She laughs easily and she laughs a lot. And her laugh is infectious. It’s physical and it’s big and it’s all-encompassing. It draws you in and it wraps you up and it takes you along on its journey to a whole other place — a better, brighter, lighter place.
And even though it’s different from the one that I know so well and love so much — its effect on everyone around her is eerily familiar.
Brooke’s belly laugh – so different from her sister’s, so very much her own. The laugh that starts with her shoulders and takes her whole body along for the ride. The laugh that sets her eyes on fire and whose sheer energy could launch a rocket ship and send it into orbit. The contagious laugh that leaves an electric happiness in its wake."
The silent, unanswered questions about what I could possibly have to offer someone - the perception of  myself as a burden - began to be erased, as if with a Magic Marker, with Jess's words. Oh, sweet words, a gift to me to begin to redefine myself.

A friend tells me I bring out the kid in him, and makes him feel care free. A recently met friend tells me that I would make a good therapist because my experiences bring about a sense of empathy and openness to other's experiences that she finds very attractive.

Words, words. All they are are words, but they have the power to change a life. Mine. Yours. Everyone's. We need to be honest with each other, not just about what our friends and loved ones have to work on, but what we love about them, and why. We need to use our words. We need to be a community.

You are at a point where trust in life and your spirit, higher self or soul is paramount or even trust in the goodness of the universe.  You are at a place in your life where you are pregnant with potential which is filled with your greatest wishes and your greatest fears, it is up to you which ones you will give power to.

The above is a quote from a recent meetup I attended. I can't think of anything more accurate for where I am in my life than those words. Which will I  choose? Will I have the strength and resources I need to choose my dreams over my fears?

I've spent my life living, it feels, as one-woman island, perhaps due to my Asperger's. Or perhaps due to the confluence of many different forces, no one's "fault" but present nonetheless.

So my single, number one goal now is to find community and build social connections. Because only with that can I find the strength, courage and resilience to choose my dreams over my fears. I can't be an island anymore. I'm not saying this as it's a done deal. I don't know how it will go. But I've made a good start. And I know that words, different words, a different community, a different environment and different experiences will hopefully produce a different person. Or at least the same person who thinks quite differently about herself - and therefore will become a different, and better, person.

You spend the first thirty or so years of your life learning about yourself and the world around you.
Then, depending on your life experiences, you can spend the rest of your life trying to un-learn these things.

Ironic, yes?


  1. Yes! I'm 45 and really just figuring out who I am. It should be a continuous process. My first memories are that I was always told I was "shy" and "should smile more". Thanks for your wonderful post.

  2. Very wise words for someone so young. At 46 years old, I have to say that un-learning old stuff can be just as freeing and empowering as learning new things.

    I have a 13-year-old Aspie son and interestingly I recently came across a diagram of sorts that he drew for school. He was obviously describing himself and his interests. The words that he used were "kind" and "funny." I remember thinking there were so many more words to describe him -- I wanted to add about a hundred more to that short list of his.

    Which reminds me of a time I saw a lecture by a doctor who specialized in learning disabilities. He talked about how the best thing we could do for our kids was to focus on their strengths and not their weaknesses. It seemed like such a simple notion but it hit me and the other moms I was with like a lightning bolt. We can get so caught up in our kids' difficulties that we can forget all of the gifts they have to offer as well. Such a great lesson.

    Side note: I visited Maine this summer for the first time and it was amazing. I always thought I was a West Coast wanna-be but after a few days in Maine I felt like packing up and moving there permanently. No other place has had such an effect on me in a very long time.

  3. Great post, Kate. I especially loved the point you made at the end about unlearning things - very true and unfortunately necessary. I hope the meetup group continues to go well for you!

  4. So proud of the woman you are becoming Kate. We are always evolving, maturing, growing and becoming more comfortable in our own skin. I am 47 and still growing. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  5. Thank you all for your comments! Much appreciated.

  6. To Anonymous - a) I am glad you liked Maine! I love it too.
    b) you know those hundred more words you wanted to add? do yourself and your son a favor and add them... write them on a piece of paper... and discuss them with your son. It's never too early to start building self esteem =)

  7. You use your words beautifully. Thank you.