I think we have all spent our lives feeling judged in one way or another. Both from people around us, and from ourselves. It is remarkable how much judgements and our reactions to them shape our lives. Some people choose to respond by doubling their efforts and reach great heights, others withdraw and stop trying. I know for me, I normally pull back. It was the most noticeable when I was a kid. Between the divorce, and a severe accident, my family went from halfway normal to completely in pieces over the course 6 months. In the aftermath of that, I found myself with one parent. A judgemental one. As I struggled to stay above water, my school work suffered. Despite the school telling him I had a learning disability, he often just took to calling me an idiot, or stupid. I know he was stressed and sick, I know he was impatient, and probably didn’t really mean those things he yelled at me. Yet, in those next couple years I took his words to heart. I stopped trying altogether. That compounded matters, and the situation only grew worse. The public school pulled me out of the regular classroom and put me into another small group. I was alienated and picked on because of this. I took another step back. I thought I was stupid. He said it first, but the school reinforced it. There I was trying to deal with the emotional turmoil of losing my mom, and facing a father so disfigured, and I now had a new label. Rather than fight it, I accepted it. When faced with a difficult hurdle, I turned back, or looked for another way. In an effort to right things I was sent to private school. This just made it worse. I was now away from any friends I might have had, completely alone, and “stupid” amidst a smart student body. The teachers kept saying, has potential, won’t apply herself. Talk about throwing fuel on the fire, my father would get angry. Since our education system is built in a series of steps, if you start faltering, the next step becomes all the more difficult. I was losing ground fast. I couldn’t understand the work because I didn’t have the understanding of the step before. But I didn’t realize that, I just thought it was because I was an idiot. Too dumb to figure anything out. It was a hellish time for me. The school stress added to the family stress was breaking me down. By the time I got to 13, it was a nightmare. I ended up leaving my father to go and live with my mother. Different school again. But that old label hung fast for the journey. I was lucky that I transferred into a school with very low academic standards. It was not nearly as hard to just get by. I actually graduated with two people who were illiterate, that will tell you a bit about the environment. Needless to say, I still struggled. I didn’t have those building blocks I needed. They are so critical in math, and I couldn’t get it together. I just eked by. With some space from my father, and not being called stupid, I started to figure it out. I allowed myself to grow and to begin to excel. I still had trouble, but at least I as trying. I found my art, and I found salvation there. Nobody could do what I was doing. I could lose myself in it. Sure, I was picked on and was bullied. I remember learning to carve wood. Each day I would go to shop class and carve. I had completed a 10″ high carousel horse. It was so beautiful. I was so proud of myself. I went to class and found someone had taken a hammer to it, all out of spite and jealousy. They destroyed that piece I had worked so very hard on. I was able to move on and continue creating my art. I was getting good grades. I found some distance from stupid. But it was always there in the back of my mind.
I don’t think people realize when they throw around a word like stupid, just how dangerous it can be. Sure, when that word was raining down on me, it was in the midst of chaos. Maybe I was more susceptible and more fragile. But I know that stupid altered my life, and my path. Instead of growing and developing, I quit. It wasn’t until I was in college with honors, that I finally looked at stupid, and decided it just didn’t fit. No, I am not stupid. Yes, I have weaknesses like everyone else, but no I am not an idiot. I have the capacity to learn and to grow. I have that in me. I am anything but stupid. Wish I could have told myself that when I was 8….