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The Words That Help Me Dwell Less on Other People’s Hurtful Opinions


Many a time I’ve been working towards my goals and dreams and have gotten plagued by other people’s skepticism and dismissiveness. An example from school was me wanting to do an extra-curricular astronomy project and how one teacher said I’d never cope with it because in his words I wasn’t smart enough.

Those words really hurt me at that time. I did know that I wasn’t a student who aced every assessment, but astronomy was something I had liked since I was 6 years old. When I was in Grade One at school, I got my first ever telescope (a reasonably small refractor), and I’d enjoy studying the planets and constellations in the night sky. So to hear from a teacher when I was still in primary school that I’d never cope with it or understand it was quite a sting for me.

As I moved into adulthood as someone with autism and an anxiety disorder, I did mature somewhat, yet I experienced the same kind of feelings in different ways. When I was a teenager, I injured my back, which made me have to take some time off tae kwon do. Once I had returned, I had to take it easier than usual, and to take care when doing turning kicks. Though one instructor (and all it can take is one person) blatantly refused to believe I had an injury and thought I was just faking it to get out of doing the work. At that time this hurt me so much because I really was going through the pain of the injury, I don’t tell lies, and in actual fact I was very upset when I had to take time off tae kwon do as I enjoyed it so much. A year later (when my injury had finally healed) I was awarded my black belt and the instructor who was in the audience was completely surprised. People being surprised at things I’ve achieved and/or done (even if they’re things that are just common sense) used to cause me a lot of pain as well.

When I (very first) found out that I have HSAM (highly superior autobiographical memory), a few people I came across were skeptical and dismissive about it. I was doing Skype calls with the University of California that were during the early hours of the morning in the middle of winter my time. Though I’d come across a few people (it’s amazing how small a number it can take) who either thought I was telling tall tales or said I was wasting my time being involved in something so pointless.

I have to admit that I was somewhat proud of being involved in this study, merely because I hadn’t had many chances to feel proud of myself before. Due to my learning difficulties I didn’t get any qualifications from school, and I’d never been employed anywhere. Also, I feared the sense of pride because arrogance felt (and still does feel like) like a sin to me.

Though I must also say that I never found my contribution to human memory research pointless. The purpose of studying those of us with HSAM (who can remember every day of our lives) isn’t to shower us with cash and attention. The intent of these studies are to help find answers to human memory in general.

Almost three years ago, I was talking to someone (who I’ll keep anonymous) about what I was doing with my life. She thought it was fascinating and said she was so happy for me. However, I then began to talk about all of the insecure feelings I mentioned above. This was when the woman sighed and said in an exasperated way, “Who cares about what other people think, Rebecca.”

This was when the conversation ended, but those words have forever remained in my conscience. Other people’s words do indeed matter when they’re being helpful (even if it’s with kind and/or constructive criticism). Yet when we’re being looked down upon, wrongly accused of lying or being scoffed as lazy (when we ourselves know we’ve worked our butt off), why should it matter?

It only matters when we ourselves choose to be affected by them. Words are just words, and opinions are just opinions. That’s it. Life is just too short to be spent dwelling on those sorts of things. I used to do it constantly, though I’m now learning not to do it. It also must be added here that life has already become a hundred times easier for me since.

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Thinkstock image by lzf