When being different is so hard

I had a conversation with an 11-year-old last week that I can’t stop thinking about. It tugged at my heartstrings because while my story wasn’t her story, I just so get her and I get it.

The minute we sat down together that day, she immediately said, “I’m like a multi-sided die. There are so many parts to me and I’m still trying to figure it all out.”

She happens to be one of the most introspective, super awesome girls I know. She’s brilliant, with an IQ that likely surpasses mine. She’s hilarious. She’s socially awkward. She has trouble in school. She has ADHD. She’s awesome.

She proceeded to tell me about all of the different parts of her – the nerdy part, the quirky part, the studious part, the part who likes art. “And there’s probably a lot more parts that I’m trying to figure out still,” she added.

We got down to work, but later on, seemingly out of the blue, she blurted, “I’m an odd duck. Strange. Peculiar.”

“What makes you think that?” I asked her.

“Because I’m not normal. Because I’m weird. And I have ADHD.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re strange or peculiar,” I responded.

She rolled her eyes. “All adults say that. They say I’m special and unique. But special is just a word they use to mean ‘different’ and unique just means ‘not like anyone else’. It’s just sugar-coating.”

I paused. “I wasn’t going to say that, actually.” I told her. “I was going to say that having ADHD wouldn’t make you strange or peculiar. It’s just a thing. Everyone has things.”

“No they don’t,” she slumped in her seat. “Everyone else is normal.”

I know. I so know exactly how she feels. Think. How would I have wanted an adult to respond to me? 

I took a breath. “Here’s the thing. And you have to trust me on this because I’ve been there. Okay? As you grow up you’ll realize that everyone has something. Everyone HAD something. You just might not know it right now.”

She slid a sideways glance at me. “Because it’s inside. Not on the outside.”


She thought about it for a minute.

“I wish I had x-ray vision so I could see what everyone else has…”

“I don’t blame you,” I told her. “That would make it a lot easier.”

“….but, then I’d be a cheater when I play Battleship.” she finished.

Excellent point, my little friend.

In a week and a half

A week and a half ago (is that all it’s been?) the Trump tape came out. The next few days I was filled with anger. We took to social media, I mainly lived on Twitter, and we expressed our outrage and disgust. The debate followed and more anger followed. Everyone knows this story. This is nothing new.

And then this past week I still felt angry and fired up. But Friday night, I deflated. Maybe I just am not meant to be angry for so long. Maybe it was bound to happen no matter what. Maybe a balloon can only get so big before it’s bound to pop.

And I lost it. Not in a crazy way. Not in a meltdown way. But anger turned to tears and I cried. And periodically this weekend, my heart has felt heavy.

It’s great – truly – that this tape, and its results have inspired thousands of women to share their stories. Check the Twitter threads #whywomendontreport and #iamasurvivor. Look at what Kelly Oxford started, simply by inviting women to share their stories. People started talking and sharing stories that maybe they had never shared before. People are connecting and talking. And maybe, as a friend suggested, this is the beginning of a revolution.

But that doesn’t change that there are still so, so many girls and women that are in pain and hurting and I just want to hug them all. And where it gets me the most? That we can all share our stories, I can scream my stories from the rooftops over and over again – but girls are going to continue to be assaulted. People are going to continue to be abused. In talking, we’re collectively healing, but we’re not stopping the problem.

There’s so much that I want to DO. And I don’t know how to do it. I want to work on laws and policies around rape and assault. I want to end the backlog. I want to create more online support, particularly for children and adolescents who are too afraid or unable to tell their story to an adult in person – but with the advent of technology would seek out support online. I want to tell my story over and over again to anyone who wants to hear. I want to listen to anyone who needs to tell theirs. (Because if statistics are accurate – which they are, they’re statistics – there are a lot of people out there with stories.)

I am sick of people referring to someone sharing their story as “personal”. “She keeps sharing so much personal information,” or “Why is she telling the world about that – it’s personal.” Must I scream it until my throat is raw – it’s not personal. Nothing about it is personal. The events (which were crimes. Don’t lose sight of that.), the shame, the guilt, the fear – we made them ours, but they were never supposed to be ours. We don’t have to carry it anymore. It’s not personal. It had nothing to do with us.

The thing is, I don’t know what I can do or how to do it. But tonight, I can write. And it’s not new, and it’s not eloquent, and it’s not brilliant. And so be it.

Speaking is healing

Last year, our brave little elf girl destroyed a spiderweb that had her stuck in captivity. Patiently, she cleared the web, taking rest and nourishing herself more than ever. She was eventually freed from the web and had her garden back.

But deep inside of her she held a truth that she didn’t think many others realized: Just because she got rid of the spider web didn’t mean she wasn’t still afraid of spiders.

Oh, she still felt freer than she had in years. She worked in her garden, played with the fairy sprites by the river, and drank lemon drop tea in her hammock.

And she was still afraid of spiders.

Her friends were kind.

“The spider scared you so many years ago,” the water nymph told her. “Why are you still afraid?”

“You’re older now. You know that most spiders aren’t harmful,” the garden gnome added. “Don’t you know that?”

They didn’t speak unkindly. They just didn’t understand, and they could only see things the way that they saw them. That a spider from many, many years ago, is one spider. All of the other wonderful spiders who lived in their land didn’t go around scaring elves, and so, why should the elf  worry about it anymore?

Once a year, on chore rotation, the elf had the job “feeding the spiders.” This chore only came into rotation every year or so; but every year, she dreaded it. She took elixers before and after, to calm her beating heart as she did what she had to do. She didn’t tell the Elder Elf about her fears. She didn’t want to talk about it, and she didn’t want to seem weak. She preferred to just silently push through, though it meant days of recovery afterward.

But one beautiful Fall day, she walked to work with the sun beating down through the rainbow-colored leaves. When she got there, she saw that her assignment that day was feeding the spiders. She felt her heart start to beat out of its chest. She put a big smile on her face as she nodded and smiled, and walked out to where the spiders were eagerly awaiting their meal. But something shifted. Maybe it was the magenta streak in the sky. Maybe it was the glitter shimmering down from the trees. And so rather than quickly taking 3 elixers, and silently taking the food and getting the job done as fast as possible, only to need days to recover from her fear, she stopped. She looked at the Elder Elf who oversaw her job, and she spoke.

“I must tell you something, Elder. I become fearful with this job.”

The Elder Elf smiled, kindly, and replied, “I don’t think it’s many elves’ favorites. They’d prefer trimming the mint bushes, or harvesting the dragonberry fruit, or playing with the unicorns.”

But the elf pushed on. “Yes. I know. But I’m afraid of spiders. You see, when I was little, one hurt me. And then I got tangled in its web, for a long time. And so when I am around them, I remember. And I become afraid.”

The Elder Elf looked her deep in the eye, and beckoned. “Come, child. We will feed them together.”

And they did.

Walking home that evening, the elf thought back over her day. She had worked with the spiders and yet wasn’t still thinking about them. She wasn’t remembering being scared. She wasn’t feeling the fear in her chest. And she didn’t think she’d need any elixers to recover. In fact, she felt like it had just been a regular day. She thought about the moonbeam lily soup she would make for dinner. She felt…fine.

Could it be, she thought to her herself, that words are as powerful as elixers? Could it be that by speaking my fear, my fear was released? Could it be that by telling the Elder Elf of my fears, it made them more manageable?

And as she paused, and looked up into a sky filled with fireflies, she knew the answer was, yes.

Body changes

Last year, for reasons not related to an eating disorder (I feel compelled to add that, because if you know me, and you know my history, you’re going to jump to a conclusion), I lost weight.

The reasons were complicated. They involved dealing with a lot of grief, processing a lot of stuffed-down traumatic memories, and some health issues, that may or may not have been caused by the aformentioned factors, but were definitely made worse by those factors.

So, due to a major lack of energy, and some hardcore anxiety and depression, I did a lot of napping, resting, sitting. Quiet, low-key things. Which at the time, my body absolutely needed. But that meant that I didn’t really go to the gym for about 8 months.

And now: now, my body is starting to heal. Now, I’m starting to gain weight. But more than that, my body has adjusted to close to a year of no gym, which means it’s changed.

I’m less toned. I’m bigger in some places. I’m softer in some places. Saggier in places. Some places touch that I’m not used to touching. Some pants that fell off of me a year ago now fit perfectly. And my thighs won’t squeeze into some pants that were baggy last year.

It’s an adjustment.

It’s not bad. It’s not good. Or, it’s bad AND good. Whatever. The point is, it’s not all one thing. And it just IS.

It’s an adjustment.

Maybe to another person I look the same. That’s fine. It’s not about other people’s thoughts or opinions. And it’s actually not about how I look. I’m not saying I’m fat (I’m not) or chunky (I’m not) or ugly (I’m not). It’s about how my body feels.

I’ve had moments of brief panic: How am I going to adjust to this????? But I’ve also had moments of awe: Hell yeah. My body did what it needed to do, my body carried me through last year, and it survived and it’s rebuilding itself. And I’ve also had moments where I’m just so impressed because a decade ago, the slightest softening or growth of my body would’ve sent me restricting and purging and counting nonstop. Now? I feel it, oh yes, I notice it and feel it. But then I move on. I’ll adjust. My body is resilient. It’s all okay.

This is new for me.

I’m back to going to the gym. I’m back to lifting, to moving my body. But my body isn’t going to be the exact one it was last year (nor would I want it to be). It’s not going to be the one it was five years ago. And it’s not going to be the one that it will be a year from now.  And that’s just the truth and the reality of it.

Acceptance. Noticing. Observing. Breathing. Moving through. Moving on.

Collecting bravery

Just about 3 months ago, I wrote “It’s Time” – what I (still) refer to as  “the bravest thing I will ever write.” Since then, I haven’t had the urge to write as much, nor have I felt like I’ve had anything worth saying. I almost felt like I had worked for years to get to that point – and after you reach the top of a mountain, it’s not like you can keep climbing. So I slid down, and barely wrote for the past few months. Still trying to figure out where to go from here – what to say, what’s my angle, what’s my goal, with writing.

Something I’ve been thinking about a LOT lately are the brave women whose stories gave me courage and fire and strength to ultimately write that post. It’s like this: one person writes or says something brave. That gives the second person courage, and so then they write something brave. And then multiple people read it and they get strong and they write it, too. And that’s how it was for me.

Over the years I have read countless blog posts and articles. There are women who write that I feel like I know, because they have shared their deepest stories (the once were secrets) with me and with the world. These are the women who helped me get here. And so I wanted to share some of their words with you, in the hope that their words will keep building that fire within you.

I have followed Jess on Diary of a Mom for years. I feel like I know her and her kids, and I love every single story and anecdote she writes. She has made me a better speech language pathologist and have more knowledge into my kids with autism, leading me to be a fierce autism advocate in many ways. A few years ago, Jess posted this, and my heart stopped. Her, too. It’s her story, too. And I felt less alone. She wrote, “It’s time because the shame should not be mine. It should never have been mine.” Yes. I started to believe it. That maybe, just maybe, someday I would not own the shame.

I don’t remember how I started following Erin Brown’s blog. (Which you should check out, and you should also add her on Snapchat. Trust me.) But one day, the same thing, I saw that she had written it. Her story. When she said, “It’s a lifetime of joys, pains, light and dark, and you carry it all until you are ready to set it down. Dare I say, it’s hard to move forward until you begin that unpacking,” the fire inside of me grew.

When I discovered Elephant Journal, one of my most favorite writers instantly became Cis White. In what is one of the bravest posts I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot, she wrote: “It didn’t define me. It is a part of me, but not all of me. It became something a size of which I can manage. Since it is not my fault, why should I hide the truth of my experience?…….I believe the power of shame is diminished when we speak up and out and with one another about it.” The bravery in her words was admirable – and something I decided I was going to strive for.

And then there’s Laura. I have been reading Laura’s blog for years. I don’t remember how I ever stumbled upon it, but when I did, I felt like I was home. Every word she writes feels like a hug. A warm blanket wrapped around me. As if she is looking me straight in the eye and saying, “I get it. I get you.” And one day this past spring, out of nowhere, I messaged her on Facebook, and she wrote back telling me that she and her cousin Mary, of Say it Survivor, (check out their story-seriously) were having a writing workshop just 40 minutes from where I lived, and that I should come. And while even just a year ago, I would’ve laughed and said, “Absolutely not,” I signed up that night, texted a friend, and she and I went. Our experience at the workshop could be an entire post. And maybe some day it will be. But let’s just say: that was it. It was the final piece that had been missing. I walked out of there without shame, without blame, without fear. And one week later, I published “It’s Time.” (And following that post, guess what I have not felt at all? Regret, more shame, fear, self-hatred. Actually, I have felt more free than I have ever felt.) Laura and I have kept in touch since the workshop and she is just one of those genuinely amazingly beautiful souls. If you ever have the privilege of working with her – do it. I would copy and paste every post she’s ever written, but in the interest of time, just trust me: read her blog. And here are the words that I tell her are my most favorite thing she’s ever said, and never fail to make me tear up upon reading:

No one gets to judge how you managed to survive, friends.  No one.  No one gets to shame you for whatever you did to get yourself to the place where you can live through feeling the pain.  Not even you.

You survived, honey.  Not everyone does, you know.

You miraculous girl.  You miraculous boy.  You clever, resilient child, you.

You can stop hurting yourself.  You can shed your armor, and still be safe.  You can be seen, and still be safe.  You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.  You are being held hostage.  Meet the demands.  Feel the pain.  It will take some courage, but we already know how brave you are.  You are so, so brave.

You are strong enough to walk through the pain, and into the sunlight- I promise you. Freedom is just around the bend.  See you there, sweet friend.

And this doesn’t even begin to talk about Glennon and Liz and Brené and so many women in my day-to-day life who inspire me with their bravery to stand tall and be real and tell their stories.

So I hope you gain some inspiration. I hope their words fill you with bravery and comfort. And I hope you find the courage to tell your own story – even a snippet, or a sentence, or a word. Whatever your story is about. It will set you free – this I know.

The day that we talked about rape jokes

One day this summer, staff of our oldest boys came up to me.

“Jen,” they said. “Can we do a group on rape comments? The sexual jokes keep coming and yesterday [Name] made a joke about what he would do to [Celebrity] if he found her drunk and passed out. They just don’t get that rape isn’t something to joke about. And I think they get so much of this from the internet. They just don’t understand.”

[For a little more context: these boys, besides being clueless adolescents, also happen to all have Asperger’s Syndrome, or related social-cognitive challenges.]

And so the following morning I sat with the group of 13-15-year-old boys.

“Remember a few weeks ago we talked about jokes?” I began.

“Yeah, like the deadly jokes?” one of them asked.

“How you can’t joke about suicide or religion or race,” another added.

“Right. And what did we say about sexual innuendo jokes?” I asked. We quickly reviewed how, at their age, innuendo exists, and it’s funny. It can be funny to look at a banana and think it looks like something else. It can be funny to hear someone say “I blew so hard,” when talking about blowing up a balloon. It’s okay. That’s expected. It just depends on who you share innuendo with, and when. You don’t make that type of joke with a staff member, or a teacher, or a parent.

I asked them if they knew of any other deadly topics that we hadn’t talked about, and after guesses like, “family” and “disabilities” (they are such good kids, SUCH good, sweet kids…), one of them guessed, “sex?” And another guessed, “rape?”

They all burst out laughing. As expected. But I waited, and then I asked them, “Who knows what the definition of rape is?”

As we began to walk down this path of conversation, laughter came in and out, but I held their gaze and I told them, “It’s okay. It’s an uncomfortable topic. People laugh when they feel awkward or uncomfortable. It’s okay. If you need to walk away or take a break, it’s okay.” They all stayed.

We talked about what rape is. We talked about where they hear rape comments (the internet, they said. One boy said, “Everything is inappropriate. It could be a video of a TREE on YouTube, and if you scroll down, there will be racist and sexist jokes and comments about sex.”).

Next we talked about the difference between sex jokes and rape jokes.

“While sex jokes are often “deadly”, meaning that they can have negative consequences depending on who you say them to, rape jokes are ALWAYS “deadly”, no matter who you make them with. And that’s because sex and rape are not the same thing.” I said.

“But they kind of are,” one boy said. “It’s the same actions.”

“I’m glad you brought that up,” I told him. “Does anyone know why people have sex?”

They laughed again.



I told them they were right. “Does anyone know why someone rapes?”

Silence. And then,



I looked at them and said: “A person rapes for one reason: power. When a person rapes someone, it isn’t about sex. It’s not about attractiveness.”

“Wait,” one boy said. “I get it. So even though the physical actions are similar, the intent is different.”

Another boy added, “I guess you never know what someone has been through, which is why you shouldn’t joke about it?”

Yes. Yes. Yes. Kids are so smart.

“Right.” I told them. And then I shared some statistics about sexual abuse and rape. I watched their eyes widen as they looked around the table, counting the number of boys and the number of women. “Wait….” one of them said. “So someone here might have had that happen to them?”

You just never know. You don’t take that chance.

We talked about how damaging it can be for someone to hear a joke about rape. We played out some scenarios, doing Social Behavior Mapping, to look at the effects of a rape comment. They talked about how maybe people would feel unsafe around them, might be worried that they were going to harm them, might think that they disrespected women and maybe wouldn’t want to be around them anymore. These were their ideas. Their thought processes. They got it.

We talked about the kind of people they want to be. We talked about what they can do if they hear a rape comment or joke. How they could be a bystander or not. How they can choose to laugh or not. How if they choose to laugh, what message it sends. They got it.

We could’ve skipped all this. We could’ve sat them down and said, “You will have a serious consequence if I hear one more of those comments.” We could’ve. But what would that have done? The thing is – we have to have these hard conversations. It’s okay if they laugh. It’s okay if they want to walk away. It’s okay. But we have to talk about it, because otherwise they don’t know. Otherwise they don’t have the space to ask the questions. Otherwise they go on doing what they’re doing because nobody has given them a reason or an opportunity to do otherwise.

So we talk. We have the conversations, and over and over again, we talk.

Let’s try this again

I haven’t sat down to write all summer. Except once, one half-hearted post.

I have missed writing so much.

I could attribute it to working 10-12 hour days, or the heat, or being so exhausted, or writer’s block, or my computer breaking, or just simply not having enough time.

But really, it doesn’t matter why, does it?

What matters is that I have missed it. I need it back.

Writing is so good for me.

There’s so many posts that have been swimming around in my head. Words and sentences floating about that want to be collected and transformed into some semblance of coherence.

I’m going to try.

I have so much to say. About work, about kids and meltdowns and strategies and lessons. About life, about authenticity and discovery. About stories and truth-telling and being real. About everything.

And yet.

I think about finally having this time, and I freeze. My fingers freeze, my mind stops. I can’t find the words and the paragraphs I had so eloquently written in my head are nowhere to be found.

But gently, I will coax them out. Gently, I will return to this habit. Gently, I will find my voice again.

I can’t wait.

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