I’ve mentioned this before, so I’m sorry if I’m repeating myself, but I never really developed much of an ability to use or understand body language. I thought words were the thing, and so I missed out on a lot of what other people were actually saying and everything kind of sucked. Childhood was no fun. I couldn’t connect with the other kids. Our social languages were too different.
When I was 15, I decided that I was going to sort through all of this. I could tell by then that something was going on. I looked around at my peers and they seemed to know things about how humans worked. I thought every other kid was brilliant because when people asked random questions, they would instantly have answers and it was like watching a magic trick. That was my life then. Lonely and anxious and curious about people.
So I was trying to sort through all of this. This was 1990. Diagnostic types of thinking weren’t around then. People weren’t clinically framing all of the behavioral stuff, so I had to go on observation.
And I figured it out. Mostly. 80%.
I watched people and I tried to understand the patterns and just visually I began to realize that body language existed. It existed and it served a purpose. I could see in the rhythmic, recurring gestures of people that these gestures were purposeful. They were providing emphasis to words and almost orchestrating shades of meaning in a discussion.
Those were weird days. It was a weird adolescence. Everything was a mix of super interesting and extremely depressing. Anyway, body language. I was stunned with that discovery. I couldn’t stop watching the way people moved when they interacted with others.
And I was so angry at myself. I didn’t communicate with movement, I didn’t know how, so I looked down at my body and felt miserable. My arms just hung there pointlessly, feeling now with this new awareness, powered down.
I was in a panic to start memorizing as much body language as I could. I kept asking myself, What are the rules? What are the basic types of body language and what do they mean? I wanted to absorb all of that and fit in and be one of the magic people.
My point (that I am inventing as I type this sentence) is that this is the moment that I most needed help. 15 and self-hating and trying to memorize non-verbal communication: I needed help. Not help in being a certain way, not help in meshing with the social world. I needed help learning what not to do. I needed help learning to be at peace with myself. I needed someone to talk me out of the social mimicry phase. That was no good.
I don’t know what the nature of any help would have been in 1990. There were sympathetic school counselors who seemed to not really have a lot of stuff to say. They were both nice and they found me to be odd and confusing.
I suspect that 10th grade, when I’m really digging into the low self-esteem and idolizing the lives of others, that’s probably when help would have been most impactful. I didn’t have any way of understanding that I needed the opposite of what I wanted.
I got help later in life and it was enormously beneficial. Later kinds of help can work too. I just can’t not have memories and so those exist and as I sort through them I think a lot about the past.
Memories often print too deeply but it feels like I’ve said that before.