05 December 2010

It Takes My Breath Away

It happened twice just this week.

The mere act of typing this right now has made my heart race, my breathing shallow. I feel slightly dizzy and a little sick.

It is anxiety, straight up, Shaking, dry mouth, headache coming on...

And it happens every time. And it has happened every time, since I was little girl.

I heard two adults use it this week.

The R word.

I heard 'retardo' twice, then 'isn't that retarded' once.

I am shaking so hard I can hardly type.

What would you do if someone used the 'n' word in casual conversation? Do you respond? How do you respond? I can honestly say I have not heard that word used in person but one time in the last 30 years. My eyes got wide. I shied away. I said nothing. Then the enormous burden of guilt and shame descended.

It is the same when I hear someone use retarded or worse, 'tard, retard, retardo (new one, how is there a new one?).

I want to say something but I am usually far too anxious to do it.

If someone is in medicine or studying medicine I generally say something. I announce to my college students how I feel about the word. I want them to think about the use of that word and make their own decision.

But when a friend, or a friend's child, or a family member uses it, I generally say nothing. I just don't want to see them again.

Does shying away with my feelings help anyone?

My brother is retarded. My court paperwork assigning me as his guardian states that he is "an incapacitated person due to severe mental retardation."

He cannot communicate. He cannot say "what do you mean by that," or "that hurts my feelings," or "please don't say that."

But neither can I.

And I feel heavy with shame and anxiety about it.


  1. I'm so sorry, Robin. I admit I've used that word before and I am sorry for it. I didn't mean to hurt you or anyone else with it. I wasn't thinking. Of course not. I hope you'll give your loved one who used it a second chance. Perhaps you could gently explain to them. I'm sure they would respond with an apology and a new awareness of their vocabulary. xoxo

  2. This is a great post, Robin- hopefully it will open eyes and make us all more aware! I am really bothered by this, too, and understand how socially awkward or confrontational it can be to say something. I feel bad, too, but it depends on how comfortable I am with the person- if it is someone I know well, I always say something...I wish I was braver to confront strangers...

  3. Robin, whenever we talk about it, I love that you say:

    "When they say 'retarded' they mean 'stupid' or 'ugly' and retarded does not mean either of those things."

    Sometimes, people do not want to stop using certain words because they feel words are being taken from them and they are not, they just need to be used appropriately.

  4. Having a mentally retarded sister, myself, I COMPLETELY understand where you're coming from. I don't care what anyone says to try and help me understand why people say it, it hurts and it hurts deeply. Unless you have a loved one who is mentally incapacitated, you have NO idea what it's like.

    I, too, hear it all the time. I hear it from family members, friends and strangers and I don't say anything, either. Why, Robin? Why don't we say anything? There's even a newer one...F***tard. I actually saw it in print on fb.

    People are just ignorant...plain and simple. For lack of learning the english language as it was supposed to be used. It seems our society has gone to hell in a handbasket at times.

    I'm sorry Robin. It really makes me cry... for you...for me...for your brother and for my sister. Hugs and love...

  5. Um. Guilty. Thanks for pointing it out. I will change. I had a sister that was schizophrenic so I understand the pain. I try to enlighten people on what that means.

  6. I too, know that I have used the term. I pray it was in the past, because after hearing your view and realizing the accuracy of it, I realize how my words may have hurt others and were inaccurate terms.

    Thank you for sharing your view and feelings on the R word. I pray that I, too, will be able to stand up and kindly let others know (when they use it) how inappropriate it is.

  7. Robin, I feel so honored that you love me enough to have called me on it when I have used that word in the past. And your courage has emboldened me to tell others it's not ok. Also, the n-word and "that's so gay" used as a put-down, not as a reference to sexual orientation or a joyful demeanor. I don't understand why political correctness is seen as such a negative thing. I just see it as not deliberately hurting others.

  8. Oh Robin ~ I am guilty as charged. I hope that I can be forgiven, and won't try to make any excuse for it. I am not the type of person that would go out of my way to hurt someone, but now I do see, that indirectly I have hurt someone. Thank you for bringing to my attention this...and I hope that you don't drop me from the friend list!

  9. Robin,
    I thought that word went out years ago. I am shocked and I would have to think about what I would do.

    We are off to Standford tomorrow. We know Jud doesn't qualify for their TruBeam therapy but want an opinion from a major medical center.

    Sending you big honking hugs,girl!


  10. Thank you Robin, for the reminder that words can cut.
    Hugs to you!

  11. I have used it also and always thought, I don't mean anything close to a mentally handicapped person but still... As much as it would smart and shame to be told directly by someone to whom it matters deeply, I think that would have made me understand more then any pc attempt to be language neutral would. Some words, even hurtful ones like retarded and gay seem to stick, I'm not sure why, maybe because we haven't come up alternatives that fit the bill the same without being personal. Anyway, very good post and you made me think which is such a nice outcome of blogging.

  12. You are saying something about it-- you're saying it now! I hope that it is going out of fashion, I haven't heard it in a long time, and I hope it does become uncouth. My husband worked for Volunteers of America for a few years and it gave us a lot of lessons about being more sensitive about things like the "R" word and how sweet and brave so many of the people labeled with that word are. Your brother has such an awesome advocate in you!

  13. Since that moment at the lake house when you taught this important lesson to us all, I have never allowed that word to be used in my presence. Whether it's from my children or a complete stranger. It's as if I am defending my brother, my vicarious quest, if you will. Thank you for standing up where others would simply turn a deaf ear.

  14. Just wanted to check in with you, sweet friend...It has been awhile. And, I am grateful that I did stop by as my household is undergoing a "word de-cluttering" as I type this...

    We don't tolerate curse words in our house, but it seems as if all of us have slid into using words that tear each other down and not build each other up...Words and phrases including the one you are writing of...

    Your post is a reminder to me (a flashing red light) that it is important that my husband and I pull up our shirtsleeves, clean up our own act, and become intolerant of less than kind words being used by our children...One discussion over this has already taken place last week and now with the two week Christmas break it will be a perfect opportunity to correct the pattern that we've all slid into....

    Thank you...

  15. I agree that it is completely immature and inconsiderate. I am always shocked when I hear adults say it, because there's really no excuse once you're out of 3rd grade and have the ability to determine for yourself what's appropriate to say in public and what is not. But as for your inability to confront the situation, I can relate.

    My family members hold quite a few opinions that repulse me. I love them, but when I'm being honest with myself I realize that I wouldn't have anything to do with some of them if it weren't for the blood ties. So when someone drops a really bigoted comment at a family gathering, I stay quiet because I don't want to be the a**hole who ruined Thanksgiving. I see it as me being a bigger person, once I'm done crying and guilting myself and feeling ashamed that that's what I come from.

  16. Thanks for opening my eyes to the harm and insulting nature of this word- I'm sorry to say that I never gave any thought to the meaning of it!


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