People are always saying motivational things about how it’s great to be different. But, when I think back over my life the first experiences that come to mind are always memories of negative experiences of it.
For example, I was born with an extra bone in my left foot. That’s pretty different. It’s a very rare condition – so much so that a crowd of doctors were summoned to view my 10 year old foot’s x-ray – and I have never felt there was anything good about this. It meant that I was unable to walk until I was 18 months old (although I think that was combined with being a lazy baby 🙂 ) and not really being able to walk very well since. After that was an operation, crutches, recovery and it made the condition worse. Which they said there was a risk of. I moved on to secondary school with no resolution and no hope that there would ever be one. I assumed that people would be understanding that I was a little different – I couldn’t run like everyone else could (my run is still pretty funny) and the act of walking and running takes twice as much effort for me as most people, so I could never keep up with anyone in PE, or even just walking from A to B. But, at school, that which makes you different makes you a target, and people always made comments about how I ran in PE, including my PE teacher (don’t get me started on her…), so although I’m not sat here saying I was badly bullied and everyone should feel sorry for me, I am saying that from what I remember being different at school was hard work sometimes and there were other kids that got it WAY worse than me.
Nowadays it still bothers me that I can never keep up with anyone or walk around for more than an hour without my body hurting. And I am CONVINCED that I walk weirdly, a bit like a waddling duck with knocking knees (do ducks have knees??). But I have never known any different. These days I have learnt to accept that I am different (for many more reasons than this!) and try not to let what I think other people think of me take up valuable space in my brain. Obviously that isn’t always easy and I’m so often not very successful at doing that – but I am definitely getting much better at it.
So there are definitely negative things that can be experienced from being different. But I realised that there are actually some big positives. For example, my experiences mean I can empathise with other people that are going through similar issues. I will be able to advise someone if they ask me what to do if people are laughing at them or singling them out at school or work or anywhere. They make sure I worker a slightly shorter shift at work because my body hurts too much when I go over a certain number of hours of being on my feet (always a bonus!). I know how it feels to be different and would never make someone else feel bad for it. I learnt that people can be really mean and put you down – and that really that is more about THEM than it is about ME.
Oh and my waddling duck impression is obviously second to none 🙂
It’s the same with mental health. In some ways the mental health issues that I have and do experience are like my limping foot, but with the added difficulty of people generally not being able to see the issues physically. They come out in a way that other people’s ignorance can make them think what you are doing or saying is ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ to them. I think it’s harder for me to accept negativity with regards to my mental health as it feels like someone is actually being negative about me as a person. But then I have to remember that they are different too and may not have the benefit of all the experiences that I have had.
So what I guess I’m trying to say is that yes I am different to other people. In millions of ways. But these days I’m kind of OK with that most of the time. And I have no secret trick or recipe to make that happen for anyone else. I think it’s about trying to accept myself and building up my confidence and self-esteem – and surrounding myself with supportive, positive people that don’t try to knock me down at every turn just to make them feel better about themselves.
I try to remember what the great Maya Angelou said, ‘If you are always trying to be ‘normal’, you will never know how AMAZING you can be.’
The views and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not necessarily reflect those of The Project as an organisation.