I can still remember how lonely it felt to be the different kid. I figured out early on that I didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the world around me. Whether it was constantly getting in trouble with teachers and at home for talking too much or causing trouble, just not being able to decipher, or much less pay attention to schoolwork that seemed to come so easy to others. It was a lot, especially for a kid. I would try to be “normal” but it just wasn’t how I was made, and I ended up feeling more like a failure than before, causing me to wish I wasn’t “unique” at all.

Because of all these things that made me different, be it mental illness, learning disabilities, or just an out-of-the-norm personality – I often felt like I was “bad”, “too much”, or “not enough”. I found evidence everywhere I looked that they were true, but felt completely helpless to do anything about it on my own. And for a kid who loved connection and people, this was particularly hard for a young boy who just wanted to love and be liked.

Before I have likened this feeling of living with these “differences” to something like looking at the world through glass, as if you are gazing into a house with a party that you want to be a part of, but because of who I was and how I was made, was not and will not be invited into.

Very often my young self and even adult self was clouded with these feelings of separation and loneliness.

But that’s only part of the story. Because you see, deep inside of the darkness my young heart felt there was also a ray of light, a song of peace inside the noise, one that encouraged me past the hardships of my youth into the happy, loving, healthy adult I am today. That light, that voice was of my mother.

My mother, being a student of her child, saw me and my differences, she saw the hardship they brought, and the angst they caused my young soul. She listened to her intuition, instead of the world of quick fixes and cookie cutter molds. She decided to enter my pain with me and create a safe place where I could grow and find strength. She did this practically by making time every day for me, asking me questions about the condition of my mind and heart, and listening with a non-judgmental ear to the deepest feelings of my young heart. She would take me on ice cream dates that created a time of connection in my lonely world, she would sit with me by my bed at night and let me know I wasn’t alone in my struggle, and every morning she made it a point to tell me that even though it was hard, that all my differences were good, and would play a positive part in the story I would tell with my life.

After sharing about our journey in our book Different, I began to receive countless messages about others who had felt the same for me, and how my story in a small way did for them what my mom did for me – let them know they weren’t alone.

After hearing from so many people who had struggled with the same feelings I had, I realized perhaps all of us are different, all of us are unique, and while these differences are beautiful and wonderful, they also can often make us feel alone.

It also made me realize how uniquely powerful it is to have someone reach out to us in our difficult places, encourage us in the unique ways we were created and give us celebration for who we are and hope for our future.

Many of the things that made me feel separated and alone as a kid are things that still live with me today. Constantly, even as an adult, I struggle with imposter syndrome, the fear of my abilities not measuring up. I continue to struggle with obsessive thoughts, anxiety, and often feel helpless when doing so called “normal tasks”. But no matter what I go through now, I live with the knowledge that I’m not in it by myself, that my mom loves me unconditionally, believes in me and the unique ways I was created, and I’m not alone. Whether it’s a phone call reminder or just remembering the countless moments she spent with me, while I still struggle, I know I am not alone. I know this because someone took the time to reach out and encourage me.

Every kid is made uniquely and this is a beautiful and wonderful thing. But sometimes it can be hard to see that in a world that wants us all to fit a specific mold. A mold that perhaps we were never meant to align with or a mold that can leave us feeling alone.

So for the uniquely beautiful child in your life, I encourage you to reach out and encourage them. Encourage them in the reality that while their unique makeup might be hard sometimes, the differences they have are beautiful and they were made with purpose. And most of all, let them know they aren’t alone and will never walk through their hardships by themselves.

Someone reaching out and encouraging me changed my life. My mom and I believe it can change others. We believe it so much we wrote a children’s book together called Only You Can Be You. We wrote it in an effort to give parents a starting point to begin celebrating their children’s differences, and for young children to know that their uniqueness is beautiful and worth celebrating. We believe this book is a perfect place to start reaching out and encouraging.

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