"'Oh, why do I compare myself to everyone? And I always got my finger on the self destruct I wonder when I love me is enough Why am I always looking for a ride or die? 'Cause mine's the only heart I'm gonna have for life I'm my own worst critic Talk a whole lot of shit But I'm a ten out of ten Even when I forget" - "I Love Me," Demi Lovato
It will most likely come as no surprise, but middle school was the worst three years of my life. Well, to be more specific, the year of sixth grade was the ultimate worst. To be honest, I think middle school just sucks for everyone – the awkward stage of life known as puberty, girls sizing each other up, boys no longer knowing how to talk to girls, the separation of nerds vs jocks, and the list goes on… But, for me, sixth grade was so much worse than getting my first pimple on my face or awkwardly hiding in the corner during a school dance. For me, sixth grade left scars. For me, sixth grade was a true test of who I truly wanted to be as a person.
I attended a small elementary school for kindergarten and first grade. I don’t remember much about those two years, but I don’t think it was all that bad. When you’re only six years old, you aren’t busy worrying about what others think of you or how you look.
After first grade, my mom decided to homeschool me and my siblings. She wanted a more challenging curriculum than what the public school system provided, and with my dad working as a golf pro in the summers, homeschooling would allow for more family time. Those years were the best. I could finish my work by noon everyday, my family could ski during the week when the lines were never long, and with three siblings, I was never lonely.
But then my mom got a job at a private school, meaning the days of homeschooling her kids were over, meaning I had to go to school with kids other than my siblings. I’ll admit that the summer leading up to the sixth grade wasn’t the greatest of times between me and my mom. Why did she have to take that stupid job? Why did things have to change? Why can’t everything stay as it was? I didn’t understand, and I was angry.
With looking different from the moment I was born, I had dealt with the ignorant stares and comments all of my life. What’s wrong with your arm? How many fingers do you have? Even after 18 years, they haven’t lost their sting. But before the sixth grade, I had never really let the comments from others change how I viewed myself. Yes, I would be upset for an hour or two, but then I would forget about it and carry on with my day. But as you grow older, the opinions of others tend to grow louder until one day they’re the only thoughts you hear.
The girls in my new class didn’t like me. I simply failed to fit their barbie doll model. And gym class was absolutely humiliating. Not only did I hate changing in the locker rooms, trying to hide all the scars decorating my body, but I also couldn’t keep up in any activity because of the issues with my heart. I was always the last one to be chosen for teams. It got more and more difficult to ignore the blatant stares every time I walked through the halls. I started to only wear long sleeve shirts that could cover my hand, and I constantly tried to fade into the background, gradually building an isolating wall around myself. I felt like a freak, and for the first time, I began to hate who God made me to be. It was destroying me.
I remember coming home from school one day. On my bed was a small piece of paper: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind” Love, Dad. I still repeat that Dr. Seuss quote to myself. Those who care about how I look or the things that make me different – their opinions simply shouldn’t matter. And those who are worth letting in to my life – they won’t care about how I look. They’ll be smart enough and kind enough to know that what’s on the inside is far more important than anything on the surface.
Six years later, and I still struggle. As much as I repeat the words written on that note or tell myself to not care what others think of me, there are still times when I allow the dark thoughts to consume my mind. I’m still not completely comfortable in my own skin, and there are times when I try to hide my differences from others. But I’m learning.
I’ve found more confidence in who I am, and I’ve stopped caring so much about what other people think of me. If I have to change any part of myself for someone to accept me, I honestly don’t want to be his or her friend. I work to remind myself that God made me different for a reason, and with every scar, I grow stronger.
I don’t know much. But I do know this: Love every part of who you are – love what makes you special. And don’t ever change who you are or hide your differences because of what others think – it only ends up hurting you. “Don’t waste any time trying to be like anyone else but yourself. Because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.” – Ben Platt