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Normal or Special?

The desire to fit in and the desire to be different war against each other.

By Jessica FreebornPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 8 min read
Normal or Special?
Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

"I'm not normal," I say. This is usually followed by a laugh and a question. "What is normal, anyway?" I ask.

Some days I want to be normal. I want to fit in with the pack and not stand out. I put plenty of pressure on myself to meet expectations and make sure I'm doing just as good as everyone else. You don't want to be "that person." I don't want to be so outlandishly different that no one accepts me.

But then there's the other side of it. I don't want to be just like everyone else. I want to be unique. I want to excel and meet all the milestones before everyone else. Have some skill set that the rest of the population doesn't have. And suddenly, being normal sounds so incredibly dull.

These pulls can be summed up in two distinct phrases:

  • I want to be just as good as everyone else.
  • I want to be better than everyone else.

Being just as good as them

As I write this, my mind harkens back to all the embarrassing times when I wish I could have just been like everyone else.

As a teenager, I volunteered at a music festival with a group of teens. I accidently locked everyone out of the hotel room. And then, when I had to get up at five in the morning, I somehow got my contact got suck in a part of my eye where it was not supposed to be, and then I had to have someone drive me back to the hotel, so I could get my glasses.

Then there was the time I was applying for an honors program at a college I wanted to attend. As I was meeting all the other candidates, I attempted to take off my jacket. The jacket zipper got stuck. Talk about awkward.

At my old job and at school, I would compare myself to other people. And I would think, "They're all doing so much better than I am. Why can't I be more like them?" The other nursing students could finish their charting and assessments in the perfect time frame.

Then there's the diabetes. Let me tell you when your pancreas is a dud, odd wishes flood your brain. I wish my pancreas worked like everyone else's. I wish I could just drink the milkshake without having to look up the number of carbohydrates. I wish I could just go for a walk without making sure I have some sort of sugar source in my pocket.

And as I think about these moments, I long to be like everyone else. Not the one causing problems or standing out. The weird girl with the snacks. (Yes, I have skittles on me at pretty much all times of day.) The awkward applicant who can't even take off her jacket, the girl who can't even put in her contacts correctly. The weak link in the healthcare chain. Yes, I want to be just as good as everyone else.

Being better than all of them

To contrast those moments where I didn't measure up to the group, there are times when I have been glad to be different, delighted to have excelled above the rest.

The time as a student when I understood what was happening with the type one diabetic in the ICU better than the nurses did. The time I got my black belt. The time I won that speaking competition. The times I got to help tutor nursing students after I had gotten past that phase.

But I think it goes even deeper. I think about the times I have felt the most like myself, and I have fully realized that I have traits that are wholly my own.

I'm not like everyone else. I'm a girl who loves swords, and superhero movies, and fantasy. Over COVID I took up the art of bookbinding and made journals for people. That was a fun hobby to have. I am kind, and I've been there for people in their darkest moments. I have memories that will forever be etched on my heart. People somehow tell me their problems and struggles in a way that makes me feel honored and trusted.

I realize I want to be different. I don't want to be just like everyone else. I want to be special. I want to have talents and abilities that outshine everyone else.

Both of these mindsets are wrong.

It's not always wrong to try to fit in. It's also not wrong to push myself and try to excel in areas where others lack. We have to be aware of the people around us, and sometimes we need to yield our own desires to do what is best for the group.

The problem happens when either of these two things becomes most important to me. And when I find myself focusing on either of these perspectives, I need to pause and shift my priorities.

I see both of these ideas warring inside my head, even though they both stem from the same place: comparison and a desire to be loved and accepted.

When we start playing comparison games, it doesn't end well most of the time.

It's bad for me to tell myself, "Why can't you be just as good as everyone else? Why aren't you hitting the same milestones as everyone else? Why can't you fit in? You're a loser. You'll never be as good as them."

And it's equally as bad for me to tell myself that I'm better than everyone else. "You know, you're better than all of them. You're kind and unique. You're valuable because you're special. You're not like everyone else." (I do think we can't really take credit for our talents anyway, but that's a discussion for another time.)

I cringe at this inner dialogue, aware of how untrue it is.

Like and equal are not the same thing.

A Wrinkle in Time is a fantastic book. Both film adaptations fail to do it justice. So, maybe it's just one of those books that doesn't translate well to film. Who knows? That's a rant for another day.

One of my favorite scenes is when Meg is on Camazotz, and her brother, under the control of IT, says, "We are all happy because we are all alike. Differences create problems."

Meg later quotes the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Charles replies, "But that's exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike."

For a moment, her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. "No!" she cried triumphantly. "Like and equal are not the same thing at all!"

Whether or not I'm like everyone else doesn't change whether or not I am equal with other people. Each person has a value that is not based on anything that person does. I stand as an equal with the rest of humanity. My actions aren't going to change that.

But the warring ideas in my mind persist. And I have to remind myself of a deeper truth to cancel out the lies. It all comes down to love. I am not loved because of what I do.

Love doesn't care if I'm worse or better than everyone else.

I think each person has a desire to be loved, but so often, we lose sight of what love looks like. True love isn't based on conditions. I think back to the ending of A Wrinkle in Time (Spoilers ahead.)

Meg has to go back to Camazotz to save Charles Wallace. She is told that she has something the enemy doesn't have. IT has power, but IT doesn't have love. And she saves Charles because of her love for him. She loves Charles unconditionally as her brother, not based on anything he has done.

When I let myself think about my fears, many of them boil down to this:

I have to do certain things to be loved and accepted. And if I don't do them, I won't be loved.

I have to be like everyone else. I have to have specific attributes that make me special. I have to do all the right things. I know how much of a lie these statements are, but isn't that true of so many fears? The things we are most afraid of turn out to be lies.

I don't have to be like everyone else to be loved. I don't have to be better than everyone else to be loved. That sounds obvious. But I forget it often enough that it's important to remind myself.

I am loved. Yes, I am loved. And it's not because of what I've done. I think of the ones who love me, the ones who have seen me in my darkest and most helpless moments and haven't looked away. And I realize all over again that love is not something we deserve. It is a gift.

The ones who love me, they will love me no matter what. They don't love me because of what I do. My friends. My family. And the One who loves me perfectly. The One who has promised to never leave me or forsake me. I don't have to perform to get Him to love me any more than He already does. And the mistakes I make don't make Him love me any less.

I can rest in that peace. I don't have to be normal or special to be loved. But I can strive for perfection because I am loved. I can strive to be the best and to do the best I can with everything I do. I can appreciate the good things I've done and acknowledge my mistakes and know that they don't make me any more or any less loved.

I don't pretend that I'm saying anything new, but it's something I need to remind myself of every day. Because the only way we can fight the lies is with the truth. And when I'm drowning in feelings of worthlessness or superiority, I must go back to the truth.

I am loved, and it's not because of what I do. And that is beautifully freeing.

By Alice Triquet on Unsplash

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About the Creator

Jessica Freeborn

Passionate writer that is enthusiastic about writing engaging, compelling content. Excels in breaking down complex concepts into simple terms and connecting with readers through sharing stories and personal experience.

Reader insights

Good effort

You have potential. Keep practicing and don’t give up!

Top insight

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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