Childhood, Childhood Memories, Myrtle The Purple Turtle

What Makes You Different….

No child wants to be different. To be taunted for something you can’t change.

I know.

I wanted dark hair, like everyone else. Instead, during childhood, I had flaming reddish hair. “Reds” was the kindest of my nicknames.

I loved playing — boisterously — with my sisters and friends. Suddenly, I was struck with childhood epilepsy, and — over several years — would have to frequently retreat to quiet spaces. While my friends played, I read books, kept a journal and sometimes wrote little stories.

I grew to love reading and writing and — thank goodness — my family nurtured this love.  I read so well that my mother and grandmother sent me to read the Bible and newspaper to elderly patients in the local infirmary. 

It was my first “job” as a volunteer, but a weird role for a small child. I didn’t want to do it at first. I wanted to be out playing, like the other children.

~~

How was I to know that the very things that made me odd would also make me strong? 

That having reddish hair in childhood would strengthen my empathy towards “different” people, persisting long after my hair colour had gradually darkened on its own?

That having epilepsy — being forced to slow down and read — would nurture my love of stories and words and expand my view of the world outside our small village?

That all of it, even reading the news to elderly people, would help prepare me for rewarding careers in television, community service,  and — more recently — in publishing?

~~

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If I could, I’d tell every child in the world:

Don’t hate the things that make you different. Love them. Because the very things that you’re teased for, even excluded for, will provide some of your greatest strengths.

I’d say:

See the teasing and strange looks as proof that you’re wonderful.

It’s painful now, I know.

It’s hard to believe now, I know. 

Try to believe it anyway.

I know.

~~

Dedicated to every child who feels different, including a very bright young girl with purple glasses whom I recently met.

#loveyourshell

67 thoughts on “What Makes You Different….”

    1. You’re so right, and thank you. Writing, for me, has been an instrument of grace. And those early stories my husband found (written over decades) helped to save me. They became my first book, A Good Home. I can hardly wait to read your first book. You’re gifted.

  1. Oh, Cynthia. What a powerful and important message. Nearly every child – and many, many adults – need to hear it and be reassured that they have so much to offer by being themselves. It’s hard to be a human being, isn’t it?!

    1. Thank you, Jane. I met the little girl with the purple glasses a year ago while on book tour with Myrtle the Purple Turtle. I wanted to tell her these things, and I hope I got one or two points across to her.

    2. Jane you are absolutely right many adults need to hear this as well. Cynthia it must have been hard to be a child with epilepsy. I had my first seizure at 23, and have them ever since. As adults we are our worst critic’s, and 16 years later I am still having a hard time coping with it. Your post is very inspirational. #eyesonepilepsy.blog

      1. Thank you very much for this moving reply, Tianna. In some ways I think that the later an acquired disability happens, the harder it is. My family had the worst of it, as they cared for me during those seizures when I was a child, but it happened to you later, when you were already used to being a certain way. I can imagine it’s very hard.

        Be kind and patient with yourself, Tianna. Don’t let anyone offer you any platitudes about coping. Only you know its impact.
        I had a car accident more than a decade ago and it took me many years to get rid of the anger over the multiple disabilities (including a head injury). Even yesterday, I cried from frustration because I discovered that the expensive new brace for my foot and leg also requires me to buy entirely different shoes, or I can’t use it.

      2. Cynthia thank you for sharing your experience. It made me realize I’m not alone. I’m lucky my mom is so helpful and is strong to help me through this, but my anger comes from the situation that at 39 she still has to take care of me. I am angry that my children take care of me, when it should be the other way around. My husband is very supportive, but again anger gets in the way, because I am not able to work or drive at the moment. I feel like a burden. I am so used to working, financially contributing ,and being independent that this is eating me up inside. I haven’t felt this way since I started having seizures. It’s ok to cry, the frustration needs to come out somehow.

      3. I hear you. I relate. Thanks for sharing what you’re going through. I learned that feeling guilty and angry together with frustration is awful. My family and I were helped by a support group and a therapist and caring doctors. My family and I are partners in fighting the extreme emotions sometimes evoked. The day my family felt free to tease me and even joke about the way I walk, think and speak was a good day.

  2. Red hair…My son-in-law has red hair. I was surprised that he groaned when his daughter was born with red hair. I was delighted. He was not. He remembered the nick names. I am so very glad you learned to write well…sorry that the path to that skill wasn’t more pleasant.

    1. Hi Karen: Today, when I see a child with red hair, my heart melts and I almost always say hello. Today I think red hair is the most beautiful kind, perhaps because I know what it probably means to the person who has it.

  3. It is hard being a child and being anything but what the rest of the world refers to as ‘normal.’ I had red hair and wore glasses. 🙂 As we age, we understand that those differences make us who we are and make life more interesting. Life is definitely a journey.

  4. Wise words Cynthia. I will share them with my seven year old tomorrow who was worrying today about “being different”.

  5. A great message and most au courant as there seems to be so much anger even hatred of those who are perceived to be ‘different’. Your message says it is more than OK to be green or blue or a redibo, or….Cheers to being different!

  6. Being different as an adult is challenging, as a child it’s no fun. I’m happy to hear that how others made you feel changed you into a strong and confident person with a powerful message for others. Cheers to our uniquenesses!

    1. Thank you, and good to ‘see’ you here. Welcome! It’s really amazing how confident and fearless I became as a young person. But it wasn’t only because of feeling different: it was also because my family did their best to make me feel special.

  7. Cynthia, a touching post how you overcame and found strength in ‘different’. I’m smiling at the girl with purple glasses … as a young child I hated my spec, was teased and used to take them off (not a good idea as I was very short-sighted!) – if only I’d found the courage to go purple and wild with the frames!

  8. Lovely post, Cynthia.

    I’ll never forget a strange moment from my long-ago Lancashire schooldays. I’d have been around 12 or 13, I guess.

    The bell had just gone, lunchtime over, but I was lingering alone in the Boys Locker Room, finger-combing my hair in front of the mirror. My reflection suddenly became that of a middle-aged man, and when he said “Hello Paul,” I knew he was my older self. He offered me the wisdom of his years, and I was calmed.

    Many years on, in my 50s, I was wandering a Cheshire riverbank one sunny afternoon and paused beneath leafy shade to watch the glinting current swish by. I saw a boy reflected, a nervous-looking boy finger-combing his hair, and said, “Hello Paul.”

    I suspect the advice I gave was not unlike yours here, dedicated to children who feel different.

    My very best,

    Paul

  9. I had, and still do have, many differences of my own. Over the years, I have slowly been learning to embrace them.

    I had straight red hair as a small child, too, which eventually changed color, turning into what my mother called a “honey blonde”. Now I am a greying blonde. 🙂

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