Message to Teens: Stay Weird. Stay Different. Stay Alive.

In his acceptance speech on Sunday, Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner Graham Moore spoke out in support of teens that feel weird or different.  He said, “When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong.  And now I’m standing here and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere.  Yes, you do.  I promise you do.  You do.  Stay weird, stay different.  And then when it’s your turn and you’re standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”

I’m not standing on any stage and I don’t foresee myself winning an Academy Award in the near future, yet I feel compelled to help pass his message along.  Like Graham, I didn’t fit in when I was a teen.  I went to a small school in rural Ohio.  I was shy, artistic, asthmatic, and not particularly good at sports.  Try as I might, I just never seemed to fit in.  I used to dread school.  Each day meant another round of being picked on and outcast.  I didn’t have to fake being sick in order to stay home, because I had so much anxiety about school that it would actually make me sick.

I was only in the sixth grade when I contemplated suicide.  It was early in the school year and all I could see was a long road of pain stretched out ahead of me.  I wanted out.  I had spent the previous school year begging my parents to let me leave the small private school that I was in to go to the larger public school.  My best friend‘s parents had agreed to let him do so and I pleaded to be allowed the same chance to start fresh somewhere new.  Though I had my parents’ sympathy for my struggle, they thought the private school offered the best educational opportunity and had decided to keep me there.  I would lay awake in bed for hours at night, fretting over what humiliation and degradation the next school day would bring.

Late one night, while the rest of the family was sleeping, I made my way down to the kitchen, opened the knife drawer and considered which blade would make the cleanest cut across my wrists.  Two thoughts entered my mind:
1. My family loves me and this will devastate them.
2. In three years I will be out of there and on my way somewhere else for high school.
Knowing that my time at that school was limited was ultimately what made me slowly slide the drawer shut and go back to bed.

I rode out the next three years.  It was long.  It was torturous.  I still relive the bad memories in my mind.

BUT…

High school was better and college was better still, and I eventually moved away and found my own place in the world.  I’ve been able to build a life for myself that I love.  I have a beautiful, brilliant wife, wonderful children, and have worked in industries throughout my adult life that have rewarded me for being artistic and unique.

So, here’s my message to pre-teens and teens that are struggling, because try as they might, they just can’t seem to fit in.  Stay strong.  Be true to yourself.  The adult world will reward you much more for all the little ways that you are unlike everyone else than it will for the ways that you’re the same.  Embrace the pain.  It will be your badge of honor someday.

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