We all would like to be able to have a large friend group, move in and out of any social group, and be ready with witty conversation in any situation, but many of us are socially awkward, anxious, people pleasers who are afraid of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, or not saying anything at all, and hoping to be as invisible as possible.

There are so many people fighting depression because they don’t fit into the perfect molds that society sets up for us. What if you operate on the edge of what is considered normal? The sad thing is how badly people treat someone who seems different instead of listening to the person or inviting the person into their group for a few minutes.

When my youngest was in high school, her anxiety level was at its highest. She would rather sit in my classroom with her lunch than go into the lunchroom and meet new people. She was sure she would do something to embarrass herself. If you don’t have anxiety, it is hard to imagine how it can paralyze someone, and the anxious person ends up without friends, sitting alone. If you ever see that, at least smile at the person. If you are at work or school, invite them to sit with you at lunch, or take a few minutes to talk with them.

I had a student who kept to herself, hiding under a massive head of hair. I instantly liked her because she was interesting and kind. She also couldn’t hide her brilliance, even under all that hair. One day, she told me she liked to write, and as I asked her questions, her passion for writing spilled out, and she couldn’t stop talking. It only takes showing some interest in someone else. Most of the people who feel like they don’t fit in are amazing, and they are waiting for you to get to know them.

When I was growing up my parents provided very well for us. I never went without a meal or didn’t have clothes. Although I never thought we struggled financially, my parents worked very hard, and they knew how to save money. We lived off our garden for vegetables, I thought it was normal to eat spam a lot, and my mom made many things from scratch. Because our public schools were not the best, my parents decided to send me to the local private schools.

We might not fit in because of anxiety, or not fitting the norm, but it’s also rough when you don’t fit in because you are from a different social class. The town I grew up in is home to many of the rich and famous like Meryl Streep and Whoopi Goldberg. It is a beautiful place, but there are two very distinct social classes, the wealthy, and those who are not. In ninth grade, a girl asked me what my dad did. When I told her she said, “What are you doing here?” That hurt a lot. The unspoken judgments hurt just as much. I couldn’t afford the clothes that many of my classmates had, and I shouldn’t have cared, but I remember wishing I could be more like them.

I was very lucky in high school because although my awkward, quiet self didn’t fit in, the popular girls in my class were very kind. They didn’t want to be friends with me, but they were never hateful. I was even luckier when I met four friends, Doris, Evelyn, Gwen, and Stacy. They saved high school for me and taught me what real friendship is like.

So, the next time you see someone who seems a little awkward, and quiet, be kind instead of hateful. It could mean all the difference.

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