When I was a kid, I loved Barney the Dinosaur. And as a 30-year-old with an ADHD brain that stores allllll of the trivial information I’ll never need, I still remember one of Barney’s favorite songs to sing:
“Special! Special! Everyone is special. Everyone in his or her own waaaaay~…”
We’re told from an early age that everyone is special. Everyone—every single one of us! Which, of course, means by default that everyone is not special. Not me, not you, not even Michael B. Jordan, as much as my brain objects to that statement.
…against the idea that you’re special.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we’re all boring piles of flesh and bone with nothing to distinguish ourselves from each other. It’s still true that each of us is a unique combination of traits, ideas, and experiences that form our self-concept, but specialness is a knife that slices both ways: believing that we’re “special” in some new, unheard-of way can actually cause more harm than you might expect.
Sure, it’s really helpful to believe you’re special if it leads to you using your talents in a way that only you can. (Which, by the way, is what naturally happens when you do things your own damn way, anyway.) But what about when we believe we’re special for all the wrong reasons?
I’ve dabbled heavily in unintentionally sabotaging the ever-loving shit out of myself by believing that I have “special” struggles and challenges—in other words, I believed when it came to the hard stuff, I was tragically, unjustly alone.
It was especially bad if I was having a depressive episode: I’d firmly believe that no one could possibly understand what I was going through, and that no one else had to deal with feeling the way I did. Without trying to, I believed my challenges with depression (and ADHD, and motivation, and maybe just life in general) were “special” and beyond anyone’s understanding. Sound familiar?
Naturally, it led to me feeling isolated, resentful, and hopeless. After all, if I was dealing with a pain COMPLETELY UNKNOWN TO ANY OTHER HUMAN ON EARTH, how in the hell could anyone ever help me? Yes, this high-drama version of my brain is such a peach—so charming, right?
Special = separate—which is great, until it’s horrible.
The other day, I caught an Insta live from Africa Brooke. (Are you following Africa Brooke on Instagram? If you’re not, DO IT WHEN YOU’RE FINISHED READING THIS POST. Thank me later. 💛)
The conversation she started reminded me of a thought that I came across during a recent depressive episode. What gave me a stunning amount of comfort and peace in that moment (even though I still felt sad, dull, and blank) was the idea that I was not special: that the pain I felt is a pain felt by countless other humans on Earth, at some point.
I let myself entertain the idea that my depression could be more than something that isolated me, more than another reason to believe that I could never be deeply, truly understood by others. Then I considered the idea that that emotional pain, being universal to every human on this gem of a planet, could connect me to others: to people I might never see or meet, to people I already know and love, to people I’ll always disagree with.
It made me wonder who else in the world might be feeling a similar flavor of pain in that moment—probably actual billions of people, I decided, especially because of the way these past couple of years have played out. I tuned into that pain like it was a radio station playing for anyone on a similar frequency, rather than my own personal, soul-sucking soundtrack.
And STRANGELY, when I stopped believing I was tragically special and unique in this feeling, I started dissolving the barrier I had unconsciously built between myself and the rest of the world. What a twist!
When I believed I was tuned into the very same feeling that countless others were feeling at that exact same time, I felt a bit safer: like I was sharing in something bigger, older, and greater than my human brain will ever be able to fully grasp. I stopped feeling special and gave myself permission to feel normal.
…in your normalcy.
“Normal” gets a bad rep. To be fair, it’s often abused as a way to silence challenging new ideas and individualism. Normal absolutely has its place in self-development work though: normal is fine. It’s unproblematic. It’s safe. And sometimes, that’s exactly what we’re craving.
Believing in all the ways you’re normal and ordinary can be an underrated gift to lovingly present to yourself.
Your weird/creepy/petty/resentful/otherwise socially unacceptable thoughts that happen even though you “know better” and don’t even want them to play out in real life? Totally normal.
Your intense desire to avoid draining work, even in a society that celebrates endless productivity like it’s the cure to death itself? Normal AF.
Your habit of mentally replaying the contents of every awkward interaction you’ve had since 8th grade instead of just falling ‘tf asleep? N O R M A L. We’re all in this together, pal.
(Hell, this even works the other day! Who’s someone you really admire? Someone who does things in a way that makes you think, “Damn, I wish I could be more like that”? AMAZING NEWS, PAL: that person ain’t special, either. That person is also a normal human in the very same league as you are. They don’t wake up any less human than you do, even if their Instagram following is titanic.)
You’re not dealing with anything unheard of. Help, understanding, and compassion are realistic possibilities. You’re not the first person to feel what you’re feeling, even though you experience it through your unique lens.
“Normal” is a break you can give yourself when you need it.
Give yourself permission to exist as a normal, unspecial, fantastically ordinary individual every once in a while. Take the pressure of “special” off yourself. You can make up reasons why your challenges mean “I’m alone.” You can also make up reasons why those challenges mean, “I’m more connected to the human experience than ever.”
After all, what is totally, non-negotiably, deliciously unique about you is the way you narrate your life story to yourself. The words you say to yourself, the way you receive them and move forward with them, and the subtle ways you change them to support you rather than keep you down… that shit is special af. Why not have some fun with it?
You and I are not special. We do bring a variety of special, interesting ideas into the world, but hey, that’s an ordinary, human thing to do. And you don’t have to be special to do it with your own dash of unmistakable flair. That part happens on its own.
Freshly aware of some unpleasant ways you believe yourself to be special? Comment below and tell me all about it! (It’s curiosity and not nosiness, right?)
Otherwise, I’mma just chill here and bask in our shared normalcy. Feels pretty good to have something fun in common, huh?
Talk to you soon!