A few years ago, I gave one of my older brothers a children’s book called “It’s Okay to be Different.” The book was downright hilarious. It contained colorful pictures of people “being different” and being okay with it. Didn’t you know that “it’s okay to come in last?” Or, my favorite, “it’s okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub.” As you might guess, I gave this book to my brother to poke fun at him, not on a serious note. However, the book had a good point. IT IS okay to be different. In fact, it’s pretty flippin’ awesome.

I often hear people say that they don’t want to look different, act different, think different, heck, even smell different. I once had a parent of someone newly diagnosed with IBD tell me they were afraid their child was going to be different. At first, this comment didn’t really strike me as out of the ordinary. I mean, who wants their kid to stand out and be “different?” And my initial reaction to this particular question might have been to tell the parent that no, their kid was not going to be different and that they would be just like all the other kids... But it wouldn’t be true. Their child IS going to be different…and that’s not a bad thing at all.

No one ever accomplished anything truly, life-alteringly important by being just the same as everyone else. And I mean, c’mon, if over 1.6 million people in the world have IBD, there are a heck of a lot of “different” people out there. We’re in good company!

But it still doesn’t explain why people are afraid of being different. Did you know, it’s widely accepted that people in the millennial generation are all about inclusion and acceptance? Well, I’m a millennial, and I still witness real fear in my generation of not blending in. Why are people still made fun of for being the one person that isn’t like everyone else? Some might say it is simply human nature; it’s innate. People live to please others. That’s not a good enough answer for me. I think it’s because people feel threatened when they don’t understand something or someone. Once you get to know more about someone, their differences are pretty incredible.

Being different isn’t reserved just for folks with IBD. Any person with a disability has probably experienced that feeling of being singled out for being different in some form or another. So, this is my challenge to you. The next time you decide to make a comment or even stare at someone in public because they might be acting in a way that is “different” to you, think about how the other person might be feeling. Some people choose to be different, and others don’t get to make that choice. So, cut them some slack. Try to understand and maybe even embrace their differences. Or at the very least, don’t make a rude comment, point or even stare. Practice kindness and acceptance.

As one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books (and now movies), Wonder, goes “If they stare, let them stare. You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”

So yes, if you have IBD you are different. You’re not like a lot of people but, then again, who wants to be?


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