Words. We use them daily. We think them, write them, say them, send them. Sometimes we do it with purpose and sometimes completely without thought. And despite what many a good intentioned parent/teacher/friend might say, words can hurt.

I consider myself to be a pretty well liked person. I have been told that I have never met a stranger in my life and that I have more love for people than a golden retriever. I agree! I do whatever I can to show love and kindness to everyone I meet and I feel like I have developed a personality that is easily approachable and has won me many friends. But I didn’t always used to be this way.

Growing up I was actually almost a “quiet kid” (very much NOT who I am today). I knew I wanted to be around people and I wanted to have friends, but I just couldn’t connect. I was a bit chubby, I didn’t have the nicest clothes (I remember rather vividly a pair of bright yellow sweat pants that my mother bought me for school. The 90’s were kind to no one) and my hair was always goofy and too big. As kids do, they poked fun here and there. I hated it. But I put up with it because, hey, they were acknowledging me.

There are some things that were said to me that I still have not forgotten. The biggest thing that still haunts me is being told I was annoying. I hate even admitting it. I hate that word and what it means and I want to do anything I can to not be associated with it. I didn’t mean to be annoying, but I just was I guess. In my attempt to try and win friends and get people to like me I invariably bugged the snot out of everyone.

Years later I am an outgoing confident socialite. By day at least. By night I am a mess of self-doubt and depression who is terrified that I said and did all of the wrong things and was just annoying.

For years I have struggled with depression; hating my life and yet still clinging desperately to it. The careless and even sometimes targeted words of those I admired or sought friendship and acceptance from have damaged me in a way that I can hardly believe. So many people say they love or admire me, but yet sometimes I still struggle to believe it enough to get out of bed in the morning. Such a simple thing! A word! A sound! Something that to billions of people in the world would just be garbled nonsense has effectively crippled me.

And to add to the insecurity and fear of not being accepted was my attraction to men. No one knew that I had these feelings. Any time someone even jokingly called me gay, I wanted to die. How could I be accepted now? I was a little awkward annoying boy who liked guys. Who could be friends with that? Night after night, even well into high school, I would cry myself to sleep wishing that I could be anyone else. Because me was just not good enough.

Years later I have learned to pick myself up. I have learned so much about the worth of a soul and the beauty of life. In fact, I think I have in large part my same gender attraction to thank for that. Through it I have learned that no matter who you are or what you feel, you are a person. You have feelings and thoughts and desires that are real and very much important. I have also learned that more often than not, everyone is just as insecure (if not more so) than you are.

So here I am. Not perfect, but on the mend. I have learned so much about how to love myself, and it has mostly been through loving other people. When I needed compassion and understanding I didn’t always get it. So my goal is to give it to others. May I suggest something:

Think carefully about what you say. You never know who it may hurt. No offense may be meant, but we must be careful of those who are already damaged and see rejection where they needn’t.

Never laugh at someone. I’m not talking about laughing at silly misunderstandings with friends. I mean the vindictive pride that makes us see humor in another’s innocent and unintended mistakes. Or the bravado that makes us point and snigger at the fashion faux pas of someone we find distasteful. To be laughed at for a misunderstanding or a physical blunder is more hurtful than you might think. It is the height of rejection and the derisive feelings that come from it can tear the recipient apart for years.

We have to learn to validate others, even those we don’t necessarily like. To blatantly ignore another human being is beyond unacceptable. We are all human. We are all seeking love. To completely reject giving any such love to another brother or sister on this earth is unconscionable.

The world is filled with those who are drowning in a sea of loneliness. It is a sea of endless depression that is sadly often overwhelming to even the swimmers we might think are strong. They see a light and swim toward it seeking help, and we simply push their heads under the water yet again. I fear being the person who unwittingly pushes someone under for the last time. As should you.

Friends, we do not grow or increase in stature by tearing others down. As we lift others we are also lifted and filled with light. Our loving Father in Heaven promises Angels to bear us up. Let us be those angels for one another. . Find those who suffer and mourn. Accept them. Seek out those who are different or awkward and show them you know they are there. I promise that doing so will bring greater joy and happiness than you could ever realize.

Every life has worth. Always.