When You Feel Like You Have to Hide Your Real Self to Fit In


I am in crisis again. I am old enough now to know that I can weather it, but it’s still painful and discouraging. This will be one of those almost-silent eruptions where just a small part of the messiness breaks the surface. I’ll have done something ill-advised; for a moment, I’ll have been the real me. Most people would shake the moment off and carry on, but for me it opens up a familiar vacuous hole inside that only ever partially heals.

I have ADHD, anxiety and depression. I have been in the same relationship for 13 years. I am a committed and attentive father to a son with autism spectrum disorder. I have a career that pays north of the national average.

I’ve been called “high-functioning.” Lately, I have realized that, for me, this term means “good at hiding.” I do a pretty believable version of “normal.” However maintaining the façade is always a strain, and the better I get at it, the more, well, “weird” my behaviour seems when the façade crumbles. And when it does crumble, dealing with the consequences drains my “happiness” reserves.

During my crises (whether mini or massive), I experience a genuine sense of heartbreak. I weep for the child I was, and still am, who just wants to be accepted and understood for who he really is. I feel deeply troubled that in this enlightened world, people who are not neurotypical often feel required to hide their real selves. These questions have become more prescient as I seek to raise and defend a wonderful complex boy with his own challenges. I wonder: Would I consider asking my son to hide who he really is to fit in? Not even for a moment.

One day, though, my son might face challenges something like my own. Given the tumultuous life I’ve led thus far, what advice would I give him?

The author with his son, bicycling

Firstly, I would tell him he is beautiful, brilliant and valuable, and that the world needs more people like him, not less.

Secondly, I would tell him I love and accept him unconditionally and to be courteous to people who don’t understand him, but not to waste his time with them. He will find his place in things; it might just take some time.

Thirdly, I would tell him that when we struggle, we grow. We find something that pulls us through the hard times. I’ll tell him how I met his mum and she saw who I was and loved me — and how he came along and did the same.

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