The Unmasking

TSelf love, self acceptance, masking, hiding and connecting.

(Note – this will be the first of a new series of blogs that reflect on neurodivergence, usually in the context of love and relationships)

I’m 50 years old, just over 6’ tall, queer, and recently diagnosed as ADHD. I was a tall as a child too. Random strangers often remark upon it: “Gosh. Aren’t you tall!?!”

I’ve always known I’m extraordinarily tall, and that that was a visible difference – a reason to treat me as exceptional or other, to tease or admire me. Over the years I’ve become almost unconscious of how striking that tallness is, to others. I just move through the world, largely oblivious of the quiet comments, looks, stares. I dress fairly flamboyantly – the opposite of my mother’s strategy of looking conventional to blend in. I figure people are going to notice me anyway, so I might as well wear heels and bold prints.

Over the years my outfits have got a bit wilder. This has partly been down to my queerness. When I was younger I had dressed to fit my professional roles, my identity as a mother, and a wife – I had my own bold style, but I consciously ‘toned it down’ a lot of the time. Such are the social pressures that we all need to “fit in”, I denied my own identity to myself. I thought everyone found women attractive, but because all my significant romantic relationships had been with men, I didn’t recognise that I was bisexual. I knew I felt safe and at home in queer spaces – but I didn’t know I was more than an ally.

That changed when I got divorced and began exploring what I really wanted from my relationships. Once I “came out”, to myself and then publicly as bisexual, I allowed myself to indulge in queer coding in my style of dress, hair, and personal presentation. On coming out, for a while my look became a little over-stated, even for me, a self-conscious celebration and signalling of this newly recognised identity. I’m now more authentic – whatever I wear is comfortably me; queer, quirky, and as flamboyant as I’m feeling in the moment.

A couple of years ago I went to Amsterdam. I walked out of my Air BnB and down the street and suddenly became aware that I was not filtering out a whole lot of “isn’t she tall” stares. Dutch people are just generally a bit taller than people in the UK, and in Amsterdam, my height isn’t that unusual. For the first time in my adult life I could walk down a street freely, without this subtle, background awareness of my otherness. I felt free, joyous – like I’d been wearing blinkers and suddenly I could see the whole vista. It was an extraordinary feeling. I began to swing my arms and walk with a bounce in my step.

Like being tall, and queer, ADHD is a lifelong part of my identity. Over the years, people have remarked on the manifestations of my ADHD, too – parents, teachers, people who have felt entitled to have an opinion about me have described me as “chaotic”, “daydreaming”, “lazy”, “wild”, “disorganised”, “distracted”, “chatterbox”. All of these labels are justifiable, and ring true. I just didn’t realise that many of the behaviours I struggle with, are a struggle because I am not neurotypical.

Like coming out, and like walking in Amsterdam, the diagnosis has been a revelation and an unmasking. I find myself leaning in to the behaviours I didn’t even know I was hiding. I am relieved of the effort that was so constant and so practiced I was no longer consciously aware I was making it.

At last, I can forgive myself for the untidy spaces around me – I’ll still try to keep on top of things, but I won’t feel so ashamed if you come to my house and see mess and chaos.

I might interrupt or talk over you – my whole life I’ve had thoughts I was desperate to share, but while I was waiting for an appropriate gap in conversation, the idea got lost.

I will probably get embarrassingly loud or inappropriately overexcited – I’m trying to embrace that part of me, instead of trying to control it and channel it into spaces and times where it’s desirable.

There are positive descriptors that come with having a brain like mine – I’ve been called “creative”, “passionate”, “imaginative”, “inspirational”, “energetic”, “spontaneous”, “fun”.

I also recognise the meltdowns and the burnout too. I’m trying to listen to my body and take care of my needs – to ride the waves of passionate excitement when they are there, and to allow myself enough intentional rest to be able to do the tasks I’m not excited about or interested in. It’s not an excuse, it’s a reason. I can do it, and it is difficult, sometimes even painful. And that’s never going away. I am learning and reinforcing new boundaries to address those needs.

Is my drive to be a performer, an instigator, an activist, a creative because I’m tall and visible, or because I’m queer and want to express and celebrate my community, or because I’m ADHD and I need the dopamine hits that go with novelty and applause? I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. It’s who I am.

My masks are off. I am walking freely, tall, queer, 50, neurodivergent, me. I’d like to think that by being visible at last, I might help shape a world where it’s safe and easy enough for everyone to recognise and to be themselves. Human beings are hard wired for connection – and you can’t really connect when you’re hiding.

© JENNY WILSON and LOVEOFFSCRIPT.CO.UK, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to JENNY WILSON and LOVEOFFSCRIPT.CO.UK with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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