~ Coming out as a Weirdo ~
‘You march to a different beat. You know it. You’ve always known it. You hear the things they don’t hear; see the things they don’t see. You feel something different when you stare into those skies and walk down those busy streets. And it’s that moment when you stand and face out into the great unknown, and you feel it calling you away into the wild. The adventures. The wonders. The dreams. The magic and mystery. Don’t shy away from it any longer. It’s time to stop hiding who you really are. It’s time to stop dwelling in a life which doesn’t fulfil your soul. Accept you are destined for something more than another standardised existence. Break free from that crowd. Emerge into the light of your truest life. Move fearlessly forward towards the shores of your own destiny. Ruthlessly pursue your unique passions and gifts. Be bold. Be different. Be beautiful.’ – Ryan Millward.
In this life there are few experiences more initially terrifying than exposing yourself to the crowd. Than showing them all that you are not one of them. That you are different, abnormal, odd – a little bit strange. Since we were hunter-gatherers on the plains of Africa, human-beings have thrived off social acceptance and fitting in with the tribe, and doing something different from the rest is the sort of thing that can install great anxiety into people. It’s the sort of thing that causes people to put on a mask and hide their true face. It’s the sort of thing that can cause some people to spend their entire lives going through the motions just to please others and fit in, and not be judged for being different. For not being regular in the sense of tradition and expectation. For not being ‘normal’.
Since as long as I can remember, I never really considered myself a normal person. Yes, I know we all have our individual quirks, but beyond that I knew something was dangerously different inside of me from a young age. At school I found myself a chronic daydreamer, escaping into alternative realities in my head that were more pleasing to me than the bland scenes that surrounded me. While the other kids played and chatted, often I stared out of those classroom windows envisaging myself becoming some sort of bird or animal. When I was five, I went around my neighbourhood collecting the wrappers of a specific chocolate bar after some older kid had told me they could buy a ticket to Australia if only I had enough. At one point I used to pretend I was a stuntman for Hollywood and went climbing dangerous things with those imaginary cameras shooting. And that’s not to forget my little phase as an undercover spy, which, admittedly, is best forgotten for legal reasons.
I guess these sorts of mental musings were typical of childhood, and something I thought maybe my eccentric mind would grow out of, but in secondary school I found that my weirdness stayed with me. Again, I didn’t really understand a lot of things the others did and preferred getting lost in the wilderness of my mind. Because of this, I wasn’t good at finding my place in the social ladder. Whatever group I was a part of, I was still the outsider of that group; an awkward tag alone. Still, I guessed I wanted to have some friends so I suppressed my madness and eccentricity to a degree, although occasionally it bubbled out in the form of me becoming a MC rapper, or declaring that I was going to take a vow of chastity all of my life to see how people reacted (definitely not the smartest decision to make in an all boy’s school, admittedly).
As an adult my weirdness only increased. At this point you were supposed to be preparing yourself to become a normal civilised member of the human race, working 8-5, interested in things like careers, mortgages, marriage, furniture, television, cars, credit ratings and talking about the football over a few pints down the pub. Still, all I truly cared about was doing creative things and going on insane adventures. I wanted to climb trees and talk about the universe. I wanted to share ideas about existence and create works of art. While people were more interested in starting careers, I only had eyes on travelling in foreign lands. Naturally, this led to me still being known as the black sheep anyway due to me never going on holiday with any of the others, but always choosing to instead fly alone to some random country like Ghana or Peru. By this point, I did actually have a core group of friends at home, but I was still known as the eccentric traveller. The outsider. The misfit.
I guess that internal pull to get out into the world and do something different was my subconscious calling me toward some sort of personal purpose. While on these adventures and talking to fellow misfits, I gradually began to realise that I was never really destined for the regular life of the socially accepted citizen like my friends from back home. But naturally that was a scary thought, so whenever I was home, I hid my true alien nature and tried to suppress who I was. I bit my tongue. I pretended that I was going to pack it all in eventually and return back to normal life, starting a career and doing all those super official adult things like driving a car and getting a credit card and pension fund. Surrounded by people who I was on a different path from, I started to feel social anxiety for the first time in my life. I put on a mask and, even though people considered me weird anyway, they really had no idea how deep my madness went.
My friend Ryan was one of my good friends from secondary school and probably the closest person I could relate to in the pain of wearing a mask and hiding your authentic self. He had suppressed his sexuality since his teenage years as many gay people in their youth did. I guess it didn’t help that we went to an all boy’s school too. Most people naturally suspected he was gay, due to his camp nature and the fact he fitted in so well with groups of girls. Even though we all suspected it, he never came out as gay. We lived in an age where it was more acceptable than ever to come out, but still, for many years he hid his true nature out of not wanting to face the daunting spotlight of the crowd. I didn’t know the true extent of this until we were at a restaurant over dinner with friends in London and he reminded me of our hike up a mountain in New Zealand. It had been over four years since the hike, but he reflected about it as we drank together at the table. The hike was just a couple of weeks before he finally came out via a video on social media. I was totally oblivious at the time to the storm that was raging inside his head as he prepared to expose himself for being different than the rest. But he told me that it was on the hike where he decided he couldn’t hide who he was any longer; that he decided he was going to come out and reveal who he really was. Seemingly, it took him to go to the other side of the world, up the top of a mountain, to finally feel free enough to take off the mask to the daunting crowd.
While he told me about the struggle of wearing a mask and hiding his true nature, I reflected on myself and my own alien ways. He said holding it in was like holding your breath and I resonated a lot with that in terms of my own identity. As everyone around me walked down the aisles of conventional life, I had to hold my real nature in. I had to pretend I was interested in a standard existence when really I knew I was in conflict with society at my core. I didn’t care for what I was supposed to care for. I didn’t see any personal value in my expectations and cultural traditions. Even very basic attempts to fit in left me anxious and depressed. The act of writing a CV and applying for jobs I had no interest in only my heart rage and rebel against it all. As life went on normally around me, I often felt hopelessly alienated and misunderstood. People with good intentions assured me I’d find my place in the mould of society, but I guess I knew in my heart of hearts that I was an alien, an outsider – a weirdo.
The thing that kept me sane while experiencing this alienation was expressing myself via an artistic form. Over the years I had discovered that writing was my main talent in life. I could express myself with writing words better than I ever could when I opened my mouth. It was like there was a whole ocean of thoughts in my head, and when I spoke it was like trying to drain that ocean through a bath plughole. It was a hopeless task, but when my fingers touched those keyboard keys, suddenly I had the ability to pour everything out; suddenly I could send tsunamis of thoughts out onto the page. Writing was my ‘thing’ so to speak, and I knew that I had a lot of poetry and prose in me that I wanted to share. The problem initially was, whenever I wrote things with my name attached to it, it was often a restrained and frustrated affair. Burdened by the thought of other people’s opinions, I wrote from the ego and not from the heart, obsessing over what my peers, parents and friends would think of the mess that filled my mind. Still, I knew I had to express myself and eventually it got to the point where, like my friend Ryan, I could no longer hold it all in. At one point I decided I was finally going to write from my heart about how I felt about life, myself and society.
At first, I used the anonymity of a social media blog to hide my face; to not have my name attached to what I was writing. I created a concept ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ where I posted pictures of random strangers walking in nature with some sort of internal, introspective reflection about life or society. I made it look like the quotes were from different characters, when really they were all the thoughts and words that I had stored away inside myself for many years. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of what I was writing, it was just that, like my friend Ryan, I wasn’t ready to expose myself as the misfit I was to the stern-eyed crowds of culture and convention.
Nonetheless, the relief of not having my name attached to it worked and allowed me to finally write out everything I had locked away deep in my heart. Out it all came in a prolonged burst over a year or so. Declarations of my weird, alien nature such as:
“One day in this life you realise you are infected with the condition of being an outsider. The symptoms are revealed to you gradually. As you walk the neighbourhoods of normality you realise your heart yearns for something else. Stability and security only give you a feeling of sadness. You have no interest in the contract of life offered to you. As you stare at the rows of houses and green lawns and shiny cars, as you look up uninterested at career ladders before you, as you stare wistfully into space in the supermarket queue, you gradually begin to realise that something isn’t quite right about it all. Every ounce of your being rejects the things you were told to desire. What gives you fulfilment simply isn’t available in their stores or on their menus. You have no interest in material riches or status. Their television shows and newspapers are toxic poison to your mind. You are allergic to their conventions and expectations. The suits and ties don’t fit you. What is important to them, to you seems meaningless and trivial. In your world adventure and exploration and art rank above all else. Yes, accept it: you have the alien madness – the condition of being an outsider. You are infected…”
“Yes, the more I stood there on that hill and thought about it, the more it seemed this was the destiny of someone like myself. The cards had been dealt and I knew deep down in my flesh and bones that it was my fate to sail alone, to get lost in the mazes of my own mind, to dwell in solitude among those mountains of madness. This was how it was; for some reason I would never fully understand, this is how it was. I guess by now it was just a matter of acceptance: a matter of accepting that I was a lone wanderer – a matter of accepting that I didn’t belong. I guess by now it was a matter of accepting the fact that no matter where I went in this world, I would always return to those hills above the cities, standing alone, staring up into the skies, looking for something – anything – to come and take me home.”
And let’s not forget the delightfully cheerful:
“In a world of steely-faced executives and agents, I felt like a castaway soul stranded in the dirt, chained down by gravity and government – trapped in a cage of slowly decaying flesh and bone. Since I was born, I often felt homesick for a place I’d never known; homesick for a place I’d never been. In the worst moments I gazed up into skies above thinking that maybe my species was somewhere out there beyond the neighbouring solar-systems and stars. After all, there was an endless ocean of galaxies and worlds out there, but somehow I had ended up in one full of things I just didn’t understand. The situation was strange, but what else could I do? Where else could I turn? Where else could I go?”
Sharing my writings with the internet world, I immediately felt rewarded. I discovered that my words could actually influence and even change people’s lives. I soon started to build up followers, shares and reactions to my posts. I received messages of gratitude and great emotion. People poured their hearts out to me, a stranger, via internet messages. Hearing that intense feedback, I felt gratified for sharing the chaotic contents of my mind. I always knew what I had to share was real and needed to be shared, and the response to my writings clearly validated that.
Eventually I had the idea to attach my name to it by compiling all the thoughts I had written on the blog and putting them into a book. This would be the point where I would proudly own up, take off the mask and show that it was me – Ryan Millward – that was the writer behind the pseudonym ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’. This was the sort of thing that installed great anxiety into me. What allowed me to write so purely was having this alter ego, and attaching my name to it only caused stress and strain in my mind. People would finally be able to see on printed paper my name along with the deepest, darkest and most private thoughts of my mind. It was initially hard to do, but my desire to be a writer and publish my stuff was too strong and I soon found myself creating the book, putting my name on the cover and sharing it with friends, peers, relatives and anyone else who asked a little about my life.
After the book was finally published, I had effectively ‘come out as a weirdo’ in my mind. Something that terrified me for years, was soon shown to me to not be so bad after all. Some people naturally distanced themselves from me, but many others bought my book, congratulated me and even told me they resonated with a lot of things I had said. Now that many people knew I was on a different path, I felt a lot more relief and freedom in what I could do with my life. Some people even gravitated towards me in my new state of being. It seemed that many normal people liked to have weirdos around to make them feel relaxed. If they were surrounded by ultra-serious, conventional people all the time than life became a drag. Hell, I even made new friends from my book. On one occasion I was travelling in Switzerland and ended up meeting up with a woman who had come across my blog online. She invited me and my friend around for dinner before going out for drinks. While listening to someone living in a different country tell me that my words actually mattered, I felt a strong gratification for sharing the contents of my heart. Like my friend Ryan, my life improved dramatically the second I took off my mask and revealed my true nature to the crowd.
As my life went on and I prepared to write my second book, I found I could write and express myself easier than ever. I didn’t even need a pseudonym any more to write down and share my most private thoughts. Like my friend Ryan had said, it was like finally being able to stop holding your breath for so many years. The sense of relief and freedom was enormous. Coming out as a weirdo had worked for me and I would now walk the streets and wonder how many other closet aliens and weirdos were out there hiding their rugged and real face. How many adventures were denied because people were too afraid to walk away from the crowds of conformity? How many great works of art were not made public because people were too scared to share the contents of their souls with this society? The thought of it stayed with me and I stared at the faces of those in the crowd wondering what weirdness and madness lay hidden behind their eyes. I thought of all the great writers, poets, painters and adventurers and explorers that went to the grave without ever coming out as being different from the rest. I knew that there were definitely more of the strange ones out there, hiding their secrets, suppressing their voices, feeling the things that I had felt before I took the leap. That leap wasn’t being taken, because ultimately the part of the brain that craves social acceptance of the species had overpowered the gentle, pure nature of the heart and soul. The thought of it made me sad and inspired me to keep on writing away, to shake some feathers and stoke some fire in the hearts of the wild ones out there. To stop people going to the grave without ever having the courage to be their genuine selves. To stop people from missing out. To stop people from never truly experiencing the unparalleled joy of living a life of authenticity and spiritual freedom.
As humans we will always crave social acceptance; it is hard-wired into our brains as a survival mechanism. But a life of hiding your true authentic nature is nothing short of torture and is arguably a life not lived at all. Everyone has their place in this crazy world, even if it is on the sidelines being considered ‘strange’ or ‘abnormal’ or ‘eccentric’. Coming out as a weirdo was the best thing I ever did, so if any fellow misfits are reading this and are still trying to find the courage to be their authentic selves, then my advice (and I’m sure the advice of my good friend Ryan) is to go forth and take the leap of faith. A new adventure awaits. So throw away the mask. Shine your light. Wear your colours. Write your words. Scream a little with whatever sets your soul on fire. Walk fearlessly forward to the lands of your own destiny. Ruthlessly pursue your unique gifts and passions. Be bold. Be different. Be beautiful.