When I was growing up, there was a TV show called All in the Family. It was about a stereotypical all-American W.A.S.P. family in the early 70s. The head of the family, Archie Bunker, was fond of telling his wife Edith to stifle herself, something no man would say to me — and live. And yet, for the first 47 years of my life, I didn’t need a blue-collared patriarch to tell me to stifle myself — I learned to do that on my own — or pay the price.
I learned that my unbridled (and loud) enthusiasm gave my mom headaches and disrupted the classroom; as an adult, it was unwelcome at work and embarrassing at social gatherings.
Undiagnosed and unmedicated, I had an inkling that, at times, my behavior caused others discomfort. Often it was a subterranean knowledge, not quite conscious enough for me to act upon. I’ve since learned that self-awareness is not a forté for many ADHDers. Not, at least, until we make an effort to learn this skill.
Now, after learning the art of self-restraint (see my post on humor — when to use it — or not), I’m rethinking how much I’m willing to curb my natural enthusiasm in order to conform. I’ve realized that making an effort to fit in is psychically and emotionally exhausting, and belies the wisdom of Shakespeare’s character Polonius: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
In trying to be like everyone else, I waged an inner battle, and the biggest loser — was me. Sometimes, to win, you have to be braver than that.
There’s a scene in the movie The Full Monty that I love for its brave spontaneity. (No, not that scene, although that one’s good, too!) I’m thinking of the scene where the main characters are standing in line at a queue, and the Hot Chocolate song “You Sexy Thing (I Believe in Miracles)” comes on over the PA. Before you know it, the guys are dancing in line, and one of them breaks into a full twirl while walking toward the teller. Brilliant! The enjoyment is palpable and I can’t help but think that everyone in line was lifted up by that bold and outrageous act of public dancing.
I’ve always skipped down the sidewalk if I felt like it, even though I’m now 51 years old. The other day, the sun broke out in the afternoon, after a long, dark Canadian winter. As I walked along the sidewalk downtown, I sang an old Lou Reed song in my head. By the time I got to the refrain, “I Wanna Go to New York City,” I was really getting into it. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of the intersection at a green light that I caught myself playing air guitar. Right there. In public. At an intersection.
When I realized what I was doing, I stopped. I blushed. I laughed my ass off. Even better, just at that moment, a friend happened to be crossing the road in the opposite direction, and we met in the middle. I hugged her, and we both laughed as I told her that I’d just caught myself playing air guitar. She was still laughing when she went into a nearby store where a mutual friend worked and related the story.
At the risk of appearing odd or eccentric, I’m letting my happiness out, full-blown, full-grown. I’m no longer jealous of little kids who are allowed to express their happiness with giggles and laughter. I believe that we grown-ups would be a lot more healthy — emotionally, mentally and physically — if we let ourselves be more childlike as well.
So today’s pet peeve is that I live in a society where it’s unseemly for a 51-year-old to skip down the sidewalk, where adults often don’t feel free to express spontaneous happiness, joy and — most radically, pure love of life — in whatever way their spirit moves them. Where audiences, no matter how sublime the performance, restrain their appreciation and God forbid, no one dares to move or dance in their seat to a rousing piece of music.
I’m especially peeved that those of us who do reclaim our natural freedom of expression, throwing off artificial restraints, are seen as mentally unhealthy. Wing-nuts. Eccentrics (and what’s wrong with that?). I would suggest it’s quite the opposite. That, rather, we are reclaiming our birth-right to child-like spontaneity, freedom of expression, and genuine, authentic joy. And what could be more healthy than that?
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