by Nao Mason
I only recently discovered I have ADHD - and truly, it was thanks to content by creators like Ellie on social media. And like so many of us experience, it was such a ‘lightbulb’ moment for me. But it has also brought challenges that I truly didn’t expect. So here’s my little story on the ups and downs, (because let’s be realistic, being neurodivergent isn’t super easy,) of unmasking around my friends.
There have been a couple of standout moments over the past year that I want to share today. Let’s go in chronological order.
June 2022, only a couple of months after my lightbulb moment.
My best friend of 8 years invited me to her birthday celebration at her house with other friends (that I don’t know super well). She’s the best - but she’s also a stay-out-til-5am kinda gal, and I am very much not. I didn’t want to let her down and miss her birthday, but the thought about going, getting no sleep, not sleeping in my own bed and the unknown of her other friends was really overwhelming.
So I took a deep breath and typed out a very long, honest message explaining how I felt. I said that I was the let’s-go-out-for-food friend, the quiet-night-in friend, and that it was making me anxious thinking about trying to fit in with the let’s-go-out-out friends. I was worried we’d drift because of our differences, I didn’t want her to find our friendship boring.
And she was fine with it. She didn’t hate me, get mad or stop speaking to me. Since then, we’ve planned in a monthly catch up that either takes place at Nando’s or one of our houses, eating and chatting. She tells me all about her wild nights out and cheers me on with the things I do in my life.
Jump to December 2022…
My leaving do from my full time job before officially joining the (un)masked team!
I was so determined to go all-out, everyone was excited for a ‘big’ night and I psyched myself up for shots, a late night and a hellish hangover. (Or at least I THOUGHT I psyched myself up for that - the fact I was mentally preparing for this night out should PROBABLY have been a red flag from the beginning).
And shock, by 11pm (after food and sit-down drinks), I just wanted to go home. I pushed through, feeling on edge, and made it til after midnight. But when we walked into a club I could feel the tears coming. The group was pretty small by this point in the night but I felt so much pressure to live up to the night they’d been hoping for, and in all honesty that I hoped I could force myself into having. I text my friend from across the dancefloor, asking her to go for a cigarette so I could join her in the smoking area. As soon as we stepped out, I burst into tears.
I told her how I felt, that I really wanted to go home and I was so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t just enjoy a night out. And guess what? She was lovely about it. She told me it was OK to be the going-out-for-food friend and if this wasn’t for me there was no need to force myself into it. That took me right back to June when I’d turned down plans for a very similar night - why did I try and force myself into it 6 months later?
So she helped me tell the others that I was leaving and I got a taxi home.
Oh, and then of course cooked myself some chicken nuggets.
I used to go on nights out fairly regularly - straight from a corporate office and into the bar with almost no forward planning - so why can’t I now? I THINK I used to have a good time, but maybe I was just forcing myself to fit in?
I’m not totally sure. But what I do know is that it’s not fun NOW and that’s what is important. I need to learn what my capacity is in the present, and be accepting of whatever that looks like.
I am very lucky that both of these people were really understanding, but I also caused myself quite a bit of stress before shouting up. So I wanted to share these stories to give you the courage to advocate for yourself and set the boundaries you need as early as possible.
Here’s some of the things that I’ve found helpful while unmasking over the past year:
Suggest an alternative: if the current plan does not fill you with joy, can you provide an alternative idea so you don’t just cancel the plan altogether?
Routine: I have set dates for seeing people that I want to catch up with regularly, so I don’t forget and we can prioritise time together (1st Thursday of the month I see my sister, 3rd Thursday of the month I see my friend from Story 1)
Write it down: if the conversation feels intimidating, write it down. It can feel easier to tell someone how you feel in writing rather than face to face, or over the phone.
Just as you care about and want the best for YOUR friends, it’s OK to ask for that back.
You DESERVE to unmask and live your most authentic life.