Growing up, I was afraid of what people would say about anything I was. Whatever issue affected my life, the thought of outsiders making fun of it was far worse than the issue itself.
A lot of us go through life that way. For the longest time, I did too. These private matters that I dealt with behind closed doors were fodder just waiting for the broken souls of the world to unleash their venom. It made me want to hide everything from anyone who would notice.
It’s why it was so hard for me the first time I wrote about my son Lucas. My boy is non-verbal and has autism. He struggles with many life skills and, even back when I first shared stories about him online in 2016, it was apparent that he would need care for the rest of his life.
Everything inside me told me not to write about him. People can be cruel. The world can be cruel. Cruelty is a common theme across so many demographics, and it made me shudder to put my boy out there. Better to hide him from the world, I would tell myself, than to let the world mock him.
Then, one day, I wrote about him.
I winced at the thought of the feedback ready to roll in. As someone who spent over a decade covering pro wrestling, I could only imagine the emails to me afterward. If they were anything like the people who wanted to run me out of town for accidentally saying that Jake “The Snake” Roberts faced “The Model” Rick Martel at WrestleMania 6 rather than 7, the attacks would be relentless.
Those slings and arrows never came. In fact, six years later, there are still no attacks. Sure, there have been trolls here and there, but the reaction online has been supportive. Whether it’s people who have never dealt with autism or those in families like mine, the response has been wonderful. For the first time in a long time, being wonderful was the common theme across so many demographics in my world. I was proud of myself for putting my boy out there. I was even prouder to see how others viewed him with the same adoration I did.
With that one article, I had transitioned from victim to advocate. Sure, shielding your child from pain is a basic requirement of parenthood. Hiding him, though, wasn’t the same thing as shielding. The worst part was that my actions weren’t based on anyone’s cruel words, but rather my own paranoia. I had already given into the bullies before I even knew if there were any.
Advocating for something can be a hard road to cross. It requires setting aside all the negatives we’ve been told, witnessed, or experienced and trusting that people, as a whole, are good. It takes a leap of faith and the knowledge that you’re not the only family dealing with the things you think you are. You may be a unique snowflake, but we’re all part of the same blizzard.
Advocating for heart health was similar. My quintuple bypass was life-changing and the realization that I would do anything to stay alive for my kids changed my perspective. I never imagined I’d ever go through something like that.
Yet, talking about it required overcoming the shame that others had been trying to put on me. Prior to writing about it, I had people making me feel uneasy about my own heart conditions. There were accusations about whether I caused this genetic heart condition. I endured harassing phone messages, rude questions, and general misunderstandings. I felt on the spot. Even though I knew the truth, people still said their piece during my darkest of times. As a result, I felt heart surgery was something to hide. I was a victim.
I stopped feeling that way when I became an advocate for heart health; sharing my stories with those climbing the same mountains. Today I cook healthier food for my kids and encourage exercise in ways I never would have before 2012. There’s no shame in heart surgery. Whether I had a family history or not, it doesn’t matter. People who go through this need support. I don’t hide my scars. I wear them proudly.
I advocate for mental health. Writing about my bipolar diagnosis was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. There was a time where someone like me would have never been checked and, if they were diagnosed, would never tell a soul. That was the world I grew up in.
However, in this world, I tell people. I share it. The reason I gave at the time was that it was unfair of me to spotlight my son’s autism without doing the same for my own diagnosis. That was true but also held two meanings. Sure, it was about basic fairness with our privacy, but it was something else.
It was seeing how those past articles helped others better understand Lucas that made me yearn for people to better understand me too. Things I had been through like the obsession over having a good Christmas or being sad for no reason had all been private things. They were all mine. Yet, when I shared them, I learned that there were others out there who can relate. In fact, most people can. The cruel world was kind to me, as they were to my son. My faith in people was bolstered just a little bit more with each tale. It made me willing and eager to share more.
Divorce, birth-family estrangement, raising a teenage daughter as a divorced dad, and more all combine to make me the person I am. There’s nothing to hide and nothing to fear. The world is scattered with people all going through the same waters I am on the exact same boat. Paddle on, my friend. We have a lot more to go.
This is who I am and these are the things in my life. Don’t hide who you are. Share your story. You never know who needs to hear it.