My mother always tells me that I was born to stand out. I have had a complicated relationship with that statement. “Born to stand out” what does that even mean? My name is Terry-Ann Adams and I have albinism. 

Having albinism means that when I walk into a room, I literally stand out because I look different. I had to get used to the stares and people stopping in the middle of conversations just to see what I would do. I also have autism and that means that I stand out in other ways. My ideas of social communication can be different from yours and sometimes I can get very overwhelmed and shut down or have a panic attack. I am different both inside and out and being different can be very lonely. So, when my mother tells me I am born to stand out, I get sad because to me that means that I was born to be outside of the group and I really wanted to fit in.

Standing out and being “weird” meant that I struggled to make friends or get acceptance from kids my age. All the adults like parents and teachers would really like me and that would make me even less popular with kids in my class or in my street. 

I was 14 and had just started high school and I desperately wanted to fit in with my classmates at my new school. As always, I was the only person with albinism and the only autist. To add a new layer of difference, I came from a township with a family that had very little money. This was a private school full of kids with money and nice things. I felt like an alien who had just landed on Earth, everybody could see that I don’t fit in.

I decided that I would not stand out anymore. I couldn’t change the way I looked but I could change the person inside, right? I made a plan right then and there. I would no longer be Terry-Ann, the weird nerd from the township. I was going to become a new person who acted just like everybody else and I wouldn’t tell anyone that my family lived in a house with no bathroom. This was going to work, being different was a thing of the past.

Things were going great or so I thought. By trying to fit in, I started losing the parts of myself that made me a good person. I had to lie about my home life and make up stories of trips and things that didn’t exist. Hiding all the “weird” parts of me was hard work. I had to be conscious of my every thought and action. I had to think about what I was doing and saying and making sure that it wasn’t to weird or made me look like a nerd. And, this was probably the worst thing, I had to do everything the popular kids asked me to do because I didn’t want to lose their friendship. Some of the things were humiliating and made me appear not as smart as I was. I was tired, confused and I still didn’t really fit in.

Just when I thought I had it down, a girl in Grade 9 exposed my background. She told everybody about my house and how small it was. She told everyone that our toilet was outside. It was a disaster. 

At my lowest point, I met a boy who was even weirder than I was. He didn’t try to fit in, and people still respected him. He wanted to be my friend and liked me for who I really was, not the person that I was trying to be. That boy taught me that standing out is not a bad thing, being yourself is all that matters, and your true friends will like you for who you are.

Can I tell you a secret? That weird boy is all grown up and years after we became friends, he asked me to marry him. 

Do you try to fit in with your classmates because you are afraid to stand out?