Health

Dr Ranj Singh: 'If you want to be 100 per cent happy, just be yourself'

Dr Ranj Singh insists it's time to stop pretending and start living

Dr Ranj Singh

Dr Ranj Singh. Image: Supplied

Having written a new book called How to Be a Boy: and Do It Your Own Way, Dr Ranj Singh explains how he turned his life around – and all he had to do was stop pretending to be someone else.

Writing gives me such anxiety. I think it’s a hang-up from all the essays and exams I did throughout school and university. Even as I sit here, I’ve been staring at a blank page for over an hour, waiting for the words to come out. And with each passing minute, I’m getting more and more frustrated. Sigh.

And yet, here I am. I’ve just finished writing what is technically my ninth book. It sounds absolutely wild when I say that. I had never imagined growing up that I would become an author. Hell, I had never imagined my life being what it is right now. But life has a funny way of working itself out when you let things be what they are meant to be.

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See, I grew up with one dream: to become a doctor. As a working-class kid with no-one in my family who had gone to university before me, it was a tall order. Both my parents, who had moved to the UK in their early twenties and done everything to give my brothers and I the best chance they could, were keen for me to make the most of myself. And I was willing to do anything to make them proud.

And I did it. At the age of 23 I achieved my goal. It felt incredible… and yet on some level, still not enough. I didn’t want to admit it to myself at first. It was everything I ever wanted and a huge achievement for me. So why did I feel like there was more to me than this?

Mainly because, in my quest to be the perfect boy, the perfect son, the perfect student, I forgot who I was. By always doing what was expected of me, I ignored my own needs. I thought boys had to be a certain way, and so I made myself like that. I had posters of Manchester United on my bedroom wall and I knew all of the players’ names and positions. However, deep down, I wanted to sing and learn how to play the piano. But boys didn’t do that. At least, not in my day.

I was a shy teenager who did everything he could not to stand out from the crowd. In our all-boys school, there was a constant pressure to be ‘one of the lads’. Being macho, boisterous and into sport was the norm. But I was quiet, a little geeky, and desperate to have friends. I had a strong emotional side too, but we didn’t talk about feelings in those days. So I buried them away and tried my best to fit in.

What I didn’t realise though was that in doing so, I was actively burying myself and my emotional needs away. Here was a little boy who was actually really lonely and desperate for a voice, crying out to connect with others, just quietly struggling along. I got through it by knuckling down
and focusing on what I thought happiness was supposed to look like: a career, family and kids.

That was until I hit 30. The breakdown of a marriage, coming out and a spate of therapy finally made me realise: it was time to be me. It was time to set aside everything I thought I was supposed to be, and simply let myself be. And that’s when my life turned around.

It was a feeling akin to my wings finally unfolding and then taking off. Yes, I know how cheesy that sounds, but there’s no other way to describe it. I got to discover and celebrate my identity, find my tribe and ‘chosen family’ in the LGBT+ community, and actually fulfil my passions.

Fast forward 10 years or so, and at the ripe old age of 43, I now know what it feels like to be 100 per cent
me. I’ve gone from being a boy who pretended to like football because all my friends did, to a teenager who felt that he was too sensitive and emotional to be a ‘lad’, to a man who is proud to say that he likes fancy dress, enjoys dancing and loves to wear sparkly things. In my more than 40 years on this planet, I’ve learned so much about who I am and what being a boy or a man really means. And what it doesn’t.

I didn’t know I had a passion for TV presenting (I’ve somehow got a couple of Baftas) and a love for musical theatre (I even put on my own sell-out West End show in 2021)! And, although it fills me with anxiety, I’ve started writing books.

Why? I want to spare others the pain and struggle I went through. I write books to show boys and young men that they don’t have to be any particular way, and are allowed to be unashamedly whoever they are. I want us to be able to shed the expectations that people have of us, and be happy, decent human beings. And because I want more of us to show our emotions, talk about our feelings and reach out when we are struggling.

I want all of us to be 100 per cent ourselves. Just like I am now – happy and 100 per cent me.

Dr Ranj Singh’s book How to Be a Boy: and Do It Your Own Way (Wren & Rook, £9.99) is out now. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income

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